CHAPTER V

PERSECUTION OF CHRISTIANS IN SMYRNA DISTRICT

(1911-1914)

 

IN 1911, I was transferred to Smyrna, where I remained till May of 1917, when the Turks ruptured relations with the United States. During the period from 1914 to 1917, I was in charge of the Entente interests in Asia Minor and was in close contact with Rahmi Bey, the famous and shrewd war governor-general.

The Greek subjects in Asia Minor were not disturbed for the reason, as explained by Rahmi Bey, that King Constantine was in reality an ally of Turkey and that he was preventing Greece from going into the war. The Rayas, or Greek Ottoman subjects, of the Port were, on the other hand, abominably treated. These people were the expert artisans, principal merchants and professional men of the cities, and the skilled and progressive farmers of the country. It was they who introduced the cultivation of the famous Sultanina raisins, improved the curing and culture of tobacco, and built modern houses and pretty towns. They were rapidly developing a civilization that would ultimately have approached the classic days of Ionia. A general boycott was declared against them, for one thing, and posters calling on the Mussulmans to exterminate them were posted in the schools and mosques. The Turkish newspapers also published violent articles exciting their readers to persecution and massacre. A meeting of the consular corps was held and the decision was taken to visit the vali and call the attention of His Excellency to the danger that these articles and this agitation might disturb the tranquility of a peaceful province.

The consuls visited the vali, with the exception of the German representative, who alleged that he could not join in such a move without the express authorization of his government. This action of the German official on the spot is another confirmation of the assertion that Germany was to a large extent co-guilty with her Turkish allies in the matter of the deportations and massacres of Christians. In fact, there is little doubt that Germany inspired the expulsion of the Ottoman Greeks of Asia Minor at that time, as one of the preliminary moves in the war, which she was preparing.

The ferocious expulsion and terrorizing by murder and violence of the Rayas along the Asia Minor littoral, which has not attracted the attention it merits, has all the earmarks of a war measure, prompted by alleged “military necessity,” and there is no doubt that Turks and Germans were allies during the war and were in complete cooperation. A study of this question may be found in Publication No. 3, of the American Hellenic Society, 1918, in which the statement is made that one million, five hundred thousand Greeks were driven from their homes in Thrace and Asia Minor, and that half these populations had perished from deportations, outrages and famine.

The violent and inflammatory articles in the Turkish newspapers, above referred to, appeared unexpectedly and without any cause. They were so evidently “inspired” by the authorities, that it seems a wonder that even ignorant Turks did not understand this. Cheap lithographs were also got up, executed in the clumsiest and most primitive manner—evidently local productions. They represented Greeks cutting up Turkish babies or ripping open pregnant Moslem women, and various purely imaginary scenes, founded on no actual events or even accusations elsewhere made. These were hung in the mosques and schools. This campaign bore immediate fruit and set the Turk to killing, a not very difficult thing to do.

A series of sporadic murders began at Smyrna as at Saloniki, the list in each morning’s paper numbering from twelve to twenty. Peasants going into their vineyards to work were shot down from behind trees and rocks by the Turks. One peculiarly atrocious case comes to mind: Two young men, who had recently finished their studies in a high-grade school, went out to a vineyard to pass the night in the coula (house in the country). During the night they were called to the door and chopped down with axes. Finally the Rayas, to the number of several hundred thousand, were all driven off from their farms or out of their villages. Some were deported into the interior, but many managed to escape by means of caiques to the neighboring islands, whence they spread over Greece. A few thousand Turks destroyed the region, which the Greeks were developing and rendering fertile, from Pergamus clear down the coast to Lidja. I went over the whole region and took photographs of the ruined farmhouses and villages. Goats had been turned into flourishing, carefully tended vineyards and acres of roots had been dug up for fuel.

         Most of the Christian houses in Asia Minor are built of a wooden framework, which serves as an earthquake proof skeleton for the walls of stone and mortar. The Turks pulled the houses down by laying a timber across the inside of the window—or doorframe—to which a team of buffaloes or oxen was hitched. A Turk would reside in one of the houses with his wife, or with his goats and cattle, and thus tear down a circle of houses about him. When the radius became too great for convenience, he moved into the center of another cluster of houses. The object of destroying the houses was to get the wooden timbers for firewood.

Both at this time and during the progress of the Great War, the Rayas were drafted into the army where they were treated as slaves. They were not given guns, but were employed to dig trenches and do similar work, and as they were furnished neither food, clothing nor shelter, large numbers of them perished of hunger and exposure.

The beginning of the work on the “Great Turkish Library” at Smyrna was peculiarly interesting as a revelation of the mentality of the race. Christians were used for the labor, the taskmasters, of course, being Turks armed with whips. When I called the attention of Rahmi Bey, the governor-general, one day to the fact that there were not sufficient books existing in his native tongue to justify the construction of so great an edifice, he replied:

“The first thing is to have a building. If we have a building the books will necessarily appear to fill it, and even if they don’t, we are going to translate all the German books into Turkish.”

The structure was never finished, and consequently the books have not been written.

 

 

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