Skip to comments.Paradise Lost Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of Islamís City of Tolerance by Giles Milton
Posted on 06/15/2008 2:37:54 PM PDT by forkinsocket
For centuries, the great city of Smyrna was a European foothold on the Anatolian coast. The British Levantine Company had had a factory there since 1667, trading in raisins and carpets, and even then the place was renowned for its lively social life. Francesco Lupazzoli, the priapic Venetian consul, lived on a diet of fruit, bread and water and a few slices of unseasoned meat, yet survived until the age of 114, and fathered 126 children on his five wives and innumerable Smyrniot mistresses.
By the end of the 19th century, Smyrna had grown into one of the largest, richest and most cosmopolitan cities in the Mediterranean. It contained large Armenian and Jewish communities, plus at least twice as many Greeks as then lived in Athens. There were 11 Greek newspapers available in the city, as well as seven in Turkish, five in Armenian, four in French and five in Hebrew. Smyrna was also home to a collection of amazingly rich Anglo-Levantine families. The Girauds owned the Oriental Carpet Manufacturing Company, which employed 150,000 people, while the Whittalls controlled an even larger fruit exporting empire. These clans inhabited vast palaces and were serviced by a string of opera houses, theatres, department stores and brasseries. According to one visitor, even their hair salons were reminiscent of ballrooms. There were no fewer than 17 companies dealing with Parisian luxuries for these families. It is the lives of these dynasties, recorded in their diaries and letters, that form the focus for Giles Miltons brilliant re-creation of the last days of Smyrna.
In the course of the late 19th century, the Ottoman empire lurched from disaster to disaster, slowly and bloodily shedding its Greek, Bulgarian and Egyptian fringes. To make matters worse, it backed the wrong side in the first world war, thus losing its remaining possessions in the Hejaz, Palestine and Syria. Yet through all this, Smyrna flourished as if on a separate planet. Protected by Rahmi Bey, its liberal Ottoman governor, Smyrna continued to prosper while nearby the caliphate collapsed, the Armenians were led off to their genocide and allied troops died in their tens of thousands trying to capture Gallipoli. Pictures taken in 1917 show the Smyrna Opera packed to bursting with Edwardian gentlemen in black tie, enjoying Rigoletto only a few miles from the landing beaches where so many of their compatriots had died.
Then quite suddenly, in 1922, four years after the end of the first world war, Smyrna was snuffed out in a single week of mass-murder, rape, looting, pillage and one of the greatest acts of arson in the 20th century. At the end of it, the New York Times ran the headline: Smyrna wiped out. As Milton points out: It was not hyperbole; it was a bold statement of fact.
Britain played an important role in this disaster. Lloyd George hated Muslims, and especially the Turks. In the course of the Paris conference, at the same time as he casually handed over Palestine (then 90% Arab) to the Zionist movement, he encouraged the ambitions of his friend Eleftherios Venizelos, the prime minister of Greece, to annex chunks of Anatolia. When Venizelos dined at Downing Street, Lloyd George proposed the toast: May the Turk be turned out of Europe and sent to . . . where he came from. Lord Curzon agreed: For more than five centuries, the presence of the Turk in Europe has been a source of distraction, intrigue, and corruption . . . Let not this occasion be missed of purging the earth of one of its most pestilent roots of evil.
In 1919, while the Paris peace conference continued its deliberations on the future of the Middle East, Greek troops landed in Smyrna under British protection. Blessed by the Greek bishop Metropolitan Chrysostom, they began committing atrocities against the citys Turkish inhabitants, killing large numbers of unarmed citizens. The Greek army then advanced inland, and was soon pushing back Mustafa Kemal Ataturks new Turkish Republican army.
Lloyd George dismissed Ataturk as a carpet seller in a bazaar . . . [given to] unnatural sexual intercourse, yet the Turkish leader was more than a match for the Greeks. Arming his troops with weapons procured from Italy and France, both of whom distrusted this Anglo-Greek imperial project, Ataturk stalled the Greek offensive, and cut off their supply lines with his cavalry. By August 1922, the Greeks were in chaotic retreat, committing further atrocities as they staggered back to the Mediterranean. It was Smyrna that paid the price for British and Greek miscalculations. When the Turks entered the city on September 9, few doubted they would take revenge for what had been done to them. Few, however, guessed the scale of the horrors that would be meted out on the city. Estimates vary but some suggest that by the end of the mayhem 100,000 people had been killed, with many times that number turned into homeless refugees.
Perhaps the only flaw in Miltons powerful and moving narrative is the degree to which he depicts Smyrna as somehow an exceptional case: as the books subtitle has it, he believes he is writing about the destruction of Islams city of tolerance. In reality, both the pre-first-world-war tolerance, and the bloody fragmentation of that multicultural world as the empire collapsed, were part of a wider pattern across Ottoman lands. What is true of Smyrna was equally true of Salonica, Istanbul, Alexandria and Jaffa. For across the Ottoman world, eastern Christians, Jews and Muslims lived side by side for nearly one and a half millenniums. By modern standards, the Christians and Jews (the dhimmi) were often treated as second-class citizens, but it was at least a kind of pluralist equilibrium that had no parallel in Europe until the 1950s.
What one historian has called this hybrid multiconfessional, extraordinarily polyglot Ottoman multiculturalism where even bootblacks commanded a working knowledge of six or seven languages survived until European ideas of the nation state shattered the mosaic in the early 20th century. Across the Ottoman empire, the century saw the bloody unravelling of that tapestry most recently in Kosovo and Bosnia, but before that in Cyprus, Palestine, Greece and Anatolia. In each,pluralism was replaced by a savage polarisation as minorities fled or were driven to places where they could be majorities.
Milton has written a grimly memorable book about one of the most important events in this process. It is well paced, even-handed and cleverly focused: through the prism of the Anglo-Levantines, he reconstructs both the prewar Edwardian glory of Smyrna and its tragic end. He also clears up, once and for all, who burnt Smyrna, producing irrefutable evidence that the Turkish army brought in thousands of barrels from the Petroleum Company of Smyrna and poured them over the streets and houses of all but the Turkish quarter. Moreover, it is clear that it was done with the full approval of Ataturk, who was determined to find a final solution to his minority problem to ensure the future stability of his fledgling Turkish republic. A relatively homogenous Turkish nation state was indeed achieved; but as Milton shows, the cost was suffering on an almost unimaginable scale and one of the most horrific humanitarian disasters of the 20th century.
Paradise Lost Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of Islams City of Tolerance, by Giles Milton
nobody in that part of the world has clean hands.
What is unseasoned meat? Does it mean uncured? Raw?
What is unseasoned meat? Does it mean uncured? Raw?
Well Lloyd George was right on this one.
From a lecture by Prof. G. Mylonas at the Academy at Athens on December 14, 1982. It is his report of the slaughter of Met. Chrysostomos, now recognized as a saint, by the barbarian Turks.
“Allow me to end my lecture with a disclosure of a personal experience, a confession that I make for the first time. During the last days of September of 1922, a group of students from the International College of Smyrna and myself were imprisoned in a horrible cell in the building of the administration headquarters of Smyrna. The prison was packed with Greek Orthodox inmates, who were probably destined to die. At night-time, turkish guards led by a high-ranking officer removed prisoners and executed them.
At 5 pm on the evening of the last day of that tragic September, the same Turkish officer ordered me to follow him to the yard.
- ``Are you a teacher?’’, he asks.
- ``I have had this honour’’, I reply.
- ``And the others who are with you, are they students?’’
- ``Yes’’, I say.
- ``Hurry up, bring them over here’’.
- ``Come with me’’ I tell my comrades.``It looks like our turn to die has come. Come on, and be bold’’.
We were so surprised to hear the Turk say: ``I will not kill you, I will save you. Tonight all the prisoners will be executed because we need to make room for new inmates who have just arrived. I will save you today and I hope this will help me forget a terrible scene which I witnessed and took part in.’’
And he went on: ``I have witnessed the slaying of your Bishop. I was among those who blinded him, uprooted his eyes and dragged him from his beard and hair while he was bleeding through the Turkish neighborhood. We hit him, swore at him and cut off pieces from his skin. I was deeply impressed by his attitude. He neither begged, screamed or cursed while he endured all the tortures. His pale face, covered with the blood of his eyes, was constantly looking up towards the sky and he continuously mumbled something which could not be heard. Do you, teacher, know what he was saying?’’
- ``Yes, I know’’, I replied. - ``He was saying:”Holy Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”.’’
- ``I don’t understand what you are saying, teacher, but it does not matter. Every now and then, whenever he had the strength to do so, he would raise his right arm and bless his persecutors. A Turk realized what the Bishop was doing; he got so furious that he cut off the Bishop’s hands with his sword. He fell on the ground in a lake of blood and sighed. It was more a sigh of relief rather than a sigh of pain. I was so sorry for him at that moment, that I shot him twice in the head and that finished him off. That’s my story. Now that I have said it to you, I hope that I will find my peace of mind. That’s why I am saving your lives.’’
- ``And where did they bury him?’’ I asked with agony.
- ``No one knows where they threw his chopped up body’’.
God, I hate sentences like this one:
>>>By modern standards, the Christians and Jews (the dhimmi) were often treated as second-class citizens, but it was at least a kind of pluralist equilibrium that had no parallel in Europe until the 1950s.<<<
There were also slave owners in the antebellum South who treated their slaves well, too. They were still slaves. Dutch families hid Jews in their attics. There were Hutus and Tutsis who didn’t take part in the carnage. And on and on I could go.
If you’re a second class citizen, you’re not really a citizen of any culture worthy of your participation. Jeez.
<”...pluralism was replaced by a savage polarisation as minorities fled or were driven to places where they could be majorities.”>
A lie, and a very glib one at that. The Muslims have never actually practised “pluralism”: they just lie about it well.
Dhimmi is a creation of Mohammed and set out in his writings. Non-Muslims are not to be tolerated lightly but taxed. Dhimmis (Christians & Jews) have no rights under Sharia while polytheists (Hindus) are to be killed outright. I would not call this pluralism.
After the creation of Israel in 1948 over 800,000 Jews fled the Arab nations of their births and streamed into Israel. Arabs who wanted to live in Arab or Muslim-dominated lands were denied that opportunity by the Arab League, dominated by King Ibn Saud of Arabia. Instead they were the only refugees from the WWII era who were never resettled but maintained in a refugee status - all blamed on Israel!
Tens of million of people were refugees during the WWII era. Entire populations migrated hundreds of miles to create ethnic and religous homelands (India and Pakistan is the largest example of such an exchange of refugees). But not the Arabs. The Palestinians have rotted in camps for 60 years because of the Arabs hatred for Jews.
On May 29, 1453, the city of Constantinople fell to the Muslims. It was a dark day for Christendom and for all civilized humanity. His pleas ignored in the West, his supplies running out after six weeks siege, his soldiers outnumbered 15 to one, Emperor Constantine XI Dragas knew that his cause was hopeless. Like Prince Lazar at Kosovo 64 years earlier, he chose martyrdom. On May 22 the moon, symbol of Constantinople since its founding, rose in dark eclipse, fulfilling an old prophecy on the citys demise. Four days later the Bosphorus was shrouded by thick fog, a phenomenon unknown in eastern Mediterranean in late spring. When the final assault started on the 29th and the walls of the city were shattered, the Emperor discarded his purple cloak and led the last defenders to charge into the breach. The Turks were never able to identify his body; the last Roman Emperor was buried in a mass grave along with his soldiers. When it was all over, bands of Turks went on a rampage. Pillaging and killing went on for three days. The blood ran down the steep streets from the heights of Petra toward the Golden Horn. All the treasures of the Imperial Palace were promptly removed. Books and icons were burnt on the spot, once the jeweled covers and frames had been wrenched off. In the monastery of the Holy Savior, the invaders first destroyed the icon of the Mother of God, the Hodigitria, the holiest icon in all Byzantium, paintedso men saidby Saint Luke himself. When the Turks burst into the Hagia Sophia, Sir Steven Runciman tells us in his Fall of Constantinople, The worshippers were trapped. A few of the ancient and infirm were killed on the spot; but most of them were tied or chained together. Many of the lovelier maidens and youths and many of the richer-clad nobles were almost torn to death as their captors quarreled over them. The priests went on chanting at the altar till they too were taken . . . The inhabitants were carried off along with their possessions. Anyone who collapsed from frailty was slaughtered, together with a number of infants who were held to be of no value . . . [The city] was now half in ruins, emptied and deserted and blackened as though by fire, and strangely silent. Wherever the soldiers had been there was desolation. Churches had been desecrated and stripped; houses were no longer habitable and shops and stores battered and bare.
Lloyd George was a liberal party member.
Not a bad life, excepting the cuisine and bickering.
I understand where you're coming from. But during Christianity's many persecutions of religious minorities, the only choices given to them were to stay but convert, stay without converting and be killed, or don't convert and leave. (In many cases, their possessions were confiscated, whether they converted or not, and Christian greed* for these possessions may in fact have been an important reason for their persecution). But even if they left, they needed some place to go. The Muslim empires was where many ended up going, because few Christian countries offered large numbers of non-Christians refuge on even marginally acceptable terms.
Note that I'm not a great fan of Islam, but the fact is that in the distant past, non-Christians received more tolerance from Muslim empires, and persecuted religious minorities in Christian lands voted accordingly, with their feet by leaving Christendom for the lands of Islam. In the modern era, the pendulum has clearly swung the other way, of course.
* When historians say that religious minorities were relatively well-treated in the Muslim empires, that's exactly what they meant - they got better, but not ideal treatment from their Muslim overlords. A lot of Jews ended up as high officials in Muslim empires. How many Jews achieved this status in the West before the 19th century? As Jews, rather than as Jews converted to Christianity?
I think you’ve just posted something that cries out for the words “but that’s ancient history”.
It is ancient history, but that's what we're talking about here. In the modern era, Muslims are running around chopping off the heads of fellow Muslims with heterodox views, never mind infidels. The (relatively) tolerant* Islam of antiquity - the Islam of the 1001 Nights and Scheherazade - is no longer with us.
* Not to be confused with today's Western acceptance of everything under the sun.
Excellent reply to this piece of Muslim propaganda.
According to Wikipedia this is not a correct statement. In 1914 Jews made up about 15% of the population. This includes Christian Arabs.
Powerful story. Thanks for posting it.
No salt and pepper. Plain. Cooked, but plain.