REVISITING THE 30TH AUGUST AT THE LIGHT OF THE 15TH MAY
The commemorations of the victory on August 30 are widespread every year, but too few Turks know today that August 30 does not mean only a military success, but also a victory against the war crimes of the Greek army and its Armenian volunteers. Swiss journalist Noëlle Roger observed around 1930 that there was no plaque, and even no design to unveil a plaque, to mark the Greek atrocities. Nevertheless, these atrocities started since the very first day of the Greek landing: May 15, 1919.
Crimes from the beginning
The crimes were so obvious that Captain Rollin, head of the French Navy Intelligence service, sent, in addition to his regular reports, a special letter to his minister, to protest. Rollin had been wounded and captured by the Ottoman army in 1915, and he was a prisoner for the rest of the war. Recalling this fact, Rollin said he had no reason to defend the Turks. However, Rollin gave an interesting account that Fethi Bey, the officer in charge of the prisoners of war in İzmir went beyond “what could be expected from the most chivalrous enemy.” Fethi Bey was “slaughtered with rifle butts” on May 15, 1919. One of the three eyewitnesses’ accounts forwarded by Rollin was the one of French whose family was exiled in Bursa during WWI. If the Greek high command was forced by the Western representatives to punish some of the perpetrators of the crimes committed in May 15-17 (48 Greeks and 12 Armenians), similar crimes continued, unpunished, during the rest of the year 1919. For instance, the telegrams and reports of the U.S. High Commissioner Bristol are very clear on the Greek war crimes against both Muslims and Jews.
The Greek landing was justified by two allegations: the “persecution” of the Christians and the “Greek majority” in İzmir and its neighborhood. Both were categorically denied by the report of the investigative commission of Entente officers (U.S., UK, France, Italy). Even more strikingly, in his dispatches of March 23, April 13 and 22, 1919, the French Consul in İzmir, Osmin Laporte, warned that the actual risk of a bloodbath was a possible Greek landing. In their reports of May 9 and 14, two French officers (one from the Navy, one from the gendarmerie) came to similar conclusions.
Devastations until the end
In May 1921, a commission of the International Red Cross, led by the Swiss Maurice Gehri and British General Franks, made a deep investigation on the behavior of the Greek forces in Yavola peninsula. In his report, Gehri provides a comprehensive description of the killings and arsons, adding that, in spite of its numerous interviews with Greeks, the commission “no knowledge of cases where the misdeeds would have been prevented by the [Greek] military command.”
Businessman Elzéar Guiffray, the elected head of the French community in Izmir since 1914, was requested by Paris to make a report about the Greek atrocities. Adding his proper findings to the ones of his compatriots, he submitted his notes to the MFA on July 27, 1922. Guiffray explained that since the landing of May 1919, the Greek crimes were “countless” and that the published accounts (for instance the killing of 250 Turks, mostly children, in the mosque of Karatepe in February 1922) represent only “a small part of the crimes perpetrated up to now”. Guiffray gave numerous and precise examples of burned villages, slaughters, assassinations, arbitrary arrests and inhuman conditions of detention. He also considered that “without exaggeration,” the number of Turks killed by the Greek forces (which included, at least in some cases, Armenian volunteers) since May 1919, is in excess of 150,000, “without counting the deported persons, estimated to be 300,000”.
Regarding the last stage of the Greek retreat, Lord Saint-Davids, administrator of the İzmir-Aydın railroad company, concluded: “it is a fact that [the Greek forces] burned Aydın and Nazlı; they put fire to all the villages they passed through,” committed plunder and murder. They did so, added Lord Saint-Davids, by order of the Greek officers. The French engineer C. Toureille, a resident in İzmir at that time, confirmed the systematic plunder and arsons, the recurrence of killings. He this account that, as late as September 8, an Armeno-Greek gang committed plunder around İzmir, and on September 11-12 September, another gang, purely Greek this time, was putting fire to several villages very close to İzmir.
On the other hand, General Pellé, the French High Commissioner in İstanbul, cabled to Paris on September 8 that if he received evidence of Greek crimes, he did not receive since a long time any accusation of Kemalist crimes, even from the Greek patriarchate. It is safe to conclude that the Turkish victory in 1922 was an ethical, not only national, victory.
A Turkish version of this article was published in Cumhuriyet on September 1st, 2013.
Maxime GAUIN - Contributor, Strategic Outlook
Noëlle Roger, En Asie mineure, Paris : Fasquelle, 1930, p. 205-213 and more especially pp. 211-212.
S.R. Marine, Turquie, 3 juin 1919, n° 774, Service historique de la défense nationale (SHD), Vincennes, 1 BB7 232.
Arnold J. Toynbee, The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, London-Bombay-Sydney: Constable & C°, 1922, p. 401.
See for instance his telegram of July 17, 1919, Library of Congress, Bristol papers, container 74.
SHD, 16 N 3202 ; Centre des archives diplomatiques de Nantes, 36 PO/1/42.
Maurice Gehri, Mission d’enquête en Anatolie (12-22 mai 1921), Geneva, 1921, p. 3.
Archives du ministère des Affaires étrangères (AMAE), La Courneuve, microfilm P 1380.
« Grave réquisitoire d’un Lord anglais contre l’armée grecque », Le Petit Parisien, September 27, 1922, p. 3.