Books on Genocide and the Smyrna Catastrophe

During the Genocide’s death marches, an Armenian woman kneeling beside dead child in a field near Aleppo, Syria, as witnessed by the American Committee for Relief in the Near East. Photo: Public domain

During the month of September, events were held commemorating the Smyrna Catastrophe of 1922 and many scholars who gave presentations referred to various sources and books on the topic. For those who missed the presentations but would still like to learn more about the event that so dramatically affected the course of history not only in Greece, but worldwide, the following books are a good place to start.

Professor Ismini Lamb, Director of the Modern Greek Program in the Department of Classics at Georgetown University is currently working on a book about George Horton, the American diplomat best known for writing The Blight of Asia, which detailed Turkey’s atrocities against its non-Muslim minorities leading up to and including the Smyrna Catastrophe.

The Blight of Asia contains first-hand accounts of the Christian massacres. Horton worked in the Diplomatic Corps of the United States, and was posted to Greece and the Ottoman Empire for most of his career as a diplomatic attache. Working across several offices in what is now Turkey and Greece, he witnessed the chaotic fall of the Ottoman government – a period in which great numbers of people were killed for their ethnicity and their faith.

An image from the Catastrophe of Smyrna 1922. Photo: Museum of Asia Minor Hellenism “Filio Hademenou” in Nea Filadelfeia, Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari

The grim accounts of continuous, sustained persecution of Christians in various cities and districts spares no detail. Partly biographical, the memoir charts Horton’s life through his various diplomatic offices. The book begins with historical mentions of earlier killings and then includes the at times horrifying eyewitness accounts dating from 1909 and onward.

Some have criticized what they perceive as Horton’s anti-Turkey bias, noting his ideological opinions and the fact his wife was Greek. However, The Blight of Asia remains one of the most influential and important sources regarding these bloody events in history.

During her presentation at the EMBCA event on September 26, Prof. Lamb mentioned two books in particular, Wolfgang Gust’s 2014 book, The Armenian Genocide: Evidence from the German Foreign Office Archives, 1915-1916, and Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi’s 2019 book, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924. Prof. Lamb said of the books: “While Gust concentrates on the Armenian Genocide, Morris and Ze’evi fully cover the persecution of the other Christian groups, including the mass murder and expulsion of Anatolian Greeks who literally had lived in Anatolia for thousands of years. By the way, that persecution began prior to the Armenian genocide. On a related point, both these sources exonerate the Ottoman Christians from charges of sedition, a charge often levied against them by Turkish sources.”

The Great Fire: One American’s Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century’s First Genocide by Lou Ureneck recounts the harrowing story of a Methodist Minister and a principled American naval officer who helped rescue more than 250,000 refugees during the genocide of Armenian and Greek Christians.

The year was 1922: World War I had recently come to a close, the Ottoman Empire was in decline, and Asa Jennings, a YMCA worker from Upstate New York, had just arrived in the quiet coastal city of Smyrna to teach sports to boys. Several hundred miles to the east in Turkey’s interior, tensions between Greeks and Turks had boiled over into deadly violence. Mustapha Kemal, now known as Ataturk, and his Muslim army soon advanced into Smyrna, a Christian city, where a half a million terrified Greek and Armenian refugees had fled in a desperate attempt to escape his troops. Turkish soldiers proceeded to burn the city and rape and kill countless Christian refugees. Unwilling to leave with the other American civilians and determined to get Armenians and Greeks out of the doomed city, Jennings worked tirelessly to feed and transport the thousands of people gathered at the city’s Quay.

With the help of the brilliant naval officer and Kentucky gentleman Halsey Powell, and a handful of others, Jennings commandeered a fleet of unoccupied Greek ships and was able to evacuate a quarter million innocent people—an amazing humanitarian act that was relatively unknown to history, until now. The above books are available online and in bookstores.