13th September 1922 The Destruction of Smyrna

The Great Fire of Smyrna

At the beginning of the 20th century, the great city of Smyrna on the Anatolian coast was one of the world’s richest, most cosmopolitan and ethnically diverse metropolises – containing large Armenian and Jewish communities, as well as twice as many Greeks as then lived in Athens. Indeed, as the possible birth place of Homer himself, Greece had a long and deeply-embedded history with this most ancient city. But on September 13th 1922, victorious Turkish soldiers at the end of the three-year-long Greco-Turkish War lit fire to Smyrna’s Armenian and Greek quarters and went on a rampage of rape, pillage and mass murder. Soon, all but the Turkish quarter of the city was in flames as hundreds of thousands of refugees crowded the waterfront, desperate to escape. In the harbour were no less than twenty-one international battleships – including eleven British, five French and three large American destroyers. But on orders of their respective governments anxious to protect oil and trade interests in the area, all watched on passively as thousands of people were massacred in cold blood. The British poured boiling water on desperate refugees who swam up to their vessels, while America’s official representative insisted that journalists cable home reports favourable to the Turks. In a week of utter bloody carnage, the ancient city of Smyrna was entirely snuffed out; by the time its dying embers cooled, as many as 100,000 people had been killed and millions left homeless. There followed a massive cover-up by tacit agreement of those same Western Allies who had defeated the Ottoman Empire just four years earlier in World War I. The destruction of Smyrna – one of the great atrocities of the early 20th century – has subsequently been all but expunged from historical memory.

This colossal catastrophe had many causes. While Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s conquering soldiers were the same mass murderers responsible for the Armenian genocide, the Greeks themselves were not guiltless of perpetrating acts of atrocity upon the Turks throughout the course of their somewhat overreaching quest to reclaim and re-Christianise the Asia Minor territories lost to the Ottoman Empire. But the primary finger of culpability must be pointed squarely at a reckless and imperialistic post-WWI policy of meddlesome intervention that went disastrously wrong.

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and American President Woodrow Wilson both shared a simplistic support for the Greeks that lacked any deep understanding of the wide-ranging and longstanding ethnic complexities in the region. The landing of the Greek army in Smyrna in May 1919 was in truth part of a cynical campaign by the Western Allies to carve up the territories of the fallen Ottoman Empire for their own self-serving purposes, and they were only too quick to change sides when it suited them. Just one year after the tragedy at Smyrna, the Allies formally recognised the Republic of Turkey with the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, thus legitimising the Turkish Nationalist program of ethnic cleansing and genocide, and reversing all terms of the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres which had legally obligated the Turkish government to bring accused war criminals to justice.

And while those Allied troops ignored the screams of the burning, drowning victims of their leaders’ machinations – some admirals even going so far as to order marching bands to play in order to silence the desperate pleas for help – it is interesting to note that the only rescue bids launched were by heroic civilians, and a nearby Japanese freighter that dumped all of its cargo and filled itself to the brink with refugees.

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10 Responses to 13th September 1922 – The Destruction of Smyrna

  1. Maggie McGill says:

    Such a fine blog – good luck with tracing the accounts of your relatives, Dorian

  2. Wonderful blog … Awesome!

  3. Paul Wyrd says:

    The bloody shame of British imperialism constantly rears its ugly head when the truth of history is broadcast. Dorian, your enlightening blog should be a daily feature on the BBC News, at least it would make the BBC News worth watching for once.
    Shame on the scum that ‘rule'(d) Britain, they shame the people that make up this Sacred Island with their subhuman behaviour.

  4. JacksonPol says:

    Dear Dorian,

    Thank you for this post of an event that I knew nothing about.

    I went to Izmir, the new Smyrna, about a decade ago. Nothing was told of this tragic story.

    Respect to you,


  5. edward graham says:

    I am currently in Izmir. There is a beautiful muslim clock in the main square. It is almost completely overshadowed by a hideous soviet style building adjacent to it. I am looking for more clues of the glorious past of Smyrna. I would love it if you could share any monuments or sites to visit in the city of Izmir.

  6. Psychedelic Rob. says:

    Wow, just wow…
    It’s hard not to despair for Humanity when you read a thing like this. It’s the first time I’ve ever read about this event, those poor peoples.
    You know what they teach as history in our ‘schools’ really is a load of old sh**e.

    I appreciated Paul Wyrd’s perspective of demarcating our ‘Sacred Isle’ from the behaviour of it’s empty, disconnected elites. It’s like Terrence McKenna said: were governed by the least of us: the least intelligent,the least morals, the least courage and the least visionary.

  7. Susan says:

    My grandmother was 9 years old when this happened and her family escaped to Lesvos for a year. When they returned, they found their house still standing, but looted and filthy, their servants murdered and their bodies thrown in the well.

  8. Joy Schuh says:

    Another heartbreaking path in the worlds history. What amazes
    is that these atrocities remain hidden from the people who would have fought against such behavior. The history we are taught in school is less informative then historic novels. Infact these writers have the decency to tell you what has been invented , changed or
    left out. This is not something that is limited to a few countries there are skeletons in every country’s closet of history. Like most humans I prefer the truth.

  9. Berk HA says:

    If you are wonder about actualities at Smyrna, you need to browse reports of American Mark O. Prentiss, Austrian Paul Grescovich and French Admiral Dumesnil. They were in İzmir at the time of disaster. You are free to think of what you want afterwards.


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