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Historical Fiction: The Elias Panoussos Story – Part 6

After my trip to America, I thought of making my future home there. It opened up my eyes to unimaginable business opportunities which one could only dream about in Greece. I qualify this y saying that my father had a successful emporium in Athens which I would inherit one day. I could easily enjoy a very comfortable lifestyle in Greece but the United States had some magic lure about it. Now to the realities of life in Athens.

Athenians were going about their daily lives oblivious to the tidal wave that was about to hit us. Even though newspaper headlines were warning them of some impending catastrophe, the cafes and restaurants were full of patrons eating and drinking without a care in the world.

Meanwhile, the situation on the Asia Minor front was uneasy. A journalist friend working for the Smyrna Bugle informed me of the real situation in Asia Minor. It wasn't good news as our soldiers were restless. Some wanted to return home to their families and others wanted to continue the war. The long stalemate was having its toll on them.

Mustapha Kemal was hatching his secret plans to attack us. However, the Brits, Frenchies, and Italians talked about staging a conference at Beicos located on the Asiatic side of Constantinople to end the conflict. The Kemalists weren't interested in attending the conference. They wanted a military solution to the war. 

Before the Kemalists launched their final offensive in late August, the royalist ministers, Nikolaos Stratos and Nikolaos Theotoky visited Smyrna to confer with Aristidis Sterghiadis and General Georgios Hadjianestis on the situation in Asia Minor. When they returned to Piraeus, journalists were waiting for them to learn what had been discussed. I approached to interview them only to be snubbed and told to make an appointment through their departmental secretaries. I thought our citizens had a right to know the truth of our military position in Asia Minor. I later learned that a crisis cabinet meeting took place where Stratos Theotokis outlined our grave position and the nation could no longer bear the huge military impost. We were on the precipice of the financial abyss.

The Kemalists launched their surprise offensive against our defensive positions to oust us from Asia Minor. Initially, reports from Smyrna stated that we repulsed their attacks but that was a false dawn as we suffered a series of reversals forcing us to quickly retreat to Smyrna. As we retreated, refugees followed our army to Smyrna to escape from Kemalist reprisals. These poor souls knew what awaited them if they stayed behind.

We continued to receive bad news from Asia Minor. Our first casualties returned from the Afion Karahissar debacle to Piraeus. I conducted a series of interviews with the wounded who told me of their disappointment losing the war but whose morale was still surprisingly high. Despite their high morale, they were glad to be back home on Greek soil.

The military hospitals in Piraeus couldn't cope with the increasing number of casualties so provisions were made to treat the new cases at the Evangelismos hospital in Athens and hospitals in Salonika. Our doctors and nurses were working overtime tending to the sick and wounded officers and soldiers. The situation was made worse due to a shortage of medicines and hospital equipment. Our medical personnel did their best with what they had at their disposal.

Events were moving very fast. Athenians finally woke up to the fact that the impending calamity was here. It was something unexpected, something that would shake the country to its very core. Our citizens had ignored the warning signs of calamity.

The government replaced Hadjianestis with General Nikolaos Tricoupis as the new Commander-in-Chief of our Army in Asia Minor. This decision came too late to reverse our military loss and our government approached Britain for an armistice. I remember the British couldn't believe that our Asia Minor front had collapsed like a deck of cards. Meanwhile, the major powers had called for a conference in Venice with the belligerents to be invited to receive peace terms. Nothing ever came of this.

When we finally evacuated Asia Minor on September 9, 1922, a political crisis ensued resulting in the resignation of the Petros Protopapadakis government. King Constantine commissioned Nikolaos Triantafyllakos (September 10-29) to form a government with Nikolaos Kalogeropoulos (Foreign Minister), Giorgios Boussios, (Interior Minister), Theodoros. Skoufos, (Education Minister) and Klearchis Meneas, (National Economy). The capture of General Tricoupis by the Kemalists compounded the problems of the new government. The throne of Constantine was becoming untenable. Finally, our citizens woke up. They were angry. They demanded revenge against the royalists for our Asia Minor debacle.

The troops mutinied in Salonika, Mytilini, and Chios demanding the abdication of the King and his replacement by Crown Prince George, the change of government, calling for a new election, imprisoning those responsible for the Asia Minor debacle, and reinforcing the Thracian front. An airplane flew over Athens dropping leaflets in late September. The internal situation was explosive, forcing the resignation of Triantafyllakos. Furthermore, I believe that Constantine abdicated his throne for a second time to avoid a civil war between the Venizelists and Royalists.

A Revolutionary Committee (RC) headed by Colonels' Gonatas and Plastiras and Captain Fokas of the navy were the powerbrokers behind the new government. They appointed Alexander Zaimis to be the prime minister who at the time was overseas so Charamlambis served temporarily as prime minister for one day. The next day, Sotirios Krokidas returned to Athens. The RC appointed him prime minister whose provisional government would serve until a new election would be called.

Meanwhile, the RC arrested the ex-Royalist politicians and military officers: Protopapadakis, Baltazzis, Theotokis, Gounaris, Stratos, Hadjianestis, and Colonel Goudas. They gave assurances to the diplomatic representatives of Great Britain, France, Sweden, and Holland that the accused would receive a fair trial. Rumors circulated that the ex-Royalists would be tried and summarily executed. 

The RC submitted a list of cabinet names to King George who swore the Krokidas government into office. It also contained former Venizelist ministers in Alexandros Diomidis (Finance Minister), and Nikolaos Politis (Foreign Affairs). The new government was confronted with a monumental refugee crisis, the need to decide on the fate of the ex-Royalist politicians and military officers, to establish an armistice with the Kemalists, to stage an election, and to attend a peace conference to settle our differences with Turkey.

The nation was traumatized after the Asia Minor debacle. We faced a refugee crisis of monumental proportions unseen before in modern history. We needed to lift the fog of despondency.

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