In reply to Nikos concerning the Asia Minor Catastrophe

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Posted by John Sakelaris on January 04, 2000 at 00:52:19:

Nikos--I completed a masters thesis in 1997 on
'Awareness of the 1922 Asia Minor Catastrophe in the
English-Speaking World." The subject is, to put
it bluntly, a hushed-up genocide. One good book on
this is "Smyrna 1922 The Destruction of a City" by
Marjorie Housepian Dobkin.

In February 1999 I presented a paper summarizing
major findings of my thesis to a historical conference.
What follows is the opening of my paper. I hope this helps
you. If there are any questions, please feel free to
send an E-mail or use the message board.

In 1919 and 1920 the major Allied powers of World War I
endorsed what would become the 1920 Treaty of Sevres,
reconfiguring the Turkish Empire's territory. One
important feature of the plan was the concept of zones
that would protect Christian minorities there, minorities
which had been having difficulties with the Turks.
Armenians who had been under Turkish rule claimed to have
suffered a major genocide in 1915. The Greeks living there
had grievances as well.

Approximately fifteen percent of the Turkish Empire north
of the Arabic Mandates was assigned to a new Republic
of Armenia and much smaller regions went to the Greeks
of Smyrna and of Eastern Thrace, amounting to approximately
another eight percent of that territory. The Greek zones
were to be administered by the nearby Allied nation of
Greece. Over a million surviving Christians lived in or
near those zones.

The remainder of the land north of the Arabic Mandates was
left to the Turks and Kurds. A Kurdish autonomous area
within the eastern sovereign Turkish territory was outlined
but was never set up. Also, Constantinople was to be
under Turkish sovereignty, subject only to a limited Allied
occupation to insure free passage through the Straits.
Thus the Turks were to still have a large mass of
contiguous land, more land than the non-contiguous
territory left to the defeated Germans. Also, there were
no reparations ordered from the Turks, another contrast
with how the Allied handled their defeated European

Armenians worked on their own to try to set up the Republic
of Armeninia, while Greece was authorized by the Allies
to send its forces to set up the Smyrna and Eastern
Thrace zones. However, by May 1920 it was clear that
Turks in the never-occupied interior of Asia Minor were
attempting to actively resist the Sevres Treaty. The
leader of those Turks was Mustafa Kemal.

The Allies offered a Mandate over the Republic of Armenia
to the United States, but in May 1920 the U.S. Senate
rejected the offer. Armenia was then unofficially
abandoned by the Allies. Kemal's Turks quickly worked
with the Russian Bolsheviks to partition the Aremanian
lands, even as its Sevres map was still being finalized.

Crises elsewhere soon caused the Allies to worry about
their commitment to a continued presence in Constantinople
and about their support for the Greeks in Smyrna and Eastern
Thrace. In December 1920 they switched their policies, citing a recent Greek
electoral result that was not to their liking. France
and Italy became openly pro-Turkish; they and the
Bolsheviks would send many military supplies to the
Turks. Great Britain continued to loosely occupy
Constantiople, but otherwise had switched to being neutral.
Greece was even cut off from loans and was prohibited from
interfering with French and Italian arms shipments.

Abandoned by its friends, faced with a de facto declaration
of war, and offered to terms by the Turks, Greece then
undertook a military campaign eastward in 1921 to try to
defeat the still-smaller Turkish army before the Turks
could get more supplies and recruits. The Greek
campaign almost succeeded at one point, but it ended in
stalemate. In November 1921 Greece accepted Allied
mediation offers--but the Turks rejected them.

In early September 1922 the Turkish army, by then
well-supplied with foreign arms, defeated the Greek
army and forced it to withdraw from Asia Minor. Turkish
forces entered Smyrna and much of the city was destroyed by a fire of
disputed origin. Thousands of Greeks and Armenians in
Smyrna died; the remained of them were forced to leave
by the Turks. Many Allied warships in the harbor
initially did very little to aid those refugees.

In late September the victorious Turkish army approached
the Straits and the "Chanak Crisis" ensued, as people in
Great Britain debated about whether the British force
based in Constantinople should resist the Turkish advance.
After three weeks, the ranking British officer in the
Straits ignored confused orders from London and signed
an October 11 armistice with Kemal's Turks, granting
their demands, which included an immediate crossing of
the Straits into Eastern Thrace and the promise that all
Allied troops would leave Constantinople after a new
treaty was drafted. It was made clear that all Greeks
would have to leave Eastern Thrace and they did so, as
Turkish forces entered the province.

By 1923, according to the League of Nations records, a
total of 1,221,849 refugees had entered the truncated
Greek nation. Unofficial estimates are closer to 1,500,000.
The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne endorsed the Turkish fait
accompli and declared a religion-based population "exchange."
Greece was allowed to expel 380,036 Muslim Turks from its
Macedonia region to make room for the much larger masses
of people who had arrived from Smyrna and Eastern
Thrace. The war-weary world was quick to endorse this
transfer as a solution for the problem.

Turks called their victory the Turkish War of Independence
or the Turkish War of National Liberation. Greeks called
it the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Armenians have not given
these events any terms to distinguish them from the
Armenian Genocide.

Turkey's victory was so complete that by the 1930s both
major political parties in Greece had moved to the idea
that the effort to have a Smyrna zone had been a great mistake.
Armenians were at least grateful that the Soviet Union
had protected a remnant of their people. Soviet Armenia
became an independent nation in 1991.

In the closing decades of the twentieth century several
trends challenged this acceptance. From the 1970s onward
there was a trend in historiography of questioning the
way many ethnic groups had been treated in the past, from
African slaves and Native American tribes to what we
now simple call the Holocaust. Moreover, relations
between Turkey and Armenia have now declined over the
issue of Nagorno Karabakh, while relations between
Turkey and Greece have seen disputes over Cyprus, the
Aegean Sea, and over the rights of small minority
populations that had been exempted from the Lausanne

Academicians of the Armenia and Greek diaspora in the
English-speaking world are discovering, however, that
survey histories covering the 1920-1922 years are
pro-Turkish to a degree that would be considered shocking
if applied to other conflicts in which other groups suffered
during the last five hundred years. Alternatively, some
survey histories tend to ignore or minimize the subject.
A strong Turkish and Muslim historical lobby is now
active and is resistant to any challenge to the current
patterns of coverage.

The irony of our news media's recent discovery of "ethnic
cleansing" in the former Yugoslavia has not been lost
upon Armenians and Greeks.

John Sakelaris

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