The Great Disaster

Paradise Lost by Giles Milton, Basic Books, 2008 begins with a list of characters divided into six categories: British, Levantine, American, Greek, Turkish, Armenian. It recounts the tragic story leading up to and following the destruction of Smyrna and the deaths of thousands in 1922. Milton takes an unbiased, balanced approach as he chronicles the horrific events, relying on the personal diaries of survivors for an eyewitness account of the final days.

Neither the Greeks nor the Turks, the principal players involved, can claim innocence in the matter. And both the British and Americans failed to intervene with the exception of one man whose actions saved countless lives among the myriads of desperate people attempting to escape the final conflagration.

At the end of World War I, Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire, was occupied by British forces because the Port was on the losing side. The major European powers were eager to seize control of major parts of the empire. The Treaty of Sèvres promised the Greek Kingdom Smyrna and a considerable portion of land surrounding the port city in Asia Minor.

However, the Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and his followers, along with British Prime Minister David Lloyd George promoted the Great Idea: the conquest of Constantinople. The Greek Army seemed to be succeeding until Mustafa Kemal rallied an affective fighting force to repel the invaders and drive them back to the sea.

Twice A Stranger by Bruce Clark, Harvard University Press, 2006 presents the personal stories of some of the survivors and their descendents were uprooted from their homes and the lands where generations of their family lived during the population exchange in 1923. About 400,000 Muslims were forcibly moved from Greece to Turkey and 1.2 million Greeks from Turkey were resettled in Greece.

After peace between the two nations was restored, a few of the exiles and/or their children managed to visit the places where they once lived and still longed for but none were allowed to remain there permanently. They talk about the initial hardships they faced as refugees among their coreligionists and recount tearful reunions with their former neighbors years and decades later. The book humanizes and gives witness to a sad episode of nearly forgotten Mediterranean history.

copyright © 2012 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved

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