Smyrna – 1922: After a three year long campaign, the Greek Army abadons Asia Minor. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk unites turkish forces and with the help of some of his former enemies, manages to drive greek forces and civilians out of Anatolia. The culmination of his efforts is the destruction of Smyrna (Izmir). According to Turkish President Rejep Tayip Erdogan, the Greek Army burned the city for reasons not specified. This is an account of historical evidence regarding the true perpetrators of the burning of Smyrna.
Greece took over parts of Asia Minor after the signign of the Treaty of Sevres. Those parts would remain under greek control for five years and a refferendum would follow so that the people would decide on whether they wished to join Greece or remain in the Ottoman Empire. The Greek Army however pursued further territorial gains in Asia Minor, reaching almost as east as Ankara. The lack of solid supply lines which became overstretched and Kemal Ataturk’s counter attacks, caused a massive retreat of the Greeks. The Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922 ended with the complete victory of the nationalist army headed by Mustafa Kemal.
On September 2 1922, Eskişehir was captured by the Turks and the Greek Government asked Britain to arrange a truce that would at least preserve its rule in Smyrna. The following days, the Greek Goverment resigns, not being able to control the situation in Asia Minor. Terrified that the Turks would exact revenge, hundreds of thousands of Greek, Armenian, and other Christian refugees fled into Smyrna just ahead of the advancing Turkish army.
Οn September 9, the Turkish Forces under Kemal Ataturk enter Smyrna. By now, what is left of the retrieting Greek Army has abandoned Smyrna and is attempting to cross the Aegean to the neighbouring greek islands. The last Greek troops evacuated Smyrna on the evening of Friday 8 September.
On September 10, with the possibility of social disorder, Mustafa Kemal was quick to issue a proclamation, sentencing to death any Turkish soldier who harmed non-combatants. These orders were largely ignored by the Turkish army, and Nasruddin Pasha, the commander of Turkish forces in the Smyrna district gave orders contradicting Atatürk’s. Nasruddin Pasha’s orders had as their main objective the extermination of the Christian population of the city and were largely followed. Αs a result, the Greek and Armenian civilian population of Smyrna suffered heavily at the hands of the Turkish army.
On September 13, the fire began and it continued for nine days.The fire completely destroyed the Greek and Armenian quarters of the city; the Muslim and Jewish quarters escaped damage. There are different claims about who was responsible for the fire; however, numerous eye witness accounts singled out uniformed Turkish soldiers setting fire to Greek and Armenian homes and businesses.
First hand accounts
The city was home to a bunch of Americans, some of whom ran businesses and some of whom were missionaries. One of the most recent arrivals was a Methodist minister from upstate New York called Asa Jennings. He arrived in the city shortly before the Turks captured it. When the refugees began flooding in, the Americans formed a committee to provide them with food and shelter.
A great many refugees crowded along the harbor, desperately seeking to escape. Jennings was horrified by what he saw and later wrote, “No one can ever describe the sensations of those days…I have seen men, women, and children whipped, robbed, shot, stabbed and drowned in the sea.” Jennings and some American sailors wandered the city streets rescuing wounded children and pregnant and injured women and providing them with medical care; they also took orphaned children to safe houses. Greek and Armenian women, seeking to escape the sexual violence and murder, begged for protection, and Jennings occupied several abandoned mansions and turned them into safe houses too.
One of the last diplomats to leave Smyrna after the Turks set the great port city ablaze in September 1922 was the US Consul, George Horton. Reflecting on the carnage and depravity of the Turkish forces tasked by Mustafa Kemal to destroy Smyrnas Greeks and every physical semblance of their three-millennial presence therein, Horton wrote that “One of the keenest impressions which I brought away from Smyrna was a feeling of shame that I belonged to the human race.”
Turkish soldiers soon began to loot buildings and harass, rob, rape, and kill Christians. Witnesses reported seeing bodies lying everywhere of young and old, men and women, shot from close range in the face or back. On September 13th, multiple fires broke out in the city’s Armenian quarter. It would later be established that Turks, both soldiers and civilians, had begun starting fires late Tuesday night and very early Wednesday morning.
According to Giles Milton (based on eyewitness accounts and the memories of survivors, many interviewed for the first time), turkish soldiers were seen dousing buildings with petroleum. Soon, all but the Turkish quarter of the city was in flames and hundreds of thousands of refugees crowded the waterfront, desperate to escape. The city burned for four days; by the time the embers cooled, more than 100,000 people had been killed and millions left homeless.
Sworn testimonies of the american staff of the Collegiate Institute, revealed that the fire was set by turkish regular soldiers. The most reliable is that of Minnie B. Mills, head of the American Collegiate Institute who declared that she saw a turkish army soldier enter the building where the first flames were seen carriyng small tins evidently containing paraffin. “I saw with my own eyes a Turkish officer enter the house with small tins of petroleum or benzine and in a few minutes the house was in flames.”
Others, such as Claflin Davis of the American Red Cross and Monsieur Joubert, director of the Credit Foncier Bank of Smyrna, also witnessed the Turks putting buildings to the torch. When the latter asked the soldiers what they were doing, “They replied impassively that they were under orders to blow up and burn all the houses of the area.”
Falih Rıfkı Altay
Falih Rıfkı Altay was turkish journalist and politician who was near Ataturk from 1923 to 1938 and who has witnessed and documented many first hand accounts. In 1922, he travelled to the recaptured Izmir to visit Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. He implied that Nureddin Pasha was the person responsible for the burning of Smyrna. In his book “Çankaya Atatürk’ün Doğumundan Ölümüne Kadar”, he reports that “As I have decided to write the truth as far as I know I want to quote a page from the notes I took in those days. ‘The plunderers helped spread the fire … Why were we burning down İzmir? Were we afraid that if waterfront konaks, hotels and taverns stayed in place, we would never be able to get rid of the minorities? When the Armenians were being deported in the First World War, we had burned down all the habitable districts and neighbourhoods in Anatolian towns and cities with this very same fear. This does not solely derive from an urge for destruction. There is also some feeling of inferiority in it. It was as if anywhere that resembled Europe was destined to remain Christian and foreign and to be denied to us… Were it not for Nureddin Pasha, whom I know to be a dyed-in-the-wool fanatic and rabblerouser, I do not think this tragedy would have gone to the bitter end.”
American newspapers recorded the turkish atrocities and burning of Smyrna. The following gallery is a small sample of what was reported soon after the destruction.
On September 16th, the Turks issued a proclamation stating that all Christians must be evacuated by October 1st or they would be deported to the interior — and to almost certain death. By September 17th, the Turkish army had started deporting Christian men out of the city, and the refugees panicked and gathered as close to Jennings’s safe houses as they could.
The total death toll is hard to compute with any certainty. According to Edward Hale Bierstadt – executive of the United States Emergency Committee- approximately 100,000 people were killed and another 160,000 deported into the interior. ‘It is a picture too large and too fearful to be painted,’ he wrote in his 1924 study of the disaster, The Great Betrayal, although he did his best, interviewing numerous eyewitnesses and collecting their testimonies. Other estimates were more conservative, claiming that 190,000 souls were unaccounted for by the end of September. It is unclear how many of these had been killed and how many deported, although Greek sources suggest that at least 100,000 Christians were marched into the interior of the country. Most of these were never seen again.
“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” was a phrase made popular by Carl Sagan. What he meant was that if someone (in our case R.T.Ergogan) puts forward a theory that contradicts establishes undestanding of an issue (the Destruction of Smyrna by turkish soldiers), bears the responsibility of proving it. Until then, Mr Erdogans attempts of history revisionism, remain void.
The National Geographic