December 9, 1922

The New York Times

Letter to the Editor

 

THE EXPELLED GREEKS.

Turkey ’s Defiance of All the Laws of Civilization.

 

To the Editor of The New York Times:

 

The last decree of the Angora government that 300,000 Greeks who were living peaceably in Turkey should leave that country at once and the refusal of the same Government to allow Greek ships to take them away was a gross breach action by the American Government. It is true that a nation may require individuals who are unfriendly and suspected of crime to leave the country. But that is a very different thing from compelling immediate deportation of 300,000 men, women and children with the warning that if they do not go at once, they will be carried off to the interior. This means, as experience with the Angora Government shows, that the men will be killed and the women enslaved. These people were living in their homes, earning an honest living, quite independent of the charity of foreign nations. The President of the United States had called upon the American people to relieve the distress of the multitudes who had been already driven out of Turkey and many of whose friends had been murdered by the Turks. The Times has given us pictures of these Christian refugees who are temporarily sheltered in tents and are being cared for by the American Near East Relief and by the Red Cross. Now the Turk is proposing to put upon us the burden of over 300,000 more. It is a most unfriendly act and one that we should resent and defeat by every means in our power.

 

The rule which should govern civilized nations was well stated by Daniel Webster, when he was Secretary of State in 1842, in a dispatch to our Minister in Mexico. Referring to American citizens who had been captured when they were alleged to be members of a large Texan force acting in hostility to Mexico, he said, “It is still the duty of this Government to take so far a concern in their welfare as to see that as prisoners of war, they are treated according to the usage of modern times and civilized States. Indeed although the rights of the safety of none of their own citizens were concerned, yet if in a war waged between two neighboring States, the killing, enslaving, or cruelty treating of prisoners should be indulged in, the United States would feel it to be their duty, as well as their right, to remonstrate and to interfere against such a departure from the principles of humanity and civilization. These principles are common principles, essential alike to the welfare of all nations, and in the preservation of which all nations have, therefore, rights and interests.”

 

The extreme cruelty with which the Turks carried on their previous deportations is described in the report of the American Military Mission to Armenia, dated October 16, 1919. It sums up the slaughter thus: “The dead from this wholesale attempt on the race are variously estimated at from 500,000 to more than a million, the usual figure being about 800,000.”

 

We hear much about the new Turk. As far as appears, the new Turk of the Angora Government is only new in that he has revived the fanaticism and cruelty of the Turks when first they conquered Asia Minor and captured Constantinople. The Sultan, whom they dethroned, had at least some moderation in his crimes. Henry Morgenthau, in his article recently published in The Times, states the case very clearly:

 

“Only the Turks are ready and eager at this moment for a strong offensive movement against civilization. In the light of recent events this constitutes a very grave danger to the whole world. Other nations, worn and weary, ask only for peace. The Turks have no commerce, no manufactures, no merchant marine. They have nothing to lose. They have no culture. They have no training save in bearing arms, no science save the science of war, no art save the lethal art. They are mere marauders.”

 

The questions for America now to consider are these: Will Congress support the recommendations of the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy and authorize an army and navy of sufficient force to protect civilization, of which America is still a part, from these marauders, and will the President use the force he now has as a police to do our part in the struggle? And will he notify the Angora Government that it must revoke at once this order for deportation, or have we become a new America—cowardly, selfish and short-sighted—forgetful of the principles of our great statesmen and the action of our Government in previous administrations, and mindful only of our own immediate ease? God forbid.

 

 

EVERETT P. WHEELER.

New York , December 6, 1922.

 

* * *

 

In Ordu, the displacement and expatriation of the Greeks, at first, started in an orderly fashion. But soon, panic began to spread when we learned about the Smyrna massacre. The only way out was by the sea. But the Greek ships were not allowed to approach the Turkish harbors. The Allied ships were just standing there, blocking their path while at the same time refused to offer assistance. Our only way out of the country and the Turkish swords was by the way and only through the committee representing the League of Nations.25 This committee had been established in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne and was supposed to supervise the exchange of the populations. It appeared to have some influence on the Turkish authorities but no power to stop the Turkish Army from committing the hideous atrocities.

 

In order to leave the country, we had to get permission from this committee which had to authorize and issue the documentation for our departure. The entire Greek community was preparing to leave. Even though the atrocities of Smyrna had not reached our community yet, we knew it was only a matter of time. It had been made very clear—all Christian minorities had to get out of Turkey or face the consequences. We had no choice, but when my father applied for permission to depart with his family, he was told that he was not allowed because his name was included in the list of artisans who should stay in Turkey. Time was running out as more and more families were abandoning everything behind and leaving Turkey with only the clothes on their back. My parents, confused, desperate, and unable to get the necessary permit, encouraged Kyriakos to join another family and escape under their name. The drama of separation and expatriation was once again scraping the wounds of the past which barely had begun to heal.

 

Kyriakos was twenty-two when with tears in his eyes, he hugged each one before he waved good by. I was the next at seventeen. I thought mother was a little more emotional as she was preparing the bundle of my clothes, which she wrapped with a blanket, later to be used as my night cover. I too joined another family and registered under their name for the boarding of the ship which was taking the Greeks out of Turkey. My dad gave me five panganotes—that is, five Turkish paper pounds—and with tears in the eyes we hugged and said good-bye and “kali antamosi stin Ellada,” which means “With God’s help, we will meet you in Greece.” Although the emotions were running high, I did not seem to be afraid—perhaps because of my previous experience and hardships, or perhaps because I was with a family of friends that included children close to my age. As a matter-of-fact, one of their sons was a good friend of mine while in school.

 

The ship landed in Constantinople where another committee was checking us out. They appeared to be in a hurry because as soon as we debarked, the ship sailed back to bring some more Greeks. We were crowded in a large building which appeared to be like a big school. Refugees from different parts of Pontus and Asia Minor, attempting to escape the Turkish fury, were packed in this multistory building just like sardines in a can. The noise of children crying, the confusion of people searching for their loved ones, and the hysteria prevailing everywhere while the lights stayed on all night were creating an atmosphere in which it was impossible for anyone to sleep or even rest. This was literally the place where “εχανε η μανα το παιδι, και το παιδι την μανα,” which means “mother was losing the child, and the child was losing his mother” as the Greeks to this day would say when they want to describe a place of confusion, anarchy, and disorder.

 

We stayed in Constantinople for five days. Although crowded and uncomfortable, we were receiving a light breakfast, a healthy lunch, and a light supper. The main concern of the committee, however, was not to feed or provide comfort, but rather to dispatch as many people as possible out of Turkey and on to Greece. The uncomfortable and unhealthy environment of this large building was becoming a concern, and that prompted the quick dispatch of refugees. I was close to my adopted family, which was willing to watch my bundle of clothes and my blanket. Their son, who was also my schoolmate in Ordu, was just as curious as I was. So, with their permission, we were able to do a little sightseeing. We had to be back in time to receive our free meals, however, because as my friend’s mother insisted, no one knew where the next meal would come from. Sound advice, though our curiosity was much more compelling. We had heard so many things about the famous bridge of Galata,26 and we wanted to see it. A floating bridge had originally being built on this location back in 1453 just before the fall of Constantinople. Later, Leonardo da Vinci as well as Michelangelo had been commissioned to design a fixed bridge, but the lack of structural knowhow and expertise scuttled their designs. Today’s bridge had being designed by a German engineer and build around 1912 by German supervision. At the time, it was the talk of the town. We were very excited and wanted to see this bridge joining the Galata with Peran we had heard so much about. We had learned in school this was the only bridge connecting two continents—Asia and Europe.

 

We left very early that morning, and questioning our way through, we reached the bridge before the sunrise. The bridge was staying open from sunset to sunrise for the big ships to pass north or southbound. From sunrise to sunset, the bridge remained closed for the pedestrians to come and go. It was a toll bridge with a graduating tariff. The charges for pedestrians empty-handed were less than pedestrians with a load on their back. The same rule was also applying for the horses crossing with or without carriage, etc., etc. White-uniformed collectors were making sure no one crossed the bridge which connected the two continents without paying the appropriate charge. And as the last ship cleared its way to the Keration Gulf, which means the Gulf resembling a horn, the two sides of the bridge drew together and locked in the middle so that the people gathered on both sides could cross and proceed for their daily routine. It was a sight to remember, but because the time of the morning rationing was drawing near, soon we left the bridge and started running for the breakfast. We had to get there in time for the breakfast we could not afford to miss.

 

At last, the day of our departure from Constantinople had arrived. The committee that morning called out our names, which were included in the list of all those destined for Piraeus, Greece. They herd us all together down to the docks, and like insignificant cargo, they loaded us on an old Greek ship by the name SS Kornilof. Everyone who could climb down the upright steel ladders leading down to the lower holds of the ship was ordered to do so. The women, children, and old men who could not were squeezed on the main and upper decks of the ship. If the refugees in that old building in Constantinople were packed like in a can of sardines, in the holds of that old ship, we were compressed like mash potatoes.

 

Standing room only in an enclosed dirty hold where the only light was coming from the overhead hatch opening, and the only ventilation was provided by the two-sixteen-inch ventilators located in the opposite sides of the width of the hatch. It was unbearable down there, and after things settled, we managed to climb up on the main deck. Although the conditions were not much better, at least we could see the sky and feel some of the breeze when the ship started moving. It was moving so slow. The top speed, we learned, was five nautical miles per hour when the weather was good. It was not the speed, however, that soon became a problem. The swelling waves of the open sea causing the ship to rock and roll soon began to work on the human cargo, most of which had never been on a ship before. The least motion made them seasick, and the nauseous conditions, exaggerated by the vomiting, created an environment that cannot be described with words. On the main deck, we could smell the odor coming from the hold, and that was causing more people to vomit and get seasick.

 

The trip aboard this slow moving ship finally ended at Koprana. It took a number of days during which the older, the weaker, and the small undernourished children did not make it alive. Having no other options the crew of the ship was performing burials at sea. In other words, they were throwing dead bodies overboard while many others were watching and wishing they were in their place. Finally, we had arrived in a port with a nice coastline that did not appear to be the port of Piraeus.

 

The locals made us feel very welcomed and received us with open arms and grace. They brought and distributed food, milk, bread cheese, and fruits that frankly, only a few of us could eat right away since most of the refugee passengers were still seasick and suffering from nausea. They rushed the seriously sick to the hospital in Arta and for the rest of us provided temporary shelters. It was December of 1922 and very cold. Nevertheless, we had the opportunity to wash our clothes, take a bath, and with a lot of free time on our hands do a little sightseeing.

 

In the central square of Arta, on a regular day, you could see the students promenading and wearing impressive school hats that fascinated me. I was so impressed and wanted to have one so much! I still had the five Turkish paper pounds my daddy had given to me and proceeded to find out if I could use them to buy one. I discovered that, in fact, the local bank would exchange the Turkish currency for Greek drachmas, which made me very happy. I received 25 drachmas for each Turkish pound for the total of 125 drachmas. Straight to the shop I went, and the Greek school hat on my head suddenly made me feel like two meters tall. I felt I had the right to wear such a hat because I would have been a student just like them, if the war had not forced me to leave my family and my home. The difference, however, would have been that, in Ordu, the Turks were forcing us to wear Turkish fessi (hat), and I would have never worn fessi.

 

Christmas of 1922, in Arta, was a memorable day for me. In the morning, I woke up, I put on my best clothes mama had packed for me; and with the school hat on my head, I went to church and stood on the same side the local students were standing. I could sense their curiosity and the whispering among themselves as I stood there feeling good and equal. My excitement became overwhelming, however, when after the church service, one of the teachers approached me and with a kind voice asked me who I was, where I was coming from, and if I would like to go to school again. “Of course,” I responded, explaining that I was alone and of limited means. He encouraged me to visit the school the next day to discuss the matter in detail. I was there early, waiting for their arrival the next morning. I was so excited!

 

The principal and the two teachers who were present asked so many questions! I answered every one of them without hesitation. They gave me textbooks to read and math problems to solve. They asked me about history and geography and religion, and finally, they wanted to know what grade of school I had finished. When I told them, they were very impressed and offered to register me in the third grade of high school. At first, I was so happy and proud to have such an offer. But soon, the words of my parents started ringing in my ears: “Kali antamosi stin Elada” meaning, “With the help of God, we will meet you in Greece.” The echo of those last words was a strong reminder and the guiding light pointing the way I had to take and the things I had to do. How can I stay in Arta by the time my parents will be going to Piraeus? Kyriakos was also heading for Piraeus. Piraeus was the place of the family destination, and Piraeus was the place where I had to be, if I wanted to find and reunite with my family. Those were the thoughts occupying and tormenting my mind, even though the offer of education weighed heavily in the decision I had to make. Difficult decision for a young man faced with hard choices.

 

The Christmas holidays came and went, but when the schools started again, I was not in the classroom in Arta. I was aboard a steamer entering the busy port of Piraeus. At the time, transportation for the refugees was offered free of charge, anywhere in the country for the purpose of reuniting with members of refugee families. And I did not need to prove my status in spite the school hat on my head. With the bundle of my clothes on my back, I walked the crowded gangway of the ship and stood there, on the dock, stranger among strangers. It was early morning, and the congestion of people coming and going was creating a strange environment, which I had never before experienced in my entire life. There were people loading and unloading the ship; passengers scrambling with their baggage; transportation workers searching for employment; and passengers and relatives embracing, kissing, hugging, laughing, and crying all at the same time. People, machines, and animals created a pandemonium of human emotion, energy, and confusion I had never seen before. I stood there momentarily, breathing heavily and taking time out to think and collect my thoughts. The big buildings around the port imposed on me a sense of intimidation I had never felt before. The refugees, I was told, were gathered in a place called Drapetsona, but what direction shall I take to get there? Where could that Drapetsona be? Oh, how I wish Kyriakos was here to hug me and kiss me and show me the way. How I wished he would appear suddenly in the distance running toward me among the crowd, waving and hollering, “Yianis, Yianis, I am here, I am here.”