Stan Murai's Reviews > Paradise Lost: Smyrna, 1922

Paradise Lost by Giles Milton
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's review
Apr 09, 2012

really liked it
Read in April, 2012

Smyrna was one of the Ottoman empire's great commercial center, a rich and cosmopolitan city, whose vast wealth had largely been created by the Levantine families (Latin Christians, mostly of Italian and French origin) who ran businesses and factories, where Greeks, Armenians, Turks, and Jews worked together. It was a unique Christian majority city, but part of the Islamic World. Even during the first world war, it was a place \where the various ethnic, religious communities lived in tolerance and peace, in large part due to the local governor Rahmi Bey, who actually favored the allied cause.

In the aftermath of the First World War and with the support of the Great Powers, Greece had invaded Turkey with the aim of restoring a Christian Byzantine empire in Asia, a dream of the Greek prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos. But by the summer of 1922, the Greeks had been vanquished by Atatürk’s armies after three years of warfare. As Greek troops retreated, the non-Muslim civilians of Smyrna assumed that American and European warships would intervene if and when the Turkish cavalry decided to enter the city. They were not even unduly fearful when Turkish soldiers first recaptured Smyrna in 1922 during what the Turks call the War of Independence. They hoped Atatürk would view this still prosperous city as an asset to the new republic

On September 9, 1922, Turkish troops descended on Smyrna. Four days later Smyrna was in flames. While Turkish irregulars moved among them, raping and killing, Atatürk sat watching from a friend's villa in the hills. They rampaged first through the Armenian quarter, and then throughout the rest of the city. They looted homes, raped women, and murdered untold thousands. Turkish soldiers were seen dousing buildings with petroleum. Soon, all but the Turkish quarter of the city was in flames and hundreds of thousands of refugees crowded the waterfront, desperate to escape. The allied powers had many ships in the harbor, but they chose to do nothing while the city burned for four days; by the time the embers cooled, more than 100,000 people had been killed and millions left homeless.

Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922 ends with the exodus of two million Greeks from Turkey and the expulsion of 400,000 Turks from Greece – an exchange of population that was enshrined in law in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

Based on eyewitness accounts and the memories of survivors, many interviewed for the first time, this book offers a vivid narrative account of one of the most vicious military catastrophes of the modern age.
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