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Historical Fiction: The Elias Panoussos Story – Part 4

February 28, 2021

Asia Minor was a lost cause with no exit strategy at this stage. On October 2, 1921, Gounaris outlined the entire history of our campaign in Asia Minor highlighting the heroism displayed by our soldiers at the Sangarios River. He appealed for a vote of confidence in his government. The Venizelist representatives wanted parliament postponed but didn't have the numbers in the Chamber.

The opposition parties were furious at Gounaris over the way his government handled our Asia Minor campaign. A few representatives shouted loudly "resign, you have brought dishonor to our nation." Observing all this from the parliamentary gallery, Gounaris rose and called for a vote of confidence. He got it by a few votes whereas the Venizelists abstained. Once that was achieved, he told the parliament that he and foreign minister, Giorgios Baltazzis would be visiting London, Paris, and Rome to explain our nation's foreign policy. "Explain, what", I asked myself.

I thought their trip would be a waste of time with no tangible result for our nation. Our so-called allies had abandoned us and left us to fend for ourselves without munitions and credit. Our allies knew our foreign policy position and wouldn't change their neutrality in our war against Kemal. I suppose Gounaris and Baltazzis would use their charms (I'm joking of course) to persuade the allies to change their attitude towards Greece.

I learned from the British legation that Lord Curzon suggested to Gounaris that he first visit Paris and then Rome to gauge their views before coming to London. I know the French and Italians were actively supporting the Kemalists with military supplies which undermined our position in Asia Minor. I thought the French were more spiteful than the Italians towards us. The Italians were more sympathetic to King Constantine than Eleftherios Venizelos but had their own territorial pretensions in Asia Minor.

On October 6, I left with Gounaris and Baltazzis onboard the Greek warship, Vasileus Alexandros to report on their European tour. Our first stop was Brindisi in Italy. An Italian journalist from the newspaper, il Popolo, interviewed Gounaris stating his mission was to explain our Asia Minor policy. It seems his statement was favorably received in Italian government circles.

Two days later, we arrived at Marseilles and then caught the train for Paris. We arrived at the main railway station of Paris, Gare de la Bastille, and was greeted by our ambassador, Pericles Argyropoulos. I went to my hotel whereas the others stayed at the Greek embassy. I took the opportunity to take in some of the famous Parisian sights such as the Eiffel Tour, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, and the National art gallery. Paris is a magical city with its cultural and night life.

The French premier, Aristide Briand welcomed our delegation at the Quai d'Orsay. They deliberated behind closed doors and issued a daily bulletin to the press. I became friendly with a French journalist of Le Temps with close links to the French government who provided me with confidential information. He stated Briand was angry with our delegation who sought to expand our zone around Smyrna and have our army remain as guarantor protecting the Christians in Asia Minor. It appears that Gounaris wished to maintain the Treaty of Sevres as the basis of peace in the Near East.

Briand told them that Greece should put themselves at the disposal of the major powers. Gounaris agreed to this. However, the Franklin-Bouillon agreement with Ankara complicated matters. The British were extremely annoyed with the French action which made mediation in the Greek-Turkish war difficult. Gounaris pointed out that the French had left vast quantities of arms and munitions in Cilicia for the Turks. Briand denied this.

In their final meeting, Briand mentioned that King Constantine was an impediment to peace and hoped the Greek government would suggest he abdicate. Gounaris was displeased with Briand's comment. Overall, Briand was satisfied with the meetings that had taken place whereas French public opinion was openly hostile to us. Much of this hostility was exhibited in the headlines and editorials of the Parisian press.

In Rome, our delegation had two meetings with the Italian foreign minister, Pietro Della Torretta. Gounaris stated that Greece wished to establish cordial relations with Italy and to work closely with them in Asia Minor. As our discussions progressed, I learned that an Italian delegation headed by Tuozzi arrived in Ankara. It appears that the Italians were possibly seeking an agreement with the Kemalists. Again, the British were angry with their Italian ally. Gounaris thought his discussions went well in Rome and believed better days were coming in Italo-Greco relations.

Finally, our representatives arrived in London for discussions with the British foreign secretary, Lord Curzon. They remained there until early 1922. Of course, I enjoyed my second visit to this beautiful city. During the first meeting, Curzon asked our delegation to outline its foreign policy in Asia Minor. Gounaris explained that our army achieved great success and wanted the Treaty of Sevres to form the basis of peace in the Near East. Curzon acknowledged the achievements of the Greek army but its failure to defeat Kemal had altered the military balance in Asia Minor.

In the subsequent meetings, Curzon dismissed our position of extending our zone in Smyrna and our army remaining in Asia Minor. He suggested that we put our future in the hands of the powers for mediation with the Turks. A conference would be held between the powers to arrive at an amicable settlement. Gounaris told him that the French and Italian governments shared the same views.

The right of the Greek navy to search allied ships carrying arms and munitions to the Kemalists was denied by Italy and France. Gounaris argued that under international law, our navy had the right to board ships carrying contraband to Kemalist ports. Curzon agreed with Gounaris on this point. The former instructed his ambassadors to raise this issue with the French and Italian governments where Britain had no qualms with the Greek navy searching its ships. Gounaris was pleased with Curzon's statement.

The only thing left was the staging of a conference to resolve the Near East imbroglio. British peace efforts would come to naught without the cooperation of France and Italy. I remained in London until early December before returning to Athens. I published a series of feature articles of the conference without divulging the more intimate details of the discussions that had taken place. Our articles had to pass the military censor before being cleared for publication. I would be off to the United States on January 2, 1922.

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