The photograph at right shows the ruins of the Agora at Izmir, a Turkish city on the Mediterranean coast of Asia Minor. “Wait a minute,” you say; “isn’t the Agora a feature of Greek cities?”
Indeed it is; the agora is the marketplace of a Greek polis. The word αγορά is from αγείρειν, meaning “to gather” or “to collect”, and is related to the words “aggregate” and “gregarious”. It’s the gathering place at the heart of a Greek city.
And the city of Izmir hasn’t always been called that. Before it became a Turkish city, it had been Smyrna, a major Greek port and trading center for more than two millennia. Even after becoming part of the Ottoman Empire it remained a primarily Christian city, home to many thousands of Greeks and Armenians.
Until 1922, that is. The week of September 11-17, to be precise. During that period the city was occupied by the forces of Mustafa Kemal, a.k.a. Kemal Attaturk. The Christian areas of the city were looted and torched, and the Armenians and the Greeks were driven from their homes to flee the city or be slaughtered. Of the 400,000 Christians resident in the city beforehand, virtually none remained, and more than 190,000 were never accounted for. The Archbishop Chrysostomos was among the victims, murdered at the hands of a mob while under the “protection” of French marines. The city, except for the Turkish quarter, was reduced to a smoking ruin.
So here we are at yet another anniversary. Another 9-11, and also a 9-17.
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Let’s back off a little bit and look at the history of Asia Minor. Below is a map of the region in ancient times, as it was more or less in the time of St. Paul.
Notice all the place names on the map. Those cities and regions were Greek, and had been for a thousand years. While St. Paul was making his way through Asia Minor to Corinth, the Turks were still a tribe of Mongol nomads in the Central Asian uplands.
After the rise of Islam the Turks migrated to Anatolia, picked up Islam on the way, and succeeded where the Arabs had failed, conquering the Byzantine Empire piece by piece. The city of Smyrna fell first to the Seljuk Turks in 1084, was regained by the Greeks, and then later was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. It remained in Ottoman hands until modern times, but was still primarily a Greek and Armenian city, home to thousands of Christian dhimmis.
At the beginning of the 20th century there were an estimated 4.5 million Christians in what is now Turkey, most of them Greek. In 1979 the Greek Orthodox population in Turkey was thought to be no more than 7,000, and is now down to about 2,000.
Where did all those Greeks go? Demetrios didn’t just turn to Sofia one day and say, “Darling, let’s load all our worldly goods onto the donkey cart and we’ll move to Athens or Thessalonica.” It’s not like Smyrna was proselytized by gentle imams who were so persuasive that the entire Greek population converted to Islam, gave up their Greek surnames, and took on Turkish ones instead.
No, Asia Minor was cleared of Greeks and Armenians in the traditional manner, by blood and fire, by the sword and the bullet, by rapine and looting and unimaginable slaughter. But this didn’t happen in 670, or 1084, or 1453, or 1683. It was in 1922, in the recently departed 20th century. It was the Rwanda and Darfur of the 1920s, and it occurred within living memory. Or it would be living, if the memory of it hadn’t been dumped down the oubliette along with all the other inconvenient facts that the bien-pensants would rather not think about.
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When the “Sick Man of Europe” — the Ottoman Empire — finally expired at the end of the Great War, the formerly Ottoman lands were divided up by the Western Allies according to the national aspirations of the inhabitants as well as the mercantile schemes of the British and the French. Greece had won her independence from the Ottomans in 1821, but much of Asia Minor, though ethnically Greek, remained part of the Ottoman Empire until it was allotted to the Greek nation under the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920.
The defeat at the hands of the Allies helped spark Kemal Attaturk’s “Young Turk” revolution that overthrew the Ottomans and replaced them with a secular Turkish nationalist government. In 1921 Greek forces secured Smyrna and moved inland to engage the Turkish nationalist army. Unfortunately, they were no match for their opponents, and were pushed back across the Bosphorus by the Turks. Any Greek civilians who failed to flee with them were left to face the revenge of Kemal’s army.
The awful dénouement was realized most vividly in Smyrna. According to Western eyewitness accounts ( derided as “tall tales” by some Turks, but confirmed by other Turkish sources), Turkish soldiers methodically put the Greek and Armenian quarters to the torch when the winds were blowing away from the Turkish quarter. Christian homes and businesses were looted, Christian women were raped by soldiers while their families were slaughtered, and what remained of the Christian populace gathered on the quayside between the flaming city and the waters of the harbor.
Like the people trapped on the upper floors of the World Trade Center, the Christians of Smyrna faced the choice of dying in the inferno or jumping. Many of them did jump, and those who could swim tried to reach the Allied warships anchored in the harbor.
But the British and French seamen had orders from headquarters not to allow any refugees aboard. They cut the ropes and threw water onto the desperate Greeks trying to climb aboard, and many thousands of people drowned.
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Not our finest hour, eh?
The Western Allies had read the writing on the wall, and could see that Kemal Attaturk and his genocidal soldiers were the wave of the future. Commercial interests were at stake, after all, so Attaturk got the assistance of the West, the Greeks were driven from Asia Minor, and the Treaty of Sèvres was discarded. The facts on the ground were codified by a new treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne, in 1923.
The Greek Holocaust was a secular one, perpetrated by Turkish nationalists out to secularize the country, and not a product of jihad. Even so, the corpses strewn in the streets were all Christians, and were derided by their murderers as gâvur, the Turkish version of the Arabic word kaffir, or infidels.
And so we have another series of grainy monochrome photos of corpses, the familiar spawn of the 20th century. The brutalized and desecrated victims lie in disordered heaps while the onlookers and perpetrators stare nonchalantly into the camera. The Balkans, Russia, and now Turkey; later Spain, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Ukraine, Bosnia, and Kosovo, on and on and on…
Asia Minor becomes Griechenrein. Turkey becomes a modern, secular, “European” state. The Turks flood Europe.
And so we move on into the 21st century.