The Great Fire of Smyrna

Greek: Καταστροφη της Σμυρνης
What: A fire that destroyed much of the city of Smyrna.
When: September 1922
Deaths: In the tens of thousands
Refugees: 400,000 Greeks and Armenians

The Smyrna Catastrophe Painting by Vasilis Bottas.

The Smyrna Catastrophe Painting by Vasilis Bottas.

The Great Fire of Smyrna was a fire thatdestroyed much of the port city of Smyrna (now Izmir) in September 1922. The fire is reported to have began on 13 September 1922 and lasted for several days. It occurred four days after the Turkish forces regained control of the city on 9 September 1922 and subsequentlyended the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) in the field, more than three years after the Greek army had landed troops at Smyrna on 15 May 1919. Smyrna, the largest city in Asia Minor called ‘the jewel of the Mediterranean’, a cosmopolitan hub populated by a highly educated Greek community and flourishing commercial and middle-classes, was sacked and burned and its inhabitants massacred by the Turkish forces. The exact number of people who died are not precisely known but it is believed to be in the tens of thousands of mostly Greeks and Armenians.Many had died as the flames were approaching the harbour and people were forced to jump to their deaths and drown rather than be consumed by the fire.

Despite the fact that there were numerous ships from various Allied powers in the harbour of Smyrna did not pick up Greek and Armenian civilians who were forced to flee the fire and Turkish troops and thus were either burned by the fire or drowned. Military bands played loud music to drown out the screams of those who were drowning in the harbour. A Japanese freighter, however, dumped all of its cargo and filled itself to the brink with refugees, taking them to the Greek port of Pireaus. There were approximately 400,000 Greek and Armenian refugees from Smyrna and the surrounding area who received Red Cross aid immediately after the destruction of the city. Many were rescued via an impromptu relief flotilla organized by Asa Jennings. Other scholars give a different account of the events; they argue that the Turks first forbade foreign ships in the harbour to pick up the survivors, but under pressure from Britain, France, and the United States allowed the rescuing of all the Christians except males 17 to 45 years old, whom they aimed to deport into the interior of Turkey where they became slaves and their lives ended by mysterious death”.

The Greek Smyrna refugees were never allowed to return to their homeland after 1923 and the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne. The last part of Mustafa Kemal’s (founder of the Republic of Turkey as well as its first President) ethnic cleansing campaign to create an ethnically pure homeland for the Turks was the instigation of a forcible transfer of populations uprooting close to a 1.5 million Greeks from Turkey in exchange for less than half a million Muslims from Greece. According to historian Dinah Shelton: “the Lausanne Treaty completed the forcible transfer of the country’s Greeks”. Thus ended the more than 2,500 years of Greek presence in Asia minor.

1922 Smyrna Fire Videos:

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