This paper explores the trajectory of the Ottoman Greek Thanassis Aghnides and the role he came to play in the exodus and population exchange of 1922-24 as one of the rising stars of the newly established League of Nations Secretariat. Born in Niğde in 1889, Aghnides belonged to the Orthodox Christian community of the historic region of Cappadocia, in the heartland of Anatolia. His pluralistic religious education and linguistic proclivity; his identification with both the legacies of empire and the promises of the nation; and the dynamic reach of British imperial and diplomatic networks – from Istanbul, via Paris, to London – propelled the young Ottoman-turned-Greek into the League of Nations on the back of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The paper analyses these trajectories and argues that Aghnides had the makings of the kind of ‘hybrid bureaucrat’ that would be so influential within the League Secretariat. Operating between Turkish and Greek authorities, and between the League and the many vested interests in the region, Aghnides sought to balance the role of an envoy of the international cause and a cultural broker, with his personal identification with the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the wake of the Greek defeat in Asia Minor, the Treaty of Lausanne and the ensuing population exchange. It is through this prism, the paper seeks to connect the literature on post-imperial identities and mobility with the new historiography of internationalism, highlighting a little recognized connection between the two.

Haakon A. Ikonomou is an Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen. He was previously held a postdoctoral position at Aarhus University, as part of the project The Invention of International Bureaucracy – The League of Nations and the Creation of International Public Administration, c. 1920-1960 (PI: Karen Gram-Skjoldager). He is co-director of the Rethinking European Integration Research Group, Centre for Modern European Studies, University of Copenhagen and review editor of Diplomatica – A Journal of Diplomacy and Society (Brill). His latest publication (with Gram-Skjoldager) is “The Construction of the League of Nations Secretariat. Formative Practices of Autonomy and Legitimacy in International Organizations”, International History Review, e-print 2017. Research interests include: diplomacy, internationalism, transnational elites, post-Ottoman networks and international organizations.

Supported by The Christos G. and Rhoda Papaioannou Modern Greek Studies Fund

Haakon Ikonomou
University of Copenhagen