CHAPTER XIII

SMYRNA AS IT WAS

 

THE burning of Smyrna and the massacre and scattering of its inhabitants has aroused widespread humanitarian and religious interest on account of the unparalleled sufferings of the multitudes involved. But there is another element in the United States, not numerous, that has been more deeply saddened by the fate of this ancient town—the classical scholars and historians.

The eyes of scholars, ever since the great discoveries of Schliemann, have been turned toward the island of Crete, where it is now known that a highly developed civilization existed, contemporaneous with early Egyptian, and of which the ancient cities of Tyrins and Mycenae were outposts. It is believed that the ancestors of the royal houses of these settlements came originally from Asia Minor, and it is possible that the conception of the grim old lions above the gate of Mycenae, symbolizing the courage of its kings, may have been imported from Asia. Theseus, that attractive and romantic hero, who finally became one of the rulers of the Mythical Age of Athens, is connected with Asia Minor through the Amazons, who were feminine priestesses of the old cult of the many-breasted nature goddess of Ephesus.

From Ionia, the mother civilization spread to old Greece, to Sicily, to Italy and along the shores of the Black Sea, and finally to Europe and America! It is more than probable that Homer was a Smyrniote, or an inhabitant of Asia Minor, and for countless years his writings were a sort of Bible or sacred book, molding the character of millions. Perhaps the earliest conception of monogamy, certainly the most beautiful, comes from Homer’s poems. Our conception of the family is Greek; we get it from the Odyssey, very probably written in Smyrna, thousands of years ago.

During the days of the Byzantine Empire, that splendid, romantic and tragic power which developed a magnificent civilization and kept the lamp of learning alight all through the darkness of the Middle Ages, Asia Minor flourished and was the province which contributed most to the strength and firmness of the general fabric. The exploits of Nikephoros Phokas and the romance of Diogenes Akritas, immortalized in verse, are well known even to those scholars who are not Byzantine specialists. Those were the days of the great land barons who kept regal state and whose forgotten history should be a vast treasure-house for romantic novelists. Later, Ionia is of intense interest to the whole Christian world. It is the land of the Seven Cities of the Revelation, of the Seven Churches and the wonderful mystical poem of St. John the Divine. Six of the candles went out in eternal darkness long ago, but that of Smyrna burned brightly until its destruction on the thirteenth of September, 1922, by the Turks of Mustapha Klhemal and the death of the last of its great bishops whose martyrdom fitly ended its glorious Christian history.

Polycarp, the patron saint of Smyrna during the long years of its existence as a Christian city, was burned alive in an ancient stadium whose contour is still plainly visible, on February twenty-sixth, in the year A. D. 156; Chrysostom was tortured and torn in pieces by a Turkish mob in front of the military headquarters of the Khemalist forces in Smyrna on September ninth, A. D. 1922. In Asia Minor were held the great Christian assemblies: at Nicea, Ephesus and Chalcedon, were born the Church fathers, St. Paul and the two Gregories. It was at Ephesus, near Smyrna, that St. Paul fought with beasts after the manner of men.

Greek civilization has again and again developed in Asia Minor to be crushed by Asiatic invasion. At its height it produced the immortal cities of Pergamus, Smyrna, Colophon, Philadelphia, Ephrsus, Halicarnassus. The whole land was dotted with lesser towns adorned with schools of art and beautiful temples from many of which sprang famous philosophers and poets. Ionia is a graveyard of ancient Greek cities and marble villages toward which the interest of American scholars has been turning more and more. A pioneer in this field was J. R. Sitlington Sterrett, who has left an unforgettable name among American archeologists.

The climate of Smyrna resembles very much that of Southern California. Snow rarely, if ever, falls in winter, and during the summer the country is daily refreshed by a breeze from the sea, the embates, or, in the Smyrna dialect, the imbat.

The route to Smyrna from Athens lies between Euboea and Andros and between the islands of Chios and Mytilini, the ancient Lesbos, famous as the home of Sappho. It skirts the great promontory of Kharabournou and enters the Hermian Gulf. To the left is the ancient city of Phocea. A colony from Phocea founded Marseilles, France, some thousands of years ago. It is interesting to know that the massacre and expulsion of the inhabitants in June, 1914, excited special interest and sympathy in the modern French city.

The harbor of Smyrna is one of the best in the world, comparable to that of Vancouver. At the bottom of the Hermian Gulf we come to a sort of sea-gate, the entrance to the harbor proper, in which the largest sea-going craft can safely anchor. Smyrna has attained great importance in late years as a commercial port. While other harbors, especially that of its ancient rival, Ephesus, have been filled by deposits brought down by the rivers, that of Smyrna has not suffered the same fate, the silt of the delta of the Hermus having tended only to narrow its mouth.

Among the first objects pointed out to the traveler on entering the bay are the “Two Brothers,” or twin mountain peaks, which are identical in appearance. At the right is the ancient fortress bombarded by the British fleet during the war whose guns can plainly be seen by passengers upon steamers. Soon after passing the fortress, Smyrna appears nestling in the arms of a long, white, semicircular bay, resembling that of Naples, to which it is scarcely second in beauty, and climbing the slopes of Mount Pagus, crowned by an ancient wall and fortress. The city itself, with its suburbs, stretched far around the semicircle on both sides.

At the time of its destruction it is probable that the inhabitants exceeded five hundred thousand in numbers. The latest official statistics give the figure as four hundred thousand, of whom one hundred and sixty-five thousand were Turks, one hundred and fifty thousand Greeks, twenty-five thousand Jews, twenty-five thousand Armenians, and twenty thousand foreigners: ten thousand Italians, three thousand French, two thousand British and three hundred Americans.

The principal promenade was the quay, on which were located the American theater, the prettiest building of its kind in the Ottoman Empire, many cinemas, the best hotels, various modern and well-constructed office buildings, besides the residences of the most prosperous merchants, among whom were Greeks, Armenians and Dutch. On this street also were several of the Consulates, the building owned by the French Government being an imposing structure, suitable even for an embassy.

The residences mentioned were elegant in appearance and contained treasures of rugs, expensive furniture, works of art and Oriental curios.

The city was divided largely into quarters, though this was not a rigid arrangement. The Turkish lay to the east and south, and, as is usual in all mixed Ottoman towns, occupied the highest part, extending up the sides of Mount Pagus, (and does still, for that matter, as it was not burned). Architecturally it is a typical jumble of ramshackle huts, with very few, if any, buildings of a superior order. To the east are grouped most of the Jews, while the Armenian quarter lay to the north of the Turkish and contiguous with it. The Greek area was north again of the Armenian.

In speaking of the population of Smyrna one should not forget to mention the “Levantines.” There seems to be some doubt in the American mind as to who these really are. The term is usually applied to any inhabitant of the Near East, and is supposed to carry with it an implication of deceit and sharpness in business. A “Levantine” is really a foreigner whose forefathers settled in that country one or more generations ago, who has become thoroughly versed in Oriental dealings, who speaks the languages, and some of whose ancestors may have intermarried with Greeks or Armenians.

As the Oriental understands it, the population of that country consists of Turks, Greeks, Armenians, Jews and Levantines. The latter have thriven immensely, and there are two small towns, Boudja and Bournabat, both within half an hour by rail from the metropolis, inhabited principally by descendants of British, French and Dutch, whose ancestors settled a hundred years or so ago in the Near East. These two villages are very beautiful. Many of the residences are imposing, and the parks and rose gardens surrounding them are not surpassed anywhere in the world. Their owners lived, (or live, such of them as have gone back) the lives of merchant princes. They have been able, protected by the capitulations, to amass great fortunes. These people generally resent being called “Levantines,” and cling to their original nationality. During the Great War their sons enlisted with enthusiasm, and the German and Turkish cannon and other instruments of destruction took heavy toll of the debonair and wealthy youth of Boudja and Bournabat.

The principal business thoroughfare of Smyrna was the Rue Franque, on which were situated the great department and wholesale stores of the Greeks, Armenians and Levantines. At the shopping hour in the afternoon, this street was so crowded that one moved through it with difficulty, and among the motley throng ladies in costumes of the latest fashion, looking for that sort of merchandise that ladies shop for everywhere, formed a large part.

Social life presented many attractions. Teas, dances, musical afternoons and evenings were given in the luxurious salons of the rich Armenians and Greeks. There were four large clubs: the “Cercle de Smyrne”, frequented mostly by British, French and Americans; the “Sporting” with a fine building and garden on the quay; the Greek Club and a Country Club near the American college with excellent golf links and race course.

In no city in the world did East and West mingle physically in so spectacular a manner as at Smyrna, while spiritually they always maintained the characteristics of oil and water. One of the common sights of the streets was the long camel caravans, the beasts passing in single file, attached to ropes and led by a driver on a donkey in red fez and rough white-woolen cloak. These caravans came in from the interior laden with sacks of figs, licorice root, raisins, wood, tobacco and rugs. While the foreigner is apt to be afraid of these ungainly beasts, one often saw a Greek or Armenian woman in high-heeled boots and elegant costume, stoop and lift the rope between two camels and pass under. At the north end of the city is a railroad station called “Caravan Bridge”, because near by is an ancient stone bridge of that name over which the camel caravans arriving from as far away as Bagdad and Damascus, used to pass.

Reference has already been made to the gaiety of the natives. One of the chief institutions of Smyrna about which naval men always inquire, was the “Politakia”, or orchestras of stringed instruments, guitars, mandolins and zither. The players added great zest to the performance by singing to their own accompaniment native songs and improvisations. The various companies gave nightly concerts in the principal cafes and were often called upon for entertainments in private houses.

The lightheartedness of the Smyrniotes was well-nigh irrepressible and continued almost until the last days when it was extinguished forever. During the Great War the British bombarded the fortress. At first the sound of the big guns terrified the inhabitants, but when it was discovered that there was no intention of throwing shells into the city itself the whole population gathered on the housetops and at the cafes to witness the flashes and the bursting of the projectiles. The cannonading was plainly visible from the quay and became a regular theatrical performance, chairs on the sidewalks being sold at high prices.

Passing from the European quarter—Greeks and Armenians are here classed as Europeans—into the Turkish, one found himself in the days of the “Arabian Nights”. The civilization, the manners, the isolation of the women, who were either not seen at all or passed through the streets closely veiled, were all such as one finds described in the “Thousand and One Nights”. Mention should be made particularly of the letter-writers, generally kindly old hodjas, who sat at tables taking down the love-letters and other missives that were whispered in their ears. Groups of befezzed Mussulmans sat about smoking their water pipes beside antique fountains or in the shade of clambering grape-vines.

The American interests in Smyrna were very important. Besides the omnipresent Standard Oil Company, there were the great McAndrews and Forbes licorice firm with its spacious offices and thousands of employees and laborers, all the principal tobacco companies whose business amounted to millions yearly, the exporters of figs and raisins and carpets, and after the Greek occupation, the importers of agricultural implements and automobiles.

There were important American educational and humanitarian institutions as well as archeological expeditions to Sardis and Colophon. The excavators at Sardis during their last campaign made a notable discovery of thirty gold coins of Croesus, which were taken charge of by me and brought to the United States immediately after the Smyrna disaster. They also, with my aid, succeeded in obtaining the first large consignment of original marbles that has ever been sent to any American museum. These latter were shipped to America for the Metropolitan Museum of New York. All these marbles and coins were, for political reasons, sent back to Constantinople from New York.

I shall permit myself to digress sufficiently at this point to make the observation that I took keener satisfaction in bringing these remarkable antiquities to the United States than in any other single act of my entire consular career. This satisfaction was shared by the late Howard Crosby Butler, who added to my pleasure by his unstinted commendation. Perhaps if this great scholar and courtly gentleman had not died suddenly in Paris, he might have prevented the sacrifice of these treasures to business and political interests—futilely and unreasonably sacrificed.

Among the interesting ancient monuments existing in Smyrna are two aqueducts, which can be seen from the railroad running to Boudja. There is also the so-called “Tomb of Tantalus,” the mythical founder of the town. The excellent water supply of the city is still derived from an ancient source known as the “Baths of Diana.”

The road from Smyrna to Boudja skirts the beautiful Valley of St. Anne, so named because she is supposed to have been buried there. Through this flows the river known as the Meles, by the banks of which Homer may have composed his great epics.

The civilization of this ancient and beautiful city was essentially Greek. The great mills of Nazli, which before the war supplied an excellent quality of flour not only to Smyrna vilayet, but to the rest of Turkey and even exported to Europe, were founded by a Greek. Of the three hundred and ninety-one factories at Smyrna, three hundred and forty-four were Greek and fourteen Turkish. Statistics of this nature could be multiplied indefinitely.

The two principal native schools—both Greek—were the Homerion, an institution for girls, and the Evangelical School for Boys, the latter under British protection. These were academies of great merit, affording a liberal course of education, and their graduates, many of them successful men and women, are to be found in all parts of the world. The library of the Evangelical School was recognized by scholars as containing a large and invaluable collection of books, manuscripts and inscriptions, many of which can never be replaced.

Among other irreparable losses caused by the fire should be mentioned two very ancient copies of the Bible, one kept in a church in Smyrna, and the other the special charge of a small community of Christians who are said to have fled from Ephesus when that city was sacked by the Turks centuries ago, and to have founded a small village whose sole object was the preservation of this venerable book. This part of the tale should not be finished without reference to the records of the American Consulate. Smyrna was one of the oldest of our foreign offices and contained many dispatches signed by Daniel Webster and others equally famous in our history, besides interesting references to incursions of the Barbary pirates, and an account of the saving of a famous Polish patriot by a small American cruiser, which cleared for action and demanded his release from an Austrian battle-ship. There have been many thrilling and inspiring episodes in the history of our navy where commanders have acted on their own responsibility in behalf of justice and humanity. Such episodes were more frequent before the perfection of the wireless and the submarine telegraph. It is a consolation to reflect that the spirited incident mentioned above occurred in the harbor of Smyrna, to balance, as it were, the history of the locality.

I was engaged before the fire in going through the ancient records and preparing a resume of their contents. Among the treasures of the Consulate were twelve magnificent old wood-prints of the battle of Navarino, giving different stages of the action, with faithful reproductions of the various ships with their names, which, as they were my personal property, I had intended to present to our navy department. I believe that there are no other copies of these prints in existence.

Smyrna is now a mass of ruins and a Turkish village. It should be borne in mind, however, that history repeats itself. Smyrna was rebuilt by Greeks after its destruction by Lydians, and Hellenic civilization again reasserted itself after the ferocity of the Turkish pirates of 1084, and the frightful butcheries of Tamerlane. A great city is the flower of industry and a peaceful and prosperous civilization. When the farmers swarm over the plains and the sailors go down to the sea in ships, then the bazaars and warehouses are built, the banks and the counting-houses and the shops of the cunning artisans. Smyrna will grow great again when a live and progressive Western civilization once more develops in Ionia. History has demonstrated that the Greeks, from their geographical position, their industrial and economic enterprise, and their relative maritime supremacy in the Mediterranean are the people ultimately destined to carry European progress into Asia Minor unless, indeed, Christianity should utterly fail, and with it, the civilization founded upon it. Smyrna is too near Europe for Turkish retrogression and blight to rest there indefinitely. Its fields are too rich and too valuable to the human race to remain permanently in the bands of a sparse population of incompetent shepherds. The question is often asked: “When will the Turks rebuild Smyrna!” Turkish Smyrna was not burned.

 

 

 

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