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1919-1922 - Greco-Turkish War

In the late 19th Century the dream of the Asiatic Greeks was a revived Byzantine Empire, which would extend eastward to the Anti-Taurus, and have its seat of government at Constantinople. They perceived, with the keen political instinct of their people, that the "Grand Turk" once driven from Constantinople and deprived of the prestige which he derives from its possession, could not long retain his hold upon Anatolia. With the western seaboard of Asia Minor in the hands of a rapidly increasing Greek population, and Russia playing the part of benevolent neighbor to the enterprising Greeks of Cappadocia and Pontus, any attempt to create a modern empire of Riim with an Oriental court at Konieh or Brusa would be impossible.

In their view the Sultan must, in the fullness of time, pass beyond the Cilician Gates, never to return; and the inheritance left void by his departure must fall to the Greeks. These Greek patriots had an intense belief in themselves. They would greet with pitying smiles the sceptic who ventured to cast any doubt upon their eventual succession to this glorious inheritance ; but their fertile brains had not thrown any practical light upon the process by which a Greek emperor was to be enthroned on the shores of the Bosphorus. In the south, north, and east, where men's minds are less influenced by constant intercourse with the free sons of free Hellas, all hope was centred in Russia, the "deliverer" of oppressed Bulgaria. This Greek had definite views and objects, though these may appear for the moment visionary and impracticable.

The Greeks are a coast and island people. The AEgean is their sea historically. Greek irredentism, encapsulated in the Megali Idea, the Great Idea - the Greek nationalist dream of retaking Constantinople and creating a Greater Greece patterned on the Byzantine Empire - was a grand theme running through and beyond this period. It found its champion in the reformist politician, Eleftherios Venizelos, leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister over many years, who played a primary role in the events around the Lausanne negotiations.

After the Great War the claims of Greece were as a reversionary of the Sick Man's estate. Considering their attitude during the early part of the war (for it is no secret that General Sarrail's operations in Macedonia were seriously hampered by his fear that Greece might attack him in the rear) and the paucity of their losses in battle, by 1920 the Greeks had done reasonably well in the game of territory grabbing.v The full extent of the Hellenic claims were (1) the southern portion of Albania, known as North Epirus; (2) for the whole of Bulgarian Thrace, thus completely barring Bulgaria from the iEgean; (3) for the whole of European Turkey, including the Dardanelles and Constantinople; (4) for the province of Trebizond, on the southern shore of the Black Sea, the Greek inhabitants of which attempted to establish the so-called Pontus Republic; (5) the great seaport of Smyrna, with its 400,000 inhabitants, and a considerable portion of the hinterland, which she has already occupied; (6) the Dodecannessus Islands, of which the largest is Rhodes, off the western coast of Asia Minor, which the Italians occupied during the Turco-Italian War and which they have not evacuated; (7) the cession of Cyprus by England, which has administered it since 1878.

In the spring of 1919 the Peace Conference, hypnotized, apparently, by M. Venizelos, who was one of the ablest diplomats of the day, made the mistake of permitting Greek forces, unaccompanied by other troops, to land at Smyrna. Almost immediately there began an indiscriminate slaughter of Turkish officials and civilians, in retaliation, so the Greeks assert, for the massacre of Greeks by Turks in the outlying districts. The obvious answer to this is that, while the Greeks claim that they are a civilized race, they assert that the Turks are not. The outcry against the Greeks on this occasion was so great that an inter-allied commission, including American representatives, was appointed to make a thorough investigation. This commission unanimously found the Greeks guilty of the unprovoked massacre of 800 Turkish men, women and children, who were shot down in cold blood while being marched along the Smyrna waterfront, those who were not killed instantly being thrown by Greek soldiers into the sea. High handed and outrageous conduct by Greek troops in the towns and villages back of Smyrna was also proved.

Following World War I, in which Turkey's Ottoman leaders sided with Germany and Austria, Allied Powers occupied Turkey. Ataturk, a general who fought with distinction during the war, began a resistance movement in 1919 after the Treaty of Sevres reduced the Ottoman Empire to a minor state. Starting with Turkey's capital, then at Istanbul, Ataturk moved through eastern and central Turkey, building popular support for his campaign. He picked Ankara, a small rural town, as his capital and formed a new legislature. He led provisional forces to victory in a war of liberation, defeating the Greeks in a decisive battle at Dumlupinar Aug. 30, 1922. This day is known as Victory Day and is now an official holiday. In 1923, Turkey established peace with the Allies by signing the Treaty of Lausanne, which fixed the country's boundaries. The treaty of Lausanne was a political victory for the rulers of the new state and freed the country from foreign occupation.

Italy aimed to pick off parts of the Ottoman Empire, and to prevent this, Britain proposed that Greece should occupy the city of Smyrna (Izmir), a port in Anatolia which gave access to the Middle East reserves of oil. Greece was granted jurisdiction over the city of Smyrna (Izmir) and its hinterland under the Treaty of Sèvres, signed on 10 August 1920. This was likely to lead to a war with Turkey which Greece was unlikely to win, and which could cause immense harm to the Greek population which lived on the Anatolian seaboard.

Under the Treaty of Sevres in 1920, an extension of her eastern frontier in Thrace as far as the Black Sea would give Greece control of the entire southern littoral of the Balkan Thrace peninsula, and with this acquisition go commercial advantages of peculiar interest to a seafaring and trading population like the Greeks. In support of her claim to this important strip of territory Greece pointed to the thousand years of control of Constantinople by the Greek or Byzantine Empire, and to the large number of Greek people in eastern and western Thrace, who would have numbered still more had it not been for the massacres by Turks and Bulgarians in the Balkan wars and in the World War itself. An ethnic map of the region is difficult to construct because of the unequal character of the statistics and the lack of any statistics at all for important places. This much is surely known, that the two principal towns, Adrianople and Kirk Kilisse, were chiefly Greek and that in the region as a whole Greeks outnumbered Turks. Bulgarians formed the third of the three principal ethnic groups. The mixture of populations was due to the historical character of Thrace as a transition region between Turkish and Balkan peoples.

The problem was further confused by the effect of the two Balkan wars and the World War, which displaced or destroyed whole sections of the population. Before 1912 the Greeks in eastern Thrace (east of the Maritsa) numbered 400,000 as against 250,000 Turks and 50,000 Bulgarians. According to Greek estimates western Thrace had a population of 400,000, of whom 70,000 only were Greeks, 59,000 Bulgarians, and 285,000 Turks. Bulgarian figures ascribed 185,000 Bulgarians to the region and only 32,000 Greeks.

In laying claim to the whole of Thrace, Greece had the powerful argument that if any portion of the coast bordering the yEgean were left in the hands of Bulgaria or Turkey, the harbors of that coast would furnish bases for submarine attacks upon the long coast line of Greece. By the terms of the Turkish and Bulgarian treaties she wins all the territory of eastern and western Thrace except a small area at Constantinople, though a coastal strip on the sea of Marmara was to be under Allied control.

Among outlying territories the Smyrna region was of chief interest to Greece, for here lived about 500,000 Greeks in an area but of Smjirna little larger than the state of Connecticut. The city of Smyrna had 375,000 people and was the largest city in the Greek world, Athens having but 168,000. Ever since the coming of the Turk (early 15th century), these Greeks had been under the government of an alien conquering race. During the World War they were badly treated, and during the period of peace-making they were alleged to be in serious danger of massacre by Turkish troops.

To save the Greek population from possible attacks by the Turks, the Allies permitted Greece to land troops at Smyrna and occupy the adjacent district. Allied warships were present to take part in the operations if necessary, an action that was complicated by the presence of the Italians immediately to the south. Unauthorized by the Peace Conference at Paris - in fact, in the face of its direct protests - the Italians landed troops in the Adalia region on the pretext of protecting their interests. Clashes occurred between Greek and Italian troops, and finally (July 1919) the peace conference sent a military mission to Smyrna to establish the limits of the Greek and Italian military occupations. With the city and the region adjacent to it is associated a great deal of Greek history and tradition, and it has long been a trade focus.

As a result of the treaties which closed the two Balkan wars and of the terms of the Turkish and Bulgarian treaties and other arrangements with the Allied powers in 1919 and 1920, Greece won so much territory that her area in 1919 was twice what it was in 1911. Before the Balkan wars she had a population of 2,700,000. With the addition of 1,400,000 in Macedonia, Epirus, and Thrace, some hundreds of thousands inhabiting islands ceded to Greece, and about 1,000,000 at Smyrna, her population was about 5,000,000, and of the population gained since 1912 about 2,250,000 were Greek.

With inspiring sea traditions, Greece was on the way to becoming one of the strongest minor powers of Europe. At the beginning of the World War the tonnage of Greek merchant ships was about 820,000; that is, in proportion to the population, Greek merchant tonnage compared favorably with that of all but four countries. Greece acquired new harbors of great importance to her. Saloniki was added in 1912, Dedeagatch and Smyrna in 1920, not to include such important inland stations as Adrianople, Kirk Kilisse, etc. This advantage was offset in part by shipping losses during the war, which brought her total down to 291,000 tons.

There was promise of increasing strength in the internal economic situation of Greece. In order to stimulate commerce and industry, as well as agriculture and the merchant marine ministries of agriculture and shipping had been created in the cabinet of the government. Fortunately, there was no troublesome land-tenure question; in late years the proportion of small estates has increased rapidly, and production has been stimulated by the formation of cooperative agricultural societies.

Certainly it was more difficult for Greece to secure loans from the Allied powers; and Greek participation in the Turkish treaty may be far less favorable to her. The Allies had it in their power to embarrass Greece, if they wished to do so, by refusing military and moral support when clashes occur, as they were bound to, between Greek civil officials and troops of occupation on the one hand and minority groups in the newly won territories on the other. Whether Allied help would be withdrawn was a matter of vital importance to Greece, whose new territorial status was almost wholly an Allied creation.

During the summer and fall of 1919, with authorization from the Supreme Allied War Council, the Greeks occupied Edirne, Bursa, and Izmir. A landing was effected at the latter port under the protection of an Allied flotilla that included United States warships. The Greeks soon moved as far as Usak, 175 kilometers inland from Izmir. Military action between Turks and Greeks in Anatolia in 1920 was inconclusive, but the nationalist cause was strengthened the next year by a series of important victories. In January and again in April, Ismet Pasha defeated the Greek army at Inönü, blocking its advance into the interior of Anatolia. In July, in the face of a third offensive, the Turkish forces fell back in good order to the Sakarya River, eighty kilometers from Ankara, where Atatürk took personal command and decisively defeated the Greeks in a twenty-day battle.

An improvement in Turkey's diplomatic situation accompanied its military success. Impressed by the viability of the nationalist forces, both France and Italy withdrew from Anatolia by October 1921. Treaties were signed that year with Soviet Russia, the first European power to recognize the nationalists, establishing the boundary between the two countries. As early as 1919, the Turkish nationalists had cooperated with the Bolshevik government in attacking the newly proclaimed Armenian republic. Armenian resistance was broken by the summer of 1921, and the Kars region was occupied by the Turks. In 1922 the nationalists recognized the Soviet absorption of what remained of the Armenian state.

The final drive against the Greeks began in August 1922. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk led provisional forces to victory in a war of liberation, defeating the Greeks in a decisive battle at Dumlupinar Aug. 30, 1922. This day is known as Victory Day and is now an official holiday. In September the Turks moved into Izmir, where thousands were killed during the ensuing fighting and in the disorder that followed the city's capture. Greek soldiers and refugees, who had crowded into Izmir, were rescued by Allied ships.

The nationalist army then concentrated on driving remaining Greek forces out of eastern Thrace, but the new campaign threatened to put the Turks in direct confrontation with Allied contingents defending access to the straits and holding Istanbul, where they were protecting the Ottoman government. A crisis was averted when Atatürk accepted a British-proposed truce that brought an end to the fighting and also signaled that the Allies were unwilling to intervene on behalf of the Greeks. In compliance with the Armistice of Mundanya, concluded in October, Greek troops withdrew beyond the Maritsa River, allowing the Turkish nationalists to occupy territory up to that boundary. The agreement entailed acceptance of a continued Allied presence in the straits and in Istanbul until a comprehensive settlement could be reached.

Abandoned by its great power allies and unable to sustain a war in Turkey, Greece was defeated. In retreat, fleeing the Turkish army, the fate of the Greek and Armenian nationals in Smyrna was terror and death. By 03 September 1922 an estimated 30,000 refugees were arriving in the city every day. With British, French, US and Italian ships in Smyrna's harbor, the Great Powers decided to maintain their neutrality and not interfere with the Turkish conquest. On 9 September 1922 the Greek archbishop was murdered by a Turkish mob egged on by the Turkish military commander. Turkish troops then sealed off the Armenian quarter, destroyed every house, raped many women and killed large numbers. Many Armenians who tried to escape at the harbor jumped into the sea and drowned, or were shot by Turkish troops.

The flight of the refugees from Turkey ended of the Megali Idea.

A notable feature of the postwar settlement was the Greco-Turkish Convention for the mutual exchange of populations (January 20, 1923), whereby all Greeks resident in Turkey - except those in Constantinople and Eastern Thrace - were to be deported to Greece and, conversely, all Moslems in Greece - except those in Western Thrace - were to be deported to Turkey. Under this Convention 384,000-500,OOO Moslems in Greece and 1,200,000 Greeks in Turkey were uprooted from their homes and transferred to a new environment. In this way, and through the wholesale emigration of Armenian communities during the French retreat from Cilicia and the Greek retreat from Smyrna, Turkey lost the major portion of its commercial, artisan and industrial classes.

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Page last modified: 03-09-2016 14:46:11 ZULU