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Historical Observations: A Greek-Canadian Story on Asia Minor

My dear friend, Billy Anthopoulos, who lives in Canada, wished to share his paternal grandfather’s story on Asia Minor. What he told me is based on what he learned from his parents – and he acknowledges there are gaps in his grandfather’s story. George Kioulpaloglou was born in the town of Karaburun located on the western part of the Gulf of Smyrna (Izmir) in 1899. He spoke Greek and Turkish fluently.

George served in the Greek gendarmerie in Greek-administered Smyrna in 1919 and took part at Kutayha, in the 1920 Greek offensive and contracted pneumonia in the winter 1920-1. Billy commented that his grandfather was attached to Army Group A, which fanned out from Aydin. There was continuous marching in the desert support group in charge of Turkish Prisoners of War. George was called up again to join the expedition for the assault on Ankara during the summer offensive of 1921. Billy notes that his grandfather fought in the most decisive battle of the entire campaign, at the Sakarya River, which resulted in a military stalemate for the next 12 months that was most unfortunate for the Greek cause.

Billy mentioned that his grandfather described the Kuva-yi-Milliye (militia forces/irregular forces) was composed of deserted Ottoman officers and soldiers. They opposed the Greek landing at Smyrna and also fought against the Greek army, using guerrilla tactics. The Kuva-yi-Milliye gave the Mustapha Kemal the opportunity to create a regular army to resist the Greek advance. These militias were eventually merged into the regular Turkish army. Some of the militia units involved with Cerkes Ethem refused to disband and mutinied against Ataturk’s Ankara government, however.

George was resigned to policing duties in Smyrna until the final offensive and collapse of the Greek army in August 1922. A Turkish friend of George ran to find and tell him what happened to his brother, Phillipos (Billy’s great uncle) at the hands of the Turkish mob. George was told that he needed to leave immediately as his life was in danger. George’s mother went to look for her youngest 14 year old son who was playing out in the street. Both were never seen again. “In the 1960s, when my grandfather went back to Turkey, a Turkish acquaintance told him that both his mother and youngest brother had been slaughtered by the chettes”, Billy said.

When in Turkey, George tried to reclaim family property in Smyrna. He possessed an official Ottoman deed as proof of property ownership, which is strange in that the Ottoman Empire had long ceased to exist. The family home was turned into a police station. It must noted there were many problems dealing with property settlement and compensation between Greece and Turkey after the signing the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24, 1923. 

Great Uncle Phillipos was a member of the famous 5/42 Evzone Colonel Plastiras regiment which fought heroically throughout the conflict. Phillipos played a big role in the liberation of Kutahya, Eskishehr, and at Dunlumpinar. As a soldier, he performed his patriotic duty by serving his country. He had no idea what battle would cause the war to end. It must be noted the Billy’s relatives were Ottoman Greek subjects who must have volunteered to serve in the Greek army.

He returned from the front back to his home after the rout of the Greek army just before the Kemalists along with the chettes entered Smyrna on September 9, 1922. As far as Billy remembers, his great uncle returned to Smyrna sometime between September 1 and 8. I can only imagine what Phillipos must have felt like seeing the Greek collapse and the streams of refugees en route to Smyrna to escape Turkish reprisals.

The Turkish mob went to Phillipos’s house dragged him out and hanged him as a collaborator. His body was never found. Someone told George about the fate of his brother and one can understand the urgency of George wishing to get out of Smyrna alive. The chettes asked all their fellow Turks to identify the Greek collaborators. “One of the neighbors identified my great uncle, and a mob went to the house, apprehended him, and hung him in the Smyrna Square”, Billy stated. Billy continues that “my grandfather was able to escape in the engine room of a ship all the way to Chios, which is all I know.”

It is important to describe Plastiras 5/42 Evzone regiment which was also called Satan’s soldiers by the Turks. Plastiras was called the ‘Black Rider’ by the Greeks, but his regiment was nicknamed ‘Seytan Asker’ by the Turks. This detachment was instrumental in halting a Turkish attack by allowing the Greek army enough time to retreat and evacuate from Chesme to Chios. Plastiras’s bravery and achievements on the battlefield are legendary. He saved the 1st and 2nd corps from being captured by the Turks. At Tulum Bunar, the Turkish cavalry penetrated the Greek lines but Plastiras saved the day. His 200 Evzones were excellent riders who mounted their horses and rushed through pushing back the Turks, thus allowing various units to retreat safely. Plastiras, along with his men, performed heroics again at Sahihli were they defeated the Turks twelve times in battle.

The Greek battleship Kilkis heavily bombarded Turkish positions, allowing the withdrawal of Plastiras and his men from Erythrea. They were the last to leave Asia Minor. The colonel’s actions were regarded as heroic by other officers.

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