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Historical Observations: The Greek Expulsion from Constantinople, 1924

Εθνικός Κήρυξ Archive

The USS Litchfield at Smyrna in 1922.

In 1924, the Turks questioned the word ‘Establishment’ in Article 2 of the Convention of the Exchange of Populations between Greece and Turkey signed on January 30th, 1923 at Lausanne. There was a dispute over the word ‘Establi’ in the French text of the Convention. The terms Mixed Commission and Commission will be used interchangeably in this article.

At the Council of the League of Nations meeting held on October 28, 1924, the Greek delegate, Nikolaos Politis outlined the Greek case. In early August, the Greek and Turkish delegations expressed in writing before the Exchange Commission their views on the term ‘established.’ On September 5, the neutral delegates on the Mixed Commission rendered a unanimous opinion regarding the term ‘established’ but things got complicated with the resignation of the Turkish delegate due to ill-health making it impossible for the commission to make a decision.

The neutral members agreed to submit this question to its legal section for an opinion. After long deliberations held on September 16, 17, 22, 23, 25, 27, and 29, and October 1, the legal section thought both the Greek and Turkish cases had merit but ruled that Article 2 should stand as is.

Politis continued that 4452 persons of which 3782 were arrested arbitrarily and illegally by the Turkish police in Constantinople on October 18 which violated Article 2 of the Convention.

This was the reason why the Greek government appealed to the League Council on October 22 for a resolution.

Two days later, the Turkish delegates working closely with the Mixed Commission and its neutral members reached a provisional agreement whereby persons who received their passports through the Commission “were liable to exchange after having settled their affairs.” Moreover “persons who were declared non-liable to exchange were to be finally set free, and persons whose exchange was in dispute were to be furnished with special certificates and protected from any further arbitrary arrest.” However, the word “established” required the final decision of the commission.

Politis highlighted that Article 2 was very specific about who was exempt and non-exempt regarding exchange. For example, Greeks who were domiciled in Constantinople before October 30, 1918, were exempt from the exchange, and those who arrived after October 30, 1918, would be removed. He cited some cases relating to how this article was applied by the Turks. A prominent Greek lawyer who resided for 30 years in Constantinople was forcibly removed and put on board a Greek ship. However, the vigorous intervention of the Greek delegate and the Mixed Commission was needed to set him free at the last minute. Mr.Liveriades, a Greek merchant, who lived in Constantinople since 1900, had been arrested and remained in detention.

The Turkish delegate, Fethi Bey outlined the Turkish case attempting to refute the Greek complaint. At no stage did the Turkish government ever attempt to intervene in the work of the Mixed Commission and never acted on its initiative through its agents to expel Greeks who were liable for removal. It never put any obstacles in the way of the Commission, and the Turkish government wouldn’t exchange those liable without awaiting the decision of the Commission.

Fethi believed that the president of the Commission, General de Lara, had more right to complain than the Greek government. He mentioned that the Commission working through its sub-committee in Constantinople began as early as May 1924 to choose October as the date to start the exchange. Those liable were given 10 days to settle their affairs and anyone who remained beyond the expiration date was to be removed by the police. Turkey acted within the decision made by the Commission.

Fethi raised the issue of the Turks in Western Thrace. He asserted that 50,000 of them had their properties confiscated by the Greek government and weren’t able to resume possession. These individuals were “in a state of lamentable destitution.”

General de Lara proceeded to mention the Greeks who had been arrested. He stated that Greeks who arrived after October 18 irrespective of the term ‘established’ would be exchanged. The sub-committee in Constantinople furnished Greek passports from June-October to 20,000 individuals who were given 10 days to settle all their affairs.

De Lara found the whole matter troubling that Article 12 of the convention empowered the Commission to deal with all questions under its authority.

He couldn’t understand why this matter had been submitted over the head of the Mixed Commission to the League of Nations. The matter remained unresolved.

The Greek delegate of the Mixed Commission, Exantaris, responded to Fethi Bey's speech that the Greek government never made the allegation that the Turkish government tried to impose its views on the Mixed Commission. He was pleased to hear that Turkey would accept the decisions of the Commission allowing it to continue its work unhindered.

Exintaris denied that the Greek government had confiscated Moslem properties in Western Thrace. These properties had previously been requisitioned in consequence of the mass expulsion of Greeks before the signing of the convention. The Greek government was anxious to restore the properties to their rightful owners as quickly as possible.

The Japanese delegate, Viscount Ishii, read out statements of the Greek and Turkish governments who both wanted this issue resolved. It was suggested that the Permanent Court of International Justice at the Hague be asked to render an advisory opinion. Ishii prepared a report for that body that both Greece and Turkey accepted the competence of the Mixed Commission, which the Council requested to meet without delay to settle points raise. The Council suggested that the consent of both governments was needed to refer the dispute to the Permanent  Court of International Justice.

In February 1925, the court in the Hague rendered its legal opinion that Greek inhabitants considered exempt from compulsory exchange must live within certain areas in Constantinople, as fixed by the law of 1912 which applies to those who arrived before October 30, 1918 and had the intention to reside permanently there. According to the Manchester Guardian, the Hague decision ensured that 250,000 Greeks could remain in Constantinople permanently. Turkey indicated that it would abide by the court's decision.