- The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks: Studies on the State-Sponsored Campaign of Extermination of the Christians of Asia Minor (1912-1922) and Its Aftermath; History, Law, Memory ed. by Matthias Bjornlund, Tessa Hofmann, and Vasileios Meichanetsidis, and: The History of Greece by Elaine Thomopoulos
I have always liked stories. When I was a teenager, I kept asking my father about his life in the military. He was a soldier in the Greek army in Asia Minor from 1919 to 1922, around the time that Greece tried to recapture Ionia and Byzantium, both ancient and medieval symbols of glory for Hellenism and Greece. My father said very little about his experience, save for the fact he barely made it back alive.
The allied victory in World War I and the encouragement of the victorious European powers, especially Great Britain, brought Greece back into Asia Minor/Ionia to fight the Turks. However, not only were Greek troops spread thinly in Asia but the Soviet Union, Italy, and France sided with the Turks, arming and training them. Great Britain, which had urged Greece to occupy Smyrna and to recapture some of its ancient territory, declared its neutrality. This was in 1922. With overwhelming European support, the Turks won, and the Greeks called their defeat "the great catastrophe." The Turks used the victory to bring a temporary end to their genocidal campaign against the Greeks living in what had been the Ottoman Empire.
The fates of the Greeks had been shifting in the region for centuries. In 1204, the Crusaders had occupied Constantinople, capital of Byzantium, and dismembered many parts of the empire, precipitating its eventual collapse to the Ottoman Turks. The Turks had come out of Mongolia and had fought the Byzantine Greeks in Asia Minor for centuries before they finally defeated Constantinople in 1453. They tried unsuccessfully to convert Orthodox Greeks to Islam and sometimes kidnapped young Greek boys, forcibly recruiting them into the Ottoman army to suppress their Christian Greek parents.
In 1815, European powers had formed the Holy Alliance to forestall rebellion in a restive Europe. But the heroism of the Greeks and the atrocities of the Turks spread philhellenism throughout Europe and America. The events in Greece could not be ignored by the European powers. On 20 October 1827, the combined fleets of Great Britain, Russia, and France sank the navy of the Ottoman Empire at Pylos (at the battle of Navarino) in the southwest of the Peloponnese. The Turks had brought army units [End Page 111] from Egypt to destroy the area. In 1828, the European powers forced the Ottoman Turks to recognize an independent Greece.
Small independent Greece spent the rest of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries successfully liberating most of the regions of Greece under Turkish occupation. The campaigns of 1919 to 1922 in Asia Minor were seen as the culmination of that struggle.
Taking a cue from the work of researchers on the Armenian genocide during this forbidding period, Greek historians and genocide experts recently have documented the genocide the Turks launched and carried out against some two thousand Greek communities in Turkey, starting in 1912 and continuing well beyond 1922.
The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks is an excellent introduction to the grim history of Greeks in modern times. The subtitle of the book, Studies on the State-Sponsored Campaign of Extermination of the Christians of Asia Minor (1912-1922) and Its Aftermath: History, Law, Memory, shows the delicate nature of genocide studies, which all too frequently record the depth of barbarism and human depravity.
The book's nineteen authors come from Greece, Israel, Australia, France, Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, and the United States. According to the publisher, Aristide Caratzas, its offices...