Diplomatic Prelude to Genocide

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Betrayal of the Greek Army

Part 11 of a Series on Islamic Doctrines

At the end of November 1918, a Peace Conference in Paris began and continued well into 1919. The main ambition of Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau of France was increased territory and a heavy burden of reparations on Germany to pay for the war. Clemenceau had strong opinions and was so fluent in both French and English that he could simultaneously converse in both languages. Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuelle Orlando of Italy wanted colonial territory and parts of Turkey, including Smyrna. President Woodrow Wilson of the United States came late into the negotiations. He came with noble altruism and hopes for future peace, but he was not well prepared in his grasp of the concerns and competing ambitions of the other Entente Powers. The silver-haired British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, had the magnetic eloquence and courage, for which the Welsh are famous, and possessed the knowledge and temperament for the hard task of bending competing national interests to a reasoned consensus, if any man could do so. British ambitions were focused on oil, particularly the oil lands of southern Iraq.

Unfortunately, the highly desirable Smyrna area had been promised to both Italy and Greece at various times during the war.

Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos also attended the first days of the conference. Venizelos had the same kind of eloquence and courage that characterized the British Prime Minister, and the two men were very compatible. Venizelos gave Lloyd George three strong reasons why the Greek Army should occupy the Smyrna area. First, the majority of the population in the Smyrna area was Greek in language, culture, and Orthodox Christian religion. Second, Venizelos had personally assisted British efforts and safe withdrawal from the otherwise tragic Gallipoli campaign in 1915 and personally brought Greece into the War on the side of the British in 1917. Third, and most urgent, the Greek Christians in Smyrna were in mortal danger of Turkish genocide that had already massacred many thousands of Greek Christians and nearly 2.0 million Armenian Christians. As recently as 1914, Turkish irregulars completely destroyed the Greek town of Phocea with 8,000 inhabitants, located on the coast just north of Smyrna. The New York Times estimate of only 100 dead was probably unreliable.

At the Peace Conference, it was decided to divide up Turkey into British, French, Italian, and Greek Mandates. Italy was to have the southwestern Mediterranean coast and the French the southeastern coast including Cilicia, along with Syria and Lebanon. The British would get much of northern Turkey, Palestine, Iraq, and other oil rich lands. The British also had plans for a Jewish homeland, an Armenian homeland, and possibly a Kurdish homeland. Italy was not happy with only the southwestern coast and in March preemptively landed troops at Adalia, 225 miles southeast of Smyrna. Italian troops then began marching toward Smyrna, and seven Italian warships anchored near Smyrna. Meanwhile as the Ottoman Army collapsed, roving bands of armed men threatened disorder and more Christian massacres. More importantly, the deposed Young Turk nationalists now led by Mustafa Kemal had no intention of letting foreign powers divide up Turkey. The poorly equipped Kemalist Nationalist troops were strongest in eastern Turkey, but they began moving west with their murderous disposition toward Christians unreformed since the 1915 to 1916 rounds of Armenian genocide.

Lloyd George proposed to meet the approaching humanitarian crisis by letting the Greek Army occupy the Smyrna area in the name of all the Allied Powers to protect Greek Christians and Western business interests. The proposal was accepted, although not with French and Italian enthusiasm.

Nevertheless, on May 5, 1919, as seen from the U.S. supporting Battleship Arizona, a British destroyer entered the deep Smyrna inlet followed by two Greek destroyers, two Greek Battleships (the Patris and Kilkis), six Greek transports carrying 20,000 troops, and two more British battleships, three British cruisers, six British destroyers, six American destroyers, three French cruisers, three French destroyers, a Russian destroyer, an Italian destroyer, and the Greek Battleship Propontis. All were there to protect the Greek armada, civil population, and their own national interests. Thousands of Greeks and Greek supporters, spread along Smyrna’s magnificent mile-long quay, received them with cheers and thousands of small blue and white Greek flags. Many of the Greeks were brought to tears by both thankful relief and pride in their still vibrant Greek heritage.

As the Greek troops disembarked from the transports, they marched in magnificent form down the long quay. Adults and children showered them with flowers as many others cheered from the windows of tall buildings. There were posters of Eleftherios Venizeros and shouts of ”Long live Greece! Long live Venizeros! Long live the Greeks in Smyrna!” But there was quiet, when their beloved Chrysostomos, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan (Bishop) of Smyrna, blessed the troops and the crowd.

Except for the Turks, the crowd was festive. The Turks looked on with sullen displeasure as the Greek colors replaced the Turkish colors. Most of the small Turkish force still in Smyrna had withdrawn or quietly surrendered. Several hundred armed Turkish troops and their officers were confined to barracks under the watch of Allied guards.

However, the jubilant mood was changed to panic, when a shot rang out, causing an exchange of fire that killed between 50 and 80 Turks and 47 Greeks including many civilians. Although the Nationalist Turks had received orders not to fire on the celebration, a lone Turkish nationalist, Hasan Tahsin, had fired a shot from the crowd that killed the Greek standard-bearer.

As more Greek troops arrived in Smyrna, the Greek Army marched eastward. For many months, the newspapers reported one Greek victory after another, but the Turkish Nationalists were gaining recruits, especially from the disbanding Ottoman regiments, as they withdrew into more defensible terrain. Furthermore, early in 1920, the French and Italians had decided to advance their interests through the Nationalist Turks rather than having them frustrated by British, American, and Greek ambitions. In a short time, the previously ragged Kemal Nationalist Army was being generously supplied by French and Italian sources. Moreover, following a new Greek offensive in October 1920, Prime Minister Venizelos was defeated in the October 25 election by Dimitrios Rallis, whose slogan was, “We will bring our sons back home! No more wars for Greece!” The war weary Greek people opted for a change that helped demoralize its troops in the field.

Rallis also arranged a plebiscite to bring back King Constantine who had advocated neutrality in WW I and whose wife was the German Kaiser’s sister. Moreover, Rallis fired the most competent WW I combat-experienced senior Army officers and replaced them with inexperienced Monarchists. He then asked the Allies for continued war aid, but they distrusted both Rallis and King Constantine as being pro-German. France, Italy, the U.S., and Britain cut off all aid to the Greek Army. Lloyd George, however, continued to support the Greek cause in Turkey. By early 1921, the newly formed Soviet Union was also supplying the Turkish Nationalist Army under Kemal.

Meanwhile, the Nationalist Turks escalated atrocities against Christian minorities. By mid-1921, twelve Greek divisions totaling 225,000 soldiers found themselves in the middle of Muslim Turkey with little hope of success. To be continued.

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