The Nature of Ottoman Rule
The Catastrophe in Asia Minor
The Asia Minor Offensive
The Retreat from Smyrna
1922-36 and Treaty of Lausanne
The Refugee Crisis
Greek nationalism, the "Megale Idea" and Venizelism to
1996 lecture by Steven W. Sowards
The Greek minority of Turkey
From the Hellenic Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Greeks in Turkey
. . . The Nature of Ottoman Rule
The Ottoman state was a theocracy, based on strict notions of hierarchy and order, with the sultan exercising absolute, divineright power at its pinnacle. The system first divided subject peoples into the domain of the faithful, the Muslims, and the domain of war, the non-Muslims. An individual's obligations and rights were determined by position in one of these groups. Conversion by foreign subjects to Islam was possible, but the Ottomans did not demand it. Instead, further religion-based classifications were used to rule the subject population.
The non-Muslim community was divided into millets (see Glossary), administrative units organized on the basis of religious affiliation rather than ethnic origin. Accordingly, the four nonMuslim millets were Armenian, Catholic, Jewish, and Orthodox; the last was the largest and most influential. The millets enjoyed a fair amount of autonomy. At the head of each of was a religious leader responsible for the welfare of the millet and for its obedience to the sultan. The head of the Orthodox millet was the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople. The patriarch's position as ethnarch, or leader of the nation, also gave him substantial secular powers. This combination meant that the institution of the Orthodox Church played a vital role in the development of Greek society during the Ottoman era.
In practice, the extent of the empire made control dependent on a complex, decentralized administrative hierarchy. Living on their estates, designated local military leaders, the sipahi, assumed many of the responsibilities of local rule. Over time, the estates became hereditary and stopped serving their intended function. In Greek territory, this policy left massive landholdings controlled by the Ottoman Turks and worked by dependent Greek peasants.
As the sipahi system broke down, a form of provincial administration took its place. The empire was divided into regions that were governed by pashas, who in turn subdivided their realms into smaller units overseen by beys. The Orthodox millet included two types of local government. Ottoman officials and religious judges adjudicated civil and criminal cases involving Muslims and Orthodox citizens. Orthodox priests and Christian primates collected taxes, settled disputes, and effectively governed at the local level. At times the two systems competed, and at times they operated in coordination; the result was complexity, abuse, and cynicism. In this atmosphere, people sought security in direct patronage relationships with individuals in power. The Ottoman system discriminated against the non-Muslim population by imposing special levies of money and labor, and various restrictions were placed on personal freedom. In court, testimony of a Muslim would always be accepted over that of a non-Muslim. Marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims were illegal. Most hated of all was the forced conscription of male children for service in military or civil service. The burden on the subject population became even heavier and more capricious when the empire began suffering military defeats by Russia in the eighteenth century.
Some parts of Greece were able to escape the direct effects of Ottoman rule. The remote mountains of central Greece, for example, were called the Agrapha, the "unwritten", because the empire had no census or tax records for the region. Other areas were granted special status because they filled particular needs of the empire. Beginning in the late seventeenth century, the Phanariotes, a group of Greek merchant families in Constantinople, gained bureaucratic power by serving the sultan as diplomats and interpreters. In the eighteenth century, the Phanariotes were appointed hospodars, or princes, of the Romanian provinces Moldavia and Wallachia.
The official role given the Orthodox Church in the millet system made its situation in Greek society paradoxical. On the one hand, it helped to keep the Greek language alive and used its traditional educational role to pass on the Greek cultural heritage and foster a sense of cultural identity. On the other hand, the Ottoman authorities expected the church to maintain order. The church became a very conservative institution that protected its role by isolating Greeks from the great intellectual currents of the West, first the Reformation and later the Enlightenment. Secular influences first touched Greek society not in Greece but in the communities of the diaspora.
As the feudal system crumbled, control over such a vast domain became increasingly problematic. Because a standing army would have been prohibitively expensive, non-Muslims were assigned as armatoliks, or armed guards, of specified areas and paid from local taxes. This system was abused flagrantly by independent groups of armed men, some with official sanction and some without, who roamed the countryside and abused the peasant population. Myths have turned the bandits into proto-revolutionaries, but to contemporaries in Greece and elsewhere, they were a force to be feared.
. . . The The Catastrophe in Asia Minor
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 Sèvres, 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 Sèvres 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.
. . . 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 Atatürk) 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.
. . . 1922-36 and Treaty of Lausanne
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.
. . .
This historical summary comes from the U.S. Library of Congress Country Study of Greece