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From Smyrna to Mudania September -October
1922: Greek reactions in US and Greece

Stavros Stavridis

 

The evacuation of the Greek army from Asia Minor in early September 1922 resulted in a flood of Greek and Armenian refugees to Greece. Over the next 4 weeks The New York Times kept its readers informed on the drama that was unfolding at Smyrna, Chanak as well as the Mudania conference that eventually would pave the way for an armistice to end the Greek-Turkish conflict.

During this period Greek-American organisations sent telegrams to American President Warren G. Harding and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, urging the American Government to assist the refugees from Smyrna and also asking the United States to intervene in the Near East. Such direct appeals from Greek-American organisations and Greek politicians in Athens to the American Government and public appeared in the columns of The New York Times. However, the American government was determined to keep out of any military fracas in the Near East.

Before the actual evacuation of the Greek army, George Horton, the U.S Consul in Smyrna, cabled Acting Secretary of State Phillips on September 2, 1922 pointing out the low morale of the Greek army and saying that it could no longer maintain itself in Asia Minor. Horton stated that “My opinion is that situation is so serious that it cannot now be saved. Panic spreading among Christian population foreigners as well as Greeks and many are trying to leave. When demoralised Greek Army reaches Smyrna serious trouble more than possible and threats to burn the town are freely heard. In view of the above I respectfully request that cruiser be despatched to Smyrna to protect consulate and nationals." (United States Department of State Papers relating to Foreign Relations of the United States, 1922 Vol.2 p.414)

Two days later Horton sent another cable to Phillips mentioning that the problems in Smyrna were getting worse by the minute. "Refugees pouring into Smyrna and panic increasing. In interests of humanity and for safety of American interests beg you to mediate with Angora Government for amnesty (sic) sufficient to allow Greek forces to evacuate. Amnesty will avoid possible destruction of Smyrna, which may result from blowing up of ammunition dumps and acts of mutinous and demoralised Greek soldiers. Greek High Commissioner last night authorized me verbally to take steps towards mediation." (ibid. pp.414-15)

These two telegrams from George Horton to the State Department in Washington DC capture the prevailing mood of an impending catastrophe that would, in fact, engulf Smyrna in the coming months. The unfolding events were given wide coverage in the newspaper columns of The New York Times. The State Department archives contain voluminous cablegrams exchanged between Washington and its Embassies, Legations and Consulates in London. Paris, Rome, Athens, Constantinople and Smyrna during this dark period of Modern Greek and Armenian history

On September 10, 1922 The New York Times reported that a committee (consisting of Senator William King of Utah, George Vournas, the Secretary of the Loyalists of America, Theo Marcopoulos, President of the association of Greek Liberals of Washington, Robert H. McNeil, Chairman of the American Friends of the persecuted Christian peoples of Asia Minor, and lawyer Sotirios Nicholson) appealed to President Harding for the United States to use its good offices and if necessary collaborate with Great Britain, France, and Italy in finding a solution to the Asia Minor issue and ensure that the Christian minorities were given protection from Turkish reprisals. In Greece at that time Venizelists and Royalists, usually bitter political opponents, were momentarily working together during what they considered to be Greece’s darkest hour.

In the United States efforts to help Greece continued, The Pan Ionian League, a Greek-American organisation representing Greeks who originally had come from Asia Minor, met at St Eleftherios Orthodox Church in New York City N.Y on September 20, to begin a campaign to raise $200,000 for the Greek refugees already fleeing Smyrna. The Venizelos Kyriakos P. Tsolainos who was the chief speaker at the meeting declared that the League had received thousands of requests from Greeks who wanted to participate in a British expeditionary force against the Turks. Cablegrams were sent to the British and Canadian Prime Ministers requesting that the Greeks be allowed to join a Canadian force.

As the Greek-Turkish conflict lunged toward defeat for the Greeks, Britain faced the distinct possibility of going to war with Kemalist Turkey at Chanak, a town situated on the Asiatic side of the Dardanelles. Britain, having been abandoned by its former allies, France and Italy. seemed about to face the Kemalist threat alone. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George cabled the Dominions, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand, on September 16, 1922 requesting them to send contingents to Chanak to defend the Straits.

Lloyd George’s cable, which was couched in emotional language designed specifically to appeal to Dominion sentiment, and which caught the recipients by surprise, stated that:, “.... Apart ... from the vital Imperial and world-wide interests in freedom of Straits for which such immense sacrifices were made in the war, we cannot forget that Gallipoli Peninsula contains over twenty thousand British and Anzac graves, and that these should fall into the ruthless hands of the Kemalists would be an abiding source of grief to the Empire..."

Only Australia and New Zealand responded enthusiastically to Lloyd George’s request whereas Canada and South Africa remained ambivalent to the Chanak crisis. Still, many former World War I soldiers living in Australia, New Zealand as well as Canada were willing to volunteer to fight the Kemalists.

In the United States the Pan Ionian League appealed to Senator Lodge “to use your prestige and influence of your position to avert further catastrophe in the Near East.” The League hoped that Lodge would be able to do something for the Asia Minor Greek refugees and that the American people would be called upon “to bear burden of relief work.” Lodge responded to their appeal that he was “deeply sympathetic with all you say. Shall do my best I can and shall submit your message at once to the President.”

It would be interesting to see if there is any evidence in the Lodge papers, as to whether he responded promptly to the telegram received from the Pan Ionian League. In the Papers relating to Foreign Relations of the United States, 1922 Vol.2, there is a cable dated September 21 from the U.S Acting Secretary of State to the US High Commissioner, Admiral Mark Lambert Bristol, in Constantinople regarding steps taken in extending “emergency relief work in Near East.” Some of the measures included: - “(1) The President has asked Congress to appropriate $200,000 for the relief and possible repatriation of destitute American citizens. (2) In addition to $25,000 already advanced, American Red Cross has informally indicated willingness to make further advance possible to a total of $100,000. (3) Near East Relief has addressed general appeal throughout the country for an emergency fund and in addition to funds resulting from this appeal will probably be able to make advances to possible total of $200,000….” United States Department of State Papers relating to Foreign Relations of the United States, 1922 Vol.2 p.430

Whilst the Pan Ionian League was trying to raise funds for its compatriots from Asia Minor, US relief organisations too were putting their fund raising machinery into operation. Some Greeks who left Smyrna in September 1922 were American citizens.

Appeals continued to come from Greece proper. A group known as the Committee of Unredeemed Greeks, based in Athens, appealed to The New York Times on September 25 asking the assistance of the international community. The appeal was signed by the following individuals :- President Hadjioannou, Secretary Hudaverdoglu, members Doxiadis, Calafatis, Mavridis, Kalantidis, Tsalikis, Iliadis, Sofianos, Spyridis, Stavridis, Hadjipetrou, Tachmintjis, Solozonidis, Reontidis and Neophytos. The committee members blamed Christian European diplomacy for doing nothing to stop the carnage at Smyrna. Moreover they excoriated the Allied fleets for remaining silent in the harbour of Smyrna by not lifting their finger to stop the Turks in carrying out their destruction. The appeal was also sent to the League of Nations, the Pope and Great powers, asking in the name of humanity to assist the Asia Minor Greeks. Having this document appear in The New York Times was a smart move on the part of the Committee of Unredeemed Greeks in order to reach the large Greek-American community in New York City.

For Greece the situation continued to deteriorate. It appeared as though Turkey would succeed in greatly reducing the Greek gains of World War I at the expense the Ottoman Empire. On October 8 The New York Times headline “Thracian Deputies appeal to Harding. Seek aid of Congress. Also to assure Protection to their Christian Constituents” encapsulated the sense of desperation on the part of 28 Greek National Assembly deputies from Thrace who were about to witness part of that area returned back to Turkish control. They appealed to President Harding and US Congress to protect the Greek and Armenian populations in Eastern Thrace “should that area be turned over to the Turks.”

Greece had received Thrace as part of the Treaty of Sevres, which had become an abortive treaty. By contrast the Mudania armistice terms would hand back Eastern Thrace to Turkey. Now all was changed. The deputies made a last ditched effort to appeal to American public opinion in the following terms: - “We ask the support of the American Government and people in our demand, that if Greece must evacuate Thrace, Turkish rule shall not be re-established in Europe. We refuse to be bartered like cattle for alien interests; we demand but most elementary human rights, freedom and safety of life, honor and property in our native land. Shall it be said in the annals of history that in this supreme moment we appealed to Christian America in vain?”

This was all to no avail. Eastern Thrace was, as agreed at Mudania, handed over to the Turkish Nationalists by the allied powers-Britain, France and Italy. That resulted in a mass exodus of Greek refugees

Areas long inhabited by Greeks in the old Ottoman Empire were now undergoing enormous demographic changes. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks poured into Greece proper from Eastern Thrace, Smyrna, Pontus and other areas of Turkey. Most of these men, women and children came with few material possessions, though those of Eastern Thrace were at least able to keep more of their personal possessions compared to their Smyrniote and Pontian compatriots by using horse drawn wagon, motor cars, Lorries and through the movement of their cattle across the border into Greece. The relief work of the American Red Cross, Near East Relief and other US aid organizations proved critical in helping these sorely tried refuges.

The government of Warren Harding certainly approved such assistance, even doing whatever it could so that government officials, the Red Cross and private charity institutions could provide the economic and financial resources to assist the refugees. But the Harding administration had no wish to become embroiled in a war in the Near East. The United States, as would be more and more evident in the 1920s and 1930s was a strongly isolationist country, and the events in the Near East seemed very far off to the American electorate. The new world, the United States, preferred to keep out of the diplomatic problems of the old world. It was really up to the European powers to find a diplomatic solution to the recent Greek-Turkish conflict.

The many appeals that Greek-American organizations and others had made to President Harding and his government in regard to full American intervention in the Greek-Turkish conflict did not result in governmental intervention. But such appeals were not entirely failures. They did set the stage for the kind of humanitarian aid that did result, humanitarian aid which gave succour to many Greeks in their hour of need, and in that sense the appeals did have some success.

Stavros T.Stavridis, Historian/Researcher, National Center for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia

Copyright 2005-08-28

 

 

 

 

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