THE last act in the fearful drama of the extermination of Christianity in the Byzantine Empire was the burning of Smyrna by the troops of Mustapha Khemal. The murder of the Armenian race had been practically consummated during the years 1915-1916, and the prosperous and populous Greek colonies, with the exception of Smyrna itself, had been ferociously destroyed. The idea has been widely circulated, and seems to be gaining credence, that the Turk has changed his nature overnight.
Also, Sir Valentine Chirol, Harris Foundation lecturer at the University of Chicago in 1924, made this statement (“The Occident and the Orient”, page 58): “After the Turks had smashed the Greek armies they turned the essentially Greek city (Smyrna) into an ash heap as proof of their victory.”
The destruction of Smyrna happened, however, in 1922, and no act ever perpetrated by the Turkish race in all its bloodstained history, has been characterized by more brutal and lustful features, nor more productive of the worst forms of human sufferings inflicted on the defenseless and unarmed. It was a fittingly lurid and Satanic finale to the whole dreadful tragedy. The uncertainty which at one time existed in the public mind as to the question, “Who burned Smyrna?”, seems to be pretty well dispelled. All statements that tend to throw doubt on the matter can be traced to suspicious and interested sources. The careful and impartial historian, William Stearns Davis, to whom reference has already been made in this work, says (“A short History of the Near East”, page 393): “The Turks drove straight onward to Smyrna, which they took (September 9, 1922) and then burned.”
Men of this stamp do not make assertions without having first gone carefully into the evidence.
We have already seen by what methods the Greeks had been eliminated from the coastal region of Asia Minor. The murders and deportations have been described by which a flourishing and rapidly growing civilization had been destroyed, villages and farmhouses wrecked and vineyards uprooted. Large numbers of Greeks, however, who had managed to escape by sea, returned to their ruined homes after the landing of the Hellenic army in May of 1919, and set to work industriously to restore their ruined properties.
Mustapha Khemal now determined to make a complete and irretrievable ruin of Christianity in Asia Minor. Carthago delenda est. The plan, revealed by its execution, was to give the city up for some days to lust and carnage; to butcher the Armenians, a task which has always given a special pleasure to the Turk; to burn the town and to carry the Greek men away into captivity.
The main facts in regard to the Smyrna fire are:
1. The streets leading into the Armenian quarter were guarded by Turkish soldier sentinels and no one was permitted to enter while the massacre was going on.
2. Armed Turks, including many soldiers, entered the quarter thus guarded and went through it looting, massacring and destroying. They made a systematic and horrible “clean up,” after which they set fire to it in various places by carrying tins of petroleum or other combustibles into the houses or by saturating bundles of rags in petroleum and throwing these bundles in through the windows.
3. They planted small bombs under the paving stones in various places in the European part of the city to explode and act as a supplementary agent in the work of destruction caused by the burning petroleum which Turkish soldiers sprinkled about the streets. The petroleum spread the fire and led it through the European quarter and the bombs shook down the tottering walls. One such bomb was planted near the American Girls’ School and another near the American Consulate.
4. They set fire to the Armenian quarter on the thirteenth of September 1922. The last Greek soldiers bad passed through Smyrna on the evening of the eighth, that is to say, the Turks had been in full, complete and undisputed possession of the city for five days before the fire broke out and for much of this time they had kept the Armenian quarter cut off by military control while conducting a systematic and thorough massacre. If any Armenians were still living in the localities at the time the fires were lighted they were hiding in cellars too terrified to move, for the whole town was overrun by Turkish soldiers, especially the places where the fires were started. In general, all the Christians of the city were keeping to their houses in a state of extreme and justifiable terror for themselves and their families, for the Turks had been in possession of the city for five days, during which time they had been looting, raping and killing. It was the burning of the houses of the Christians, which drove them into the streets and caused the fearful scenes of suffering which will be described later. Of this state of affairs, I was an eye-witness.
5. The fire was lighted at the edge of the Armenian quarter at a time when a strong wind was blowing toward the Christian section and away from the Turkish. The Turkish quarter was not in any way involved in the catastrophe and during all the abominable scenes that followed and all the indescribable sufferings of the Christians, the Mohammedan quarter was lighted up and gay with dancing, singing and joyous celebration.
6. Turkish soldiers led the fire down into the well-built modern Greek and European section of Smyrna by soaking the narrow streets with petroleum or other highly inflammable matter. They poured petroleum in front of the American Consulate with no other possible purpose than to communicate the fire to that building at a time when C. Clafun Davis, Chairman of the Disaster Relief Committee of the Red Cross, Constantinople Chapter, and others, were standing in the door. Mr. Davis went out and put his hands in the mud thus created and it smelled like petroleum and gasoline mixed. The soldiers seen by Mr. Davis and the others had started from the quay and were proceeding toward the fire.
7. Dr. Alexander Maclachlan, President of the American College, and a sergeant of American Marines were stripped, the one of his clothes and the other of a portion of his uniform, and beaten with clubs by Turkish soldiers. A squad of American Marines was fired on.