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Historical Observations: An Analysis of the Lemonidis Article

Doctor GA Lemonidis published an interesting piece regarding Greek prisoners of war detained in Turkey in the Salonika newspaper, Makedonia on July 1, 1936. The article was titled ‘Everything convinces us that there are other Greek prisoners who are being held in ignorance of the Turkish Government.’

The article started by posing the question “Are there still others, or are there no Greek captives in Asia Minor?” Lemonidis was convinced there were still Greek captives held in Asia Minor despite the Greek-Turkish conflict having ended some thirteen years earlier. He wrote a scathing indictment of the inaction of the Greek government, saying that, “none of the decision-makers think they must answer definitively and officially this question, which now and then is shaken by the daily press, with the arrivals of escaped POWs.”

He continued, saying that, “no state which respects its existence will maintain this uncharacteristic attitude towards such an important issue. Therefore, the silence and indifference of those in charge is an indication of deep moral degradation! Because they are so certain that what is being written now and then is a lie and no one is now a prisoner of the Turks.” Lemonidis’ point here was that the Greek government showed indifference and denial of the existence of its prisoners in Turkey. Greece was more interested in maintaining good relations with Turkey due to its signings of the Treaty of Friendship, Neutrality, and Arbitration on October 30th, 1930, and the Pact of Cordial Friendship on September 14, 1933.

“They must declare this official, and the rulers are well aware that from time to time there are actually prisoners in Asia Minor escaping from there, that indeed they still exist there after their surrender of 14 years since the peace and alliance with the Turks,” Lemonidis said. It should be noted that George Kougielas’ interview was published in Apogevmatini and Makedonia on June 25 and July 1, 1936. He described his ordeal as a prisoner in Turkey over the last thirteen years

Lemonidis expressed his displeasure towards the Greek Government that “our state had to hide its face out of shame, all the mandarins of the ministries had to do harakiri.”

It might be argued the term harakiri was used by Lemonidis to denote that the ministerial powerbrokers should fall on their swords or commit suicide for failing to bring these poor wretched soldiers home – a national disgrace that certainly brought shame to Greece. However, he mentioned one unnamed individual who displayed concern for the POWs and that his feelings were ignored by the Greek government. As stated earlier, Greece didn’t wish to upset its diplomatic relations with Turkey.

“Even though we experienced the indescribable horror of this captivity, there is, unfortunately, no doubt that there are certainly still prisoners of ours in Asia Minor, perhaps even in ignorance of the official Turkish state,” Lemonidis revealed. It appears from his statement that Lemonidis had been once a prisoner of the Turks after the Asia Minor disaster in September 1922 and that Ankara was unaware of these detainees seemed ridiculous. He describes how the “captive battalions” were dispersed from their Turkish commanders to the landowners in the interior of the country. Those remaining at the army headquarters of “captive battalions” were involved in the exchange of population in 1923. There were unfortunate ones who either disappeared never to be seen again or weren’t counted in the official statistics.

There were a substantial number of prisoners ‘employed’ in such industries as lime makers, firewood producers, and various specialties who were scattered in the isolated forests and valleys of Turkey. Their dispersal to remote locations would make it very difficult to ascertain the actual numbers of detainees. Lemonidis mentions that “all the specialists from his battalion did not return,” meaning those with particular skills would prove invaluable to their Turkish masters. These detainees were treated like slaves rather than employees, suffering indescribable cruelties. It would be interesting to see whether the archives of the foreign ministries of Greece and Turkey shed any light on detainees as late as 1936.

It was a matter of honor for Greece to do something about these poor souls. On the other hand, Athens didn’t want this issue to impact its good relations with Ankara. Both countries had an image problem that needed to be resolved. Turkey would need to prove that it was a good alliance partner and Greece needed to show it fulfills “an elementary inviolable and sacred duty to its suffering citizens.” Some Greek families wanted to know the fate of their loved ones in Asia Minor after all these years. Greece could no longer remain indifferent to the feelings of those citizens who were owed an explanation.

Lemonidis argued that a body from the a neutral International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) be appointed to search and seek the release of all remaining prisoners held in Turkey. He wanted a neutral organization that would have neutral delegates along with Greek and Turkish representatives. The assistance and cooperation of the Turkish Red Crescent would have been important during the investigation. Such a commission should have had wide-reaching powers to freely conduct its investigation with the blessing of the Turkish state. Without such support from Ankara, the ICRC mission would not be allowed to proceed to Anatolia. He hoped a solution would be found to bring home all the detainees.

The Greek press had a special role and responsibility to report this issue to the wider Greek society. The Greek government might have been displeased with the publication of such news stories, however. As the fourth estate, the press had its prime role to bring the government to account for its failure to take action over such a sensitive issue. After all, Lemonidis’s article appeared below the prisoner of war story published in Makedonia on July 1, 1936. The Salonika press gave wide coverage to the POW issue, whereas the Athenian dailies remained silent.

Lemonidis believed that every Greek should take an interest in this unfolding drama. By doing so, they would be discussing and promoting this story throughout Greece which might force the Greek government to take action.  There were organizations such as the Union of the Rights of Man and the Citizen and the Federation of War Veterans who argued that action should be taken without delay.

In conclusion, Lemonidis was displeased with his government’s failure to investigate the POWs’ story. The time had come to bring home all the detainees, but the government explained to families that their loved ones would never return home.

 

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