x

Columnists

Historical Fiction: Eric Summers: 1919-22 Part 8

January 31, 2021

After four months of blissful relaxation, it was back to the hurly-burly of diplomatic life. I was reappointed Consul-General in Smyrna, a cosmopolitan city, which I came to admire for its vibrant, productive cultural and social life. I arrived in early May with rumors circulating of an impending Greek landing.

Before I left America, I followed the proceedings of the Paris Peace Conference through the press. The Greek Premier, Eleftherios Venizelos made an excellent impression on Lloyd George, Woodrow, Wilson, and Georges Clemenceau delivering his nation's territorial claims. I met the Greek Premier in Salonika in 1917, who impressed me with his oratory skills and shared his nation's future plans with me. He envisaged Asia Minor as the jewel in the crown for Greece.

Our Consulate was located in the European quarter behind the Smyrna quay. It was a beautiful building with a lovely garden where we held our social events. Our July 4 celebration was the first social event on our diplomatic calendar. It was here that I met my future wife, Maria Stamatellos, who was the daughter of a wealthy Greek merchant in Smyrna. I was captivated by her beauty and infectious smile. Yes! Love at first sight. We got married at the Greek Church, St. Photini, in November 1919, spending our brief honeymoon in Constantinople. Our daughter, Penelope, was born in November 1920, bringing joy to our lives.

In my annual report of 1919, I reflected on some of the critical events of that year. Three events would have significant consequences far beyond my tenure as Consul General. Firstly, the Greek army's occupation of Smyrna, with its attendant looting and destruction of Turkish property, angered the Turks. They wanted to rid themselves of the infidel ruling over them. Venizelos appointed Aristidis Sterghiadis as the Greek High Commissioner to administer Smyrna on behalf of the allies. The latter's brief was to ensure that all inhabitants were treated fairly and that their rights would be respected. Secondly, the Greek landing was the catalyst for Mustapha Kemal establishing his embryonic nationalist movement in Anatolia. His simple message was the liberation of his country from foreign domination and control. This appeal resonated with many former Ottoman officers and soldiers who were ready to fight under Kemal's leadership. Thirdly, the allied powers wanted to punish the Ottoman empire for its misdeeds during the First World War. The Ottoman delegation failed to persuade the allies of its case for leniency and retention of its territory. They "accepted" the loss of Arabia, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Palestine, but the Greek occupation of Smyrna hurt their national pride.

The Greek army achieved military victories under the command of General Paraskevopoulos on the Asia Minor front. I became good friends with Sterghiadis, visiting him at the Greek High Commission. He returned the compliment visiting me at our Consulate. We discussed the progress of the Greek-Turkish war with its impact on Greek-Turkish relations and its wider ramifications in the Near East. He agreed with me that Britain and France held the key to peace in this region, where they had significant economic, strategic, and diplomatic interests. Sterghiadis believed the United States had an important role to play in the establishment of peace in the Near East but chose to be isolationist instead. He lauded our institutions in the Ottoman Empire, which assisted all peoples without distinction of color, creed, religion, and race. 

One day Sterghiadis came by our Consulate to discuss the latest news on the Asia Minor front. He brought to my attention the names of two U.S. citizens of Greek origin from Smyrna who were arrested for not paying their restaurant bill by the Turkish police. As American citizens, they requested to have their case heard by the U.S. Consular Court in Smyrna. A series of treaties (known as the Capitulations) signed by European nations and the United States with the Ottoman Empire granted their foreign nationals rights and immunities from prosecution under Ottoman law. I acted as judge and found both of them guilty. Both were fined $500 each. If these two had committed a capital crime, then the matter would be heard by our Minister in Constantinople.

Our daughter Penelope was born around the time Venizelos lost the election to the Royalists in November 1920. She had beautiful brown eyes and black hair like her mother. She gave us joy at a time when the future of the Greek presence in Asia Minor seemed doubtful. Even Greece's allies abandoned King Constantine, who returned to power after the defeat of Venizelos and he opened the door for negotiation with Kemal. The Treaty of Sevres, which supposedly established peace between the Ottoman State and the allies, was now in tatters. Kemal's primary objective was to tear it up and drive the Greeks out of Anatolia.

In the middle of 1921, the Greek army achieved a series of stunning victories with Ankara ready to fall to them, but they didn't anticipate that the Kemalists would fight to the death to prevent their capital falling into Greek hands. The next 12 months would result in a stalemate between the combatants on the Asia Minor front. The Italians, French, and Russians sided with Kemal by providing him with money, munitions, and guns. On the other hand, the British tried to remain neutral, bringing her into conflict with her French and Italian allied partners.  

A cataclysm of biblical proportions was about to descend upon Smyrna. I knew things were neither good or bad for the Greek army. My feeling was that they could hold their own against the Kemalists for some time to come. How wrong I was. The Kemalists drove them out of Asia Minor. Smyrna went up flames within a few days of the Kemalist occupation. Thousands of refugees thronged along the Smyrna quay crying for our help as allied ships waited in the harbor to take their nationals. I got away in time by taking all the Consular archives with me to Piraeus. My instructions were to ensure the safety of our citizens, but humanitarian considerations triumphed. I managed to sign papers of non-Americans as American citizens, saving their lives from Turkish reprisals. They all thanked me when we disembarked in Greece. Many of them went on to live in the United States.

My last diplomatic act was appearing before the U.S. House of Representatives’ committee on Immigration, to give evidence regarding the entry of Asia Minor refugees into the United States. I described the holocaust that took place in Smyrna with men, women, and children crying out for help with the allies only rescuing their nationals. I am proud of the work our navy did to assist these poor souls. One Congressman asked me, "should we let these people enter the United States. Yes/No?" This individual who shall remain nameless disliked immigrants from the Balkans and the Near East. My answer was a resounding, " Yes! Yes! Yes!" He didn’t like my response but I had no respect for his views. The committee decided that American citizens could sponsor their refugee relatives to enter the United States so long as they met the health and residential requirements.

RELATED

Contrary to popular belief, when I was a kid, dinosaurs did not roam the earth, we had indoor plumbing and electricity, and I even had a TV set.

Top Stories

Columnists

A pregnant woman was driving in the HOV lane near Dallas.

General News

FALMOUTH, MA – The police in Falmouth have identified the victim in an accident involving a car plunging into the ocean on February 20, NBC10 Boston reported.

General News

NEW YORK – Meropi Kyriacou, the new Principal of The Cathedral School in Manhattan, was honored as The National Herald’s Educator of the Year.

Video

Bam! NASA Spacecraft Crashes Into Asteroid in Defense Test

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A NASA spacecraft rammed an asteroid at blistering speed Monday in an unprecedented dress rehearsal for the day a killer rock menaces Earth.

Enter your email address to subscribe

Provide your email address to subscribe. For e.g. abc@xyz.com

You may unsubscribe at any time using the link in our newsletter.