Advancing further and further away from the coastline, the Greek army, which was drawn inland into Asia Minor in order to fight the nationalist Turks who did not accept Greece’s occupation of the zone of Smyrna, found itself having to occupy an extensive and largely Muslim area, in which groups of nationalist Turks engaged in espionage along with the Turkish guerilla bands operating against the Greek lines of communication. As the Greek advance stalled and was finally broken, Greek troops took vengeance on Turkish villages which they suspected of harbouring anti-Greek activity and in search of hidden weapons. The local Turkish villages were disarmed and so became easy prey to the local Greek and Armenian gangs who often plundered them.
Significant massacres of civilians took place in the Yalova Peninsula region. On 16 October 1920, for example, the Greek army captured Orhangazi after resistance by Turkish militias. The next day there was a massacre in the nearby Turkish village of Çakırlı. According to accounts, the males of the village were locked in the local mosque by the Greek army, where they were burned alive and/or shot. Two days later on 18 October 1920, the nearby Turkish village of Üreğil was burnt. On 16 April, the some 1,000 Turkish inhabitants of Orhangazi were deported to Gemlik by the Greek army while the town was burned down. The next day, there was a massacre in the village of Gedelek, because the population could not pay the amount of 4,000 Lira as protection money.
Just as the incidences that comprise the genocide were widely reported by the western press, so too were the Greek massacres of Muslim civilians. In May 1921, a Inter-Allied Commission, consisting of British, French, and Italian officers, and the representative of the International Red Cross, Maurice Gehri, was set up to investigate claims of massacres. On 13 May 1921 the commission started its proceedings by visiting the burned villages of Çertekici, Çengiler and Gedik. There they listened to accounts of massacre, robbery and rape and reported that the Turkish refugees from the destroyed villages lived in very crowded conditions, most of them sleeping in the courtyards of mosques and graveyards. In the following days, the commission would investigate the destruction of numerous other villages, accompanied with stories of arbitrary executions, rape and robbery, mostly by members of the Greek army, but also by local Greeks and Armenians.
The Inter-Allied Commission prepared two separate collaborative reports on their investigations in the Yalova Peninsula. These reports found that Greek forces committed systematic atrocities against the Turkish inhabitants, including the “burning and looting of Turkish villages”, the “explosion of violence of Greeks and Armenians against the Turks”, and “a systematic plan of destruction and extinction of the Moslem population”. A section of the report read as follows:
“A distinct and regular method appears to have been followed in the destruction of villages, group by group, for the last two months … there is a systematic plan of destruction of Turkish villages and extinction of the Muslim population. This plan is being carried out by Greek and Armenian bands, which appear to operate under Greek instructions and sometimes even with the assistance of detachments of regular troops.”
The Inter-Allied Commission also stated that the destruction of villages and the disappearance of the Muslim population might have had as its objective to create in this region a political situation favourable to the Greek government.
Other eyewitnesses corroborate the findings of the commission. James Harbord, describing the first months of the occupation to the American Senate, wrote that: “The Greek troops and the local Greeks who had joined them in arms started a general massacre of the Mussulmen population in which the officials and Ottoman officers and soldiers as well as the peaceful inhabitants were indiscriminately put to death.” Harold Armstrong, a British officer who was a member of the Inter-Allied Commission, reported that as the Greeks pushed out from Smynra, they massacred and raped civilians, and burned and pillaged as they went. Marjorie Housepian wrote that 4,000 Smyrna Muslims were killed by Greek forces.
James Loder Park, the US Vice-Consul in Constantinople at the time, who toured much of the devastated area immediately after the Greek evacuation, described the situation in the surrounding cities and towns of İzmir he had seen as follows:
“Manisa … almost completely wiped out by fire … in Cassaba of 37,000 Turks only 6,000 could be accounted for … Ample testimony was available to the effect that the city was systematically destroyed by Greek soldiers, assisted by a number of Greek and Armenian civilians.”
When confronted by this information, most Greeks become indignant. Being a noble and high people, it appears impossible that such crimes could have been committed. After all, we are the victims, are we not? They either deny its authenticity or seek to excuse massacres by stating that they took place in the context of a bloody war, by an army and a people seeking revenge for centuries of ill-treatment and genocide and that at any rate, any atrocities committed by the Greeks pale in comparison to the organised genocide of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks of Asia Minor, which largely took place prior to the Greek Army’s occupation of Smyrna after 1919 and which, certainly in the case of the Armenians and the Assyrians, had nothing to do with any conflict with Greece.
Notwithstanding this valid point, the largely unacknowledged massacres of Muslim civilians by the Greek army inform Turkish responses to accusations of genocide by making them to try to equate the Greek massacres with the crime of genocide, resulting in an impasse.
Genocide recognition should not be about one-upmanship, politics or endeavouring to prove the inherently superior characteristics of the victim race. Rather than engaging in polemics, a more mature and respectful to the victims approach could be simple: identifying brutality in all of its forms and condemning it without excuse or justification. If, for example, the massacres perpetrated by the Greek army were to form the subject of public debate and analysis and were subsequently condemned by the Greek people, then the Turkish side would have removed the last major impediment to their self-examination and condemnation of the genocide perpetrated a century ago, for they could not then accuse us of wilfully glossing over our own shortcomings. At that stage, if the Turkish state was still unwilling to recognise that the genocide took place, the world would know that continued genocide denial is untenable and ridiculous.
Taner Akcam is right in stating that genocide should be differentiated from war casualties and that Turkey cannot shrink from its liability with regard to the genocide by citing other massacres by way of excuse. However, the urge to commit harm is not restricted to one race alone. It lurks within all people and can be manipulated with disastrous results, as was proved in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia and the Ottoman Empire. The campaign for recognition of the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia is but one of many righteous steps that need to be undertaken so that brutality, in all its forms, can be condemned and arrested. It is in this context that we need to take the first step, mindful always that we need to be true to the memories of the innocent victims who lost their lives at the hands of the intolerant. Once we hold out our hand, recognising our own imperfections but resolving never to repeat them, we can only hope that it will be clasped by those who finally understand that there is nothing to be lost but everything to be gained in repentance.
*Dean Kalimniou is a Melbourne solicitor and freelance journalist.