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Historical Observations: Greek POWs in Asia Minor in 1936

Three newspapers: Apogveumatini and Macedonia (Salonika) and the National Herald (New York) reported on June 20 and July 10, 1936, regarding the detention of Greek prisoners of war some 14 years after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne in July, 1923. The wording of the POWs’ story is similar in the three dailies cited above.

It is extraordinary that no Greek government pressed Ankara to ensure the release of these POWs. In 1930, Greece and Turkey signed a treaty of friendship and also worked closely to improve the political situation in the Balkans.

The year 1936 is characterized by the occupation of the Rhineland by German troops in violation of the Treaty of Versailles, the staging of the Berlin Olympics Games, Italy’s war in Ethiopia, and the unstable political situation in Greece paving the way for the Metaxas dictatorship on August 4. In my wide search of Athenian newspapers such as Akropolis, Vradini, Ethniki, Ethnos, and Estia, I found no coverage of the Greek POWs, which only appeared in the Salonika press.

The POWs addressed a memorandum to the King and the Greek political establishment regarding the continuing detention of many thousands of their colleagues in Turkey. The first four POWs came from villages near Patras whereas the last-named originated from Nafptikos. I have translated the account from Apogevmatini with an excerpt reproduced below:

Apogevmatini (Salonika) June 20, 1936 p.3

“There are still many Greek prisoners in the depths of Asia Minor.

They live like slaves of ancient Romans working long hours a day and under the threat of the whip of the Turkish tsiflikades (Estate owners). Only those who converted to Islam improved their position

Athens. To the King, Government, and leaders of the parties and parliamentarians and Kon. Gkotsin, Loukas Roufos, and Georgios Athanasiadis-Novas, American Red Cross and Federation of War Veterans.

Two months

  1. Georgios Kougielas (Bozaitikon); 2. Panagiotis Tassakis (Zoga); 3. Vasilios Lymberopoulos (Agiovlasitikon); 4. Ch. Tsekouras (Vouteni); 5. Ioannis Karageorgas (Mamoulados Nafptikos) escaped from Asia Minor where they remained captive as retreating soldiers of the Greek army [since 1922].

All escaped from the place where they were being held, that is, the town of Tourhal, lying between Amassia and Tokitis (Evdokia) in the province of Sebasteia some 420 kilometers from  Samsoun, and arrived after a course of 14 consecutive nights in Nitsi-Kale in Pontos [from there proceeded] to Constantinople and [finally to] Athens.

The first four them, Kougielas Georgios, from the village of Bozaitikon complained to the 111th division and General Security department during the special discussions that took place both in the above village and in Patras [providing the following details]:

  1. that he served as a soldier in the artillery and was taken prisoner at Afion Karahissar in 1922.
  2. that for 14 years he remained a captive in the depths of Asia Minor and worked from 1927 onwards with a further 850 captured Greek soldiers in Tourhal in the Turkish province of Sebasteia in the large estate owned by Mustafa Bey sliding. We pulled plows like beasts per four men under the constant beating of the Turkish soldiers.
  3. Besides these 850 prisoners, there are more than 20,000 scattered in groups and working in the same manner as above. Even this group of about 80 prisoners remain close to the above village Tourhal working on estates of Hali Bey. Georgios, one of the prisoners, bears the insignia of the number 2400 and Georgakopoulos Dimitrios bears the number 2500.
  4. that the prisoners there lived a beastly life, constantly beaten, deprived of even the necessities of life. They feed only once every twenty-four hours on a single billboard, barefooted and covered with raki, fed in enclosed empty spaces, exposed to rain and sun, and subjected to violence by unscrupulous men and women.
  5. the names of more than forty prisoners originating from the province of Patras could be listed above, being examined in the 111th division here.
  6. that he is in a position to indicate on the spot where most of the detainees are hiding and hidden in caves by the authorities whenever there is a question raised about the release by international or other committees.

The above allegations and the truth are undeniable that are capable to arouse the attention and feelings of humanity towards the salvation and redemption of thousands of Greek souls.

Because every noble soul is torn to pieces by the news that after so many agreements of friendship and repeated conditions exist today thousands of Greek soldiers are still held by an eternal enemy.

We resort to the Exalted Majesty, King [George], and the other competent [leaders], and we ask that you take care of the salvation of our captive brothers from the yoke of inhuman tyrants.”

The article states that it was strange how Greek-Turkish relations could still be maintained with the detention of so many Greek POWs despite the signing of agreements between Athens and Ankara. These poor souls suffered unheard cruelty and barbarity during their captivity.

A committee needed to be established to investigate the detention of these POWs and to ensure their safe return to their families in Greece. These detainees had sacrificed their lives for their nation in Asia Minor.

In conclusion, the article doesn’t tell us how these detainees escaped and evaded capture for 14 days by ending up in Constantinople and finally surfacing in Greece. Their escape raises several unanswered questions. When they arrived in Constantinople, how did they manage to evade capture by the Turkish authorities and did they seek assistance from the Greek Consulate in that city? It is interesting whether the Turkish authorities in Ankara and Constantinople were informed of their escape. Finally, what mode of transportation (train or ship) did they use to travel to Greece?

I couldn’t find any evidence of a committee being set up to raise this serious matter with Ankara. I believe there are two reasons why Athens never broached this issue with Ankara: 1 the signing of the Treaty of Montreux on July 20, 1936, regarding the regime of the Straits, and 2. The fluid political situation in Greece.

(More research is needed on this issue, which addresses an unknown chapter in modern Greek history and Greek-Turkish relations during the 1930s. Any mistakes in translation are mine own).

 

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