Smyrna 1922: The other half of the forgotten story

A postcard depicting the port city of Smyrna (now Izmir, Turkey) before 1922.

Historical truths are often distorted or forgotten. The Asia Minor catastrophe of the 1920s is a good example. For decades, Turkish leaders pursued a policy of “Turkey for the Turks”, massacring and deporting Christians, culminating in the burning of Smyrna in September 1922. reached. From 1.5 million he 2.5 million Christians’ (30 years of genocide). Adding to its horror, world powers ignored the genocide and even covered the Turks while it was going on.

Many truths about this terrible time have been forgotten, including the dramatic rescue of 300,000 refugees stranded on the docks of Smyrna. Recent films (“Paradise Is Burning” and “Unknown Savior”) and books (“Ship of Mercy” and “The Conflagration”) are about Eisa rescuing raped, murdered and starving Smyrna refugees. I admire Jennings’ role. A quay 2 miles long. Still, Jennings was well known for her century-old humanitarian work.

On July 8, 1923, he returned to the United States with the headline “The Man Who Saved 300,000 Has Arrived!” in the New York Times. With so much attention given to Jennings, other important figures and developments have been overlooked. rice field. More importantly, it’s forgotten that the heroes on the ground in Smyrna can’t do anything until other heroes of a much higher level act first.

In mid-September, when the fires in Smyrna died down and the fate of the refugees was in jeopardy, leaders of Turkey, Britain, Greece and the United States debated what to do and who would do it. Admiral Mark Bristol, the American representative, was less than sympathetic. He wanted to cover up Turkish atrocities with fake news and disinformation and gain Turkey’s approval for access to American oil. , was stepping into the relief of refugees.

When Kemal rejected an Allied plea for permission to evacuate the Smyrna refugees on 18 September, the British protested that his decision “equally sentenced 250,000 people to death”. Seeing that he had gone too far, Kemal relented and reversed his decision the next day. Informed that it has decided to instruct the destroyers.

However, both Kemal and Bristol had conditions. Kemal allowed only women and children to depart. All adult male Christians in the Ottoman Empire were either sent to march into the interior or worked as slave labor until death. Kemal also gave the Allies just over a week of his time until the end of the month to facilitate his ethnic cleansing. Women and children were then also killed in the hinterland. Bristol also had conditions. He told the State Department that he would only allow his destroyers to assist in the evacuation if the State Department determined there would be no U.S. assistance to refugees in Greece. Allen Dulles, who ran After protests from George Horton, the American consul general in Smyrna, the Athenian envoy, and others, Dulles had to reverse his decision, and American aid flooded into Greece.

Admiral Mark Bristol was covering up Turkish atrocities with fake news and disinformation in hopes of gaining Turkish approval for access to American oil

These actions paved the way for Jennings and others to organize boat lifts to help refugees. The first group of refugees was pardoned by Kemal and followed by Bristol, two days after he left on 21 September aboard the Italian steamer Constantinople. Three days later Jennings began a mass evacuation and with 14 other Greek ships he sailed aboard the SS Ismini to the port of Smyrna. After the Turks stripped the refugees of all their valuables, he was allowed to board a waiting ship that would transport them to the Greek islands. Soon the process was repeated at other Asian Minor ports. Hundreds of thousands of people made it to the sanctuary in Greece, the only country to accept them.

That’s, as they say, “the rest of the story!” It doesn’t detract from the heroic efforts of Jennings and others, but puts their efforts in context. It further demonstrates the influence of key figures at a time when the bureaucracy was much smaller. Depending on the efforts of several key officials, both high-ranking government officials and on the ground in Smyrna, things could have played out very differently.

Ismini Lamb is Director of the Contemporary Greek Studies Program at Georgetown University. Her George Horton biography, The Gentle American, which she co-authored with Christopher Lamb, is available in hardcover from her Gorgias Press and in e-book form from her Gorgias publishing partner, De Gruyter. I can do it. Smyrna 1922: The other half of the forgotten story

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