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These are the Turks

Ευρωκίνηση

The Great Fire of Smyrna, also known as the Catastrophe of 1922. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari via Art Exhibition concerning Smyrna)

After spending most of 1921 reporting on the killing fields of Anatolia, Kostas Faltaits, a war correspondent for the Athen's daily Embros, wrote “These are the Turks.” His aim was to refute the report of the Inter-Allied Commission of Inquiry (the Yaklova Commission) that excused Turkish behavior in the region of Nicomedia as understandable retaliations against earlier Greek actions. His method was to expose the atrocities committed by forces following the directives of the government headed by Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk).

The Greek government was so impressed by Faltaits' book that it arranged for it to be translated into French and circulated to European diplomats and mass media. “These are the Turks” focused on atrocities suffered by Greeks, but it also included similar barbarities inflicted on the region's Armenians and Circassians.

Faltaits' work is the centerpiece of a new book “The Genocide of the Greeks in Turkey: Survival Testimonies from the Nicomedia (Izmit) Massacres of 1920-21.” Faltaits' reports are complemented by a prologue by Tessa Hofmann, a prolific research scholar based at the Free University of Berlin. A final fifty-page epilogue features unique visual reproductions of how his columns were originally presented, and considerable biographical data.

The setting of Faltaits' reporting is the Nicomedia region that is anchored by the city of Nicaea (now Izmit) where historic Orthodox ecumenical councils were convened in 325 and 857. His chronicle is based on first-hand observations and verbatim interviews with Greek survivors of the Turkish atrocities of 1920. These accounts are not easy reading for the faint of heart. They included mass murder, burning of people in locked buildings, eye gouging, burying people alive, physical dismemberments, cannibalism, and the sexual molestations of men, women, and children.

The National Herald

The book cover of “The Genocide of the Greeks in Turkey: Survival Testimonies from the Nicomedia (Izmit) Massacres of 1920-21” by Kostas Faltaits, translated and edited by Ellene S. Phufas-Jousma & Aris Tsilfidis, and with a prologue by Tessa Hoffman. (Amazon.com)

Although oral histories are always questionable due to their subjectivity, these testimonies are quite specific. Individual victims, specific sites, and many Turkish assailants are named. Photographs of the destruction and official documents further support the veracity of the accounts of survivors. Most telling is that in the 32 Greek villages cited here, 12,493 Greek civilians were killed and 2,551 permanently “disappeared.” In the summer of 1921, the total area was evacuated. Taken to safety were 21,000 Greeks, 9,000 Armenians, and 3,000 Circassians.

The testimonies reveal that Turkish warriors bragged they were acting on orders emanating from the Kemalist regime in Ankara. Further corroborating the Greek testimonies is the fate of Giaour Ali, one of the most notorious and infamous Turkish terrorists. His Kemalist superiors eventually hanged him for war crimes. Rather than a gesture of apologetic regret, however, the Kemalists acted more like mafia bosses eliminating their own hit man for public relations purposes and out of fear he might challenge their leadership.

The scholarly prologue by Hoffman underscores how the pattern of genocide outlined by Faltaits for this particular region provides a close-up portrait of the broader genocide that was occurring and would continue through 1922. In its first stages, Turkish forces promised to “protect” the Greek community if paid off in cash, gold, jewelry, and other valuables. Later, they would return to seize Greek livestock and crops. In a final stage, the bands would decimate the village, killing as many persons as possible. This process proceeded village by village over a protracted period. Thus, the ethnic cleanings could be carried out by a relatively small number of troops.

Hoffman also discusses the report written by the Inter-Allied Commission of Inquiry. It spent only eleven days in Nicomedia and its interviews of survivors were extremely brief. Nonetheless, the commission issued a full report before leaving. Its conclusion was that any Turkish outrages were responses to earlier Greek atrocities. Hoffman notes the anti-Greek biases of the investigators, particularly the noted historian Arnold Toynbee who differentiated between what he termed “spontaneous outrages” and “organized atrocities.” He disregarded the fact that in 1920 the Hellenic army had not been present in Nicomedia while Turkish atrocities were carried out by forces directly connected to the formal Kemalist movement.

A failing of both Hoffman and Faltaits is that they do not speak of Greek military actions. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, during World I, Greece joined the Allied Powers led by Great Britain and France rather than the German-led alliance that included the Ottoman Empire. Venizelos formed a close working relationship with Lloyd George, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. At the war's end, they won Allied approval for Greece to militarily occupy the Greek-dominated coastlands of Asia Minor. British warships and some elements of the expiring Ottoman Empire assisted the Greek army.

After five years of Greek occupation, the region would have the option of voting to permanently unite with Greece. To gain international acceptance of that possible outcome, Venizelos was determined to demonstrate that Greece could govern a multi-ethnic area in a democratic manner. Whenever Greek forces and partisans acted in an illegal manner, actions were taken to restrain them. Where this strategy may have led is unknowable as Venizelos lost the election of 1920 and the Greek government returned to being a monarchy.

The new monarchist government believed its forces had the power to march all the way to Ankara and achieve a viable neo-Byzantine restoration. The Allies considered this goal a renunciation of existing international agreements. The UK made it clear it would not aid Greek expansionism while Italy and France indicated they would support the Turkish nationalists. Nonetheless, a Greek offensive was launched in December 1921. It would end in total defeat, culminating in the burning of Smyrna and the exodus of more than a million Greek refugees to Greece proper.

Faltaits was embedded with the Greek army from February to November 1921. He only returned to Greece after being wounded. These were months when the Greek army was liberating Greek villages in Nicomedia and rescuing survivors of the previous year's massacres. These circumstances created an opportunity for Faltaits to interview survivors now able to come out of hiding.

In writing about these events Hoffman reminds readers of the definition of “genocide” as defined by the United Nations. “Genocide” occurs when a nation systematically rids itself of a minority population by creating impossible living conditions, deportations, executions, and measures to prevent the group from reproducing itself. Turkish treatment of the Greeks fits these categories in every respect.

At the onset of the twentieth century, the Ottoman Empire was home to at least 2.5 million Greeks. By 1923, the toll of the dead and missing was over a million - with approximately another 1.5 million deported. A hundred years later, the Greek population of Turkey is approximately 2,500. Turkish school books and university texts continue to deny there was any genocide. Courageous Turks who dare to expose the truth have been denied public visibility, jailed, and even murdered. Given that reality, a healthy relationship between Hellenes and the Turkish government is improbable.

Faltaits never abandoned his attempt to expose Turkish atrocities, but would augment his journalism with a score of books that included his poems, short stories, translations and renderings of folklore. He died in 1944 as a result of the deprivations created by the Nazi occupation. His son Manolis preserved his work in a small museum in Skyros. “The Genocide of the Greeks in Turkey: Survival Testimonies from the Nicomedia (Izmit) Massacres of 1920-21” has been issued by Cosmos, a New Jersey-based publisher and bookseller that can be contacted at www.greeceinprint.com.