Venizelos at the Conference of the Great Powers
Venizelos spent over a year in Paris at the peace conference, tirelessly arguing Greece's case. As a result, the Treaty of Sevres of August 1920 gave the Greeks eastern Thrace as far as the Chatalja Lines, Imvros, Tenedos, and Smyrna and its hinterland. This was everything they wanted to realise the Great Idea except the city of Constantinople itself, the Dodecanese and Cyprus.
The Italians had landed south of Smyrna in March 1919, thus before the treaty was even signed, ┬ritish, French and US warships had supervised the landing of Greek forces at Smyrna. This gave fresh impetus To Kemal's nationalist Turkish movement, already being supplied by the French. When Kemalist forces drove the British out of the Izmit Peninsula, the Greeks were authorised to clear Thrace and western Anatolia of Kemalist forces. When the Turkish nationalist forces in Eastern Thrace were defeated, their leader captured, and Adrianople occupied by Greek troops on 26th July, there was general rejoicing. In Athens flags were flown, a gun salute fired and a solemn doxology sung in the cathedral. Although few could have foreseen it, Greece was at the height of its fortunes, and from this point onwards everything would slide to catastrophe in what was to be called 'the terrible century
On the first stage of his return to Athens, two disaffected naval officers tried to kill Venizelos at the Gare du Lyon, in Paris. Then on 25th October, King Alexander, who had been bitten by a pet monkey, died. [Read about the death of King Alexander from a monkey-bite in Attica.]His brother Paul refused the crown. As a result, the general election of 14th November 1920 became a referendum between Venizelos and Constantine. The royalists promised to reduce their commitments in Asia Minor and demobilise the army. This was a message with tremendous appeal to a population which had been in arms since 1912. The Allies warned that if Constantine were restored, they reserved the right to adjust their attitude towards Greece. Venizelos lost, left the country on a British yacht, and King Constantine returned.
The Graeco-Turkish War
The fortunes of Athens then began to turn upon events in distant Asia Minor, as had happened nearly seven hundred years before. Despite the changed attitude of the Allies, new royalist government decided to consolidate its position there by an advance against the forces of Kemal, and selected the new officers to lead the army on the basis of their loyalty to the crown, rather than for any skills they might have. The new commander, George Hatzanestisas, insisted on directing operations from Smyrna, four hundred kilometres from the front. The casualties on both sides were enormous, and the Greeks lines of communication became grossly overstretched through hostile territory when the army had advanced to the enemy defensive lines within sixty miles of Ankara. Lacking ammunition and food, after twenty-two days fighting, they were forced to seek a truce. Then the Turks began their prepared offensive. Hatzanestisas ignored the pleas for reinforcements from the front commanders thinking the Turkish attack a diversion. He was preoccupied with planning an expedition to liberate Constantinople. The Greek retreat turned into a disorganised flight. Many soldiers were taken captive, and tens of thousands lost their lives. The defeated and demoralized army took ship for Greece and abandoned the Greeks of Asia Minor, who swarmed into Smyrna for protection, from the vengeful Turks.
The Burning of Smyrna
On 9th September the Turkish Army entered the port city. First they systematically hunted out and killed all the Armenians. Then they turned on the Greeks, their numbers swollen with some 400,000 refugees from the interior. They seized bishop Chrysostom in his church, gauged out his eyes and dragged him through the streets by his beard, beating and kicking him, and cutting off his bands with a scimitar. Finally, he was hacked lo pieces. The Turkish Army then set fire lo the Greek and Armenian quarters of the city, driving all the inhabitants down to the quayside. George Horton, an eyewitness of the catastrophe, reported that the Turkish soldiers had systematically torched the city in order to wipe out the Christians in Asia Minor, so that they could never again return lo their homes. He was convinced that, like the genocide of the Armenians, the massacre, looting and burning had clearly been planned in advance as systematic ethnic cleansing.
Desperate to board any ship out of Smyrna, most were turned away by crews who feared that their ships would capsize. US, British and French warships lying at anchor in the port deliberately refrained from extending any assistance to the desperate citizens, in order to comply with orders to avoid coming into conflict with the Turks. According lo the most conservative estimates, the numbers of the slaughtered exceeded 100,000, while other estimates put the number of dead in the city and its surrounding territories as more than 250,000-300,000.
When the news of the burning of Smyrna reached Athens, flags were lowered to half mast and black drapes hung throughout the city. Crowds went down to Piraeus anxiously gazing out over the sea for any sign of escaping Greeks. In Piraeus Horton tried to get the Captain of the Winona to go to Smyrna to take off some of the distressed people, but the Captain said that he had a load of figs to deliver to New York.
On shore, by the fifteenth the city was already three-quarters rubble and the fires were dying down. The Turks resumed attacks upon the people on the quayside after concerts were held on the allied ships to drown out the sounds of massacre from the shore. An admiral had to apologise for being late for dinner on a nearby ship when a woman's body became entangled in the propeller of his launch.
The Evacuation of Smyrna
┴ private US citizen, Asa Jennings, located twenty transport ships and went to the by now impotent and hopeless royal government to ask permission to send them to rescue the Greeks on the quayside. The Prime Minister sent a request for guarantees from the Turks for the safety of the ships, and simply waited for a reply. Frustrated, at 4.00 pm on Saturday 23rd September, Jennings threatened that if he did not get a reply within two hours, he would publish an open letter saying that the Greek government was not prepared to permit Greek ships to sail to save Greek and Armenian refugees from certain death. The government capitulated and placed the entire Greek fleet under Jenning's command. At dawn the next morning ten ships left to take off refugees. Then they returned with seventeen. On the third day they were joined by a cargo fleet under British charter. By October 1st 180,000 people had been rescued.
The Incompetent Royalist Government Collapses, and is Replaced and Punished
In the midst of the general collapse of political authority, a group of Venizelist army officers on the eastern islands formed a Revolutionary Committee under Colonels Plastiras and Gonatas to take over the situation. On 26th September an aeroplane flew over Athens dropping leaflets demanding the abdication of King Constantine, the resignation of the government, the dissolution of the Vouli, and the reinforcement of the Thracian front. Prince Nicholas pleaded for a Greek warship to take the king and the royal family To safety, but received no reply. The British minister obtained a British warship for this purpose. Early in the evening, 20,000 soldiers from Chios and Mytilene landed at Lamon with Colonels Plastiras and Gonatas on the Lemnos. They gave the government an ultimatum to comply with their demands by a certain time. King Constantine, deserted by ministers, civil servants, and almost everyone else, formally abdicated, the crown technically passing to his son, Prince George.
On the morning of 28th, the soldiers from Lamon entered Athens, Colonels Plastiras and Gonatas and Captain Phokas assumed the role of government. Two days later, the discredited ex-king left Tatoi for Oropos, and slunk out of the country once more. He was to die, generally unmourned, at Palermo within a year. '
After an extraordinary parliamentary commission had reported, two former prime ministers, former ministers of foreign affairs, the interior, the economy, transport, and the navy; and a general formerly commanding the army, were taken before a court-martial and charged with high treason. Their trial lasted for two weeks. During this period, great pressure was put on Greece by Allied governments to avoid awarding the death penalty, and open threats were made. But on November 15th the judges announced that all were guilty, and while two received life sentences, the rest were sentenced to death. The executions of the six were carried out in Goudi at 11.30 am on the same day. Prince Andrew, father of Prince Philip the duke of Edinburgh, was banished for life for having disobeyed orders, and sent into exile on a British warship.
Representatives of foreign governments were outraged. The Dutch Ambassador expressed the reaction of most diplomats and politicians when he wrote: 'The crime committed by the Greek Government is revolting and has aroused the indignation of every civilized person. Six ex-ministers, who made very serious mistakes but did not harm their country irreparably, were sentenced To death... it has caused the contempt of the civilized world powers.' The British Prime Minister, Bonar Law, declared that diplomatic relations with Greece would be severed for their 'barbaric action.' The US Government indefinitely postponed recognition of the Greek State. It is worthy of note that while the plight of millions of Greeks and Armenians in Asia Minor, and the deaths of more than a million had provoked little response among the leaders of the Western world, the execution of six former-cabinet ministers responsible for the disaster roused the world leaders to a fury of indignation. The reason, of course, was that it was not in the interest of Western leaders to have the example of a people treating their leaders as responsible for their political actions so soon after the slaughter of the First World War. It might cause their own people to reflect upon what had happened, who was responsible, and how that responsibility should be paid for. [Read about the execution of 'The Six' in Athens.]
The Refugee Crisis
Following talks between the British consul and Kemal about oil rights, a conference was held at Mudanya. Kemal told the Grand National Assembly in Ankara on 4th October: 'We must clear our enemies from every part of our nation. But we may not need war to accomplish this. If they make the enemy leave Thrace, we will not be forced to resort to military operations.' ┴ mass exodus on foot of the Greek population from Eastern Thrace then began. The gendarmes confiscated all the livestock of the refugees. The plight of these people gave even the self-preoccupied Ernest Hemmingway pause to comment on their wretchedness.
In Athens, refugees camped everywhere where there was space: on the beaches of Phaleron, in the former royal palace, in the boxes of the opera house, in the Parthenon, on the banks of the Ilissos... during that first winter 'virtually every refugee was ill.' Pneumonia took a terrible toll. Among other Greeks being evacuated from the Pontus region, smallpox and typhus, were so virulent that no more were taken from that area.
Dr. Fridtj´f Nansen was delegated by the League of Nations to study ways and means of assisting the refugees. He suggested setting up a supervisory commission under the League, but the US government refused to work under League supervision. Congress did, however, vote $200,000 to assist destitute US citizens stranded in Greece. ┴ group of US feminists set up a quarantine station on the island of Makronissos, off the coast of Attica, for the treatment of Pontic refugees. The League of Nations floated a loan at the 'not especially charitable interest rate of 8.71%.'
Nansen proposed a general exchange ofpopu1ations between Greece and Turkey, to be supervised by a League commission. From this point onwards, Muslims in Greece did not cultivate their lands, so that in areas of Western Thrace there would be no harvest. Finally, by a convention signed on 30th January 1923, it was agreed that the Greeks of Constantinople and the Muslims of Greek Thrace should be exempted from the exchange. Already more than a million Greeks had fled or been driven from Asia Minor, and only 150,000 remained, to be exchanged with 390,000 Muslims. Among the refugees were 100,000 Armenians, whom the Greek government ordered people to treat 'with the same consideration as Greeks.'
The tent cities all over Greece soon turned into shanty towns. Around Athens were Kaisariani, Neos Kosmos, and Vyronas. In a separate class was Nea Smyrni, settled on the whole by the wealthier refugees from Smyrna. Further ´§t To the north were Nea lonia and Nea Erythreia. Around Piraeus were Nea Kokkinia, Drapetsona and Keratsini. In 1920 the popu1ation of Athens was 293,000, and Piraeus 133,000. This was just 5.9% of the population of the country as a whole. Following the exchange of peoples, the population of Piraeus jumped from just over 300,000 to almost 700,000 in a few months. ┬y 1928, 284% of the population of the country lived in the Greater Athens area. [Read about the refugee settlement of Nea Smyrni in Athens.]
An immediate problem for the refugees was that many of the able-bodied men had been seized and not allowed to leave Turkey. An agreement had been signed on July 23rd that they should be allowed to leave. Most were marched to Magnesia. On the road they were robbed of their clothes and casually killed at whim by local people. The system was the same as that which had been used with such effect upon much larger numbers of Armenians during 1917. The ill and laggards were bayoneted, and many were sold as slaves to local peasants. The small number of survivors were released only in January 1924.
An additional hardship for the refugees was that many among the native population resented their arrival, describing them as 'Turkish-born' or 'yoghurt-baptised'. There were some violent clashes in the greater Athens area between local people and refugees. Some of the refugees, known as Karamanlis, had been deported from central Anatolia as Orthodox Christians even though they did not speak any Greek at all. Many of the refugees, particularly those from Smyrna, found the Greeks of the mainland unsophisticated and parochial.
Those refugees which settled in the countryside were comparatively fortunate, in that less money was assigned for urban settlers. Many had skills such as textile manufacturing, and cigarette rolling. They became a source of cheap labour to be exploited by the wealthy, leading to a period of heavy industrialisation of the country. Some were entrepreneurs or professional people. In the long term, the refugees were to benefit Greece in many ways.
But it was not only the refugees who suffered Under these conditions, many of the soldiers of the Greek army who had been in uniform since 1912 found themselves unemployed upon demobilisation. Needless to say, the tourist trade upon which Athens economy depended was ruined as the cruise ships avoided Greek ports, the value of the drachma fell.
Schism in the Church
In 1923, Patriarch Meletios Metaxakis called upon all the Orthodox churches to adopt a new calendar in line with that used in the rest of the world. Several agreed, including the Church of Greece, while others, including the monastic communities on ╠´§nt Athos, continued to adhere to the old calendar. The Greek Government, with the support of the Church authorities, introduced the reformed calendar in 1924. The 9th March was immediately followed by the 23rd. This reform caused a schism within the Greek Church, for some believers, who came to be known as 'Old-Calendarists' refused to countenance the change. [Read about the surprising reaction to the Calendar reform in Athens.]
Democratization in Athens
The Royal Gardens became public property, and opened to the public in at the National Gardens in 1923. Their heyday was between that date and the Second World War, when they were well-protected and well-maintained. The monument for the Unknown Soldier was placed in position before the palace in 1932. The Senate moved into the old palace in 1934, and the Vouli or lower house of parliament moved there a year later.
ę John L. Tomkinson