Polyzoides in 1922: You Are All to Blame
There is an interesting article titled “Tragedy of Smyrna. As Greeks see it…He blames France chiefly” that was published in the New York Times on September 17, 1922 expressing the Greek-American view on the Greek disaster in Asia Minor. The author of this piece did not mince his words about the culpability and negligence on the part of the great European powers and the United States in failing to assist Greece in her struggle against the Kemalists.
Adamantios Th. Polyzoides, the editor of a Greek-American newspaper, who was an ardent Royalist, defended the Greek position in Asia Minor. He described Smyrna as a city symbolising progress and prosperity during the three years of Greek administration. Many Greeks from the islands and old Greece visited and enjoyed their summer vacations in Smyrna.
Polyzoides states that when the Turks entered Smyrna, “the Ionian capital [was reduced] to a smouldering heap of ashes covering the charred bones of 2000 innocent victims butchered in cold blood by the authors of the Armenian massacres, the perpetrators of the Pontus horrors, and executioners of Adana and Hadjin and Aintab and Marash.”
It should be pointed out that during the London Conference of February/March 1920 when the allied powers were discussing the peace terms to be imposed on Ottoman Turkey; Turkish nationalist forces attacked French positions in Cilicia, a province located in Southeastern Turkey involving the towns of Adana, Hadjin, Aintab and Marash. The French withdrew their forces, thus leaving the Armenians to fend for themselves. According to British and Americans newspaper accounts, it is estimated that between 10,000 to 15,000 Armenians were massacred by the Kemalists. It seems that France was ill-equipped to assume the administration of Cilicia. The French had the bulk of their army stationed in Syria under the command of General Henri Gouraud. Their military hardware heavy artillery, automatic machine guns, armed cars, airplanes and communication equipment was held in Beirut. If the French had deployed some of their forces and military hardware in Cilicia, then the Armenians may not have suffered as many casualties. No wonder why the Kemalists scored a morale boosting victory over the French.
Polyzoides mentions that statements made by the Turkish nationalist leadership, Mustapha Kemal, Bekir Sami Bey, Fethi Bey and Yussuf Kemal--that they would treat the Christian populations in a civilized manner--were dismissed as lies and propaganda. He would have remembered the eyewitness accounts of the deportation of Greeks from Pontus into inland Turkey who vanished without a trace in 1921-22.
He levelled his greatest criticism at France where he stated that “It is French policy that made the Kemalist triumph possible, as it was French jealousy at the success of British policy in the Near East that awakened the slumbering fires of Islam.” This is an interesting statement requiring a brief explanation. After all, it was British soldiers, guns and money that led to the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. Britain received the bulk of the territory in the Middle East in the post-1919 period. She received the mandates for Palestine and Mesopotamia (Iraq) that were administered on behalf of the League of Nations. France got the Syrian mandate. It must be noted that Mesopotamia (Iraq) possessed significant oil deposits that were crucial to Britain’s political, economic and strategic imperial interests in the Middle East.
He lashed out at British and French apologists for supporting the Turks. The list included Lord Reading, the Viceroy of India, E.S Montagu, the former Secretary of State for India 1919-22, and the deceased press baron Lord Northcliffe, all of whom actively opposed Lloyd George’s foreign policy in the Near East, and French apologists--Pierre Loti, Claude Farrere, Berthe George Gaulis and Franklin Bouillon--as advocates for the Turks.
Even Italy and the Soviet Union did not escape his blistering criticism. He was correct in pointing out that Italy was hostile to Greek ambitions in Anatolia. During the First World War, the Entente powers, Britain, France and Russia, promised territorial compensation to Italy in Asia Minor under the terms of the Treaty of London of April 1915. This was the dangling carrot to get Italy to join them against the Central powers-Germany, Austro-Hungary and Ottoman Empire. In April 1917, Britain and France repeated their assurances that Italian territorial aspirations would be satisfied in Asia Minor. The Entente had also promised Ottoman territory around Smyrna to Greece, as allies Greece and Italy were fierce rivals in Asia Minor in the period 1919-22. The Italian Foreign Ministers Baron Sidney Sonnino, representing his country at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, and Count Sforza, the Italian Foreign Minister in the period 1920-21, were strongly anti-Greek and the latter actively supported the Kemalists.
The Soviet Union had adopted a strong anti-Greek position in the recent Asia Minor conflict. The Bolsheviks never forgot or forgave Venizelos for committing a Greek force to fight them in the Crimea during the Russian civil war in 1919. They believed that Venizelos committed the Greek force in order to win British and French support for Greece’s territorial claims in Asia Minor. It will be noted that Bolshevik Russia and Kemalist Turkey were political outcasts on the international stage which made it possible for them to form an alliance in March 1921. The Russians supplied the Kemalists with war material and credit in their struggle with the Greeks.
Even his adopted country, the United States, did not escape his condemnation. He believed that the failure of the US not to recognise King Constantine gave Mustapha Kemal the feeling that the US was not unfriendly to him. This gave the Turks unfettered access to French, Italian and Russian sources of credit, whereas Greece was financially and diplomatically isolated. After King Constantine’s return to Greece in December 1920, the Allied powers cut Greece’s credit and declared their neutrality in the Greco-Turkish war. They also sought to modify the Treaty of Sevres by making concessions to the Kemalists. The United States kept out of European entanglements in the Near East. She was interested in developing her economic and trading prospects in the Ottoman Empire. In the end, Greece was left to fend for herself in Asia Minor.
Polyzoides raises the issue of the sceptre of a new great war where Mustapha Kemal might be tempted to seize Constantinople and the Bolsheviks sending their forces to the Bosphorus. It is possible that Mustapha Kemal may have wanted to chase the surviving remnants of the Greek army into Eastern Thrace. His troops would have had to cross over from the Asiatic to the European side of the Turkish Straits thus precipitating another European war. The British stand at Chanak dampened his ambitions in September 1922. Whether the Russians would have wanted to send troops to the Bosphorus is difficult to say. Moscow was trying to break its political and diplomatic isolation by seeking to become a member of the international community. She participated at the Genoa Conference in April/May 1922.
Polyzoides encouraged America to shine as a nation in world affairs and stated emphatically that “If there was a time when America by a prompt intervention could still save the day this is the only time. And it is up to America to stop the new war now before she finds herself once more fighting the battles in Europe which we will have to do whether we want it or not; if there is a new world war.”
Here was an opportunity for the United States to break from its isolation, even temporarily, by using her political and diplomatic muscle to stop a potential new war and to achieve peace in the Near East. It was the entry of the United States in April 1917 that helped to turn the tide in favour of the Allies finally leading to a German capitulation in November 1918.
In conclusion Polyzoides did not hide his criticism of the European powers and the United States. He blamed all of them for doing nothing to assist the Greek cause in Asia Minor. France copped the severest criticism in assisting the Kemalists.
Stavros T.Stavridis, Historical Researcher, National Center for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia
(Posted originally October 2005; reformatted March 2007)
About the Author
Stavros Terry Stavridis was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1949 of Greek parents. He migrated to Australia with his parents in September 1952. Stavros has a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) in Political Science/Economic History and B.A (Hons) in European History from Deakin University and M.A in Greek/Australian History from RMIT University. His MA thesis is titled "The Greek-Turkish War 1919-23: an Australian Press Perspective."
Stavros has nearly 20 years of teaching experience, lecturing at University and TAFE (Technical and Further Education, the equivalent of Community College in the US) levels. He has presented papers at international conferences in Australia and USA and has also given public lectures both in Australia and on the West Coast of the US. Many of his articles have appeared in the Greek-American press. He currently works as a historical researcher at the National Center for Hellenic Studies and Research, Latrobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia.
Stavros' research interests are the Asia Minor campaign and disaster, Middle Eastern history, the Assyrian and Armenian genocides, Greece in the Balkan Wars 1912-13 and the First World War and history in general.
Readers interested in the works of Stavridies may read more of his fine articles posted on HCS at the URL http://www.helleniccomserve.com/stavridisone.html.
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