We often hear stories from our grandparents about their lives back in the ‘olden days’ and the stories their parents used to tell them. However, of those stories, how many of us have attempted to envision what it would be like to live through those periods – good or bad?
Like many of my generation, we may never be able to truly understand the sense of emotions with relation to their strength, determination and hope in moving overseas for a better life.
Although many chose to come in search for more opportunities, there were hundreds of thousands before them that did not choose to leave their homes – specifically the Greeks of Asia Minor.
For a brief moment, whilst reading this, I would like for you to envision a cosmopolitan city.
You’re walking down the streets, watching kids play; people enjoying their coffee; mothers looking after their babies and men securing many of the shop fronts. You’re breathing in a mixture of salty air infused with factory smoke. Life is good. The next day, I would like you to envision the opposite – you’re walking into chaos. Children are crying, screaming for their parents to move, but little to their knowledge, there is no oxygen flowing through their lungs anymore. People yearning for any food they can carry with them. Mothers crying alongside their babies. Men trying to fight the oppression of the Turks and you’re now breathing in the smell of fire and dead bodies. This was the reality endured by many in 1922 during the Great Fire of Smyrna (modern day Izmir).
This year marks the 100th year we commemorate the catastrophe of Smyrna. Greeks, Armenians and other Europeans saw fires blazing through their quarters, whilst their Turkish neighbors experienced virtually no damage to theirs.
It is estimated that 125,000 people lost their lives during the two weeks siege. Many experienced extreme brutality and torture in an attempt to free themselves and their families. Ultimately, this led to hundreds of thousands of refugees, cramming to the waterfronts to flee on vessels to neighbouring Greece.
Whilst we may never truly know the true reason as to why this atrocity made its way into the books of history, many say it was instigated by the ‘believed threat’ that prominent minority groups such as Greeks and Armenians were going to overrule the Turkish government.
Despite all the evidence, today, Turkey still denies many of the abominations they committed during the early twentieth century.
As each year passes, it is imperative that we remember the Great Fire of Smyrna and all those who perished from racial remarks to ensure an event like this never happens again.