One of the saddest anniversaries of modern Greek history is that of the collapse of the Asia Minor front that led to the military defeat and the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Greeks from Asia Minor.
The historical events of August-September 1922 have been recorded in their entirety under the title “Asia Minor Catastrophe.”
The defeat of 1922 can be compared to that of 1453 and can be considered as greater because it uprooted the long-standing Greek community in the Ionic land.
The Day of National Remembrance of the Genocide of the Greeks of Asia Minor by the Turkish State was established by a unanimous decision of the Greek Parliament on September 24, 1998, and is celebrated every year on September 14.
One million dead, 1.5 million refugees, who nevertheless managed to transfer the hidden beauty of Asia Minor to motherland Greece!
“In the evening of the day when the fire broke out, I had left my house, which was located on a street perpendicular to Hatzistamou Street, I went to this street to find out what was happening.
It should be noted that the fire had not yet spread to this district. There I met a group of two hundred to three hundred armed Turks. After I told them I was French, I asked them what they were looking for.
They answered me that they had instructions to blow up and burn down the houses in the neighborhood. I then tried to persuade them, but they replied: ‘It is useless, go!’ And indeed, shortly after I left my house, the incendiary bombs began to fall.” Jubert, eyewitness, a French bank clerk.
This destruction began seven days after the withdrawal of the last Greek military unit from Asia Minor and after the entry of the Turkish army, Mustafa Kemal himself and irregulars in the city.
The fire first broke out in the Armenian quarter following the explosion of the Armenian Church of Saint Nicholas, where the women and children had taken refuge after having being besieged by the Turks.
The Greeks entered the church and gave water and food to the besieged, but the most numerous Turks quickly regrouped, surrounded the church again and blew it up.
With the help of the wind favorable to the Turks (blowing against the Turkish quarter) and the gasoline with which the Turks sprinkled the houses, the fire burned the whole city, except the Muslim and Jewish quarters and lasted from 13 until September 17, 1922 (August 31 to September 4 according to the Julian calendar).
What had happened
After the collapse of the front, which was the responsibility of the then Commander of the First Army Corps, Lieutenant General Nikolaos Trikoupis, and the hasty retreat and withdrawal of the Greek expeditionary force from Afyonkarahisar (in mid-August 1922), there was the uprooting of a large part of the Christian population (Greeks and Armenians) to the coast of Asia Minor, which, according to the estimates of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, reached 250,000.
Also, in Smyrna, 15,000 Armenians who had gathered in the various institutions and houses of the Armenian Community had found refuge.
However, the incessant arrival of trains carrying military remains and refugees (estimated at 30,000 per day) to Smyrna, as well as the strong rumors of the general collapse of the front increased the intensity and concern of the Greek population, while the Greek administration for departure no longer left the slightest doubts about the subsequent development.
The response of the Greek High Commissioner Aristides Stergiadis to the former Prefect of Lesvos and Governor of Chios George Papandreou, when the latter recommended him to immediately inform the Greek population about the disaster.
Aristedes Stergiadis reportedly told Papandreou: “It would be better for them to stay here for Kemal to slaughter them because if they go to Athens they will overthrow everything.”
The last Greek military unit left on August 24/September 6. The next day, thousands of Greek and Armenian refugees who gathered in the famous waterfront “Quai” of Smyrna waited in vain for the Greek ships to transport them to the neighboring Greek islands.
However, after the strong intervention of the American Consul G. Horton, two US destroyers were sent to serve the refugees. The next day, August 26/September 8 (1922), the Greek authorities of Smyrna left. The hitherto Greek High Commissioner of Smyrna, Aristides Stergiadis, boarded an English warship for Constantinople.
The countdown for the city of Smyrna began
On Wednesday, September 13, the population had increased to 700,000. Turkish soldiers initially lit fires in the Armenian quarter, which was engulfed in flames until noon. Under the protection of their own soldiers, Europeans and Americans evacuated their nationals from Smyrna.
When it got dark the fire had spread to the waterfront, suffocatingly full of refugees. At midnight British Admiral Brock ordered lifeboats to be sent and at night all the warships in the bay were filled with 20,000 people.
On Thursday, September 14, half a million people were still on the waterfront.
The fire burned what was left and Kemal issued a decree according to which those who remained after October 1 would be deported to central Anatolia.
On Saturday, September 16 and Sunday, September 17, thousands of Greeks and Armenians of conscript age marched inland.
On Sunday, September 24, Aza Jennings launched the large evacuation operation with ships from Greece.
On Saturday, September 30, there were less than 50,000 refugees left, and with an eight-day extension, they all left.
The flame of the day of remembrance of the Asia Minor Catastrophe will remain lit forever!
Source: Estia Neas Smyrnis