New Paper On Smyrna Massacre Reveals New Findings On Stolen Property: Used by Turks And Americans
by Constantine G. Hatzidimitriou, Ph.D.
Lecture at the American Hellenic Institute, Washington D.C. October 5, 2007
Let me begin by letting you all know that I am the son of Anatolians—my mother, Elli, was born in Boutza, a beautiful suburb of Smyrna one of Hellenism’s great cosmopolitan centers which tragically, like so many others, no longer exists. These Hellenic urban centers no longer exist not because of some natural disaster, economic circumstance, or voluntary migration; but because of the deliberate, systematic policy and actions of Ottoman and Turkish National governments to ethnically cleanse historically Greek lands which they perceived to be their own, through a process that scholars have identified as “Turkification.” Now you may think that this process and these matters are historical anomalies –“ancient history”--of interest only to pedantic scholars of obscure subjects, and unrelated to our modern world and the enlightened times in which we live. However, as I hope to demonstrate in the brief time allotted to me today—that the often used and tiresome phrases: “those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it” or “history repeats itself” are highly relevant to today’s subject and the destruction of Anatolian Hellenism. In fact, the process of Turkification is going on right now in parts of Cyprus and is nearly complete in Istanbul, once Hellenism’s cultural, political and religious center. Although, the process is largely ignored around the world—what is shocking is that it has recently begun to be accepted
Although, the process is largely ignored around the world—what is shocking is that it has recently begun to be accepted and even condoned within Greece itself-- in a misguided attempt to be “modern,” avoid the feeling of being a victim, and gain some ill-conceived political advantages.
In order to accomplish this, some Greeks are distorting their own history and have even promoted the re-writing of school-books which has recently raised some controversy there. I have also discovered that this is not an isolated phenomenon, limited to 1922 and the “Catastrophe” but has been extended to the entire history of Turkish-Greek relations, even to the degree of attempting to present the four-hundred years of Ottoman rule in Greece as largely benign! In fact, this radical rewriting of Greek history has been in process for several years and has the support of several Greek and non-Greek scholars with exceptional credentials and a large segment of the public in Greece.
What is especially odd to me is that this is all taking place when the Armenians after decades of struggle have finally won some measure of recognition of their own ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Turks during the same period. However, as AHI is well aware, even the Armenians, let alone the Greeks, have not been able to get the U.S. government to recognize their genocide as an official event---- a disgraceful example of political expediency and interest—which places “so-called” American strategic interests vis a vis Turkey above justice, historical accuracy and as I hope to prove—simple truths—facts which have been known to our government for over eighty-five years!
But let me return to the past for a moment and bring this tale of tragedy, greed, heroism—suffering on a massive scale—and also a time when individual Americans rose above government interest to commit what one courageous American woman called: “unauthrorized acts of humanity!”
Even today, among Greek speakers the term "the catastrophe" is commonly used to refer to the eradication of the Greek presence in Asia Minor. By the time the so-called exchange of populations was completed in 1924, most of the Greek communities that had survived thousands of years of foreign invasions and the assimilationist pressures of Ottoman Islam, were eradicated by the nationalist fervor of Turkish Kemalism. The precise number of the Greek population of Asia Minor and the numbers killed and expelled between 1909 and 1924, has been a topic of controversy among scholars and politicians. Recently, however the re-discovery and publication of census data long alluded to but little known, has shed new light upon this controversial subject.
Between 1910-12 the Greek government in collaboration with the Patriarchate conducted a census of the Greek Orthodox communities of Asia Minor utilizing consular officials and clergy. Data, recently published by Professors Kitromilides and Alexandris, show that the total of the Greek population of Asia Minor was at least 1,547,952 in 1912. The same scholars have compared this data with the Greek census of the Greek Asia Minor refugee population of Greece in 1928, which was 812,582 (including Constantinople). Using these figures one can conclude that loss of life among Anatolian Greeks during the WWI period and its aftermath was approximately 735,370 people. While these figures cannot be considered exact, they give a more precise idea of the dimension of the massacres conducted by Turkish authorities which wiped out the Greek communities of Asia Minor.
The subject of my book concerns what happened to one of these Greek communities, the city of Smyrna, widely considered to be the cultural and demographic center of the Hellenic presence in Asia Minor. The destruction of the city of Smyrna and the murder of a large portion of its Christian population made worldwide headlines during the month of September, 85 years ago. For almost a month, a quarter of a million people in Smyrna and its environs suffered every base act of cruelty known to man. In many cases, those killed outright, were more fortunate than many others who remained alive only to be tortured and suffer a painful and slow death. A martyr’s death was also the fate of Chrysostomos, the city’s Greek metropolitan who was literally torn to pieces by a Turkish mob.
Thousands flocked to the city’s long waterfront and begged to be taken aboard the many western ships that stood by watching this horrible spectacle without lifting a finger to help. These unfortunates were still there praying to God for divine intervention when on the fourth day of the slaughter the Christian portions of the city were consumed by flames. The great fire lasted for three days and not only forced the Greeks and Armenians from their hiding places, but obliterated the evidence of thousands of rotting corpses in the homes and narrow streets of the city.
Practically all of the American and British newspapers of the time held the army of Kemal Ataturk directly responsible for the massacre of thousands of innocent civilians and the setting of the great fire. These inhuman acts of barbarism were also condemned my many foreign observers who wrote about them or described them in interviews to the press. In their opinion, the fire and the massacres were part of an organized plan designed to solve the minority problem and cover up the murders that had taken place. Others more familiar with the history of the region also recognized that this destruction would result in the complete Turkification of Smyrna. Yet, even while the ruins of this ancient Christian city were still smoldering, the despicable minions of commercial interest worked hand in hand with the Turkish government to minimize the tragedy and absolve the Kemalists of all responsibility. For, in 1922, Turkey controlled the rich oil fields of Mosul, now part of Iraq, a rich prize which Kemal dangled before each of the western powers. Today, the Turkish government still denies that any systematic massacres of Greeks and Armenians took place in Smyrna or anywhere else in Asia Minor. Incredible as it may seem to some, it also claims that the fire that destroyed the Christian sections of the city was deliberately set by Greeks and/or Armenians.
This is the way an official Turkish biography of Kemal Ataturk prepared under the auspicious of the United Nations describes the events:
“On 10th September 1922 Gazi Mustafa Kemal drove into Izmir in a modest car amid wild scenes of popular excitement. Next to him sat the Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Fevzi Pasa.” He put up in a doctor’s house on the quayside, known as the (Premier Cordon), near the Kramer Palace. The hotel was burned down in the great fire which was started deliberately by enemy stragglers in Izmir on September 13th........ “
Since that time, several distinguished historians have also supported the Turkish position wholly or in part. The theories proposed can be summarized along the following lines:
On the question of massacres this "school" claims that there were no systematic massacres, that the civilians killed only amounted to a few thousand, and that any murders were work of undisciplined irregulars or unruly Turkish civilians who were taking vengeance for Greek atrocities.
On the question of the great fire, in addition to the idea that the Greek army and/or Armenian nationalists burned the city as part of premeditated plan; there circulates the position that the fire began by accident while Turkish troops were fighting armed Armenian civilians. Others argue, that the sources are too confused to place responsibility for the fire on any party, but that Turkish troops did everything they could to bring the fire under control. Some of the scholars who share one or more of these perspectives also maintain that one cannot rely on studies such as that of Marjorie Housepian’s because it leans too heavily upon biased Greek and Armenian sources So is it impossible to determine what happened in Smyrna utilizing the American material and who was responsible for the city's destruction? In order to shed some light on these issues, I decided to collect and study as many published American eyewitness accounts as I could find. Like many other before me, I believe that the American material is particularly important because America had not gone to war with Turkey, was a neutral power, and had no territorial ambitions there in 1922. This did not mean however, that the U.S. did not have commercial and other interests that it sought to protect, and as I discovered this had to be taken into account in evaluating the evidence.
Another reason why the American material is so valuable was that America had a major philanthropic presence in Smyrna which consisted of large two schools, a YMCA and a YWCA as well as a Consulate. Certainly some of the people employed there, I reasoned must have left some reliable account of what they saw and experienced.
I was not disappointed, for even a systematic reading of the New York Times for the month of September 1922 yielded valuable information. On September 7th, the New York Times carried an interview with the Rev. S. Harlow, professor of history at the American College in Smyrna who had just arrived in New York. In this article he relates details of Turkish massacres he says took place in the interior in which American friends were killed. He also states that::
The Turks are so pleased with their slaughter that they even have official pictures taken of the tortures and massacres. I had a lot of these official pictures which I gave to an American Consul to send to Washington. They show the Turkish Governor of a province, a Turkish General and the high priests and other officials, dressed in their best, smiling and looking on at the executioner performing his tortures below them.
Thus, it would seem that even before one Turkish soldier set foot in the city, the Kemalists had indicated that there might be massacres in Smyrna, and at least one American missionary was reporting that massacres were already occurring in the city’s hinterland. The New York Times continued to print American eyewitness accounts as survivors arrived in New York and even hired an American on the scene who acted as a special correspondent and wired first-hand reports to the paper from Turkey. In addition to the New York Times’s special correspondent, the Chicago Tribune also had a reporter in Smyrna whose reports were deemed so valuable that they were also carried by several British and American papers. These special reports were supplemented by stories drawn from the Associated Press which utilized a wide variety of western sources.
There are at least three published accounts of the Smyrna holocaust by American eyewitness that are particularly rich in detail. The first and most important is by George Horton, the U.S. Consul in Smyrna, an American with thirty years of diplomatic experience in Greece and Turkey and who was fluent in six languages including Greek and Turkish. Forced to flee the American consulate which was burned in the great fire, he was so outraged by his experience in Smyrna that he wrote a devastating indictement of the behavior of the Turks entitled The Blight of Asia in 1926. Horton not only relates details of what he himself saw but gathers together and reproduces the testimony of other Americans, particularly missionaries who corroborate the opinions and accusations he makes in his book.
Another account, that of Dr. Oran Raber, is extremely valuable because it independently corrobortes many details of Horton’s account. Dr. Raber was an Assistant Professor of Botany on a trip through Europe who just happened to be in Smyrna that fateful September. This tourist, fluent in Italian and German, not only kept a careful record of his observations but describes a conversation he had with Turkish civilians who admitted to him that massacres had indeed occured and that he had better stay away from the Armenian quarter. Concerning the fire, Dr. Raber reports that:
Instead of attempting to extinguish the fire, the Turks, thoroughly enraged, aided and directed it by petrol. Kemal no longer had control of his forces, and from that time till Friday morning the city was the property of the strongest and the least principled..... From what I saw and from evidence collected from both Turks and Greeks, there is only one conclusion: The burning of Smyrna was the work of the Turks.
A third published American eyewitness account is by Dr. Ester Lovejoy who was President of the Medical Women’s International Association. She arrived in Smyrna on September 24th after the great fire but in time to see and care for the thousands of destitute civilians who were being forcibly deported from their homes. She describes details of how entire families were brutally robbed and beaten, girls were abducted and raped and males above the age of fifteen sent to forced labor camps or executed. Again, her account is independently corroborated by other eyewitness reports published in the American press.
I cannot go into detail concerning each of these—because of our lack of time. However, I will highlight some specific U.S. government documents which deserve to be better known.
My friend and colleague, Professor Speros Vryonis Jr. has suggested that the destruction of Anatolian Hellenism during the twentieth century can be divided into three phases: the first begins with the end of the Balkan Wars in 1913-14 and ends with Turkey's entrance into the First World War. During this phase, 130,000 Greeks from communities in around the Dardanelles were forced to move and Turkish refugees from the Balkans took their place, ---while other Greeks fled to Greece and there were extensive massacres in places like Phokikon. Consistripted work battalions-- forced labor for men into the interior -heavy labor caused approximately 250,000 perished in labor battalions forced deportations become more widespread, over 750,000 Greeks removed from western Asia Minor removed under harsh circumstances into the interior. In Pontos there is a massive removal of population with the exception of Trebezoind 250,000 removed 80,000 fled to Russia. The numbers of people massacred are disputed, however, these persecutions affected over a million Greeks. The second phase spans from the start to the end of the WWI and includes the landing of Greek Troops in Asia Minor in 1919 and ends in 1923. It resulted in the complete destruction of Anatolian Hellenism. The third phase concerns the remnants of Greeks that remained in Constantinople (the subject of Vryonis’ recent book), those of Imvros and Tenedos—and I would add the Turkification of a large portion of Cyprus which is currently underway.
Let us turn to some specific American sources concerning Smyrna and see how they relate to our own day…
In a U.S. State Department document dated July 6, 1922, the Secretary of State referred to negotiations with Turkish Nationalist authorities concerning railway, mining and other commercial rights in Anatolia. Unofficial commercial representatives were negotiating with a government not yet recognized by the U.S. for economic gain—in the midst of war and the widespread massacre of Christians. Other documents refer to the so-called Chester Concessions—pre-WWI commercial agreements that were being re-negotiated at this time.
By going through the U.S. State Dept. archives, I have found that our government not only had economic representatives on the scene, but as one would expect, intelligence officers connected to the military whose job was to report on and supplement information being sent to Washington through official diplomatic channels such as Consul Horton. I was delighted to find that one of these reports documents that the U.S. State Department knew that the Turks burned the city and why.
The first is a dispatch sent to Admiral Bristol, the U.S. High Commissioner by Lieutenant Merrill his naval intelligence officer in Smyrna. This is what it says:
Constantinople: Dated September 15, 1922. Received 3pm
Sent to Secretary of State, Washington D.C.
Following from Smyrna: “Fourteenth. Am convinced Turks burned Smyrna except Turkish section conforming with definite plan to solve Christian minority problem by forcing allies evacuate Christian minorities. Believe they will no prepare for an attack on Constantinople Merrill.”
The second is a telegram received and read by Hughes, the U.S. Secretary of State—which reads:
Secstate U.S.S. Maryland No. 50 for Hughes
Situation in Near East extremely acute, with possibility of complications which will involve Great Britain and Allies in war with Turkey….
……. Confidential reports received from our many officials at Smyrna, and British Foreign Office, indicate that Turks burned the city in conformity with definite plan to solve the Christian minority problem by forcing the evacuation of the minorities. The return of several hundred thousand Christians to their homes is apparently made impossible by the wholesale destruction of villages by retreating Greeks as well as by advancing Turks.
Reports indicate heavy loss of American property in Smyrna. Native Americans are all safe. No further details received regarding missing naturalized citizens. Three American destroyers are still in Smyrna assisting relief workers and protecting the American property which escaped the fire…..
These two documents prove that the U.S. government received information that it considered reliable shortly after the great fire which indicated that the Turks had deliberately destroyed the city as a matter of policy. Yet, when Henry Cabot Lodge, a prominent U.S. Senator with ties to the Greek-American community sent an official inquiry to the State Department as to what happened in Smyrna and asked who was responsible for the fire; the Secretary responded that:
“As far as the author’s of the fires, apparently of incendiary origin, which
brought on the Smyrna conflagration have never been apprehended, nor
their identity discovered. On this point conflicting evidence has been
received by the Dept. and the various antagonistic racial groups in
Smyrna have each ascribed the origin of the fire to the other….”
Clearly, the Secretary of State knew more than he was willing to make public at that
time…. Does this constitute a cover-up and lying to Congress? You be the judge!
Other U.S. documents shed fascinating insights into other aspects of U.S.—Turkish relations at that time. For example, despite the Secretary’s emphatic statements in his response to Senator Lodge that the U.S. flag and its citizens and property were respected and not violated by the Turks—we later learn that the Turkish government sent him an official apology concerning an incident related to George Dilboy, a Greek-American Medal of Honor winner and one of the most celebrated war heroes of WWI. In fact, his casket wrapped in the American flag was violated and insulted by Turkish troops and his remains scattered in the Church in Alachati, Asia Minor. American eyewitness accounts also document that the homes of American residents were violated and looted.
Finally, I must mention a document I found in the household and supplies files of the U.S. Consulate in Smyrna housed in the National Archives. The document contains a report by Maynard M. Barnes who had been Vice Consul under H
Horton. After the Consulate was burned and the Consul had been evacuated to Greece, Barnes was promoted to Consul replacing Horton in Smyrna. In a report to the State Department, Consul Barnes describes the spacious and inexpensive new consulate building that the Kemalists leased to the United States and emphasizes that it was so much better than the old one. In fact, the building had previously been the residence of a wealthy Armenian family that had fled after the great fire and was now being leased to the U.S. by authorities that our government still did not officially recognize. Imagine if an American diplomat was recorded bragging about having taken over Jewish property in Europe twenty years later during that holocaust while the victims were still being massacred! Such an injustice would have been condemned and apologized for. Yet this incident like so much about Smyrna and the destruction of Anatolian Hellenism remains little known.
How do these events of eighty-five years ago relate to current international politics? Well, a few weeks ago Alan Greenspan a Washington insider and former Fed Chairman remarked that the war in Iraq is directly related to oil. Remember the Mosul oil fields and the Kurds mentioned in the Smyrna documents. There is also much current international discussion about the various competing routes for the gas pipelines that will bring precious natural energy resources to the West from the former Soviet Union. One route would go through Turkey while others would flow from Bulgaria and Greece. The more things change the more they stay the same. The power politics and economic interests of 1922 are still with us in 2007.
However, ladies and gentlemen it is up to us to be vigilant and lobby for justice and truth. As my friend and colleague, Dan Georgakas reminded me when I told him I was giving this lecture here today; we must act like the border guards – the akrites of Byzantium. Here at AHI its leaders are definitely akrites involved in defending Hellenism every day. It is an honor for me to have been invited by Gene Rossides and Nick Lagadakis to speak to you today and to honor and remember the victims of 1922; I thank you for your kind attention and eternal be the memory of those we have lost.
Dr. Hatzidimitriou is the author of American Accounts Documenting the Destruction of Smyrna by the Kemalist Turkish Forces, September 1922 (Aristide D. Caratzas-Melissa International LTD., New York/Athens, 2005).