A Summarized Analysis of the Greek -Turkish confrontation.
Last update 22/04/2013
The expulsion of Christian population from Asia Minor at the beginning of the 20th century and current problems that are still affecting the Greek –Turkish relationships.
Greece has been under Ottoman occupation for four hundred years.
The Ottomans ruled over 70 nationalities and occupied an area, a large part of which used to be the Byzantine Empire, the Eastern part of the Roman Empire that broke out and formed a separate independent state. In some way one may say that the Ottomans succeeded the Byzantine Empire that also ruled over a large number of nationalities that existed in the area, but the main population and its culture was predominantly Greek by far.
A lot and conflicting information has been written about the way the Ottomans ruled, between the 15th and 19th century. A lot can also be said about the role part of the Greek population has played during these years and generally about the relationship the Greeks had with the Ottomans. Some scholars go so far as to say that Greeks lost a unique opportunity to become the dominating element within an empire that was ready to accept them as a real inheritance from the Byzantine era.
Further more the conflicts between the West and the Ottomans, at certain early periods and the occupation of part of the Ottoman Empire with Greek population by the Venetians created a very strange and unexpected climate under which the Greeks were looking up to the Sultan to protect them from the Venetians.
This very contradictory situation was further enhanced because of the strong conflict that existed between the Catholics and Greek Orthodox within Christianity.
The situation was not made any easier with the “never- ending” antagonism between the Pope and the Greek Patriarch residing in Constantinople.
This, however, did not mean that Greeks had lost their National Identity, neither did that meant that Turks were not a cruel oppressor who was trying to rule by pure military force.
Why the Ottomans lost control of the economy and the consequences.
The main point is that the Turks did not manage to administer their subjects within the Ottoman Empire. They could not even control the economy because commerce, shipping and industry were gradually passing in the hands of Greeks, Armenians and Jews.
The focus of the Turkish administration to improve on the military control over it’s subjects absorbed all Turkish elite to such activities and allowed other nationalities to fill in the gap for commerce, shipping and industry which in turn created a certain degree of freedom of movement to a significant part of the population within the Empire.
This situation led to the gradual collapse of the Ottoman Empire that could not stop a series of National revolutions to spring up, mainly in the European side of the Ottoman Empire at the beginning. As a consequence, these National revolutions led to the establishment of a number of independent states.
The new reality, “Oil”.
In addition, one new “game” started, from the Asian side, except that it was a few years later, the Arab tribes and nations gradually started waking up.
But simultaneously with this awakening, the western powers started to become conscious of the oil resources in the area that we know today as Iraq….
So “oil” was the new differentiating factor that came to play a significant roll in international politics. Greece till that time was traditionally supported by Russia and the western powers lead by Britain for cultural, geopolitical, religious and financial interests reasons. Let us not forget that all this was happening against a background of centuries of conflict between the two great religions, Christianity and Islam. Even to day we hear elements in Turkey accusing the European Union as a “club of Christian nations” and many Muslim extremists referring to the American intervention in Iraq as a new “Crusade”.
This new reality was to play a dramatic roll in the 20th century conflict between Greece and Turkey. All traditional alliances, National interests and policies changed overnight. And mainly changed the interests of Great Britain France and the United States.
The Greek war of Independence against the Ottomans started at the beginning of the 19th century, the same time with the start of the decline of the Ottoman Empire.
The western powers (England France and Italy) played a significant roll in supporting the war of independence of the Greek population so did Russia as well. The Ottoman Empire was retracting continuously under the pressure of West and Russia.
The Greek Nation won its independence, gradually, with various successive wars and treaties from 1821 to 1912. It is physical consequence that, over these years, the image of each country could only inspire terror to each other. Terror for the Turkish troops, that were oppressors and occupying forces, terror for the Greek revolutionaries who were considered terrorists and infidels to the Muslim religion. .
It is important to note that from the 19th century and in spite of the war of independence that the Greeks were fighting in the mainland of Greece, the Greek population in Asia Minor, under the loose administration of the Sultan, was flourishing and going through a cultural and commercial renaissance. Smyrna was then a commercial and cultural center that was considered as “The Small Paris” of Asia Minor. The evidence of their prosperity was present in commerce, banking, shipping, industry, music, and night-life with theatres and cabarets of European style.
Smyrna the sea front before its destruction.
This was interrupted by activities initiated and encouraged by the “Young Turks” movement, which forced the Sultan to grant a constitution to the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. (1908).
It is characteristic to underline that the “Young Turks” movement started in Thessaloniki, a very cosmopolitan Greek city under Turkish occupation.
1902 The committee of Progress and Union.
1907 Kemal becoming a member of the party of “Young Turks”.
From this point on, serious persecutions started against all non-Turkish minorities, mainly the Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians. Jews and other Arab minorities were spared. This continued through the whole period of the “first world war”.
The “Young Turks” sought to rid themselves of troublesome, non Turkish ethnic groups, so that they could built a homogeneous middle class that up to this time was dominated in many areas by Greeks and Armenians. Consequently, this would help built a homogeneous Turkish state, hence avoiding further mutilation of the Ottoman Empire in areas that non Turks were in majority.
Greeks and Armenians, consider this period as a period of real genocide, since more than 2.5 million people were expelled or killed. The Armenian Genocide started first as the Armenians did not have a homeland to protect them. Greeks followed as the Young Turks movement was gaining power.
New Turks demonstrate in Smyrna during 1908
The interesting thing to note is the Greek flag among the demonstrators. Some Greeks were very much influenced from the principles and slogans of the New Turkish Movement and really suppoted them.
New Turkish slogans
New Turks infront of Gildiz Palace 1909
The Armenian ordeal. 1910
Peramian refugees scattered deep in Asia Minor, during 1915
After world war one the allies recognized the right for Greece to step in to protect their populations, and encouraged her to start an expedition to control certain areas in Asia Minor mainly around Smyrna that was thriving at the time with Greek population that had to demonstrate superior culture and wealth.
This encouragement was not totally innocent. Let us remember that Turkey had fought at the side of Germany and the Central European powers during the First World War. England had the habit of putting other powers to fight some wars for them, India, Australia, New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries played this roll. So Greece was encouraged to play the roll of the “policeman” fully supporting the British interests, while at the same time was serving its own aspirations for the liberation of a part of Asia Minor that had a majority of Greek population.
This is the time that the interests of Britain, France and Italy together with the United States that had already been involved in the War were shifted. The Ottoman Empire had collapsed a new power was emerging in Turkey under a new strong personality Kemal Attaturk. Kemal was now interested to save the core of his country, he was more realistic and he realized what was the main interest of the western powers. The interest of the western powers was shifting to the oil producing countries and to the control of these areas. The real compensation was the oil of Musul in Mesopotamia, today’s Iraq.
Why should Great Britain support their Greek allies now? Why should they give Cyprus to Greece as they had promised? The Kallipoli war that had costed them and their allies enough, had finished. And they found the best excuse. There was a political change in Greece that brought back King Konstantine to the throne of Greece, a pro German personality married to Kaizer’s daughter.
How could they carry on supporting the Greek army?
And the “great betrayal” for the Greek Nation started, not only from Great Britain but from France and Italy.
The Great Greek Politician El Venizelos who was the architect of all the political and military planning that allowed Greece to expand to its present state, said after the loss of elections, anticipating what would follow. “If I new that this would happen I would have never allowed myself to be drawn by the Great Powers to this. Greece cannot support, on its own, such expedition. We could only do that as a part of a General plan with the agreement and support of our allies”
The expedition of the Greek Army continued under the leadership of King Constantine and ended with a total disaster and the burning down to ashes of Smyrna one of the richest and most well developed Greek community centers.
An account of the historic events that lead to the defeat of the Greek Army in Asia Minor, is best and more vividly given by Nancy Horton the daughter of George Horton the Consulate General of United States in Smyrna during 1922.
Nancy is a “living monument” of this era. She lives among mountains of documents of historical importance, which she inherited from her father. Nancy Horton has devoted her life to save the work of her father and what she believes is the evidence of a lost civilization.
Extracts from a speech made by Nancy Horton can be found on a separate page on this site:
(A speech given by Nancy Horton to the Greek American confederation in Philadelphia USA during 1992).
The Treaty of Lausanne ended the Greek Turkish war.
The events that followed led to a massive population exchange between Greece and Turkey that totally changed the demographic shape of the area as it was the biggest forceful population relocation that the world had experienced to date. The Treaty imposed the mandatory deportation of 300.000 Turks from Greece in exchange for the 1.400.000 Greeks that had survived the holocaust and were now deported from Asia Minor.
The remaining Greek population of Asia Minor, after this population exchange, mainly concentrated in Constantinople and suffered further persecutions, loss of their properties and their minority rights and gradually were forced to leave, reducing their number from 350.000 to an approximate number that doesn’t exceed two thousand who mostly have Turkish nationality. I cannot help but make a comment about this total elimination of the Greek community of Constantinople.
“During the 2004 ceremony for the arrival of the Olympic flame in Istanbul, in its trip around the world, there was not even one athlete of Greek origin in Turkey to join the Turkish team and share the honor of this inheritance.”
Maybe I sound unforgivably romantic but I am not, if such a move was to take place it would fill the heart of the Greek nation with feelings of such friendship for the Turkish nation that the warmth would breeze across the Aegean sea.
The last wave of expulsions in 1958.
Coming back to less romantic historic references, a major second wave of expulsion took place during 1958 as a reprisal for the Cyprus movement for reunification with Greece.
The Cyprus issue is the last chapter after the Asia Minor and catastrophe, this tragic period for the Greek nation that is at the same time the birth of the modern Turkish State.
A reference to the Cyprus issue and some comments on the current situation is given on this site under the page:
The challenge of being objective. The “other point of view”.
It is now time to discuss the other side of the story, the Turkish point of view.
In the Cyprus chapter I quoted a statement made by Kemal Atatourk.
Kemal Atatourk was the biggest historical rival of modern Greece, a great statesman, a military figure, and a hero for his country, and creator of the Modern Turkish state.
The signing of the Treaty of Sevres on the 10th of august 1920
Kemal Attatourk, during 1919, when he was faced with the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire and had to negotiate with the Allies, winners of the first world war, which under the “treaty of Sevres” were proposing solutions to carve up the Ottoman empire and basically take advantage, in one way or another, from the disintegration of what Kemal was considering the motherland he wrote in his memoirs:
“ There was only one decision to make in this situation and that was to establish a new Turkish State based on national sovereignty, without any restrictions and without any conditions! Well this was the decision I had considered before…..
The soundest and most logical arguments for arriving at this decision, were as follows: The Turkish nation should live in honor and dignity. Such a condition could only be attained by complete independence. No matter how wealthy and prosperous a nation may be, if it deprived of its independence, it no longer deserves to be regarded as anything more than a slave in the eyes of the civilized world.
To request to become the protectorate of a foreign power is to admit to lack of all human qualities; it is to admit to weakness and incapacity. Indeed it is unthinkable that any group of people should ever voluntarily accept the humiliation of being ruled over by a foreign master.”
What an ironic coincidence, that Greek Cypriots, eighty years later, are putting up a similar stand, and voice similar principles and fight for their sovereignty against principles that the Turkish nation and most of the western world seem to be forgetting.
But let us go back to the days of the “Turkish war of independence”. I can’t help commenting:
Independence from whom?
I admit that it is really challenging to be objective in presenting a tragic historic conflict, especially if one’s family has been a victim of this conflict. I will try my best to be objective because I want this document to give an accurate account of my family’s historic background and because I believe that objective observations can help to benefit and draw realistic conclusions, which can be useful to current and future generations. This is why, in my references to various historic events, I have tried to use sources from both sides to keep a balance as much as possible.
One can search on the Internet and find horrifying stories from both the Greek and Turkish side. Both parts do not contribute to the rapprochement both nations much desire. They feed hatred and pre-occupation.
But Internet sites are not the only area where one can observe such practices. On the Turkish side of Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriots maintain a local museum, which they call “The Museum of Barbarism” exposing pictures from Greek atrocities that happened before the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The young Turkish Cypriots are growing up with these pictures influencing their innocent minds about their neighbors. Every primary school in North Cyprus has to visit this institution, at least once, so that the young Turkish Cypriots can maintain, in this way, their national identity. This “Museum of Barbarism” is kept open by the Turkish administration, even today.
One of the points discussed during the visit of Prime Minister Tayet Erdokan in Greece, May 2004 was certain Turkish, Internet sites, which offend the Greek Nation. Prime Minister Erdogan promised to look into this in the effort to improve Greek – Turkish relations. On the other hand there are many books that have been written about the destruction of Asia Minor and the expulsion of Christian population from their homeland where they existed for more than 3000 years. These publications can also be considered to offend the Turkish Nation. Also you can find sites on the Internet that can be considered as pure Greek propaganda by the Turks.
In any case one has to have the intellectual capacity to differentiate between historical facts and propaganda served by both sides. One fact is indisputable, that these two nations have been at war for centuries and thousands of people have been killed and massacred over centuries. Atrocities have been executed in the name of Fatherland or Independence by both sides. It is up to the historical analyst to analyze where the limit is set between an action that can be considered a crime or, a war for independence, a terrorist act, a war to protect financial interests, genocide or for other geopolitical reasons. Any judgment should also, very much depend on the historic timing and the area under consideration.
An example of a site on the internet, that refers, to the historic conflict, in great detail, from the Greek and Armenian point of view, you can find in address:
In addition it is interesting to read USA Ambassador’s to Turkey Morgenthau’s story.
Which gives a detailed independent description of events during the 1st World war
Obviously the content is very emotional as would be expected, because it refers to what, Greek, Armenian
and Assyrian minorities are viewing as a real, “holocaust” and “genocide” of their race.
In order to evaluate the information provided under this site one needs to keep a relative distance from some emotional statements and at the same time appreciate that many things have changed since the beginning of the 20th century and the Turkish Nation, today, is approaching very fast the level of a western European country.
From my point of view I will focus my source of information to Kemal Atatourk memoirs and to official Turkish Government information to cover the Turkish point of view and cross relate this information to documentation provided to me by Ms Nancy Horton, the daughter of George Horton, the Ambassador of United States, officially representing the USA government in Smyrna, during the destructive fire of 1922.
I met Nancy Horton, as recently as 2003, in Glyfada, a nice suburb of Athens, where she still lived.
Finally let me comment that I find the most resent attitude of the Turkish state very disappointing in so far as, in spite the support that Greece is giving for the issue of Turkey’s entrance to EU, Turkey is disregarding all international regulations and agreements by violating, on a daily, basis, Greece’s air space, encouraging illegal immigration, not allowing Cyprus the use of Ports and other facilities in Turkey, but most of all feeding the young Turkish generation with false information that propagates fanaticism.
Please note the following :
THE INCREDIBLE TURKISH SCHOOL BOOKS !!!!!!!!!!!
While the Hellenic History book, being taught to the Greek children at the 6th grade
elementary schools, “glorifies” the “progressive” efforts of the Ottomans to enhance the education of the Greeks in the Ottoman occupation period,
forgets “the secret school”, the corresponding manual of our neighbor country teaches the
Turkish students that:
– Page 19: “The Aegean islands are now under Greek occupation.
-Page 21: “Greece has not the power to maintain peace in the Aegean”. (!!!)
-Page 65: “The Middle East peace and security in Asia can be kept with the return of these islands to Turkey”.
-Page 110: “Turkey established its territorial waters to 6 miles in 1930. So Chios, Samos and Mytilene are located within the territorial waters of Turkey.
The rights of a sovereign country in its own waters permit to exercise the same rights to islands found in these waters”.
These and many others are found once somebody tries the very first reading of the book of History (1996 edition) which is taught today systematically at the higher classes of the 8th grade of a Turkish school of a compulsory schooling.
This book entitled the
“The laws of Turkey in the Aegean» (EgeDenizinde TurkHaklari) and it released in Turkey firstly in 1955 with the signature of the Turkish History Professor Mehmet Sakha.
Based on arbitrary historical theories which are now being taught in historical, military academies and schools in Turkey, all cultures of the Aegean between them and the Greek – were of Turkish origin?
They arrive in absurdity to consider Minoans, Mycenaeans, Ionians, Trojans and Pelasgians were pre Turkish tribes living in the Aegean.
According to these incredible theories, Greeks were only a small branch of the “large Turkish population”, and “the only one who had the power to create large countries and cultures!”
Even more advanced is the work of Selachatin Salizik (Turk Yunaniliskilerivefiliki eteria) including strange claims such as Greek culture came from Asia and had no origin, Turks came to the Aegean in …2480 BC and most of all, Democritus, Herodotus, Hippocrates, Pythagoras and Homer were of Turkish origin.
The above work has been certified by the Turkish Ministry of Education and is being taught in Turkish schools…
To be continued.