December 9, 2022

50 Questions-Answers about the Asia Minor Campaign and Catastrophe (1-25)

Venizelos and Constantine

 By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

I carefully read the book by the University students Angelos Syrigos and Evanthi Hatzivasiliou titled The Asia Minor Catastrophe, 50 Questions and Answers, published by Pataki. Then I wrote my impressions in a short text titled "The Asia Minor Catastrophe", which was published in the "Ecclesiastiki Paremvasi" newspaper and posted on various websites.

However, I also made a brief summary of the authors' answers to the 50 questions concerning the Asia Minor Catastrophe.

As can be seen, the summary of the 50 answers, which extend over 255 pages of the book, is a difficult task and perhaps even dangerous. It is, however, indicative and perhaps selective, which should give the reader a reason to read the book itself in order to gain knowledge of the entire problem of the Asia Minor Catastrophe.

Question 1: When did Greece's interest in Asia Minor arise?

Answer: Greece's interest in Asia Minor arose after the Balkan Wars and after the end of the First World War, and the Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia) was created. In fact, the Ottoman Empire was intensively equipping itself to regain the islands of the Eastern Aegean with a new war.

Question 2: Were the Greeks the majority in the areas of the Ottoman Empire where they lived?

Answer: The Greeks were not the majority everywhere. Greeks made up half the population in Smyrna and its surroundings, as in the Erythrae Peninsula. In other regions (Thrace, Constantinople, Pontus, Central and Eastern Asia Minor) they were a minority. The Greek leadership decided to claim Ionia.

Question 3: Why did the Greek leadership consider it necessary to claim Ionia?

Answer: To protect the Greek population from genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Question 4: What was the disagreement between Venizelos and Constantine in the First World War?

Answer: Both responsible men had two different assessments/analyses about who will be the winners. Venizelos believed that the Triple Entente (Britain, France, Russia) would prevail, while Constantine was certain that the German army could not be defeated on the battlefield.

Question 5: What was the attitude of the anti-Venizelian faction against the claim of Asia Minor?

Answer: The two factions had common foreign policy goals for the protection of the Greek population of Ionia, but they had different tactics and could not cooperate because of the schism between the Venizelians and the Royalists.

Question 6: How did the negotiations in Paris with the Ottoman Empire develope, until the union of the Treaty of Sèvres?

Answer: With the Treaty of Sèvres, the Ottoman Empire was dismembered. The French, the English and the Italians had their own interests. France was interested in the economic control of the Ottoman Empire. Also, the French and the Italians wanted to reduce the Greek influence in the area of Smyrna and to withdraw the foreign troops from Asia Minor, in order to appease the Turks.

Question 7: What was the political situation in the Ottoman Empire after the end of World War I?

Answer: There was a division in the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan argued that he had to comply with the decisions of the victors in World War I, while Mustafa Kemal condemned the resistance. Thus, there were two decision centers, one of the Sultanate Government in Istanbul and one of the Kemal Government in Ankara.

Question 8: What was the Turkish "National Contract"?

Answer: The Turkish "National Contract" was a text adopted in January 1920 by the last Ottoman Parliament. It was a text that was realistic and was not taken into account during the Peace Conference in Paris in 1919-1920. However, it was finally accepted in practice by the Allies in 1923 in the Treaty of Lausanne, with the exception of the areas that were subject to referendums.

Question 9: What was the campaign in South Russia (Crimea) in 1919?

Answer: It was an allied campaign in Southern Russia, as Ukraine was then called. It was one of the limited interventions in the territories of Russia at the time to help the forces that were fighting the Bolsheviks. The Greeks joined the side of the French in the Crimea in order to have their support in their claims to Thrace and Asia Minor. This war failed, but the landing of the Greek army in Smyrna was accepted by the Allies.

Question 10: Why did Venizelos send the army to Ionia?

Answer: He sent an army to Ionia so that Hellenism would not be destroyed. The dilemma was posed: either the Greek army would go there so that the Greeks would survive or they would be left defenseless against their certain extermination or expulsion. If Venizelos did not send an army, Asia Minor's Hellenism would be exterminated and he would be considered a traitor.

Question 11: Why did Greece claim Smyrna and not Constantinople at the Congress of Europe?

Answer: The claim of Smyrna was more attainable than Constantinople, because in Constantinople the geopolitical visions of the great powers converged, which would not let Greece have control of an area (with the straits) of such great geopolitical importance. Venizelos, as a realist, knew that he could not claim Smyrna and Constantinople at the same time.

Question 12: Was the sending of an army to Ionia and the Asia Minor campaign a Greek imperialist war?

Answer: The Asia Minor campaign was not imperialistic, but for the liberation of the enslaved Greeks, and it was part of the Great Idea and the completion of the Revolution of 1821.

Question 13: What did the Treaty of Sèvres foresee?

Answer: The Treaty of Sèvres attempted to resolve the Eastern question, the dissolution and succession of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of new States. This Treaty was signed, but never ratified. The Allies left the Greeks alone to fight as "proxies" for the British.

Question 14: How did Venizelos make his presence at the Peace Conference so successful?

Answer: Venizelos was a realistic politician, with a vision, open horizons and hard work. He kept his mind clear, he did not get carried away by what he and his people wanted, and he always sought to get what he could get. In his meeting with the American President Wilson, he talked about his proposal for the establishment of the League of Nations, which interested him, without talking about the Greek claims, and finally received his support for these claims.

Question 15: Was it possible to preserve Ionia? Was defeat inevitable?

Answer: it was difficult to keep these areas under the rule of the Greeks, but with Venizelos in the Government the issue would be better managed, even after the defeat in 1922. The quarrels between Britain and France and the rivalry of Italy could undermine the Greek diplomatic and military position. Venizelos would manage the issue well.

Question 16: Could the Greek army operate in the Pontus?

Answer: The potential campaign to Pontus and Trebizond was not territorial for many reasons, which is why it was not attempted.

Question 17: What was Venizelos' plan for the Pontus?

Answer: Venizelos sought the Ponto-Armenian Federation, because the Pontians were not a majority in this region.

Question 18: Why didn't Venizelos claim Cyprus at the Peace Conference? What did he predict for the Dodecanese?

Answer: Venizelos knew that he could not claim Cyprus, because it was under British control, and Britain was one of the winners of the war. For the Dodecanese, he made an agreement with the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tommaso Tittoni, that Rome would cede the Dodecanese, except for Rhodes, to Greece. Finally, Italy was unhappy that the administration of the Smyrna zone was assigned to Greece, but the new Italian Government, in the Summer of 1920, refused to ratify this agreement.

Question 19: Why was the Treaty of Sèvres not implemented?

Answer: The Treaty of Sèvres was signed, but never implemented. The signing of the Treaty is one thing and its ratification is another. The non-ratification of the Treaty is due to the Turkish reaction expressed by Kemal, but also to the changes in the balance of power. France and Italy chose to withdraw from the Agreement and Greece was fighting alone, especially after the elections in November 1920 and the return of King Constantine. That is, the defeat of Venizelos in the November 1920 elections and the reinstatement of King Constantine gave France and Italy the pretext to back down regarding the Smyrna Treaty.

Question 20: Why did Venizelos hold the 1920 elections? Did he want to lose them? Why didn't he "continue the war" without elections?

Answer: Venizelos had committed to holding elections after the end of the First World War and the peace agreement with the Treaty of Sèvres. He was a liberal politician and did not want to prolong the "Parliament of Lazarus", as the Parliament was then called. In fact, he hoped that he would win the elections after the success of the Treaty of Sèvres.

Question 21: Did the anti-Venizelians promise in the 1920 elections that they would withdraw the army from Ionia?

Answer: No, the anti-Venizelians did not promise to end the war, since the war was considered to have ended with the Treaty of Sèvres. The army would not be recalled from Asia Minor. The Ethnic Division was also associated with black propaganda.

Question 22: Why was Venizelos defeated in the 1920 elections? Did he get a majority in the popular vote, but lost because of the distribution of seats?

Answer: There were many reasons why Venizelos lost the elections. Firstly, the power exercised by the Venizelians during the time when Venizelos was absent from the negotiations (1917-1920) was harsh. Secondly, the geographical distribution of votes did not favor the Liberals. Thirdly, in these elections the supporters of Venizelos and the supporters of Constantine clashed, that is, the question that was asked was: "Venizelos the Prime Minister or Constantine the King?" And Constantine, for many reasons, had the support of the people.

Question 23: What were the consequences of the 1920 elections at the international level?

Answer: After the elections which Venizelos lost and King Constantine was re-elected, which was "the red flag" for the French, Greece was isolated from its Allies. The French and the Italians distanced themselves from the Greeks. The international front on which Venizelos had relied was disintegrated, and what had previously existed as a trend, happened after the elections, which is why within a year the Allies were resupplying Kemal.

Question 24: Did the French help Kemal?

Answer: The French helped Kemal with secret agreements, violating their alliance obligations towards Greece. They preferred a compromise with Kemal over strong financial rewards and privileges. They confirmed that he had to seek a compromise. After the battle of Sangario the French evacuated the Cilicia region and gave the heavy French armament to Kemal, violating their obligations towards Greece.

Question 25: Did the Italians help Kemal?

Answer: The Italians helped Kemal, because at first the Allies had promised to give Smyrna to them and later they gave it to Greece, which annoyed them. The Italians came to an agreement with Kemal and channeled war material to him, at the same time forbidding Greece to control the ships that carried it through its own territory, with the excuse that they were allies.