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Historical Observations: The POW Saga Continues

The Tachydromos of Northern Greece newspaper published another article on July 7, 1936, by Athanasios Dambasis, regarding Greek prisoners in Turkey. He divides his piece into two parts: a general overview of the detainees and a prisoner’s testimony.

Dambasis provides a general account of the suffering of the POWs who had little or no protection from the Turkish soldiers as they were marched into the Anatolian interior. As they passed through towns and villages, Turkish inhabitants attacked them with great ferocity. The POWs were singled out and Turkish soldiers could kill whoever they wanted. Many POWs in convoys never reached their final destination.

The prisoners’ stay in the camps was like hell on earth. Those who came from Asia Minor, Thrace, and Pontus were either executed on the spot or sentenced to death by the Courts of Independence. “It is, therefore, a question whether half of the captured force of the Greek army escaped the massacre,” Dambasis said.

The survivors lived in camps mostly in the countryside in dilapidated tents and wore rags as clothes. They were plagued by diseases caused by the lack of medicines and proper medical care that resulted in many deaths through hardships and deprivations.

There was no record of prisoners escaping from camps in the interior of Asia Minor but only for camps in Aintab that were near the border of Turkey and Syria. Several prisoners who escaped managed to cross the Turkish-Syrian border and handed themselves over to the French soldiers, who in turn handed them over to the Greek Consulate in Beirut. Others escaped the attention of the French and remained in Syria for a time.

Dambasis is very critical of former prisoners returning to Greece from Syria seeking to obtain government benefits after all these years of their supposed captivity in Turkey. He notes “of these, most of those who, at various times, returned to Greece and are still returning (2-3 per year or every two years) hurry to present themselves as being forcibly held by the Turks until today, to obtain various benefits. This is how the fairy tale of the existence of military prisoners in Turkey is created.”

Dambasis provides details of a statement made by a prisoner before an official of the Greek embassy in Ankara who described the suffering of prisoners during their time of captivity in Turkey until their return to Greece. He described this account as “a typical POW deposition.”

We quote:

“Belonging to the Sokia division, we surrendered the 18th regiment under Zegin’s command on August 26 [1922] at the position known as ‘Duo Adelfia’ (Two Brothers) near Sevdikiou to a gang of 200 Chetes! The surrendered force amounts to 19,000, of which approximately 3000 were gendarmes.

As soon as we were handed over, we were sent to Smyrna. As soon as we arrived outside of it, in the Trikili district, the Turkish officer in charge of the escort ordered that the gendarmes separate from the soldiers and form a single group. The Turkish soldiers took all the money and jewellery that we brought with us and they also stripped us. When that was over, they began to attack with their weapons.

in a short time out of 3000, only 1000 gendarmes remained. The rest were killed. I was saved because I managed to mix with the soldiers. Finally, they took us and locked us up in the Smyrna command post. On August 28, the gendarmes who remained [left] after about 4000 soldiers left Smyrna under escort, heading for Magnesia, almost naked and barefoot.

Passing through Bunarbasi, we were ordered to rest. Some Turkish peasants would reward with a handful of pomegranates whoever would kill prisoners accompanied by Turkish soldiers. 3000 prisoners were killed in Bunarbasi. The next day, the rest of us left Bunarbasi, headed for Magnesia. All the way the prisoners were massacred either by the accompanying soldiers or by the inhabitants of the villages through which we were passing.

 As soon as we reached the outskirts of the city, we were met by about 2000 Turkish citizens armed with all kinds of deadly instruments – stones, and bricks – with which they began to attack us. Such was their fanaticism, and they expelled us with such fury that, out of 6000, only 2500 were saved and most of them were seriously injured.

Upon entering the city of Magnesia, we were led to one of its squares. Another horrible sight awaited us there. Near our camp, there was a huge pit, full of corpses of Greek inhabitants of Magnesia, who, not being able to leave, were killed by the Turks.

The day after our arrival, they gathered us in the garden of the convent, and from there began our daily mission in various kinds of laborious work. We swept streets and carried ammunition under constant beatings. We were fed a cup of raisins for the first few days. The result of such a diet was that almost all of us were affected by dysentery, and many of us died.

After eating raisins for a few days, there were only 1500 prisoners now left among 6,000…we cooked 6 ‘okades’ of beans in 40 okades of water. They took all our clothing and gave us sacks to wear instead. We did not wear clothes until our return to Greece.

The commander of our camp was a certain Osman Chaous. A more bloodthirsty man than this may not have been born. Every day he would show up at the camp with bloody clothes and tell us ‘today I killed so many Romioi (Greeks).’”

The prisoner’s account above describes slavery, deprivation, hardship, starvation, massacre, and the absence of proper medical care in the camps. The mention of a mass Greek graves highlights the slaughter of innocent civilians at the hands of the Turks. One wonders how many other mass grave sites existed in Turkey.

It would be interesting to learn how the prisoner got his information regarding prisoner numbers and those massacred. There is mention of a convent in the prisoner’s testimony , but it doesn’t state whether it belonged to the Orthodox or Catholic churches. At the least convent provided shelter for the prisoners.

In conclusion, Dambasis continued to dismiss the story of Greek captives in Turkey in 1936 as a myth.

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