The Catastrophe in Asia Minor
ADVERTISE IN "sagreeks"
Venizelos went to the Paris peace talks armed with the assurances he had received from the Allies during the war and focused exclusively on territorial aggrandizement for Greece. The peace that emerged seemed to promise full realization of the Megali Idea. In the event, shifts in domestic and international politics led to a disastrous conflict with the successors of the Ottoman Empire.

Venizelos showed all of his considerable diplomatic skills at the peace talks. He wooed the United States president, Woodrow Wilson, and Britain's Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Venizelos quickly offered the services of the Greek military as policing agents and as peacekeepers in occupied territory. Foreign leaders were indebted to the wily Venizelos for this assistance, but the offer fostered domestic discontent. The Greek armed forces had been mobilized almost continuously since 1912, and the nation was becoming war weary. Also, Venizelos neglected urgent domestic issues as he put all of his energies into winning the peace talks. He would eventually pay for this neglect.

After two years of intense negotiations, Greece stood on the verge of fulfilling the Megali Idea. The 1919 Treaty of Neuilly had awarded Bulgarian territory in western Thrace and Macedonia to Greece. The Treaty of Sevres, signed with Turkey on August 10, 1920, gave Greece the Aegean Islands, hence command of the Dardanelles, and the eastern half of Thrace except for Constantinople. The Treaty of Sevres also established a new territory around the city of Smyrna (called Izmir by the Turks) on the west coast of Asia Minor--a region long coveted by Greek nationalists. In accordance with the principle of national selfdetermination , all Greeks in Asia Minor were encouraged to move there. The Smyrna protectorate was to be administered by Greece but remain under the aegis of Turkey. After five years, a plebiscite would determine which country would have sovereignty. The outcome of such a vote had already been decided in 1919 by the stationing of Greek troops at Smyrna to solidify Greek control.

When Venizelos announced in triumph that Greece now occupied two continents and touched on five seas, the irredentist dream seemed to be coming true. The dream soon turned into a nightmare, however. As he prepared to return to Greece from the talks in France, Venizelos was shot by monarchist assassins. He survived, but he was already out of touch with events in Greece, and his extended convalescence isolated him even more from the domestic scene. Two months after the attack on Venizelos, King Alexander died, leaving the exiled Constantine as the only claimant to the throne. A war-weary electorate then expressed its dissatisfaction with the heavy-handed Liberal government by resoundingly vanquishing the Liberals in the elections of November 1920.

Repudiated by the nation at the moment of his greatest triumph, Venizelos went into self-imposed exile. A broad anti-Venizelist coalition took power and immediately scheduled a plebiscite on the restoration of Constantine. Following a landslide approval that was clearly rigged, Constantine returned to the throne amid popular rejoicing in December 1920.

Royalist Foreign Policy Revisions

These developments brought several important consequences. First, royalists avenged the purges inflicted on them in 1917 by mounting counterpurges against Venizelists in the bureaucracy and the military, perpetuating the wounds of the National Schism. Second, the conservatives attempted to outdo the fervent nationalism of the Venizelists by adopting an even more aggressive position toward Turkey. Third, because many of the commitments made to Greece were personal ones between Allied leaders such as Lloyd George and Wilson--who themselves would soon fall from power--and Venizelos, the removal of the Cretan statesman from power considerably weakened those agreements. The result was that Allied support for Greek expansion waned.



The Asia Minor Offensive

In the winter of 1921, the Greek government decided on a military confrontation with the Turkish nationalist movement led by Mustafa Kemal (later known as Atat?rk) which was growing in strength and threatening the Smyrna Protectorate. In March Athens launched a major offensive. The Greek army pushed eastward into Asia Minor along a broad front. At one point the Greek line extended across much of Anatolia. Through 1921, the Greek army met only success, but Kemal retreated skillfully to avoid major defeat. Constantine himself visited the front line, and his younger brother George remained there as a member of the high command. But Greece was now increasingly isolated from its wartime allies. Britain and the United States urged caution and offered to mediate a solution. France and Italy openly supplied arms to the Turks. When Britain and the United States withdrew loans to protest hostilities, Greece's cash resources, and soon ammunition and supplies, were seriously depleted. Internally, the Greek army was fraught with divisions between Venizelists and royalists.

The Retreat from Smyrna

The overextension of the Greek lines proved disastrous. Kemal lured the Greek army ever deeper into the rugged heartland of Anatolia. When he judged that the Greek position was untenable, Turkish forces shattered the Greek line with a major counteroffensive. Kemal then isolated and destroyed the segments of the Greek army, chasing the remnants back to Smyrna. While soldiers, sailors, and journalists from around the world watched from ships anchored in the bay, the Turkish forces burned and sacked the great city of Smyrna, killing about 30,000 Greeks. The Megali Idea went up in smoke on the shores of Asia Minor.



The Interwar Struggles, 1922 – 1936

The disastrous military defeat at the hands of the Turks ensured that the National Schism would define Greek politics and keep society divided through the next two decades. In that time, political stability was rare, except for the successful return of Venizelos between 1928 and 1932. By 1931, however, world economic crisis brought a new set of internal conflicts.



The Treaty of Lausanne 1923

The Greco-Turkish War had serious and lasting consequences. Two problems immediately faced Greece. The first was the establishment of a legitimate government, and the second was the need to cope with the flood of Greek refugees from the territory that had been lost.

The first problem was addressed quickly when a small, dedicated band of military officers formed a Revolutionary Committee in 1922. Under pro-Venizelos colonels Nikolaos Plastiras and Stilianos Gonatas, the committee landed 12,000 troops at Lavrion, south of Athens, and staged a coup. They demanded and received the resignation of the government and the abdication of King Constantine. George, Constantine's elder son (who had refused the crown when Constantine left in 1917), was crowned as king, and the coup leaders began purging royalists from the bureaucracy and the military.

The next step was to assign blame for the catastrophe. At a show trial, Dimitrios Gounaris, who had been prime minister at the beginning of the war, and seven of his government officials became national scapegoats when they were charged with high treason; six were executed, although their worst crime was incompetence. The executions increased the ferocity of the rift between Venizelists and anti-Venizelists, and the military became an independent political force.

The Plastiras government turned to Venizelos to negotiate an acceptable peace with Turkey. In the Treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923, Greece relinquished all territory in Asia Minor, eastern Thrace, and two small islands off Turkey's northwest coast. At Lausanne Greece and Turkey agreed to the largest single compulsory exchange of populations known to that time. All Muslims living in Greece, except for the Slavic Pomaks in Thrace and the Dodecanese, and Turkish Muslims in Thrace, were to be evacuated to Turkey; they numbered nearly 400,000. In return approximately 1,300,000 Greeks were expelled to Greece. The determining factor for this shift was religion, not language or culture. Also included in the treaty was protection of Orthodox Greeks and Muslims as religious minorities in Turkey and Greece, respectively.

The Treaty of Lausanne essentially established the boundaries of today's Greece, turning the country into an ethnically homogeneous state by removing almost all of the major minority group. It also ended once and for all the possibility of including more ethnic Greeks in the nation, the Megali Idea. And, by instantly increasing Greece's population by about 20 percent, Lausanne posed the huge problem of dealing with over 1 million destitute refugees.

The Refugee Crisis

Even before 1923, a torrent of refugees was making its way to Greece. After the ethnic exchange, Greece's poor fiscal situation was strained past its limits by the refugees' need for food and shelter. Tent cities sprang up around Athens and Thessaloniki. Most refugees had fled with only the few items that they could carry; many had nothing at all. A disproportionate number of them were women, children, and elderly men because the Turks had detained young Greek men in labor camps. Massive foreign aid organized by the League of Nations was a major contribution toward alleviating the most immediate needs of the refugees. Eventually, refugee neighborhoods developed around Athens and its port city of Piraeus. Many of these enclaves still retain a distinctive identity today. Other refugees were settled in areas of Macedonia and Crete from which Muslims had departed. The hellenization of these regions included the introduction by new Greek settlers of tobacco farming, which became an important factor in Macedonia's agricultural economy. Many of the newcomers who settled in the cities were professionals or entrepreneurs, who helped to invigorate the industrial sector of Greece. The manufacture of cigarettes, cigars, carpets, and textiles grew dramatically, primarily because of the Asia Minor Greeks. Nevertheless, for many years the general economic condition of the refugee population was grim, and many suffered from discrimination and cultural isolation after leaving Asia Minor.
Information taken by assorted internet sites! Many thanks to all of them.