Nobody is Blameless

It is common to find books that lay the whole blame of the tragic events either on the Turks alone or the Greeks alone, and in particular the irredentist policy of the latter. Sadly both sides must share the blame. I do not feel it is productive to try to apportion blame, or that this is even possible, so I am going to give below examples of cruel acts of both sides.

When WW-I broke out both Armenians and Pontiac Greeks formed armed groups to fight against the Turks near the eastern front with Russia. The Ottoman government reacted by massive deportations of both Armenians and Pontiac Greeks that resulted in countless deaths. To understand the enormity of the Ottoman over-reaction imagine that the US government decided to deport all members of an ethnic group because some of them had engaged in criminal activity. The fact that there was provocation does not excuse the virtual extermination of civilians, many of them far from the war zone and many of them not sympathetic to the rebels. To that we have to add the conscription of Christian men to labor battalions where they faced extremely harsh conditions that led to the deaths of many of them.

After WW-I Greece was given the province of Smyrna, and pretty soon the Greek leadership decided to invade the rest of Asia Minor. What were they thinking? Greeks were a minority even in the province of Smyrna (about a quarter of the population), there were even fewer of them in other provinces. Was Greece expecting to rule over a country where most of the population would have been hostile? Note that while the Ottoman empire was multi-ethnic, it recognized the existence of each ethnic group. On the other hand, the Greek government had dreams of reconstituting the Christian Byzantine Empire. There is a theory that the Greeks were encouraged by the British to try to reach the oil fields of Mossul (see family history) but after the British created Iraq, they had no need for the Greeks. Of course, it was natural for the Turks to resist. Since the Greek army had over-extended its reach it was not surprising that it was defeated by the Turkish resistance. I am not sure how extensive were atrocities by the invading Greek army, but the retreating army outdid itself, establishing a scorched earth policy that set fire to Turkish towns and villages [BC06]. I have also heard from my mother stories that as they were fleeing following the retreating army they could come across burning villages with screaming Turkish women who had been raped by Greek soldiers. If there is a single culprit in this horrible story, it is probably the Greek premier Venizelos. [LB04] has a chapter expressing the thoughts of a dying Greek man on this topic. (I have heard similar views from relatives.) Ironically, this issue has been clouded because Venizelos was no longer a premier when the catastrophe occurred and his successor government took the blame with some of its members facing the firing squad.

Some apologists of Turkey claim that the Greeks were fleeing, following the Greek army because of the scorched earth policy. The truth (as I have heard from many relatives) is that they were afraid for their lives because Turkish irregulars were slaughtering the Christian population (and, yes, raping women).

There is another shameful chapter in this story. The Greek government sent ships to evacuate the Greek army but left the civilian population stranded. It was only through the actions of a remarkable American, Asa K. Jennings, that Greek authorities sent the ships back to evacuate the civilians. Site Map