Andre Gerolymatos on 1919 Greco-Turkish War and the Politics of Death

CHICAGO – A dark memory in the history of Modern Greece, the Greco-Turkish War of 1919 to 1922 reaped the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians, while from the turn of the 20th century, various Turkish regimes were responsible for the murder of millions across Asia Minor. A specialist in military and diplomatic history, Dr. Andre Gerolymatos accused Turkey of implementing a strategic genocide against the Greeks in the early 1900s in a lecture titled “Genocide or Massacre: the Politics of Death” presented at the Cultural Center of the Hellenic American Community of Greater Chicago, May 31.

The genocide took part in three stages, explained Gerolymatos, TNH columnist and Professor and Director of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University in Canada. “The Turks reacted to losing territory in the Balkans and while there were atrocities committed by both sides on a very small scale, the Turks overreacted and began to ethnically cleanse their part of the Balkans,” he said.

Greek Army killings before and after the Greco-Turkish War resulted in a minimum of 15,000 murdered Turks, according to a study and book titled Statistics of Democide: Genocide and Mass Murder since 1900 by political scientist Rudolph J. Rummel, professor at the University of Hawaii who passed away last March.

The Turks on the other hand reacted by killing some 878,000 Armenians and Greeks in the post WWI years according to the same study, in which Rummel credits the era’s Young Turk government with “the infamy of executing this century’s first full scale ethnic cleansing” while estimating that “most probably, the Nationalists Turks murdered 264,000 Greeks…in the post-WWI years.”

Part of the Hellenic, Byzantine, and Ottoman empires, Pontic Greeks traced their history in Asia Minor to the Homeric period in the first century BC, until uprooted and exiled during the Greco-Turkish War which amounted to the tragic Catastrophe of Smyrna in 1922.

Led by the new Turkish Republic, the ethnic cleansing of Asia Minor, central Anatolia, the Pontus, and former Russian Caucasus province of Kars Oblast during WWI and the years that followed, wiped out over a million people.

Large scale massacres and deportations, as well as death marches and arbitrary executions characterized the cultural genocide of the Christian and Greek Orthodox communities of the region.

“There were death marches that they [the Turks] organized,” Gerolymatos said. “They would round up people and march them through unfavorable terrain and at the same time they encouraged local Muslims to attack them along the way,” he added.

Eventually forced out of the land they inhabited for centuries, the Greeks and other Christian civilians of Asia Minor were no strangers to Turkish hostility prior to WWI and the Greco-Turkish War.

“The Turks wanted to create a completely homogeneous Turkish state and they implemented genocide against the Armenians and Assyrians and in the process they killed a lot of Greeks in massacres,” Gerolymatos noted.

Indeed, from 1900 to 1923, it is estimated that various Turkish regimes were responsible for the death of some 3.5 to over 4.3 million Armenians, Greeks, Nestorians, and other Christians, according to Rummel’s study.

Yet, despite the magnitude of Turkish crimes against humanity in modern historical times, the Greek Government has over the years remained lackluster in demanding that Turkey admits to genocide, having only reluctantly lobbied the international community to shame the Turks into acknowledging their dark past.

“A lot of Turkish people are not acknowledging this,” asserted Gerolymatos. “There has been a very tepid reaction to this by the Greek State since 1924, partly because they are afraid of Turkey, and party because of the typical inefficiency of the Greek State…they don’t understand that this could help them in Europe,” he added.

What’s more, Gerolymatos noted that some Greek politicians have denied a genocide ever occurred, and that other historians have rejected first hand accounts of large scale massacres, though there are thousands of reputable reports from sources of various national backgrounds.

“What can be said about this is that all of Turkey was complicit in the genocide of the Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians,” Gerolymatos said. “And there are thousands of eye whiteness accounts by Germans, British, Americans, French, Italians, and even statements by Turkish officials,” he added.

Furthermore, the forced migration of Asia Minor refugees to Greece had its consequences for the country, resulting in a negative socioeconomical impact.

“About 1.5 million refugees ended up on Greece’s doorstep while Greece was going through an economic crisis, and that messed up Greek society for the years to come,” Gerolymatos asserted. “The population of Greece in 1922 was something around 6 million, so imagine that 20% of people were refugees,” he said.

To make matters worse, locals and refugees alike had to deal with an uncomfortable truth, the feeling that the new arrivals simply did not belong. “There was a great cultural chasm…the Ionian Greeks were different culturally,” Gerolymatos stated.

The “Genocide or Massacre: the Politics of Death” lecture was hosted by the Hellenic Link–Midwest, the Pontian Society of Chicago and the Asia Minor and Pontos Hellenic Research.

Gerolymatos studied classics and modern history at McGill University in Montreal and holds the Hellenic Canadian Congress of BC Chair in Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University since 1996. He is the author of several books including The Balkan Wars: Conquest, Revolution and Retribution from the Ottoman Era to the Twentieth Century and Beyond (2002); Red Acropolis, Black Terror: The Greek Civil War And The Origins of Soviet-American Rivalry, 1943-1949 (2004); and Castles Made Of Sand: A Century of Anglo-American Espionage and Intervention In The Middle East (2010). Gerolymatos serves as a member of the Canadian Advisory Council on National Security and is also a member of the board of the Alexander S. Onassis Foundation U.S.A.