“What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”
The Seven Churches mentioned in the Apocalypse of St John no longer exist. They were methodically destroyed in a campaign of genocide lasting several decades but culminating in the Apocalyptic conflagration of Smyrna in September 1922. Greeks call this, the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Seemingly inexplicably, they traditionally distinguish between this “Catastrophe” and the Pontian Genocide, even though they form but parts of a broader plan to acts committed by the Ottomans and later, nationalist troops and irregulars with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the Greeks of Anatolia by (a) Killing (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm; (c) Deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the Greek’s physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births by the Greeks of Anatolia; (e) Forcibly transferring their children to another group, that of muslim Kurds and Turks.
The aforementioned acts, which were committed against the Greeks of Anatolia, fall within the definition of the crime of genocide, as adopted by the UN General Assembly in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1948.
The perpetrators of course, and their successors, have denied that any genocide took place. Instead, they have been able to form the framework of the narrative, one that sees a modern secular Turkey emerge from a backward past, emancipating itself from the shackles of colonialism and imperialism. According to this narrative, the genocide of the Greeks is downplayed by the orientalist west as collateral damage arising out of an internecine squabble between Middle Eastern groups, or anachronistically considered a bit of tit for tat, for what is deemed to be the Greek “invasion,” of Anatolia, which is ridiculous and inordinately hurtful, considering that this particular genocide commenced decades before the Greco-Turkish war.
Consequently, it is instructive, in the face of Modern Turkish denial, in concert with their western apologists, to consider the thought processes of the perpetrators themselves. Talaat Bey, Minister of the Interior and one of the ruling triumvirate of the Young-Turks who created the constructed and implemented a policy of genocide in the Ottoman Empire, had this to say in 1914:
“It is urgent for political reasons that the Greeks living on the coast of Asia Minor are obliged to evacuate their villages and to settle in the vilayets of Erzerum and Chaldea. If they should refuse to be transported to the places indicated, you will like to give verbal instructions to our Moslem brothers, in order to oblige the Greeks, by excesses of any kind, to emigrate themselves of their own accord. Do not forget to obtain, in this case, certificates stating these immigrants leave their homes of their own initiative, so that later political questions do not result from it.”
Greece was not an initial belligerent in the First World War. In fact, one of the major reasons why the king of the time wished to keep Greece neutral was because of his concern that the slaughter and forced removal of the native Greek population of Asia Minor, already well underway while Greece was at peace with the Ottoman Empire, would increase in scope and severity, as a result of Greece’s entry into that war.
There seems to have been some sort of apocalyptic sense of a necessary and urgent final showdown among Ottoman officials and policy makers which informed the perpetration of genocide. As far back as 1909, just a year after the Young-Turks proclaimed the equality and brotherhood of all races and creeds within the Ottoman Empire, General Mahmut Şevket Paşa, the Ottoman Commander-in-Chief, told the Ecumencial Orthodox Patriarch Ioakeim III: “We will cut off your heads, we will make you all disappear. Either we will survive or you.”
Talaat Bey also mirrored these ‘final solution’ type sentiments in his own utterances, commenting in January 1917 (again prior to Greece’s entry into the First World War): “… I see that time has come for Turkey to have it out with the Greeks the way it had it out with the Armenians in 1915.”
Rafet Bey, a prominent member of the Young-Turk movement, informed Dr. Ernst von Kwiatkowski, the Austro-Hungarian consul in the Pontic city of Samsounta in November 1916:”We must at last do with the Greeks as we did with the Armenians…” Two days later, he informed Consul Kwiatkowski: “We must now finish with the Greeks. I sent today battalions to the outskirts to kill every Greek they pass on the road.” According to the London Post on 5 December 1918, he was if anything, efficient: “Rafet Pasha, the late Governor of Bitlis, was sent to Samsun with express orders to become a scourge to the Greeks. He did the work thoroughly. Over a hundred and fifty thousand were deported in this district and in Trebizond.”
Damad Ferid Paşa the Ottoman Turkish Grand Vizier, was one of the few official to describe Turkey’s policy of extermination against the Christians in June 1919 at the Paris Peace Conference as crimes: “… such as to make the conscience of mankind shudder with horror forever.” Nonetheless, regime change meant that his solemn and sensitive admission was discounted and later explained away as a product of western compulsion.
For the genocide did not cease with the fall of the Young Turk movement and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Second World War. Instead, old perpetrators, rebaptized as Kemalists, continued their heinous crimes under the guise of a newfound patriotism. The American Stanley E. Hopkins, an employee of the Near East Relief, wrote on 16 November 1921:
“… the Greeks of Anatolia are suffering the same or worse fate than did the Armenians in the massacres of the Great War. The deportation of the Greeks is not limited to the Black Sea Coast but is being carried out throughout the whole of the country governed by the Nationalists. The purpose is unquestionably to destroy all Greeks in that territory and to leave Turkey for the Turks. These deportations are, of course, accompanied by cruelties of every form just as was true in the case of the Armenian deportations five and six years ago.”
By this stage, Greece had occupied Smyrna, at the behest of the Allies. Greek Prime Minister Venizelos sought territorial concessions in Asia Minor, which were granted on a conditional basis and with grave misgivings by the World Powers, for they doubted the Greek State’s capacity to police the areas under its control and maintain stability. It is important to note that the plight of the Anatolian Greeks barely rated a mention in anyone’s considerations. Poorly resourced and unable to quell Turkish unrest in the areas under Greek administration, the Greek army was forced to march deeper and deeper into the Anatolian hinterland in order to quash the Kemalists. The World Powers formally abandoned their support for Greece after a democratically achieved change of government in that country and Kemal’s army emerged victorious, sweeping the Greek Army out of Asia Minor, and committing depravities on the native Greeks of Anatolia who were also compelled to leave their homelands.
It is important to note that the retreating Greek army also committed massacres of Turkish civilians, paradoxically enough, with the assistance of muslim Circassians resettled in western Turkey by the Ottomans. The inability of Greece to address these massacres and to place them in context has enabled Turkey to weave a denialist narrative of relativism, where one massacre equates to another, and thus the crime of genocide is nullified. Such an approach completely obfuscates the magnitude of the genocide which was far greater in scope, in intention and in depravity.
Kemal was subtle, a brilliant tactician and a masterful politician, which, despite the ruthless manner in which he stifled democratic dissent among his own people, is why he is seen as such an attractive figure among western historians and politicians. For them, the fact that he created a supposedly secular Turkey and “modernized the alphabet” (restricting future generations from access to their past) is seen as praiseworthy and massacres of opponents or the fate of the Christians of Anatolia, are either discounted, denied and explained away. Thus, while French military colonel Mougin, may claim that on 13 August 1923 in the Turkish Grand National Assembly, Mustafa Kemal declared: “At last we’ve uprooted the Greeks …”, in an interview with Swiss journalist Emile Hilderbrand, published on Sunday 1 August 1926 in the Los Angeles Examiner under the title “Kemal Promises More Hangings of Political Antagonists in Turkey”, Mustafa seems to express outrage at the fate of the Christians: “These left-overs from the former Young Turkey Party, who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule.”
Almost one hundred years after the Holocaust of Smyrna brought to an end over 3,000 years of Greek civilization in Anatolia, realpolitik has seen the World Powers, shift from a position of openly condemning the genocide, (Winston Churchill in his memoirs wrote: “… Mustapha Kemal’s Army … celebrated their triumph by the burning of Smyrna to ashes and by a vast massacre of its Christian population…”) to blatantly not seeking to disturb Turkey with any mention of this terrible crime against humanity. The legacy of such a policy has been to send the message to other genocidal regimes that despite the rhetoric of the United Nations, crimes of this nature can and will go unpunished.
Proof of this is that while the US has recognized that the current crimes against Christians perpetrated by ISIS in Syria and Iraq are tantamount to genocide and indeed, are merely just another more recent continuation of the genocide commenced by the Ottomans, they did nothing to prevent it from taking place. This should not surprise us. The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations advocates various policy options regarding contemporary genocide, including: “Leading the World in the Fight to Stop Genocide,” but also, in contrast: “Intervene Only When US Interests are Threatened.”
Nearly a century ago, these self same powers stood by in their ships and lifted not one finger to prevent the slaughter of the Greeks of Smyrna. Instead, they ordered their bands to play louder in order to drown out the screaming and poured boiling oil or cut off the arms of those few Greeks who managed to swim to them, seeking succour. There is therefore an argument for complicity, and it is a compelling one.
In a world where modern Great Powers wreath their rapacity or self-interest in buzz-words, little peoples and their plight are still given as short shrift as those that suffered in Anatolia so many years before, and we can cynically pick and choose which perpetrators to punish, and which ones we can protect, in exchange for their oil, their bases or their influence. Yet the unwillingness of those Powers to confront such crimes, prevent them, condemn them and bring pressure upon the perpetrators and their successors to accept responsibility, is a major threat to world peace today and a blight upon the legacies not only of the innocent Greeks slaughtered in the Catastrophe of the Anatolian Genocide, but of all victims of intolerance and brutality, everywhere.
The final word on Smyrna belongs to Kristine Kim, a year 8 student in 2011, who penned the following emotional response to the Great Catastrophe:
Lives, homes, and hope.
People drop to the ground
Weak, limp and lifeless.
Blackened corpses and burnt bones
Left to decay with rotting flesh.
“Light another fire!”
I can’t do this any longer.
What has the world become?
Fight for my life…
Along with the people of Smyrna.”