The Story of Asa K. Jennings

Source: Most of this document consists of text provided to me by Roger Jennings, a grandson of Asa K. Jennings, who also provided me with the following list of books that detail the story. The comments are his. If you wish to contact him directly, his e-mail is: rjenningsmfgco AT yahoo DOT com.

  • The Spirit of the Game by Basil Mathews published by George H. Doran Company, NY 1926. Chapter "The Great Rescue" by R.W. Abernethy who heard the story from AKJ while passengers on a ship. Abernethy later wrote it down.
  • The Devine Yes by E. Stanley Jones Abingdon Press, Nashville and NY 1975. See page 26.
  • Story of Near East Relief 1915-1930, An Interpretation by James L. Barton. The Macmillan Company, NY 1930.
  • Diplomacy in the Near and Middle East, Volume II, A Documentary Record 1914-1956 by J.C. Hurewitz. D. Van Nostrand Company, Inc. NY 1956. This is a collection of treaties, concessions, decisions and compromises. So, for example, a copy of The Turkish National Pact of 28 Jan 1920 is included. That announces the objectives of the Nationalist Government, intention with respect to minorities, etc.

The story can also be found in some recent books ([BC06] and [MHD98]) and the web sites listed below.

  1. Between a Fire and the Deep Blue Sea. A detailed account of how Jennings convinced the Greek government to send ships to evacuate the refugees.
  2. Jennings of Smyrna A lot about Jennings (including his photo) and the story of the Smyrna tragedy.
  3. Strange Destiny Discussion of a 1945 movie about Asa Jennings.
  4. The Importance of Getting Involved A long article, covering many other stories, as well as Jenning's. It includes a photo of his, as well as photos of Smyrna in 1922.
  5. A movie in the making about the life of Asa Jennings.

This a story about how much good can a single individual do. Asa K. Jennings was in Smyrna serving as a YMCA field secretary, when thousands of Christians were piling up in the port while fleeing for their lives. These people had been abandoned by everybody, including the Greek government whose actions were the immediate cause of the disaster. Jennings, acting on his own and with no official capacity "send a series of messages to the Greek government demanding that they send ships and threatening to expose their weakness of will if they failed to do so" [BC06, p. 23]. Jennings had to be quite persistent and inventive because the initial reaction of the Greek government was quite cool. (Details can be found in the references listed above..) Eventually they sent 26 ships and 360,000 people were evacuated in 11 days. Of course, before Jennings could that he had to get Turkish approval. At the risk of his life he went to see the Turkish leader, Kemal pasha (who later took the surname Ataturk) who did give his approval.

But there is more to the story. While AKJ was removing the refugees from Smyrna he started getting radio messages that people in other ports were also stranded. His fleet of ships was expanded from 26 to 55, and he controlled those ships for about a year calling on all ports from the Black Sea to Syria at least once every 3 days, because the Turks said they would deport to the interior, i.e. death, those people who were in the port more than 3 days. (See for example, [MHD98], p. 215.)

Turkey had imprisoned men ages 17-45 when all others were allowed to leave as refugees. Families were separated, and a great hardship was imposed on hundreds of thousands of people. Turkey and Greece were at war, and hated each other. The Greek Government wanted its people returned, but knew that any negotiation with Turkey would be difficult. So Greece appointed A. K. Jennings as its representative to negotiate with the Turks. Ataturk respected A. K. Jennings for the personal heroism of travelling repeatedly through the combat to arrange for the freedom of the refugees, and his leadership that gained control of 55 ships despite repeated rejection by the General in charge of the Southern Greek Army, Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Greece held Turks as prisoners of war also, but not nearly as many as the Turks held. The Turks knew that getting an agreement with the Greek Government would be difficult when emotions ran so high. So the Turks appointed A. K. Jennings to the diplomatic mission of securing from the Greeks what the Turks were not sure they could achieve themselves. So A. K. Jennings was representing two countries at war at the same time and he was succesful in his mission of the prisoner exchange.

Eventually A. K. Jennings received several honors from the Greeks and two of them (sent to me by his grandson Roger Jennings) can be seen by clicking on a citation in English and a citation in Greek ( translation). The latter contains an unfair reference to the Turkish leader Kemal, maybe understanble in the bitterness of times, but nevertheless untrue (See article E on this site.)

After the war A. K. Jennings stayed in Turkey to open branches of the American Friends of Turkey that had a Board of Directors who were primarily Turks, but whose mission was the same as the YMCA. However any reference to "Christian" was not politically correct.

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