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Historical Observations: Greek Slaves in Anatolia in 1936

Pantelis Kapis wrote an article regarding Greek prisoners of war detained in Turkey long after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne on July 24th, 1923. His piece appeared on the front page of the Salonika newspaper, Makedonia on July 6, 1936. Some parts of the text have been edited for the purposes of clarity. An English translation of the article follows below:


Converted to Islam by force, they work as slaves on the vast farms of the great Turkish Beys. An enlightening response from journalist Pantelis Kapsis, who arrived from Asia Minor.

About two months ago they arrived in Greece after a long and dramatic escape from the depths of Anatolia [six] Greek soldiers [who came] from Patras and other parts of Greece. They had been captured prisoners since the withdrawal of our army [in September 1922] enduring 14 years of violence and working as slaves in the estates of different Beys in the Turkhan district of Sebasteia (Sivas) province.

These returning prisoners, interrogated by the authorities of Patras gave lengthy testimony, which they had suffered during the fourteen years of their captivity, finally, confirming that there [were] still many thousands of Greek soldiers and other prisoners in the depths of Asia Minor, and above all, many women [had] converted to Islam.

On the occasion of the statements of these prisoners, many relatives of prisoners whose fate still remained unknown submitted a touching memorandum to King George requesting his intervention and that a committee be established to investigate and find surviving prisoners of war since our relations with the neighboring Turkish republic was so cordially friendly.

We do not know what the results will be of the memorandum addressed to the king by the citizens who feel the deepest mental anguish. However, what we do know is that even without the intervention of the king, it is the duty of the government to take action by approaching the Turkish government [regarding our detained Greek prisoners]. If it were not for the testimony of the recently arrived six prisoners of Patras, it proved that there were still many Greek captives in the interior of Anatolia, especially women, who could not return to Greece for the reasons we will explain below.

Of course, we could not know the exact number of surviving Greek prisoners. But when I take into account that these captives were not only soldiers of the Greek army but also Greek residents of the cities of Asia Minor and above all women and children. Many of these inhabitants lived in the Greek cities of Anatolia (Kydonies/Aivali, Moschonisia, Axari, Philadelphia, Soma, and Magnesia) who were persecuted by the Turkish army. It is unknown how many were slaughtered on the first day. We conclude that captive residents of the above cities including women and children and of course men amounted to at least 30,000.

For those who might find the above numbers excessive, we quote the following:

Kydonies (Aivali) had about 40,000 inhabitants. From this, it is a question of whether half was saved. According to the testimony of a few, all the others were kidnapped along with women and children. The men who were saved were sent to Greece, while the women and children were distributed to various Beys. What happened to the inhabitants of Aivali, the same happened to the inhabitants of the other cities like Moschonisia, Adramytti, the Axari, Magnesia, and other [places].

A few years ago I visited Turkey. From the various sources of information that I gathered on the spot, I concluded that forcibly abducted Asia Minor Greeks amounted to at least 120,000 without including captured Greek soldiers of the Greek army. Out of 120,000, maybe 20,000 men returned to Greece after the signing of the peace.

Again of the remaining 100,000, we remove 20-30 thousand killed during the first days of their captivity, for example, the inhabitants of Axari were killed en masse by machine guns, and the metropolitans of Kydonies and Moschonisia were buried alive. If we still remove another 30- 40 thousand who died of natural causes or hardship, we conclude that the surviving captive Greek residents of the Greek cities of the east in Turkey amount to at least 40 thousand, of which 25-30 thousand are women


Four observations emerge from the Kapsis account. Firstly, the figures cited in the article aren’t backed up with any official sources. The numbers of detainees may be overstated or understated and would be interesting to learn how Kapsis obtained his information. It seems that the number of captives cited in the article are at best an estimate. He mentions his visit to Turkey of several years earlier collecting information on the stop. Did he actually visit the estates of Turkish Beys and interview captives? Was he allowed to move freely around Turkey without restriction? Did he use undercover methods to collect such information? Did Greek Embassy in Ankara provide him with details of the estimated number of Greek detainees? Were Turkish authorities suspicious of his activity during his stay in Turkey? Answers to such questions could be best resolved by examining the archives of the Greek Foreign Ministry and the Turkish ministries of foreign affairs and interior.

Secondly, the abduction of Greek women and children by Turks in Asia Minor was a major issue during the 1920s-30s. There are countless reports in the League of Nations archives regarding this issue. Many women ended up in harems marrying Turkish men and young boys were adopted by Turkish families with both converting to Islam. These individuals had no chance of going to Greece.

Kapsis mentions that the testimony of 6 returnees from Asia Minor was ample proof that the Greek government should have established a committee despite its cordial relations with Turkey to investigate and find survivors. The memorandum addressed to the King was made out of desperation in the hope that his intervention would provide answers for Greek families wanting to know the fate of their loved ones in Asia Minor. No action was ever taken by the Greek government or the King.

Finally, the fictional and personal accounts of Elias Venezis, Numero 31328, and Vasilis Diamantopoulos, Prisoner of the Turks (1922-23) describe the daily treatment and suffering of their compatriots working in the infamous labor battalions in Anatolia.

In conclusion, Kapsis displayed good knowledge of the captives based on his trip and information gathering in Turkey.


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