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The Ethnic cleansing of Greeks from Gallipoli in 1915

The Ethnic cleansing of Greeks from Gallipoli in 1915

Gallipoli coastline

There were 32,000 Greeks living on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915. By 1919 there were none. Historian John Williams explains how the Turks sanctioned the genocide of thousands.


The Gallipoli mosque marks the triumph of Ottoman Turkish forces over the British imperial forces which Erdogan (expressing a commonly held opinion amongst Turks), was a triumph of Islam and Allah over the infidel scum which included the Anzacs, whom Erdogan recently ridiculed. Yet the Turkish triumph of Gallipoli also entailed the genocide of the actual indigenous inhabitants of Gallipoli, the native Greek Christians, who can truly call the region their homeland and not the Turks who asserted that it was their land that they defended!

The facts are that in a period which began after the last of the Balkan Wars and extended throughout the First World War almost half a million Greeks were among the upwards of two million human beings who lost their lives in a state-sponsored campaign of ethnic “purification”.

The Gallipoli peninsula, where Greeks made up about half of the population, was not isolated from this “cleansing”. Quite the reverse. After April 1915, it was the site of a battlefield and this ensured that its “purification” would be total. There were 32,000 Greeks living on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915. By 1919 there were none, and the vast majority of the former inhabitants were dead. However “genocide” is defined-in particular, however the distinction is drawn with “ethnic cleansing”-what happened on Gallipoli is surely an instance. However, while the Gallipoli genocide was executed by Turkish gendarmes and auxiliaries, it was by no means a purely Turkish affair. It was called an “evacuation” and was just one of a number ordered and organised by Germans. It coincided with the fighting because it was, in fact, ordered for reasons of military necessity. But it went further than such reasons warranted and its excesses were perpetrated under cover of those reasons. That cover has proven effective to this day.

A dispatch on July 7, 1913, reported that Ottoman troops treated Gallipoli’s Greeks “with marked depravity” as they “destroyed, looted, and burned all the Greek villages near Gallipoli”:

Kourtzali was sacked and destroyed completely, as was also Pashakioi. Mavra itself the Turkish soldiers and fugitives burned, killing sixteen Greeks. The cause of this savagery of the Turks is their fear that if Thrace is declared autonomous the Greek population may be found numerically superior to the Mussulmans.

The 1913 massacres were spontaneous acts of savagery, based on long-standing hatreds inflamed by the recent deportations and massacres of Turkish Muslims from Greece and other Balkan lands. (Arnold Toynbee recorded a total of 413,992 Muslims of former Turkish territory either massacred or expelled during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.) Suspicion, fuelled by fear, was also part of the mix. With a Greek army expected to invade the peninsula at any moment, Gallipoli’s Greeks were regarded- not without grounds-as a fifth column. Despite this, there was no attempt at that stage to deport or systematically annihilate them, even though just that kind of anti-Greek action had begun in parts of Thrace and Anatolia.

Gallipoli escaped systematic “cleansing” even during the critical months of May and June 1914, when between 100,000 and 150,000 Greeks were forcibly deported to Greece from elsewhere in the Turkish homelands. So “successful” was this operation-that is, both efficient and free from interference from European powers-that it was used as the model for the Armenian genocide. According to Toynbee, “Entire Greek communities were driven from their homes by terrorism, their houses and land and often their moveable property were seized, and individuals were killed in the process.” These persecutions bore all the signs “of being systematic”. The terror attacked one district after another, and was carried on by ‘chette’ bands, enrolled from the Rumeli refugees as well as from the local population, nominally attached as reinforcements to the regular Ottoman gendarmerie”. Persecution of this kind was still to come to Gallipoli. After Fahri’s troops left in July 1913, the Greeks there had been left to rebuild shattered lives as best they could- until April 1915.

On Turkey’s entry into the war, the government policy of persecuting and deporting Greeks was suspended, a fact which has muddied the waters about what happened next. The change in policy arose in early 1915 out of a promise to Germany by Greek Prime Minister Venizelos that Greece would stay neutral provided that the Turks ceased persecuting Ottoman Greeks. The Turkish government attempted to oblige their German ally-or at least to appear to be doing so-though it had, in fact, little success in restraining the murderous activity it had unleashed. And once it became clear that the Allies intended to invade Turkey, deportations of a different kind began, justified by the more acceptable reasons of military necessity. But this rationale concealed an even darker reality. Now it was the Greeks of the coastal regions vulnerable to Allied attack who were deported, not to Greece, but to Turkey’s interior where they were at the mercy of hostile Turks.

A deportee from the island of Marmora described just what deportation to Turkey’s interior involved; how the deportees were forced onto crowded steamers, standing room only; how, on disembarking, men of military age were removed (for forced labour in the labour battalions of the Ottoman army) and how the rest were “scattered … among the farms like ownerless cattle”:

Exposed to the burning rays of the sun and to the darkness and terrors of the night, we were … without any food, the transportation of which had been strictly forbidden us, and even without water until the second day when the station agent saw to it that two carloads of water was brought to us … We had been without bread, too, if some of our number had not been able to procure it from Turkish villages. For twenty-eight days without bread, olives, or cheese, we set eyes on little else that was edible; our hardships could not fail to produce their natural result. Every day, three or four deaths occurred. After sixteen days, these deportees were forced to walk for another four days to various villages, care being taken “upon entrance, to separate the members of families from one another”. One such village was Kermasti, where the “crowding together and the hardships we endured resulted in 13-15 deaths per day of the 2,000 inhabitants of Marmora alone”. Corpses being “borne to the cemetery were stoned. If a man dared to go from one village to another, it was at the risk of his life.” One man, accompanied by his son, “ventured to go from Mitchlich to Apollionus, and both were found dead two days later, beheaded near a stream”.

Though the entire Greek population of Turkey was not, in those years, targeted for genocide like the Armenians, pockets of Greek genocide not only occurred during the war, but were made possible because of the war. Gallipoli was such a pocket.

With the official moratorium on Greek deportations in place, Liman von Sanders advised the Ottoman government that “he would be unable to take the responsibility for the security of the army” unless potentially disloyal Greeks were removed from the peninsula. The evacuation of Gallipoli now began less than a week before the invasion of April 25. The Greek Patriarchate in Constantinople (legally responsible for the spiritual life of Greek Christians) kept careful records, including eyewitness reports. These reports accord with the foregoing eyewitness account from Marmora.

Gallipoli’s Greeks received two hours notice before they were forced “to embark in steamers”. Their merchandise was seized and “sold to Mussulman societies”, while women were “exposed to the brutal instincts of their Mussulman guards”. Of the final deportation figure of some 22,000 souls, a few managed to reach Greece, though in a pitiful state, and some others were able “to prolong their existence by embracing Islam”. For young Greek men, their fate was not (yet) deportation, but life or death in forced-labour battalions. But most of Gallipoli’s Greeks were among the “490,063 souls wandering in the mountains, the plains and the villages of Anatolia” where they “succumbed for the most part to hunger, cold and privations”. Even as the first invading troops waded ashore, there were still some 10,000 Greeks hiding out on Gallipoli- most of them in the countryside, some given refuge by humane and courageous Turks. As the fighting raged, squads of gendarmes and Arab auxiliaries, at times possibly aided by Turkish regulars, were rounding up Gallipoli’s last Greeks and sending them to their dismal fates. How did the Ottoman empire, which was once, comparatively at least, a model of ethnic diversity and tolerance, come to this?

When the Gallipoli fighting was under way, Enver Pasha and his party were in power and Enver, as Minister for War, was boasting to a German military attache that he would “solve the Greek problem during the war” just as he had “solved” the Armenian problem. By now these “solutions” had nothing to do with the brotherhood of ethnic and religious minorities and everything to do with their elimination.

No longer was the empire’s decline due to a corrupt and retrograde regime which had kept it in a pre-modern condition, rather it was the fault of the its Christian subjects- more specifically, it was the result of “the struggle of the Christian minorities for equal rights and reform”. While Armenians as well as Assyrians were targeted by special measures which aimed at their annihilation, Greeks were also expelled. In total, almost one-third of the Anatolian population were either relocated or killed. This ethnic cleansing and homogenization paved the way for today’s Republic of Turkey.

Turkish National Flag

Shame on You

*This is an extract from Deutschland Uber Allah! The Germans and Gallipoli 1915. John Williams is a photographer, historian, and an author of five books.

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  1. The story of Gallipoli, ‘the beautiful city’

    Greek studies professor Chris Mackie tracks a number of Greek influences at Gallipoli
    1 May 2015 – Chris Mackie

    If you do a historical study of the Gallipoli battlefields, or even if you are just a passing visitor to the sites, one of the first things to strike you is all the different names.

    At the Anzac battlefield many of the names that are most familiar to us were coined by the soldiers in 1915, and they help to tell their story of the conflict – Quinn’s Post, Walker’s Ridge, Russell’s Top, Lone Pine, the Sphinx, and so forth.
    The Turks, of course, have their own names for those landmarks, and in some cases these help to reveal their sufferings in the war (Quinn’s Post is Bomba Sirt [‘Bomb Spur’], and Lone Pine is Kanli Sirt [‘Bloody Ridge’]. In some cases the allies used the Turkish names for specific features of the landscape, and these are now part of the English vocabulary of the campaign – names such as Kum Kale, Ari Burnu, Gaba Tepe, Seddulbahir and Chunuk Bair.

    Another layer of complexity in the use of names in the region is that Greek-speaking peoples lived here from early antiquity – probably from some time in the seventh century BC. The Dardanelles waterway (the Hellespont) was seen by the Greeks as a natural boundary between their world and that of the barbarians, especially the Persians, and so the region has a crucial symbolic role to play in notions of Greek self-identity.

    The Greek presence on Gallipoli was not just an ancient phenomenon. They continued to live there right through into the modern era, until just before the first world war.

    Two censuses undertaken just before the war show that Winston Churchill’s 1915 assault was on a place where the Greek language had been more widely spoken than the Turkish.

    Reminders of the presence of the Greek community can still be seen in occasional physical remains of their lives there, and in some of the names that were used for landmarks in the region. The name Krithia, for instance, in the south of the peninsula (now called Alcitepe), which was totally destroyed in the campaign, comes from the ancient Greek ‘kri’ (meaning barley), which presumably was the characteristic crop, even in antiquity.

    Madytos (or Maidos), now called Eceabat, was another well-known Greek village, known for its brick-making. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs-supported Historical and Archaeological survey of the Gallipoli battlefield, of which I am a part, has found evidence of the Greek presence on the peninsula, including bricks from Madytos made prior to the war.
    Some of the names used by the allies, therefore, are derived in one way or another from ancient Greek – including Helles, and Dardanelles and Gallipoli. Cape Helles is cognate with the name Hellespont (sea of Helle), which appears all through The Iliad (although there is no reference in Homer to the charming myth of Helle falling into the sea from the golden fleece, which explains for the Greeks how the Hellespont received its name).

    The name Dardanelles is obviously a modern coinage going back ultimately to references to Dardanus in The Iliad. Dardanus is the son of Zeus and the first king of the city when it was located on Mount Ida. He is briefly referred to by Aeneas in Book 20 of The Iliad, and he is an important background figure in the saga of Troy.

    The name Gallipoli comes from the Greek ‘Kallipolis’, which means beautiful city or beautiful town. Strictly speaking, it refers to the city further up the peninsula across the waterway from Lampsachus, or, as it’s now known, Lapseki.
    There were lots of Kallipolises in antiquity, including one further south on the west coast of Turkey near Kos, and one in South Italy. The founders of these cities obviously wanted to identify them as beautiful from the beginning, hence the name.

    The Turks to this day retain the original Greek name in their modern name Gelibolu.

    The beauty of Gallipoli

    When you use the word ‘Gallipoli’, or ‘Gelibolu’, you are not only speaking ancient Greek – after a fashion; you are unconsciously evoking the idea of physical beauty (Kalli-). Originally, it was the Greek town itself that was meant to be beautiful, but because of its size as the largest modern settlement, the name Gallipoli came to identify (in English) the whole peninsula.

    The idea of beauty that is embedded into the name of the town also has its application to the peninsula as a whole. Even in antiquity the peninsula had a reputation for its beauty. Xenophon described it as “beautiful” (kalê, as in Kallipolis) and “prosperous” (eudaimôn). The Athenians, and others, saw the region early on for its excellent agricultural potential, and they used it accordingly.

    An appreciation of the beauty of Gallipoli – the peninsula – was not confined to antiquity. It has an important part to play in some accounts of the campaign in 1915.

    Strange as it may seem, many participants at Gallipoli took the time out to ponder the beauty of the landscape. This seems to have been particularly true of the Australian response to the Gallipoli landscape. As one Australian Gallipoli historian, P.A. Pederson, puts it:

    “The beauty and strange serenity of the Peninsula, even during the most bitter fighting, were paradoxes which struck many who served in the Dardanelles. Few men tired of watching the magnificent sunsets.”

    The view from the trenches

    One of the most striking things about the published diary of the campaign by the Australian sapper Cyril Lawrence is the repeated reference to the beauty of the setting, first Egypt, then the Greek islands, then Gallipoli.

    When his hard work on the trenches began at Gallipoli, Lawrence usually tended to confine his comments to the lovely summer weather; “the sunset was simply glorious; jingo it was fine” (May 28); “glorious morning” (June 8); “today is just glorious again. It has ever since we landed here been perfect” (July 1).

    Later on he writes about “another glorious day. Surely this place, once popularised, would be a great rival to Nice or Cannes. It’s magnificent”.

    Lawrence himself was a sapper in an engineering unit, and spent much of his time digging underground. His was a very difficult lot, but he appreciated the landscape around him, as did many others of the Australians. In their letters home and in their diaries, many men made similar comments.

    The correspondent Charles Bean, who had done Classics at Oxford and became the official Australian historian of the war, was certainly one person who appreciated the austere beauty of the Gallipoli landscape. Indeed, it seems to have had an impact on his whole perception of the campaign.

    When he went back to Turkey in 1919, after the western front, Bean saw the peninsula from his ship at a distance, and he wrote of his delight in seeing its hills: “… they were the hills of the Dardanelles, and at that moment I, for one, was poignantly homesick for them.”

    In some ways this is quite a remarkable thing to say for a place that saw an allied defeat, and was the setting for so much death and misery. Nonetheless, the Mediterranean setting of the campaign – the blue water, the sunrises and sunsets, the islands and the beaches, the old villages, the foliage, the hills and ravines – all these made their impression on the men at the time.

    And they all played their part in the way that the campaign would be remembered in the period afterward – or so it seems to me.

    My own view is that the beauty of the Dardanelles landscape, and the ancient context of the campaign – especially the fact that Troy is across the waterway – have fed into the myth-making aspect of the Gallipoli story in Australia.
    The imagination of some Classicists at Gallipoli, especially some British writers, was given full expression by Troy’s proximity.

    In his diary entry of May 3 1915, John Gillam contemplated the fighting around him at Helles in the context of the Trojan war across the waterway:
    “At night as the moon rises to the full, the picture is perfect. The coast of Asia – that land of mystery and romance, with the plains of Troy in the background, immortalised for ever by the sweet singers of ancient Greece. One can almost picture those god-like heroes of the past halting in those titanic fights which their shades perhaps wage nightly in the old battlefields of Troy, halting to gaze in wonder and amazement on the strange spectacle unfolded before them – modern war, that is, and all its attendant horrors.

    Hector, Achilles and Agamemnon in their golden harness – their old enmities forgotten – must surely gaze in astonishment on the warlike deeds and methods of another age than theirs.”

    Homer’s Gallipoli

    The idea of a war taking place in a beautiful setting, of course, has its mythical parallel in Greek epic accounts of the struggle for Troy. In The Iliad the beauty of the natural landscape around Troy, not to mention the city itself, serves as a fundamental background to the horrors that take place on the battlefield: “The heroic landscape is fittingly beautiful.”
    So the rivers at Troy are lovely, fine horses graze on the beautiful fields, the city itself is rich, sacred, and beautiful. Mount Ida is lofty and beautiful and with abundant timber – the appropriate location for Zeus, the king of the gods, to spend much of his time in the poem.

    The Greek epic poets tended to idealise the world of their warriors, such that it was quite distinct from the everyday world of their audiences. Everything tends to be larger, better, and more beautiful than within the poet’s own world.
    The Iliad ends before the final acts in the life of the city are played out, but the loveliness of the physical setting at Troy plays its part in anticipating the terrible loss to be endured by the defeated. And in the case of the Trojans, they lose everything.

    A national epic

    In the 20th century in Australia Gallipoli became the nearest thing to a national epic. It became a special conflict around which many people could rally to express their national identity, not unlike the way that the Greeks rallied around the story of Troy, or the Persian wars, or Alexander’s eastern conquests.

    British writers such as John Masefield and Compton Mackenzie even compared the Australian men with heroes from old poetry – and they did so with considerable hyperbole.

    In the case of Homer he was not just a good poet. The Iliad manages to capture the essence of what it means to be Greek. The great issues of human existence are its subject – life and death and family and community – and the action is played out in a beautiful and exotic setting in a war against a foreign adversary.

    We may be thankful there were no epic poets around about in Australia to tell the tale of Gallipoli. But epics can be formed without the need for poets skilled in formulaic verse structures. The creation of a national epic in the modern context is a social phenomenon, not so much a poetic one.

    It is not determined by a single hand, or by a group of good poets, but by a much broader collective impulse. And in the case of Gallipoli the mechanisms and genres of modern society played their parts in the process – literature and historiography, art and architecture, film, political discourse.

    The result has been that Gallipoli’s place in the psyche of modern Australia is nothing short of astonishing. If you explore this phenomenon of epic formation against a background of comparative epic poetry from many countries, it becomes clear that it is an ancient process manifesting itself within a modern social context.

    The other side of this process of epic formation in the case of Gallipoli was that people were inclined to turn away from the western front, for all its unrelenting horror. It is hard to grasp, intellectually or psychologically, the extent of the losses on both sides in France and Belgium.

    If the perceived physical setting of Gallipoli was well-suited for a national epic of heroism and suffering, and courage in the face of adversity, the western front was seen as far too real and far too confronting.

    No sea to cross, no beaches or hills to scamper up, little in the way of a tactical struggle. No stark heights and ravines to confront. No Aegean sun beating down. No exotic Troy just across the waterway. No obvious beauty in the landscape. Just the reality of terrible and scarcely imaginable slaughter on the grey, flat plains.

    Distortions of the classical prism

    We classicists are sometimes accused of seeing the modern world through a kind of classical prism, so that modern events are made to conform to ancient ideas and patterns. The accusation is not at all unreasonable, especially in my case.
    The Greek writers and mythmakers have a lot to say about war. Some of the most imaginative treatments of the subject of war come from ancient Greece. It is through war narratives that the Greeks tended to investigate the world through the Trojan war, the Persian wars, the Peloponnesian war, and so forth.

    They don’t confine their narratives to the fighting itself, of course. But rather, they always have one eye on the broader human implications of it all.

    Why do we fight wars? What happens to human society when we do? How is it that we perpetrate terrible acts on one another? What are the consequences for the people who do so?

    It is very revealing about Greek attitudes to this subject that in their pantheon of gods they had two gods of war, not just one. These two gods represent different, though not mutually exclusive, aspects of warfare.

    First there is the beautiful Athena, daughter of Zeus, born from her father’s head, the goddess of courage and heroism, wisdom and strategy. In Homer she combines the idealised attributes of the male in human society – especially beauty, courage and heroism – together with the ideal female aspects of beauty, loyalty and wisdom.

    The other war god is Ares, a son of Zeus and Hera. He is god of the blood and the guts and the cruelty of war. In The Iliad he is defeated by a human warrior, Diomedes, together with Athena’s help. After he is defeated he scurries back to Olympus, only to receive abuse from his father Zeus.

    It says a lot about the Greek attitude to war that Ares is humiliated in both Homeric poems, The Iliad and he Odyssey. To the Greek mind, Athena could represent something good about war, which people could aspire to and admire. Her presence and her identity signify that there can be major social benefit from courage and steadfastness and wisdom in war.
    Athenian mythology even made Athena a divine participant in the battle against the Persians at Marathon. The glory of that battle, so few against so many, could be attributed to her support. But Ares, in his main function, was the terrible face of human suffering in war.

    Gazing at the beauty of Gallipoli

    We don’t have gods of war today, but heroism and courage and strategy still operate alongside the gruesome realities of the killing and the wounding. The process of epic formation and heroisation almost always privileges the former over the latter.

    An epic such as Homer’s Iliad is not grounded in the actual horrors that occur in the war, despite the fact that these take place all around. Rather, it is grounded in the perceived higher levels of military conduct within it – the courage and the passion, the determination and the renown.

    The process by which history is turned into myth, or into epic, usually involves us fixing our gaze upon Athena, rather than looking Ares full in the face. And this has been the experience with Gallipoli in Australia. When we ask ourselves why Gallipoli is the subject of so much myth-making, rather than the western front, it is worth bearing the dichotomy of Athena and Ares is mind.

    The characteristic beauty and nature of the landscape of the Dardanelles, and the adjacent world of Homer’s Troy, both feed into the narrative in an irresistible kind of way as a fitting place for heroic conduct.

    * Source: http://theconversation.com/long-read-gallipoli-the-beautiful-city-29581
    * Chris Mackie is professor of Greek Studies and head of the School of Humanities at La Trobe University.


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