How Versailles Still Haunts the World

Historians in the News
tags: diplomacy, international relations, World War 1, League of Nations, Treaty of Versailles

Joanne Randa Nucho, an anthropologist and filmmaker, is the author of Everyday Sectarianism in Urban Lebanon: Infrastructures, Public Services, and Power (Princeton University Press, 2016) and assistant professor of anthropology at Pomona College. Her films have screened in various venues, including the London International Documentary Film Festival in 2008 and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in 2017.

The Treaty of Versailles—a contract that changed the course of the century and beyond—has been all but forgotten in the public sphere and in popular discourse. As a result, few people think about the world we live in as being made by the Treaty. In fact, most don’t think about it at all.

Now, at the 101st anniversary of the Treaty coming into effect, on January 10, 1920, the authors in this series look back. They do so to think about how Versailles helped build our present, and to consider what was lost in the aftermath of this often-overlooked moment in the history of the 20th century. The fate of the Middle East; the treatment of former Ottoman subjects; the triumph of finance over democracy; the weakness of the statesmen rebuilding after the war; the entrenchment of antisemitism across Europe; even the extraordinary renditions of the 21st-century US War on Terror: all this and more flows from the Treaty of Versailles, now just over a century old.

Century-old hauntings have been on my mind over the past few years. April 24, 2015, marked the hundred-year anniversary of the arrests and subsequent executions of over two hundred Armenian intellectuals in the Ottoman Empire, a date that many now mark as the start of the systematic deportations and killings of between 1 and 1.5 million people known as the Armenian Genocide. My own great-grandfather, whom I never met, found it too painful to tell my grandmother the story of how he ended up in the refugee camps of Beirut. On the other side of my family, middle-class Palestinians who were able to get citizenship in Lebanon due to their Christian status, similar mysterious ruptures have remained unexplained and unspoken.

There are two overlapping stories about the 20th century that never quite fit for me: one of turbulence, violence, and devastation (what my Armenian family told me), the other of triumph and justice (what I learned in US schools). Versailles is the key to uniting these two seemingly distant stories.



  • Kent Puckett, “J. M. Keynes and the Visible Hands
  • Andrew Arsan, “Versailles: Arab Desires, Arab Futures”
  • Eileen Kane, “Minorities and Myths: Antisemitism in Europe after 1919”
  • Tomaž Mastnak, “Democracy’s Defeat Started at Versailles”
  • Sherene Seikaly, “The Matter of Time”
  • Julia Elyachar, “From Versailles to the War on Terror”
Read entire article at Public Books

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