Smyrna of the Greeks

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Smyrna of the Greeks

Lecture of Evangelos Tsirkas in SUNYSB

N.Y. Chapter of the American Foundation for Greek Lanugage and Culture

15th December 2012

September 1922. Dark and very cold at the river. A 18 years old young girl with two children in her arms, throws herself in Evros river to pass from the east to the west bank, in an effort to "migrate" to Greece mainland, as some of the “eminent Greek historians and thinkers” describe the uprooting of Greeks from Asia Minor. This heroic young woman was my mother. And I dedicate my lecture to her memory, as well as to hundrents of thousands of people who took the road to Greece in an effort to escape from the death, that was eminent from Turk soldiers and guerrilas.

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen

I am delighted to be here and I would like to thank the Chair and the Members of the Board, for giving me the chance to address you today at Stony Brook University to remember the beautiful "Smyrna of the Greeks".


I got the title of my speech from the similarly-titled exhibit in Athens of artifacts and photographs from the archives of the Association of Smyrneans, of which I have the honor to be the president of the Board.

I'll talk to you about Smyrni, the beautiful city, 'the best Kallisti city of Ionia " according to Strabo, the city with strong presence in antiquity, during the Roman period, the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires, and for its high development and its destruction in September 1922. I will speak about Smyrna of the Hellenes, as they were the major vital ethnic group in the city and even the official language of the city was Greek. It is no coincidence that the Turks called it "gkiaouri`s Izmir", "Smyrna of the infidels", giving, although unwittingly, their own testimony to the character of Smyrna.

This September marked 90 years since the sad day of the destruction of Smyrna. The hordes of Mustafa Kemal, following their cherished habit, left nothing standing. The cutlass and fire annihilated thousands of people, cemeteries were excavated, graves were opened, churches were demolished, priests and civilians were slaughtered. Not only did they destroy and burn buildings and properties, but they also killed the hearts of the Greeks of the city. Blackened buildings, lives lost, families uprooted from their homes, history and culture of 3,000 years were delivered to the barbarity of Turks. And only memories were left to remind us of the old glories.

The settlement in new homes in mainland Greece was difficult. Exile and misery. It took great effort to re-establish their lives and adapt to new customs, a new way of thinking and living. They made it and gave their message of what is life, in the tired from the constant wars, destitute Greece.

Definition of Genocide.

The genocide in realistic, real form is old and what sets look even older. Genocides were done in the past, are now, and if not taken tough measures will be in the future. The terminology as genocide is a recent legal and political term, "built" from a lawer at the first half of the 20th century, Raphael Lemkin, who tried to portray both the German crime, the Nazi "Final Solution" and " barbarism and vandalism "of the Turks against the Armenians.

Lemkin had dealt with the genocide of the Armenians before it reaches in 1943, to recognize the need to create a new word that would describe exactly this massive crime. For the creation of the term brought in Greek, where he got the word " genos-race" - and in Latin from which the “cide- murder”.

To demonstrate the type of crime used as examples the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish aggressors, and the Genocide of the Assyrians Simele with bullies Iraqis.

The international community was asked to sign the Agreement on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the twenty-signing came late in 1950, and the treaty became law in 1951, although many nations signed exempting themselves or rejecting articles. Today they have signed the agreement 140 countries.

In Article 2 of the relevant UN treaty describes the lawful elements that must be met for a transaction to qualify as a crime of genocide.


The history of Smyrna goes back thousands of years in ancient times. According to tradition, Smyrna was founded by Amazon Smyrna, from which it received its name. It is one of the seven cities, which shares the origin of Homer, the poet who is credited with the two great ancient epics of the Trojan Cycle, the Iliad and the Odyssey. Later on during Christianity, it was the base of one of the seven apostolic churches and during the Roman Empire it was called three times "Neokora city”, which means it was credited to build temples in honor of the emperors Tiberius, Adrian and Caracalla. During the Byzantine Empire it became the first port of Ionia, after the decline of Ephesus. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 by the Ottomans, it developed into a commercial center transporting products from Asia Minor and accumulating wealth from this trade.

In addition to the prosperous times, there were also bad ones, because Smyrna was a virtual hostage of the Ottomans during crises, tensions and wars with Greece, paying the price with violence, persecution and death (Orlofika of 1770-1773, Revolution 1821, unfortunate Greek-Turkish war of 1897, the Balkan Wars 1912-13, World War I, the Asia Minor expedition of Greeks and finally its destruction in 1922).


The 19th and early 20th centuries were the ‘long’ ones of Ottoman Empire and the events of this period influenced the fate of Smyrna. It is one of the most obscure periods of Greek history, where many good and bad things happened, not always due to responsibility of foreigners, as we always assume to sanctify the pettiness and our failures. I say this because one of the serious risks of democracy is the myth of innocence. Namely, that we are blameless, innocent of everything; that for everything that happened to us or ended up being negative, we put the blame on external factors, on foreigners, on others. But knowing and acknowledging our history at the heroic era, and in the period of mistakes or omissions is very important. History has been a guide and mentor and not instrument of overweening praise.

The 19th and 20th centuries have been called the long centuries of the Ottoman Empire. New cultural and political movements starting from French Revolution, the creation of Nation-States, the revolutions of the Christian peoples of the Balkans, imposed the need for the Ottoman government to improve its structures, culminating in the enactment of the Constitution of 1876, which provided provisions of liberal spirit, as the French constitution. But the Sultan, using the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78 as pretext, suspended the Constitution.

In 1888 a revolutionary committee with the name “Union and Progress” established by a group of five students of the military medical school in Constantinople aimed to restore the Constitution of 1876. The committee penetrated rapidly into the Turkish army, primarily in European territories centered in Thessaloniki, as well as among intellectuals exiled in Europe.

During the first Congress of the revolutionary committee in 1902, a gap of ideologies and objectives appeared between two factions, the liberal led by Prince Sabahentin and the radical led by Ahmet Riza. The return from France in the year 1906 of Drs. Mehmed Nazim, and Bachentin Shakir, both doctors from Thessaloniki, accelerated the predominance of radical culture and ideology of "Social Darwinism", in other words the adoption of the principle that a stronger nation or group of people can dominate over another by whatever means they can. Theorists of the revolutionary committee, having lived in France, were affected by various ideological movements of the time, such as Marxism and Nietzsche’s ideas, and they accepted as very attractive methods of political violence, as had been established by the Jacobins during the French Revolution of 1789, who used political violence to impose their ideologies. In the leading group of the revolutionary committee in 1906 Mehmet Talaat Bey and the military officer Enver and Gemal Pasha were included, as well as Mustafa Kemal, later leader of modern Turkey. That was the time the revolutionary committee began to penetrate widely in the Ottoman army.

The revolutionary committee, having managed to put under its control the Army of the European territories of the Empire, succeeded with a bloodless coup to force the Sultan to restore the Constitution of 1876. This caused excitement to the peoples of the Ottoman Empire and was accepted with friendly demonstrations in Athens in support of the new regime. The only one who saw the storms and the devastation that was coming was the Patriarch Joachim the 3rd the Magnificent, who at those who were keen to announce to him that the 'freedom arrived", he said that "nothing good can be expected from these fanatics, and we will need new struggles for our nation".

Indeed, the intentions of the revolutionary committee shortly appeared when Dr. Mehmet Nazim in October 1908 in Smyrna and mainly in the conference of Thessaloniki in 1911 stated that: "Christians have no choice but to accept in their teaching and administrative system what the revolutionary committee dictates; the sooner they accept this, the better for the Christians".

The defeat of the Ottomans in the Balkan War in 1912 brought the Party of Union and Progress to power following a coup, which was recorded in history as "the Storming of Babalis." It took place when Enver Pasha invaded the building of the Sublime Porte, murdered the Minister of Defense in cold blood, and forced the Prime Minister to resign under gun threat.

At that time Germany, which since the 1890s had begun to penetrate the political and economic territories of the Ottoman Empire, prevailed appointing Germans in key officer positions of the Ottoman Army. Everything was getting ready to implement the plan of annihilation of Christian peoples. It started at the end of 1913, with the Greeks in Eastern Thrace forcibly displaced from their villages and towns. The displacement was accompanied by terrible hardships, and even massacres. The most tragic case is the complete destruction of Phocaea on June 14th 1914, recorded by the French archaeologist Felix Sartiax, who wrote about Phocaea citing the massacres and the burning of the city and informing the French public. Phocaea was the mother - town of Marseille. A storm of protests emerged across France. These protests partially mitigated the persecution of the Greeks initially, but the persecution got worse as the Ottoman Empire entered in World War I in late October.

The continuation of the war, the naval attack on the Dardanelles straits and the isolation of the interior of Asia Minor from the outside world enabled the government of ‘Union and Progress’ to implement the master plan of extermination of Christian peoples. The extermination of the Armenians and Assyrians in all regions reached a peak in April 1915, while the persecution of Greeks in other areas was taking place. The efforts of the great American humanist Ambassador H. Morgenthau to rescue the Christian peoples, failed.

The Ottoman Empire collapsed in the fall of 1918 and the three dictators Enver, Gemal and Tallaat escaped secretly using a German submarine in early October, while the Ottoman Empire was forced to sign the armistice of Mudros of October 30, 1918.

Despite the escape of the three dictators abroad, the mechanisms remained largely intact and the party, changing its name, continued the activities in the new Ottoman Parliament. The new government established by the Sultan Vachntentin tried to bring to justice the criminals against the Armenians and Greeks, but the effort was essentially stopped in late 1919 as the nationalist movement in the new capital Ankara was launched by Kemal. All Party members of the Union and Progress were desperately trying to become associated with the new regime. For Smyrna initially this was a time of joy, but finally it resulted in a tragedy in Asia Minor due to the major military defeat of the Greek army and the uprooting of Hellenes from their homeland, Asia Minor.

In Smyrna specifically, the losses from fire according to estimates of analysts in the U.S. were too many: "The number of casualties from the fire and accompanying massacres is not precisely known, with estimates of up to 100,000 Greeks and Armenians killed. US historian Norman Naimark gives a figure of 10,000-15,000 dead, while historian Richard Clogg gives a figure of 30,000. Larger estimates include that of John Freely at 50,000 and Rudolf Rummel at 100,000 ".

As an Epilogue

Multiple and consecutive errors were performed by the Greek governments, both of Venizelos and the Royal parties, during the campaign in Asia Minor, the deliberate support by the newly formed Soviet Union to Turkey (and to the same extent of Italy and France), and the errors of the Greek military leadership led to the defeat of the Greek Army and the complete annihilation of Hellenism in Asia Minor and Pontus.

Some of the big, fatal errors committed are the following:

1.Elections of 1920.

2.Returning of King Constantine in November 1920 from his exile.

3.Political passions - military officers and political parties.

4. Political instability and incapable political leaders.

5. Improper Military Leadership.

6. The royal family assuming military roles.

7.The military strategic and tactical mistakes.

8. Delay of decision making by the government.

9. The continuation of the military operation to Ankara.

10. The residence of the Greek Army Headquarters in Smyrna.

The total number of victims of the Christian peoples of Asia Minor is higher than 3 million in the period between 1913 and 1922.

When the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey was imposed, in accordance with the Treaty of Lausanne of January 30th 1923, 1,500,000 Greek Orthodox Christians entered Greece from Turkey, and 400,000 Muslims moved from Greece to Turkey. Comparing the numbers between the years 1914 to 1918 (2,845,000 Greeks according to a study of the University of Bonn in 1986) with the refugees to Greece in 1923 (Treaty of Lausanne, 1,500,000), the remainder number 1,345,000 shows a gap in the number of people, who are those who were murdered or killed in any way by the Young Turks and Kemalists. With simpler numbers, 665 people a day lost their lives, and this would indicate a ‘genocide’ of the Greek population, although the UN Convention does not include numbers in characterizing an action as genocide.

A Genocide has happened, as it was accepted by the International Association of Genocide Scholars of its December 1, 2007 decision, but as well as demonstrated at the studies of prominent researchers, such as Gails Milton (Paradise Lost, Smyrna 1922), Rosemary Housepian (Smyrna 1922), George Horton (The curse of the East), Henry Morgenthau, Felix Sartio and many others.

Ernest Hemingway gives some evidence/ pictures of the genocide of the Christian peoples. He says:

The worst part was the women and children dead. We could not convince them to give us their dead children. They had children, dead for six days, but they did not abandon them. (From "On the quai at Smyrna").

The London Times reported:

A stream of refugees is still leaving Smyrna, and my informant described the quay last night as packed with dense crowds herded together inside a cordon of Turkish regulars, while searchlights of foreign warships in the harbour played upon them.... The waters of the harbour were full of the dead bodies of persons drowned or shot by the Turks while trying to reach the ships, and some of the corpses were horribly mangled by the propellers. (qtd. In Meyers, 29)

The Impunity, which was formalized by the Treaty of Lausanne, as pointed out by Churchill in 1928, was a significant reason that allowed Hitler to devise, based on the ideology of National Socialism, the Holocaust of European Jews.

And of course, there was no talk about punishing Turkey, as Ambassador Morgenthau asked the Red Cross in March 1918.

He said: "The extreme terror, cruel torture, abductions of women to harems, forcing innocent girls to participate in orgies, selling many of them for 80 cents each, the murder of hundreds of thousands, the displacement and starvation as they were forced to proceed in the desert of hundreds of thousands, the destruction of villages and towns, the deliberate adoption of the plan to annihilate the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrian Christians of Turkey – will all this stay unpunished?

He received NO response from the Red Cross.

Some timid voices are starting to become audible, like the one of the American Congress, which with the resolution No 306 asks Turkey to return churches and religious relics of Christians.

The Resolution says:




Because of its oppression and the intentional destruction of most of the ancient Christian populations, including more than two (2) million Armenians (Gregorian), Greeks, Assyrians, Pontian and Siriak from the Ottoman Empire (Sultanate), now has left only a small part of these populations, to maintain their long religious heritage and tradition in contemporary Turkey


Let me remind you at this point the ever growing demands of Turkey in Cyprus and Greece, the behavior towards the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Church of Cyprus, the claims in the Aegean and Western Thrace and elsewhere.

Against this aggressive attitude of Turkey, our country, Greece, does not react, does not do anything to confront the claims of Turkey. The latest piece of news refers to the sale of one of the last buildings that belonged to the Greeks in Smyrna, that of the Greek General Consulate there, which the government has agreed to sell to the Turkish City-Hall of Smyrna (as per Zaman and Hurriyet newspapers), thus almost participating in the terminal uprooting of anything Greek that had remained there, and actually implementing Kemal`s positions, who, while discussing with his biographer Rifki, referred to the fire that burned Smyrna and stressed that only by burning everything, by demolishing even the cemeteries, one would succeed to eradicate the national and historical memories of the Greeks and Armenians that would urge them to want to repatriate to their homelands. We are shutting off our minds and are slowly moving towards a conscious distortion of history, preparing the country to be in good collaboration with Turkey, as an endowed province of Turkey, according to the recent announcement of Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu.

How can we react against the Neo-Ottomanism, which dominates the politics in Turkey.

In my view, the axes of our policy must be at least three:

a) A defensive armament of our armed forces, which will be achieved with judicious use of funds and mostly by avoiding actions that compromise the prestige of the Armed Forces personnel.

b) Adoption of a more aggressive foreign policy and greater activation of the Greek diplomacy to strengthen all kinds of alliances. Moreover, a clear statement that we will no longer support the accession of Turkey to the EU, if it will not comply with the EU acquis and adopt similar attitudes.

c) A correct teaching of our history without extreme fanaticism, but also without downplaying our heroes, the witnesses and genocide that we have suffered. Thus provide a good education to the young people and the whole population.

There are some ideas for thought for all of us concerning Turkish and Greek attitudes. Puzzled appears our great poet George Seferis, who in his essay "DOKIMES" asks:

"We are a people with brave soul, that kept our deep deposits of memory in times of prosperity and centuries of persecution and empty words. Now that the world around us seems to want to make us inmates in a globalized inn, will we renounce this memory? Will we accept to become outcasts? "

I would answer to that question: Certainly not, our Esteemed poet from Smyrna.

Thank you for your patience.

Evangelos Tsirkas, Chairman of the Board of Smyrna Association, Dec. 15, 2012.

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