Find a Security Clearance Job!


Megali Katastrofi / Great Catastrophe

Megali Katastrofi / Great CatastropheFurther complicating the blurred distinctions of cultural, historic, and ethnic geographies, the "Great Disaster / Catastrophe" of 1922 in Asia Minor -- in which Mustafa Kemal's forces permanently pushed the Greek population out of Anatolia and burned Smyrna to the ground -- led to the exchange of populations between Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey in 1923. The Great Population Exchange agreed the following year at Lausanne meant that 1.3 million would be expelled from Turkey to Greece, while 800,000 Muslims would go from Greece to Turkey. Thus, most of the Greek refugees from Asia Minor replaced the Slavic and Turkish elements in Greek Macedonia (an area that Slavic Macedonians commonly refer to as "Aegean Macedonia"). Much of the once predominant--and Slavic--population of Greek Macedonia moved north to present-day Macedonia and Bulgaria. Kemal (who in 1934 assumed the name of "Atatrk") laid the foundation for the modern Turkish state with his brilliant campaign of 1921-1922; his actions affected the dynamics of Macedonia as well.

After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, its successor nation-States were still characterized by a substantial presence of ethnic minorities. Once again the solution was found through an exchange of populations: the Treaty of Lausanne (30 January 1923) legitimized the exchange of Greek and Turkish minorities between Turkey and Greece. As Article 1 of this treaty reads, 'as from the 1st May, 1923, there shall take place a compulsory exchange of Turkish nationals of the Greek Orthodox religion established in Turkish territory, and of Greek nationals of the Moslem religion established in Greek territory. These persons shall not return to live in Turkey or Greece respectively without the authorisation of the Turkish Government or of the Greek Government respectively'. The Treaty of Lausanne, far from being objected to by the international community, was finalized thanks to the efforts of the Norwegian diplomat Fridtjof Nansen, then High Commissioner for Refugees, and approved by the League of Nations.

There had been a Greek presence in Asia Minor, with demographic fluctuations, since at least 1000 BC, spanning the Ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman periods, while, according to official Ottoman statistics, in 1910 Asia Minor counted among its inhabitants more than 1.7 million Orthodox Christians - the total population of Greece in the same year numbered only 2.6 million. The political and intellectual leaders of Greece considered all these people to be Greeks.

The distribution of the Greeks in Asia Minor was remarkable. The settlements on the west coast were the result of comparatively recent immigration; while the eastern communities were remnants of the original Byzantine population which had held firmly to their faith through centuries of oppression. Whilst the Seljuk sultans ruled over their empire of Rum, the Christians do not appear to have been treated with exceptional harshness; but soon after the rise of the Ottoman Turks to power a change took place. The abominable boy-tribute was instituted, and, according to traditions handed down in the old Greek families, any one heard speaking Greek in the public streets had his tongue plucked out. It is no wonder that the great mass of the people adopted Islam, and made haste to learn Turkish ; and that those who remained Christians lost their mother tongue. The Greeks who worked in the mines were allowed the special privilege of retaining not only their creed, but their language; whilst those who lived in the subterranean villages of Cappadocia, or in the mountains of Pontus were able, from the peculiarity of their position, to defy the Turk anc preserve their dialect.

By the later part of the 19th Century in the islands off the west coast of Asia Minor the Turk was rapidly and surely giving place to the Greek. Whenever land was for sale the purchaser was a Christian, not a Moslem; and if the same rate of displacement continued, there would not, fifty years hence [that is, before 1925], be a Turk on the islands. The increase in material prosperity since the War of Independence was almost as marked in some of the islands as in free Hellas; and each year the area devoted to the cultivation of the olive and vine was extended. It is true that the taxes were collected in a harsh and wasteful manner, and that a Christian was still at a disadvantage in the courts of law; but, on the whole, the conditions of life are not very hard.

On the mainland the displacement of the Turkish population by Greeks was, perhaps, more marked than on the islands. Villages and even districts which, less than fifty years earlier, were Moslem were partly or wholly Christian. On the Asiatic shore of the Sea of Marmora most of the villages are Greek; the Greeks were in a large majority on the island of Marmora, and the smaller islands; they were quite one-halt of the population in the Dardanelles district; and they were rapidly increasing in numbers, wealth, and influence. From Edremid, the ancient Adramyttium, to Smyrna, the villages on the coast were nearly all Greek, the rich lands in the valleys of the Caicus, the Hermus, and the Meander were gradually passing into Greek hands; at Pergamu'm, Philadelphia, Manisa, Aidin, etc., the Greeks were increasing, the Turks decreasing; Smyrna had a native Greek population of over thirty thousand, in addition to more than twenty thousand free Hellenes; and the many villages round Smyrna which were at one time almost exclusively Moslem, were almost exclusively Greek.

The origin of this colonization of the coast districts must be sought in the increased security to life and property which the Greeks enjoyed since the War of Independence, and the establishment of Greece as a kingdom by the Treaty of Adrianople in 1829. At first little effect was produced, but the condition of the Christians was further improved by the Treaty of Hunkiar Iskalissi of 8 July 1833; the issue of the Haiti Sherif of Giilhaneh ; and the Crimean War. Since the Crimean War and the publication of the Haiti Hamayiln, in 1856, the European ambassadors at Constantinople and the numerous consuls throughout the Levant have constantly brought pressure to bear upon the Porte in favor of the native Christians; and the last Turco-Russian War, which resulted in such an enormous loss of Moslem life and proved so disastrous to Turkey, has greatly improved the status of Christians throughout the Ottoman Empire. Security to life led to a rapid increase in the population of the islands, and men commenced emigrating to the rich fertile plains of the adjoining coast, where they could earn a livelihood with greater ease, and eventually acquire land. The movement, once started, went on at an ever-increasing rate, and it was estimated that more than two hundred thousand Greek islanders had emigrated into the Smyrna districts alone during the forty years from 1847 to 1887.

The history of the Ottoman Empire exemplifies how multinational empires did not resist nationalist movements. Its national minorities (Greeks, Serbs, Bulgarians, other nationalities of Christian faith) either favoured the creation of an independent state on national lines or called for their union to existing independent states having the same ethnic composition. At that time, the displacement of entire populations was not considered as deplorable, let alone forbidden, with a view to solving nationality issues: the international community was rightly outraged by the persecution of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire in 1894-1897 but did not move any criticism against a bilateral treaty between the Ottoman Empire and neighbouring Bulgaria establishing a transfer of populations (1913).

There was a long tradition in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic of receiving refugees. There were Jewish refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, Hungarians and Poles fleeing revolts in 1848-9, and those of Turkish descent and usually from the Balkans. Concurrent with this trend is the history of refugees and immigrants leaving Turkey, such as many Armenians, Greeks and Jews leaving at the turn of the century, and after 1923 and the Treaty of Lausanne.

Toward the end of the Greek Army's disastrous three-year Asia Minor campaign, the region's Christian population fled as terrified refugees to various ports around the city of Smyrna in Asia Minor. The Turks entered Smyrna in September 1922 and eye-witness accounts testify to the violence and horrors which rapidly ensued - although not only from the Turkish side.

Throughout the Ottoman period, the population exhibited multiple and complex identities that ill-suited emerging nation-states such as Greece, Bulgaria and later Turkey. Language, for example, was not a defining feature: many Greeks in Asia Minor (known as Karamanli) actually spoke Turkish which they wrote in Greek script. Others spoke Greek but notated it in Arabic or Latin characters; and many ethnic groups, such as Vlach, spoke Greek but refused to be called Greeks.

By late 1922, Fridtjof Nansen, the League of Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees, reported that approximately 900,000 refugees from Asia Minor had entered Greece in the weeks following the fall of Smyrna. The Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek-Turkish Populations acknowledged and extended the unofficial uprooting of the preceding months. Under the terms of the Convention, a compulsory exchange of the approximately 150,000 remaining Turkish nationals of Greek Orthodox religion in Turkey and approximately 350,000 Greek nationals of the Muslim religion remaining in Greece would commence immediately.

The Convention and Protocol on the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations (hereinafter 'the Convention') was one of eighteen instruments created at the Lausanne Conference on Near Eastern Questions, 1922-23. Sixteen of these instruments, including the Lausanne Peace Treaty itself, were signed at the end of the Conference on 24 July 1923. The remaining two, the Convention and the Turkish-Greek Agreement on the Extradition of Civil Hostages and on the Exchange of War Prisoners, were signed on 30 January 1923, about two and a half months after the start of the Conference and about six months earlier than the other sixteen.

Kemal, the leader of the new Turkish nation state, insisted that there was no place for Christian minorities in the republic - with the clear problem that Greece, already badly drained by wars, might collapse under the strain of accepting over one million refugees into a population of 4.5 million. A minimum of 1.3 million Greeks were expelled from Turkey and some 500 000 Muslims were sent to Turkey. All were dispossessed of their property.

The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne formally recognized the Greek Orthodox community as a minority in Turkey, guarantees the community's rights. In the Treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923, Greece relinquished all territory in Asia Minor, eastern Thrace, and two small islands off Turkey's northwest coast. At Lausanne, Greece and Turkey agreed to the largest single compulsory exchange of populations known to that time. All Muslims living in Greece, except for the Slavic Pomaks in Thrace and the Dodecanese, and Turkish Muslims in Thrace, were to be evacuated to Turkey; they numbered nearly 400,000. In return approximately 1,300,000 Greeks were expelled to Greece. By one account, as many three hundred thousand of these refugees in Greece died of starvation and disease since the wholesale deportations from Turkey. The determining factor for this shift was religion, not language or culture. Also included in the treaty was protection of Orthodox Greeks and Muslims as religious minorities in Turkey and Greece, respectively.

The Treaty of Lausanne essentially established the boundaries of today's Greece, turning the country into an ethnically homogeneous state by removing almost all of the major minority group. It also ended once and for all the possibility of including more ethnic Greeks in the nation, the Megali Idea. And, by instantly increasing Greece's population by about 20 percent, Lausanne posed the huge problem of dealing with over 1 million destitute refugees.

According to the Lausanne Convention the refugees enjoyed full citizenship rights as soon as they arrived in Greece. According to the Geneva Protocol of 29 September 1923 they were entitled to be established in the large Muslim estates. But local landless farmers had expected these lands to be distributed to them, which increased antagonism over the resources available, and caused tension between the two groups during the implementation of land reform and settlement.

Of the Christians forced out of Turkey to Greece, some took over properties left by the Muslims, but with a total influx of over one million refugees these could never be enough. Indeed, even with government provision of thousands of new, hastily built houses, many refugees were left no choice other than to erect makeshift lean-tos with whatever scrap material came to hand.

Even before 1923, a torrent of refugees was making its way to Greece. After the ethnic exchange, Greece's poor fiscal situation was strained past its limits by the refugees' need for food and shelter. Tent cities sprang up around Athens and Thessaloniki. Most refugees had fled with only the few items that they could carry; many had nothing at all. A disproportionate number of them were women, children, and elderly men because the Turks had detained young Greek men in labor camps. Massive foreign aid organized by the League of Nations was a major contribution toward alleviating the most immediate needs of the refugees.

Eventually, refugee neighborhoods developed around Athens and its port city of Piraeus. Many of these enclaves still retain a distinctive identity today. Other refugees were settled in areas of Macedonia and Crete from which Muslims had departed. The hellenization of these regions included the introduction by new Greek settlers of tobacco farming, which became an important factor in Macedonia's agricultural economy. Many of the newcomers who settled in the cities were professionals or entrepreneurs, who helped to invigorate the industrial sector of Greece. The manufacture of cigarettes, cigars, carpets, and textiles grew dramatically, primarily because of the Asia Minor Greeks. Nevertheless, for many years the general economic condition of the refugee population was grim, and many suffered from discrimination and cultural isolation after leaving Asia Minor. It has been argued that these debts contributed to the bankruptcy of the Greek state in 1932.

It soon became evident that the arriving Greeks of Asia Minor, Thrace, and the coasts of the Black Sea were quite different from the Greeks of "Old Greece." Many of the refugees had little or no consciousness of being Greek. Native Greeks saw the refugees as threating their economic interests and the purity of the Greek nation. Locals referred to the refugees as "Tourkosporoi" (Turkish seed) and "giaourtovaftesmeni" (baptized in yogurt). The very 'Greekness' of the refugees was denied. Refugees crafted a positive identity that contrasted their cosmopolitanism, religious devotion, and worldliness to the locals' parochialism and backwardness. The more influential refugees hailed from cosmopolitan centers such as Constantinople (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Izmir). As their engagement in commercial activities had exposed them to liberal and republican ideologies, these refugees tended to view Greece's hereditary monarchy as a throwback to a time before the enlightenment.

T. Triadafilopoulos notes that "... the protracted incorporation of refugees in interwar Greece deepened pre-exchange political cleavages and contributed to the breakdown of the country's democratic regime. The support of disaffected urban refugees was also a key source of strength for the Greek Left during the years of Axis Occupation (1941-1944) and Civil War (1946-1949). It was only after the defeat of the Greek Communists in the Civil War and the subsequent entrenchment of a staunchly conservative, anticommunist social order that Greece's "refugee problem" ceased to be a source of political instability." THE POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF REFUGEE INCORPORATION AFTER POPULATION TRANSFERS: TOWARD A COMPARISON OF THE GREEK AND GERMAN EXPERIENCES

The number of remaining Greeks in Istanbul, who were at a minimum of 150 000 in 1923, is indicative: despite the presence of the globally-important Orthodox Patriarchate, by the end of the 20th Century there were fewer than 2,000 mostly elderly people constituting the Greek Orthodox minority there. A mass exodus of the remaining Greek population occurred twice: in 1955, over tensions in Cyprus when Turkish mobs ran amok in Istanbul's Greek neighbourhoods; and, again over Cyprus, in 1964 when Turkey expelled several thousands of resident Greek nationals. By the late twentieth century, the number of Greek Muslims was unknown owing to data collection problems, such as not asking the appropriate questions in censuses. Academic estimates for Thrace range from 115,000 to 130,000.

Since the government-provoked riots against the Greek Orthodox minority in 1955 - when the community numbered around 100,000 - the Church has been reduced to its present day remnant of 3,000 believers or less.

In 1994 Greek oil explorations on the islands along the Turkish coast led to a renewal of the conflict between the two contries. Turkish Prime Minister Cilla compareed the Greek Prime Minister Papandreou with Russian ultranationalist Zhirinovski. Turkey also addressed the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 which did not allow Greece to station troops on Aegean islands. Greece feared that Turkey will annex islands like Samis, Naxos, Chios, and Kos similar to the invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

Turkey's practice of property seizures, continuous impediments to land ownership and church repairs, and the denial of legal status for the Ecumenical Patriarchate are all in direct contradiction to Ankara's OSCE commitments.

The US Government takes that view that the majority of the Muslim Greek citizens in northern Greece are ethnically Turkish. That is, they descend from Turkish families and they speak Turkish, and therefore the US considers them ethnically Turkish in the same way that people who live in America and speak Greek and come from Greek parents are consider to be ethnically Greek. The US Government takes that view it is logically inconsistent to say that there are Greeks living in America, there are Greeks living in Albania, there are Greeks living in Turkey, but there are no Turks living in Greece. This is not a logically consistent definition. The primary problem is that they are not accorded the rights contained in the Helsinki Final Act, to identify themselves as they wish to identify themselves; that they are not given the option of identifying themselves as ethnic Turks.

The Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations was the first time in history that a compulsory transfer of a large number of people was officially adopted as a means of solving a minority problem. International response to it was mixed, with some commentators viewing the procedure as barbaric and a dangerous precedent, while others saw it as a realistic policy and subsequently advocated similar ideas in the years preceding and following World War II.

The principle of partition and forced removal of populations, once established, would be imitated again and again. The unmixing of populations in Europe, the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East are among the more prominent examples of this form of violence in the twentieth century. The decision to forcibly remove ethnic German minorities from Eastern Europe at the close of the World War II grew out of this logic. In the words of Alfred M. de Zayas: "The very wide adherence to the principle of population transfers among leaders of the Western democracies was attributable in part to a rather optimistic appraisal of the results of the Greek-Turkish population exchange.... While a few leading politicians deplored the transfers, a majority gradually exhibited a peculiar euphoria over the conceptual simplicity of the solution."

In a speech before the British Parliament in 1944, Churchill maintained that "expulsion is the method which so far as we have been able to see, will be most satisfactory and lasting. There will be no mixture of populations to cause endless trouble, as has been the case in Alsace Lorraine. A clean sweep will be made. I am not alarmed by the prospect of the disentanglement of the populations, nor even by these large transferences which are more possible in modern conditions than ever before." Roosevelt believed that the Allies "should make some arrangements to move the Prussians out of East Prussia the same way the Greeks were moved out of Turkey after the last war."

Join the mailing list