On This Day: Turkey wins three-year war with Greece

Julian Gavaghan
On This Day: Turkey wins three-year war with Greece

SEPT 9, 1922: Turkish nationalists won their three-year war with Greece after capturing Smyrna – a city that they were later accused of setting ablaze – on this day in 1922.

It meant Turks controlled all parts of the Anatolian peninsula that had been seized by Greece with British backing following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire.

And they took Eastern Thrace, the European portion of modern Turkey that the Allies also promised Greece after defeating the last Islamic Caliphate in World War One.

A year after leading nationalist forces to victory in the Greco-Turkish War, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the Republic of Turkey as a democratic, secular state.

But in the immediate aftermath of his victory, chaos and anarchy descended upon the captured towns and their large ethnic Greek populations.

In the confusion, on September 12, 1922, the Great Fire of Smyrna began and up to 10,000 Greeks and Armenians were killed in the blaze and ensuing massacres.

A British Pathé newsreel shows the Mediterranean port, now known as Izmir, smouldering while a hundreds of refugees cram into a small boat.

Turkish troops were accused to starting the inferno in the Armenian Quarter in a bid to begin ethnic cleansing and encourage minorities to flee the city.














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Monsieur Joubert, director of the Credit Foncier Bank of Smyrna, was among those who witnessed Turkish soldiers torching buildings .

When her asked the soldiers what they were doing, 'They replied impassively that they were under orders to blow up and burn all the houses of the area.'

The Muslim and Jewish quarters of the city, where around 180,000 of Smyrna’s 400,000-strong population lived, largely escaped damage.


As the fire raged for three solid days, at least 100,000 people fled to the waterfront, where they were forced to stay for two weeks before being rescued.

And, despite Atatürk’s proclamation sentencing any Turkish soldier to death who harmed non-combatants, nationalist soldiers set about systematically killing people.

In particular, Armenians, who had already faced a devastating genocide in which up to 1.5million are believed to have been murdered by the Ottomans, were attacked.










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Arthur Japy Hepburn, Chief of Staff of the American naval squadron, said: 'Every able-bodied Armenian man was hunted down and killed wherever found, with even boys aged 12 to 15 taking part in the hunt.'

After the crisis had ended, the Turks pushed north to seize the ancient city of Constantinople, now called Istanbul, which was occupied by Allied forces.

Eventually British troops left and following the October 1922 armistice, two million people – mostly Greeks – were forced form their homes in a population exchange.

Atatürk, whose 'father of the Turks' surname was given him in 1934 under the condition that no one else could also have it, then set about building a modern state.

He scrapped Islamic Sharia Law and introduced a Western civil legal code and made the state strictly secular, even banning Muslim headscarves in public buildings.

Women were also given equal civil and political rights – and their education in the thousands of new schools he had built was made compulsory.

Atatürk, who was determined to wipe away Ottoman 'backwardness' and modernise his state, even replaced Arabic script with Roman letters for the Turkish language.

Following his death in 1938, there was increasingly conflict between modernists and religious conservatives, leading the pro-secular army to launch a number of coups.

His left-wing Republican People’s Party dominated politics until the election of the mildly Islamist Justice and Development Party won power in 2002.

Since then, under prime minister and then president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the military has been weakened and secularism has been diluted.

During this period, in which the country’s economy has grown rapidly, the ban on headscarves in schools and public buildings was overturned in 2010.

Relations between Greece and Turkey, which wants to join the European Union, have improved markedly in the decades since the war ended in 1922.

Yet they remain strained, especially in regard to Cyprus, where Turkish troops remain in the north to prevent the ethnic Greek-majority island uniting with Greece.