I RETURNED to Smyrna in 1919, shortly after the Greek army had landed in the city. As the Turkish plan of extermination was well under way before the arrival of the Greek troops, the Christian peasants had been driven out of the entire region with the exception of the city itself, and many had perished, their farms and villages being destroyed. They had scattered over the Greek islands and the continent, and at Saloniki, where the Greek government had constructed barracks to house them, there was a considerable settlement of them.
Much has been said of atrocities and massacres committed by the Greek troops at the time of their landing at Smyrna on May 15, 1919. In fact, the events that occurred on that and the few succeeding days have been magnified until they have taken on larger proportions in the public mind than the deliberate extermination of whole nations by the Turks, and no consideration seems to have been given to the prompt suppression of the disorders by the Greek authorities and the summary punishment of the principal offenders, several of them by death.
The facts of the case, as learned from American missionaries, business men and others of undoubted veracity, are as follows: The evening before the dismemberment there was a reunion of the Allied naval commanders and, according to one of those present, there was a discussion as to the plan under which this action ought to be carried out. My informant stated that the American commander was in favor of cooperating with the Greeks by policing the different sections of the city with Allied Marines, but that the Englishman advocated letting the Greeks “run the whole show” alone. This information is given second hand and its accuracy can not be vouched for, but it seems probable.
At any rate, the advice attributed to the American was practical, but could not be followed for evident reasons. We could not disembark because we were, as usual, “observing”; and there was such strong jealousy among the Allies regarding Asia Minor, that they could not go ashore either together or separately. This was the first indication of the lack of united support that ultimately caused the Greek disaster and the destruction of Smyrna.
The whole responsibility was therefore thrown upon the Greeks, who landed among a population, so far as the Turks were concerned, more insulted by their advent than the white citizens of Mobil would be if it were given over to a mandate of negro troops. To the Turk, the Hellene is not only a “dog of an unbeliever,” but he is a former slave.
As the Greeks proceeded in the direction of the Konak, or Government House, situated in the Turkish quarter, they were sniped at. I was informed by numerous eye-witnesses, not natives of Smyrna, that the sniping grew into a fusillade.
The sanitary expert of the American hospital, situated in the region of the Konak, related to me the following incident: Hearing the sniping, he ran out into the yard of the hospital, fearing that if shots were discharged from there they might draw the Greek fire. He saw a Turk with a rifle up in a tree of the hospital yard. He pointed a revolver at him and told him to come down. The Turk obeyed. This informant was a native-born American citizen, not of Greek or Armenian extraction.
The Greeks took a number of prisoners whom they marched down the quay in the sight of the Allied and American battle-ships, making them hold up their hands. They are said to have stabbed several of their prisoners with bayonets in sight of the people in the houses and on the ships. There was no massacre, in the sense of a general killing of prisoners, but some few they did thus kill; this act appears murderous, contemptible and idiotic, and the Greeks may be left to explain it as best they may.
There was an uprising in the town, something in the nature of a riot, and some more Turks were killed. Various estimates have been given by Americans who were present as to the number killed, ranging from fifty to three hundred. The latter is a high estimate. There was also considerable looting, both in Smyrna and the outlying regions.
Speaking of this affair in a pamphlet entitled “The Great Powers and the Eastern Christians”, (Published by the Anglo-Hellenic League, No. 49) William Pember Reeves says:
“So far as the persons killed in Smyrna were Turks, they numbered, I am told, seventy-six, killed partly by Greek soldiers and partly by the town mob. About one hundred of other nationalities were killed also. The ring leaders in the business were executed by the Greek authorities and compensation paid to the families of the victims.”
Where Mr. Reeves obtained his information is unknown to me, but it coincides with that which was given me by Americans who were present and who I saw a short time after the landing of the Greek troops. I was present in Smyrna when the ringleaders in the disturbances of May second were condemned and shot.
It was here that the Greek governor-general displayed that resolution and marked ability, which characterized his entire regime at Smyrna. He suppressed the disturbances completely in a very short space of time and severely punished the evil-doers. Three of the ringleaders, Greeks, were taken out to a square beside the railroad connecting Boudja and Smyrna and publicly shot and buried where their graves could be seen by all the people passing between that popular summer resort and the main city. This trio had been previously tried by court-martial and sentence had been executed immediately.
Many others were tried and received lesser sentences. The populace was informed that Greeks disturbing the peace would be more severely punished than Turks, a policy which was carried out during the entire Hellenic administration and contributed no little to the unpopularity of the governor-general among the native Christian population.
In all seventy-four sentences were passed on those convicted of disturbing public order on the days immediately following the landing of the Greek military authorities: three of death; four of hard labor for life; two of hard labor for a term of years; twelve of long and fifty-three of shorter terms of imprisonment. Of the seventy-four sentenced, forty-eight were Greeks; thirteen Turks; twelve were Armenians and one a Jew. The three persons executed were Greeks, one of them a soldier.
Mr. Sterghiades, the Greek governor-general, ordered all those who had loot in their possession to give it back immediately, under pain of heavy punishment, and specified a certain warehouse on the Rue Franque where it was to be delivered, and practically all the plunder was given up. All Turks who claimed to have been robbed were invited to present their claims to the government and these were accorded with so little question that numerous Turks profited immensely by presenting false or exaggerated demands. In addition, many Greek landed proprietors and prominent inhabitants of the smaller towns went out into the country and by haranguing the peasants and protecting the Turks, contributed greatly to the restoration of order in the rural regions.
Prominent among these was a certain Mr. Adamopolos, owner of a very large estate at Develikeuy, a village about thirty-five miles out of Smyrna, who proceeded there and compelled his peasants to restore sheep and other belongings, and threatened with dire punishment any Greek who should harm a Turk.
There was also a lawyer by the name of Athinogenis, who calmed an uprising of Greek villagers at Boudja by explaining to them the real meaning of the Greek landing. Mr. Athinogenis came to America in behalf of the autonomy of Asia Minor and created a good impression here.
To this list must be added a certain Mrs. Baltadzis, wife of a naturalized American citizen, who visited a farm owned by her near Smyrna and kept the peasants in order. Tranquility was soon restored, as much by the influence of the better-class Greeks as by the severe measures taken by the Hellenic civil administration. That it could be so restored, was nothing less than a miracle when one considers the persecutions, which the Greeks had so recently suffered. Many of the Greek peasants had been robbed and abused by the very Turks whom they would now gladly get even with.
One incident will be sufficient to illustrate the sort of thing that was smarting in the memory of the Christian peasantry: A small farmer with a large family had planted a field of beans for food for his wife and children—beans being one of the principal articles of food for these people. A Turkish officer staked out his horse in this field, whereupon the farmer asked him if he might not put the animal in a grass plot, where was excellent pasturage. The reply was a horse-whipping, accompanied by abusive and contemptuous epithets in the presence of his family and the village, by the officer. This is a mild incident illustrative of the general conduct of the Turks toward the Christians. It is given because it came within my personal observation, and I knew the farmer, who was a very worthy and self-respecting man.
Great numbers of the Greeks had almost unforgettable insults and injuries smoldering in their hearts. Standing on the balcony of the Consulate, I have seen a Turkish cabman pass a Greek confrere and lash him with his whip, a cowardly act, because resistance on the part of the latter would have meant death and there was no one to whom he could have recourse for justice. In many cases the Greeks who took the Turks’ sheep were only trying to get their own back, previously taken.
One sinister event occurred in a village not far from Smyrna, which will be understood in this country especially in the Southern States. A certain powerful Turk had made free with several Christian girls, and soon after the landing the fathers and brothers seized and hanged him. The virtue of their women is an extremely sensitive point with Greeks.
Mr. Stergbiades, the Hellenic high-commissioner, or governor-general, was a remarkable man in many ways. A Cretan, like Mr. Venizelos, he had been selected by the latter for the post, and a more difficult it would not be easy to imagine. Possessed of a strict sense of justice and a high ideal of duty, he lived as a hermit, accepting no invitations and never appearing in society. He wished, he informed me, to accept no favors and to form no ties, so that he might administer equal justice to all, high and low alike. It soon became known that when he issued an order he expected it to be obeyed.
On one occasion I was present at an important service in the Orthodox Cathedral, to which the representative of the various powers, as well as the principal Greek authorities had been invited. The high-commissioner had given the order that the service should be strictly religious and non-political. Unfortunately, Archbishop Chrysostom (he who was later murdered by the Turks) began to introduce some politics into his sermon, a thing which he was extremely prone to do. Sterghiades, who was standing near him, interrupted, saying: “But I told you I didn’t want any of this.” The archbishop flushed, choked, and breaking off his discourse abruptly, ended with, “In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen,” and stepped off the rostrum.
The high-commissioner was once on his way to a country village to officiate at the dedication of a school when one of his companions said: “Some ugly stories are told about the priest out there. He refused to say the prayers over the dead body of a poor woman’s child, because she did not have the full amount of his fee, and it was buried without the rites of the church.”
The high-commissioner made no reply to this and expressed no opinion. On his arrival at the village a delegation came down to meet him, including the mayor, the priest, etc. Upon being presented to the father, the high-commissioner slapped the latter soundly in the face, saying: “Wretch! I don’t want to know you. You are a disgrace to the Church and to the Greek nation.”
“But this isn’t the same priest, Excellency,” explained the bystanders. “This is a good man. We sent the other away.”
“Give him a hundred drachmas for his poor,” said His Excellency to his secretary, and thus the incident was closed. At any rate, he had forcibly expressed his opinion of the sort of man the guilty priest was.