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General News

CYA Virtual Lecture on Smyrna 1922 with Prof. Lou Ureneck

October 28, 2022

ATHENS – In the latest installment of the College Year in Athens (CYA) Virtual Lecture Series on October 26, Lou Ureneck, author, professor, and visiting fellow of the Institute of Hellenic Culture and the Liberal Arts at The American College of Greece in Athens, discussed the events that occurred in Smyrna in September of 1922 and how the American humanitarian rescue mission saved tens of thousands of refugees in the last violent episode of the 20th century’s first genocide.

Based on eyewitness accounts, documents, and survivor narratives, Ureneck’s book tells the harrowing story of an ordinary American and a principled Naval officer who, horrified by the burning of Smyrna, led an extraordinary rescue effort that saved a quarter of a million refugees. The fascinating discussion is especially relevant in this centennial year of the Smyrna Catastrophe.

Facilitating the discussion was CYA President Alexis Phylactopoulos, whose mother had fallen victim to the events that transpired at the time. He noted in his welcoming remarks that this year CYA is celebrating its 60th anniversary founded by his mother, Ismene Phylactopoulou (1907-1983), who came to Greece in 1922 as a refugee from Smyrna, so the lecture was particularly significant to the CYA community.

After graduating from Wellesley College, she recognized the tremendous historical and cultural importance of Greece to liberal arts students and set about creating a serious academic program in Athens for college-age North Americans. “Mrs. Phyl,” as she was affectionately known, was not only committed to high academic standards but also displayed genuine concern for each student’s educational and personal growth. She was the Director of CYA for nearly two decades and received a Doctorate of Humane Letters from DePauw University in recognition of her achievements in study abroad.

Ureneck began his presentation with some historical background, pointing out that the Treaty of Versailles settled World War I in the West, but in 1919 Greece found itself fighting Turkish nationalists in Asia Minor due to the inability of the Allies, mainly the British, Italians and French, to settle the First World War in the East.

In the CYA Virtual Lecture, Professor Lou Ureneck spoke about the extraordinary efforts of Rev. Asa Jennings and U.S. Navy Commander Halsey Powell to rescue the refugees of Smyrna in 1922. (Photo: TNH Staff)

Smyrna, he noted, “was a city of beautiful mansions, big villas, opera houses, beautiful hotels, restaurants, lots of music, the first golf course in that part of the world; it had a race track, yachting races, dances, theatre… there was a French department store.”

Violence broke out after the Turkish infantry entered the city and soon, “no one was safe,” in the “general mayhem” and from the many atrocities that were committed against Christians in Smyrna.

The foreign powers viewed the situation as an ‘internal’ matter and evacuated their own nationals. Eyewitness accounts note that Turkish soldiers had set several fires in the Armenian quarter and the winds soon stoked the flames and people fled for their lives towards the waterfront.

Ureneck then spoke about the extraordinary efforts of Rev. Asa Jennings and U.S. Navy Commander Halsey Powell to rescue the refugees of Smyrna.

For a better understanding of the events, Prof. Ureneck’s book Smyrna, September 1922 (titled The Great Fire in the hard-cover edition) is available online: https://amzn.to/3NjWIVB.

A Q&A session followed Ureneck’s presentation with Phylactopoulos as moderator.

Lou Ureneck is a writer and professor, currently serving as a Visiting Fellow of the Institute of Hellenic Culture and the Liberal Arts at The American College of Greece in Athens. He has taught various courses, including business and economics journalism, at Boston University and Ukraine National University in Kyiv and has written three books. His book Backcast won the National Outdoor Book Award for literary merit in 2007. Prof. Ureneck has taught in professional settings as a writing coach for media and research organizations, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, International Herald Tribune, Boston Globe, Nieman Reports, and Field & Stream.

Video of the discussion is available on YouTube: https://bit.ly/3SBAcso.

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