Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, June 24, 2019

Recommended: 100 Years Ago—The Greco-Turkish War Opens

By Christopher Kinley
Presented by Origins, from the History Departments at The Ohio State University and Miami University

A 1919 Protest of the Allies' Occupation of Constantinople

One hundred years ago [in May], the Greco-Turkish war erupted. The war resulted in the largest compulsory population exchange in history up to that time (two million people) and helped define the concept of ethnic conflict. The war also brought about the Turkish Republic, and its severity indelibly shaped modern Greece and Turkey to this day.

The armistice of 11 November in 1918 is credited for ending the fighting of the First World War, but just 12 days prior, the Allied Powers and the Ottoman Empire signed the Armistice of Mudros. The Ottoman Empire was to be partitioned among the Allies, with all powers sending contingents to occupy Constantinople. As part of the deal, Greece received the city of Smyrna.

Smyrna was a wealthy city inhabited mostly by minorities in the Ottoman Empire: Greeks, Jews, and Armenians. For Greece, the city was more than just a prize for participation in World War I. It validated the Greek foreign policy goal of capturing Constantinople and reviving the Byzantine Empire, or “Greater Greece” as they called it.

Greek troops landed in Smyrna on 15 May 1919 and the war began. Local ethnic Greeks and Armenians joined forces with Greek troops. Reports soon circulated that these untrained volunteers committed acts of violence against their Muslim neighbors. Rumors of such brutality enraged an already growing revolutionary faction within the Ottoman Empire led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Greek Troops Landing in Smyrna, 15 May 1919

Initially, the Greek Army’s intent was to secure the region surrounding the Smyrna occupation zone, but by the summer of 1920, Greek forces eyed Ankara and began to push deep into the heart of Anatolia. Britain backed this move into Turkish lands because it saw the Greek military as a conduit to crush Kemal’s revolutionary movement. By October of 1920, Greek troops had gained control of northwestern Anatolia. This advance, however, was met with staunch resistance.

Turkish revolutionary forces using guerrilla warfare slowed the Greek Army’s progression, and Greek soldiers’ acts of violence against Muslim villagers created fear and panic and fueled ethnic conflict. In acts of reprisal, revolutionary forces brutally murdered Greek Orthodox villagers and forced many others to migrate east to the Greek occupation zone. The violent acts against civilians committed by both sides did not go unnoticed by the international community and spawned numerous humanitarian relief campaigns.

As the fight dragged on, the Greek public grew weary of the war and troop morale declined rapidly. Greek desertions soared. Britain, anxious about the perceived instability of the Greek government, withdrew its support. Into this vacuum, the Soviets began providing munitions to the revolutionary forces in an effort to check Western expansion and turned the tide of war in favor of Kemal’s forces.

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