Historical Fiction: Greeks and Turks in New York City – Differences of Opinion

November 15, 2020

On October 8, 1922, the Foreign Policy Association (founded by 141 distinguished Americans in 1918) held a luncheon at the Hotel Astor in New York City where Greek and Turk accused each other of atrocities. Both sides denied such acts in Asia Minor. Dr. Mark Ward, a former Near East Relief worker, interjected and stated during his time in Asia Minor “[he] buried 800 Greeks refugees, the victims of the Turk soldiers, with my own hands. Because I tried to give these Greeks bread and medicine I was sent away from Asia Minor with a price on my head.”

Dr. Ward kept a diary from May 1921-February 1922 containing information on the number of deportees passing through Kharpout on their way to Van, Bitlis, or Diyarbekir. The Pontian Greeks and some Armenians were deported from the coastal regions of the Black Sea into the Anatolian interior to work in the infamous labor battalions. Many of them perished from starvation, disease, lack of warm clothing, and shelter.

The Secretary-General of the Greek Liberals, Kyriakos P. Tsolainos, acknowledged that the Turks had perpetrated the massacre of two million people. He was concerned that France would hand over Eastern Thrace containing a Greek population over to Turkish administration without a guarantee for the protection of their lives and property. His fears were to be vindicated. Greece had received Thrace as part of the Treaty of Sevres, which was rejected by Mustapha Kemal. By contrast, the Mudania armistice terms would hand back Eastern Thrace to Turkey. Eastern Thrace was, as agreed at Mudania, handed over to the Turkish Nationalists by the allied powers-Britain, France and Italy. That would result in a mass exodus of Greek refugees 

Areas long inhabited by Greeks in the old Ottoman Empire were now undergoing enormous demographic changes. Hundreds of thousands of Greeks poured into Greece proper from Eastern Thrace, Smyrna, Pontos, and other areas of Turkey. 

M. K. Zia Bey speaking on the behalf of the Turks was a writer and businessman in New York City. Zia Bey stated that “I want first to enter a formal denial of all the accusations of Turkish atrocities.” This is a classic response by an individual denying the crime of genocide even though the term didn't exist in 1922. As he tried to explain and defend the Turkish position, someone in the back of the auditorium shouted “How can you do it?” He retorted by requesting that “Americans … suspend judgment until investigations sought by the Ankara Government had been carried out.” Zia Bey was applauded by a section of the audience who supported the Turkish point of view.

The article doesn’t state what investigations he was referring to. The only investigation which comes to mind was the doomed International Red Cross inquiry into atrocities in the Greek and Turkish administered territories of Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor. The Kemalists did not allow the International Red Cross to enter its territory. On the other hand, Zia Bey might have been alluding to the Kemalists gathering evidence to show the burning of Turkish villages and the killing of Muslim civilians perpetrated by the Greek Army during its retreat from Asia Minor.

Zia Bey “likened the Turks, deprived of their possessions by the Sevres Treaty, to the Americans of 1776, and said that Kemal Pasha inspired, as was George Washington, had formulated Turkey’s so-called “national pact” which he said was her “Declaration of Independence.” “He said that the [national] pact asked only for the territory where the population was predominately Turkish and that his people were as anxious to preserve the freedom of the Dardanelles as the English and others." It could be argued that comparing the Turkish position with that of Americans in 1776 and invoking the name of George Washington was a clever ploy by Zia to win the sympathy of his American audience.

Zia Bey tried to suggest that Mustapha Kemal’s position was similar to that of Washington’s in the independence stakes. This is a fascinating proposition that requires a brief explanation. Both of them were considered rebels by their respective sovereigns – Sultan Muhammad VI Vahidden (1861-1926) and George III (1738-1820) of Great Britain – and that's where the similarity ends. When Damad Ferid Pasha became Grand Vizier once again in April 1920, he issued a fatwa (a religious edict) in the name of the Sultan as Caliph that it was permissible to kill individuals belonging to the Kemalist movement.

George Washington fought for the independence of the 13 American colonies against the British who wanted to directly tax them but who had no parliamentary representation in London. The British wanted the colonists to repay for their defense during the French and Indian wars. This deeply angered the American colonists who considered British rule repressive along with the imposition of high taxes. The colonists' motto was "no taxation without representation."

The American journalist, Dr. Herbert Adam Gibbons “foresaw in the possible breaking down of the Sevres Treaty along with other treaties of Versailles (Germany), Saint Germain (Austria), the Trianon (Hungary), and Neuilly (Bulgaria) “which had been imposed by the victorious Allies against the defeated Central powers at the end of the great war." He believed that all these concluded treaties would eventually be torn up.

All these treaties imposed harsh terms on the vanquished and the harshest of these was the Versailles Treaty which greatly weakened Germany economically, financially, and militarily and aimed to punish her for starting the First World War (also known as the 'guilt clause', article 231). Hitler violated the provisions of Versailles during the late 1930s.

Dr. Gibbons continued that "we now see the beginning of the end of all the treaties made since the end of the war,” and these treaties "will stand or fall together." All these treaties survived into the 1930s except for Sevres which was never ratified and was replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne signed on July 24, 1923.

He observed that the British were comfortable in Constantinople and that "a small power would be a good agent for them there in the future "and the French wanted the Greeks out. Gibbons is wrong. At no stage did the British and French want to hand over Constantinople to the Greeks. Otherwise, Britain would have suffered a major backlash from its Muslim subjects in the Middle East and India.

The Foreign Policy Association meeting proved an excellent venue allowing both parties to express their points of view on the recent Greek-Turkish war and to inform interested Americans of their nation's foreign policy and about international events.


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