Smyrna Fire by H. Millas
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smyrna-fire

RT Erdogan said the the Greeks burned down İzmir (Smyrna) in 1922. Here are two article of H. Millas that reviews this historical issue: 

Smyrna Fire and the Arsonist:

The Absentees of Turkish Novels

 Text of January 2002

By H. Millas

 

It is as if you happened

to enter at night

the city that brought you up

which they have destroyed it

                               completely

and have rebuilt it anew

and you struggle to move old times

to find yourself again… [1]

 

     Turkish textbooks as well as popular and academic Turkish historiography normally stress the role of the Greeks as the arsonists of the Turkish villages, towns and cities, especially as they retreated after their decisive military defeat in 1922. However, the fire of Smyrna and the role of the Greeks in this particular incident is underrated in Turkish novels. There are relatively few references to the incident in the Turkish literary texts. I will demonstrate these limited cases and I will try to comment on this particular attitude.

     Two studies shed light on this issue demonstrating the relative absence of references to the fire of Smyrna. The first is a study on Turkish novel and the ‘War of Liberation’ - as the war of 1919-1922 is called in Turkey which includes the phase of the Greek-Turkish war. Ahmet Kıymaz studied the Turkish novels written between 1918-1928, 142 in total,[2] and among other aspects of the war, enumerated the acts of violence of Greeks as these are presented in these literary texts. Even though Kıymaz mentions other acts of arson by the Greeks he does not present cases of the fire of Smyrna. However, these findings should be interpreted cautiously. The researcher himself might have not paid attention to the incident, not recording the references existing in the novels and pertaining to this particular fire. This doubt is reinforced by the fact that, at least one well known case where a Turkish novel written in 1928 and which mentions the particular fire is included in the study but the paragraphs related to the fire itself are not mentioned.[3]

     The second study, the one I carried out (Millas: 2000), consists of the survey of about 400 Turkish novels, covering the period 1870 to 2000, and intended to depict the image of Greeks in these texts. Also this study shows that the references to the fire of Smyrna are limited even though there is a considerable number of cases where the Greeks are shown to burn down Turkish villages and towns.

     One of the first Turkish novels which shows the Greeks burning down villages (and killing and torturing Turks) is Kan ve İman (Blood and Belief) written by Ercüment Ekrem Talu in 1922 and published in 1925. In this novel ‘the Greek soldiers turned to ashes every village they met, killing their inhabitants’ (p. 83). Halide Edip Adıvar, a famous writer who is also considered a national heroine, in her Ateşten Gömlek (Shirt of Fire) of 1922 enumerates the harm done by the Greeks, she mentions a fire of Smyrna but this incident is related to the phase associated with the first appearance of the Greeks in Smyrna in 1919. The heroine of her novel, Salime, accuses an English officer of helping the Greeks: ‘You send the thieves, the murderers to our country and you back them up with your fleet which is renown for its honorable history. You let Green İzmir turn into a place full of blood and flames. Thieves in uniform, murderers kill innocent people by shooting or by the butts of the rifles…’ Scenes of horror where women and children are murdered without pity are described (p. 39). Yakup Kadri Karaosmanoğlu, who was a close associate of Mustafa Kemal and a well known writer, in the short stories written right after 1922, narrates many similar incidents of Greek violence. Greeks, among other acts of violence which they commit, burn down villages taking special care to destroy the mosques (Milli Savaş Hikâyeleri / National War Stories) (p. 46). In his memoirs written many years later (Vatan Yolunda / For the Homeland, 1958), he narrates how he saw the human bodies which had turned to ashes and the bodies of women nailed on the trees by their breasts. He explains that the enemy had burned down a town ‘only in order to satisfy his savage drives of his soul’ (p. 154).

   The above mentioned writers are known in Turkey as ‘national writers’ (‘milli’ as opposed to ‘milliyetçi’ which means ‘nationalistic’). The last decades some analysts perceive them as nationalists. Some other writers who self-identify themselves as ‘Islamists’ also present similar views. Raif Cilasun for example in his Onlar Olmasaydı (If It Was Not For Them) (1986), shows the Greeks to have caused ‘the tragedy of İzmir due to the special education that they had in school, which has turned the act killing Turks to a national ideal’ (p. 93). Here the ‘tragedy’ is not the fire of Smyrna but the capture of the city and the atrocities that followed right after. Actually the novel ends the day Mustafa Kemal reaches İzmir and naturally ‘the big fire’ is not mentioned.

     As it is demonstrated above, it is common to find cases where the Greeks are presented burning down towns. The Greeks who are associated with the period of 1919-1922 are almost always negative personalities capable of committing all kinds of atrocities and violence against the Turks. However, only three cases have been detected where the Smyrna fire is clearly mentioned. The first case is in the novel by Aka Gündüz, Dikmen Yıldızı (The Star of Dikmen) (1928), mentioned above, the second is a novel of the renown leftist poet Nazım Hikmet, Yaşamak Güzel Şey Be Kardeşim / Brother, It Is Really Nice To Be Alive) published in 1967 but written earlier and the third, Kutsal İsyan (Sacred Revolt) written by Hasan İzzettin Dinamo and published in 1968. In the first case it is not very clear who is responsible for the fire and to whose, real or imaginary, advantage the fire is. In the second case it is clearly stated that the fire was a deliberate action of the Greek army. In the third case it is the Greeks in conjunction with the Armenians who set the fire. However, due to their contrasting political paradigms, especially in the second case, the phraseology differs considerably.

     Aka Gündüz expresses the nationalistic point of view of the time. He narrates the heroic acts of an anonymous national heroine, the Star of Dikmen - whose first name in Turkish is Yıldız (Star). At a certain point he compares her to a ‘spoiled’ Turkish young lady, Nazlı. He glorifies the first and in the end of the novel he presents the opposing views of the two, presenting their contrasting arguments on the fire of Smyrna. Yıldız fights for her homeland sacrificing her personal interests and she expresses her ‘hatred’ for the enemy due to the invasion of İzmir (p. 140). Towards the end of the novel she slaps two Greeks on a passenger boat because she hated ‘their voice’ and their accent. She is applauded by the Turkish passengers, and the author presents this act as an evidence of her patriotism (p. 208).[4] Yıldız is compared with Nazlı (in Turkish ‘capricious’). Nazlı, who uses a lot of French and English words as she speaks, is not happy that Smyrna has changed so much especially after the fire (and naturally, after the departure of the Greeks). According to Nazlı ‘unfortunately the previous joy of İzmir is lost in the flames’, (p. 199). The reader can see why Nazlı is not patriotic: her father is a Muslim but not a Turk. Her mother, a Turk, has died; she was ‘fortunate to die early and not to see her daughter reaching this point’ (p. 200). It is in this setting that Yıldız expresses her joy rejoicing for the fire of Smyrna:

     ‘… the flames that raised from the roofs of the houses actually had the effect of relieving water on the soul of a great history that was ablaze. It is a kind of happiness to live in an İzmir which is in smoke, full with demolished structures, than to live in a city in which some will not feel ‘unfortunate’ but will cause our end … Do they dig out the foundations as well, as they demolish the destroyed houses? … (And an other Turk adds:) … What a beautiful fire, what magnificent flames, Yıldız! If God had sent a striking of flame and had raised thousands of volcanoes and had said, take them, I make a present to you, it could not be a more beautiful and relaxing present than this. As the buildings started burning one after the other our wounded souls were healed with these flames’ (pp. 200-201).      

       In the case of Nazım Hikmet the Greeks, but the Turks as well, do not compose a uniform community but are composed of, say, two classes: the ‘exploited’ and the negative one, the ‘exploiter’. This is the way he portrays, three years after the events, the first Turkish cavalry man who entered Smyrna associating him to a Greek soldier: ‘I wonder where is he now, in the 1925s, the first cavalry soldier from Adana who entered İzmir those hot days of 1922? What is he doing? In which farm of a rich farmer is he working as a laborer? Or maybe as a serf? And where are the Greek communists? I am not talking about those who asked the Greek soldiers to revolt and who eventually were executed by the fire brigades. Those are lying now in the soil of Anatolia. Next to the Turkish soldiers. I am asking about the others, about those who had been imprisoned. Are they still behind the bars on some island?’(p. 10).

   Here Turks and Greeks, once they belong to the working class they are very close, they are allies. The enemies are those who force people to work as serfs or put people behind bars, irrespective if they are Greeks, Turks or whatever. In another context however, and about hundred pages later, Nazım Hikmet enumerates those he did not like, in other words his enemies: ‘I do not feel like being an enemy of anybody. With only some exceptions. I am an enemy of those who killed Mustafa Suphi (Turkish Marxist leader, HM) and of the exploiting class, not only of ours but of the exploiters all around the world, of fascists, of imperialists, ….of the Greek king Konstantine and of Averof, and of the Greek army that burned down İzmir…’ (p. 108).

     The novel of H. I. Dinamo, originally published in eight volumes, ends with the fire of Smyrna. The fire starts with an explosion in the ‘Orthodox church’: ‘This was the deed of those who had to leave Izmir forever. Izmir was the last Anatolian city that was turned to ashes. This was the decision taken.’ Further down in the narrative we see that Armenians are also involved. Some Armenian bandits led by someone called Torkum, seem ‘to have set fire on the Armenian quarter’ too. The final verdict is as follows: ‘Even though it is being said that the Greeks had set the fire by blowing up the dynamite that they had placed beneath the Church of Aya Triada, there were also doubts that the Armenian bandit leader Torkum had something to do with this too’. According to this novel, the subtitle of which reads ‘The true story of the War of Independence’, Mustafa Kemal who watches the fire is sad for this destruction, but eventually says ‘Let it all burn down; it is possible to rebuild everything’. (pp. 597-599).

*

     The scarce appearance of the fire of Smyrna in Turkish novels, especially when contrasted with the frequent references to the Greeks who appear to have destroyed and burned down villages, towns and cities on their retreat needs an explanation. In conjunction with this, a related question that comes to mind is why was not the fire of Smyrna attributed openly and clearly to the Greeks? One possible explanation may have to do with the available information at the time of the incident and in the immediate years that followed.

     The official reports and the propaganda publications published in the 1920s and originating from the Turkish side give the impression that the Greeks are not the responsible side, or at least not the sole responsible side for the fire of Smyrna. For example two books, the first by Kadir Mısırlıoğlu, Yunan Mezalimi - Türk’ün Siyah Kitabı (The Greek Torture - The Black Book of Turks) and the second by Mehmed Hocaoğlu, Belgelerle Yunan Barbarlığı (The Greek Barbarism based on Documents), both based on the documents presented by the Turkish State in the 1920s, point to the Armenian community or to the Armenian extremists as the force that started and spread the fire (Mısırlıoğlu: 1968, pp. 169-173; Hocaoğlu: 1985, pp. 173-182). A similar thesis is presented in the study of Bilge Umar, İzmir’de Yunanlıların Son Günleri (The Last Days of the Greeks in İzmir). According to Umar the Armenians who started the fire and the Turkish side which was not drastic enough to put out the fire were responsible of the final disaster (pp. 322-330). It is also of interest that the Turkish textbooks prepared in the 1930s and which were in use also during the 1940s, did not mention the fire of Smyrna and naturally did not blame the Greek side for the destruction. It is only after the 1970s that the textbook introduced the view that the Greeks burned down Smyrna (see Millas: ‘Greeks Set Smyrna on Fire in Turkish Textbooks’, in this volume).[5]   

     A second point of interest is the mood that the fire instigated on some Turks. We saw that in the novel of Aka Gündüz the Turkish characters feel happy because the city is in flames and that the walls of the building are torn down ‘to their bare foundations’. A resembling wording is noticed in Dinamo’s novel, where Mustafa Kemal is perceived to state that the harm done by the fire can be eventually compensated. Is this discourse coincidental and exceptional or does it correspond to a special understanding of the time? A passage in the study of B. Umar mentioned above suggests the source of such a satisfaction. Umar claims that the commander of the area Nurettın Pasha, had he really so desired, he could have put out the fire that the Armenians had started (pp. 327-328). Falih Rıfkı Atay, a close associate of Mustafa Kemal, in his memoirs Çankaya, also hints that the houses, hotels and restaurants which belonged to the minorities were destroyed because some were convinced that this was the only way to free themselves from the minorities. ‘We burned down the houses of the Armenians after their deportation during the First World War, too, due to a similar fear. This is not a simple act of destruction. It has to do with an inferiority feeling too. As if it was believed that all areas resembling Europe had to belong to the Christians or to the foreigners and that it could not be ours… Can an empty İzmir of bare land prove the Turkishness of the city? I think that if it were not for Nurettin Pasha, for this narrow minded irritating demagogue, this tragedy would not have reached this extreme’ (p. 325).

     The issue is not to pinpoint the responsible force behind the fire but to understand the meaning of the texts that refer to the fire. Irrespective of the correctness of the views of F. R. Atay and B. Umar, it seems that at the time of the fire there existed people who perceived such a fire, in a certain way, beneficiary for a national cause. It is sensible to assume that the views of Aka Gündüz, as expressed by his heroine Yıldız, do correspond to some perceptions of a section of the society.

     It is ironical that Nazım Hikmet, one of the most internationalist Turkish writers, appears to be one of the few writers who clearly blames the Greeks for the fire of İzmir. It seems that Nazım Hikmet operates in two independent levels of analysis. He perceives the ‘other’ on one hand on a Marxist basis, where the actors of history are divided into oppressed and oppressors, and on the other hand, on a national basis where the opposing groups are based on ethnic basis. The necessary connection is accomplished by the concept of ‘imperialism’: ‘I do not like imperialists’. The Greek soldier is perceived as an oppressed unit, an individual; but in another context ‘the Greek army’ obtains a group entity with an ethnic and imperialistic character. So he may dislike the ‘Greek army’, the imperialist, and on the other hand he may sympathize with the ‘Greek soldier’, the oppressed individual. In other words Nazım Hikmet expresses two identities, an internationalist, a Marxist one and a national, a Turkish one. In any case Nazım Hikmet who was at that time in the Soviet Union and quite away from the developments in Anatolia considered the Greek army as responsible for the fire of İzmir.

 

     Comparing the findings related to the Turkish novels to those of the Turkish textbooks, one may claim, tentatively, that the belief that the Greeks initiated the fire of Smyrna may be a later creation. Further investigation may show when the idea that the Greeks burned down Smyrna did start to gain ground and when exactly was it voiced officially by the state, before appearing in the textbooks. It is possible that this development is a Turkish counter attack, a reaction related to the Greek claim that the fire is the result of a deliberate Turkish action.

 

     Finally, the relative underrated appearance of the fire of Smyrna in the Turkish discourse may be explained with the general role that this particular ‘fire’ of Smyrna plays - or does not play - in Turkish national myth, relative of course to the corresponding Greek case. In the Greek case the image of a major ‘Greek city’ all in flames, set on fire by the ‘enemy’, suits perfectly the perception of the ‘Catastrophe of Asia Minor’. The picture completes the narrative. The tragedy possesses a visual representation: it is the ‘physical end’ caused by the ‘other’. A perfect final scene of a tragedy. Such a fire explains, defines and summarizes a whole cycle of events, exhibiting in symbolic manner the end of a period. The period is associated with a disaster, a catastrophe.

     The perceptions of the Turkish side are different and even diametrically opposite. The liberation of İzmir is associated with a happy incident and a new optimistic beginning, both for the nation and of İzmir. A disastrous fire does not suit the case. If this analysis is correct there are two alternatives, on the Turkish case, to cope with the ‘fact’ of the fire. A) the fire may be silenced, forgotten, underrated, or B) the incident is presented as a happy event, as a development that will be harmoniously connected to the happy event of liberation. Both of these approaches have been noticed, both in the Turkish textbooks and in Turkish novels. In general the fact is silenced, and sometimes, as is the case of Aka Gündüz, the fire is presented as beneficiary and a happy event for the Turkish cause or as an almost indifferent event as it is voiced in Dinamo’s text.

     In any case however, as it is expected in Turkish novels which seek the symbolic presentation of a greater truth, the fire is never presented as a deliberate action of ‘ours’. Such an act would have always equaled in challenging the self image of the nation.

**

Bibliography

 

Adıvar, Halide Edip. Ateşten Gömlek, İstanbul: Atlas, 1990 (1922)

Aka Gündüz. Dikmen Yıldızı. İstanbul: Semih Lütfi, second edition (1928)

Atay, Falih Rıfkı. Çankaya, İstanbul: Bateş, 1984

Cilasun, Raif. Onlar Olmasaydı, İstanbul: Kitsan. 1986

Dinamo, Hasan İzzettin. Kutsal İsyan, (5 volumes), Tekin Yayınevi, 1986 (1968)

Hocaoğlu, Mehmed. Belgelerle Yunan Barbarlığı, İstanbul: Berekat Yayınevi, 1985

Karaosmanoğlu, Yakup Kadri.988). Milli Savaş Hikâyeleri, İstanbul: İletişim, 1988 (1922/1944)

----. Vatan Yolunda, İstanbul: İletişim, 1986 (1957)

Kıymaz, Ahmet. (1918-1928 Arası) Romanda Milli Mücadele, Ankara: Alçağ, 1991

Millas, Herkül. Türk Romanı ve Öteki, Ulusal Kimlikte Yunan İmajı, İstanbul: Sabancı Üniversitesi, 2000

Mısırlıoğlu, Kadir. Yunan Mezalimi - Türk’ün Siyah Kitabı, İstanbul: Sebil Yayınları, 1968

Nazım Hikmet. Yaşamak Güzel Şey Be Kardeşim, İstanbul: Gün, (1967)

Sonyel, Salahi. Türk Kurtuluş Savaşı ve Dış Politika 2, Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1991

Talu, Ercüment Ekrem. Kan ve İman, Kültür ve Turizm Bakanlığı, 1988 (1922)

***

 


[1] A note from the memoirs of Yorgos Seferis (July 1, 1950), visiting Smyrna.

[2] Only 47 novels out of the total 142, i.e. 33% of the total number of novels are published before 1923. Therefore the study with respect to the fire of Smyrna could be associated to a total of 95 novels.

[3] This novel by Aka Gündüz, Dikmen Yıldızı, will be discussed below.

[4] It is of interest that as Yıldız starts beating the Greeks on the boat the waves of the Aegean sea look as if they say ‘throw them to us, we want to swallow them!’ (p. 209). Even nature itself is against the Greeks and in favor of the Turkish case.

[5] Even in recent years there are studies dedicated to the related history and the same trend is noticed: The Greeks are presented as responsible of destroying villages and towns but there is not the slightest reference to the fire of Smyrna. The story ends abruptly when the Turkish army enters the city. See for example Salahi Sonyel, Türk Kurtuluş Savaşı ve Dış Politika 2 (Turkish Liberation War and Foreign Policy 2), p. 268.

 

Text of January 2002 - Unpublished

 

 

Greeks Set Smyrna on Fire in (latest) Turkish Textbooks

 

By H. Millas

 

‘Ό Έλληνες λένε πως οι Τούρκοι έκαψαν τη Σμύρνη,

οι Τούρκοι λένε πως οι Έλληνες την  έκαψαν.

Ποιος μπορεί να ξέρει την αλήθεια.’

Δεν έχω κέφι για συζήτηση.[1]

 

 

 

Two myths or two mirror images

 

     Turkish history textbooks, as most textbooks worldwide, express the official version of the story of ‘the homeland’.  Not only do they interpret the past on a national basis but at the same time reproduce the image of ‘the other’ in accordance to the -real or imaginary- needs of the state. ‘The other’, on the other hand, develops a counter view, an altogether different story. Therefore, the tale of a city differs to the degree the two nations associate themselves with two dissimilar ‘pasts’. The fire of Smyrna (‘İzmir’ for Turks and ‘Smirni’ for Greeks) was an unfair act of the Greeks in the Turkish discourse, and the culmination of a disaster caused by the Turks in the Greek case. Here I will discuss the fire of 1922 as presented in the Turkish textbooks and I will try to interpret this version.

     The narration of the textbooks can be best understood if the perceptions in the two countries with respect to their bilateral relations and the image of ‘the other’ are taken into consideration. The Greek and the Turkish ‘points of view’, broadly speaking, can be reduced into two simple myths. These two national argumentations can also be perceived as a framework in which national identity is nourished.[2]

     The Greek myth, as it would be phrased by an ‘average’ citizen, can be summarized as follows: We, the Greeks, compose an old nation. We existed continuously for many thousand years. We have developed great civilizations (the Ancient Greek, the Hellenistic, the Byzantine). In this respect we are unique and superb. Now, if our present might is not so apparent is due to the ‘other’ (basically to ‘Tourkokratia’). The Turks, so different from us, are an Asiatic and barbaric nation. Their characteristic behaviour is repeated through history: they captured our lands, destroyed our country (Byzantium), they enslaved us for hundreds of years. We suffered a lot. Eventually we shed our blood and we liberated ourselves. However, the same Turks are still nearby and similar problems still exist: the Turks still occupy Greek lands in Asia Minor, Constantinople and Cyprus, they are threatening our sovereignty in the Aegean and in Thrace, treat our ethnic groups in Istanbul badly. They hate us since they know they are the invaders; we are the original inhabitants of the lands they occupy. The ‘West’ is not helping us, as it never did,  because it is in its interest to align with Turkey since Turkey occupies a strategic area and/or because the Catholic/Protestant West does not like us. That’s why the Westerners pretend to be unaware of our problems and of the attacks we face. 

     The Turkish myth goes as follows: We originated in Asia but we have lived for centuries in Europe as a sovereign nation. We are part of Europe. When we first came we encountered an Empire in ruins. This empire was not Greek but Roman to begin with. The claims of modern Greeks to be the heirs of Byzantium are not valid: they are not the same race or nation with the ancient people; i.e., the Ionians and  the Byzantines are not 'the same' with modern Greeks. Their claim on these lands is not justified. We treated them well during the Ottoman rule and this rule was beneficial to them. Turks proved their good will and unbiased attitude toward the 'others'. We lived together so closely within one benevolent Turkish state for centuries. The Greeks, sometimes serving the interests of the ‘West’, did not want to live with us, they revolted. And from there on, they continuously attacked and captured our lands: in 1881, 1897, 1912, 1919. They tried to expand their boarders in Cyprus in 1974 too. They discredit us as ‘barbaric’, they hate us, they always mistreat the Turkish populations, especially in Western Thrace. Actually it is the Greeks who are not civilized and are ultra nationalists. The whole ‘West’ is against us because they are prejudiced: they have a negative image of the (Muslim) Turks and they always back up Greece because they form a Christian family.[3]

     It is natural that in historiography these arguments are voiced in different ‘styles’ depending on the personality of the writer: nationalistic and aggressive, academic and 'scientific' or sophisticated and disguised, i.e., in a roundabout manner. In the textbook, since they are addressed to students, the language used is quite straightforward and simple.[4] The Greeks are presented as enemies, often as a diachronic threat, a nation which tries to capture ‘our homeland’ and causes serious problems. The fire of Smyrna, together with other ‘fires’ of Turkish towns, comes to the agenda in this context.

 

Greeks are ‘not guilty’ in early textbooks

       The history textbooks which the Ministry of Education prepared with great enthusiasm and expectations for the intermediary education in the beginning of 1930s are the most detailed textbooks ever produced in Turkey.[5]  The fire of  Smyrna is not especially mentioned however, in Tarih IV (of  1931), i.e., in the textbook prepared for intermediary education, even though about seventy pages are allocated to the war of  1919-1922 fought against the Greeks.[6] The Greeks do set fire on other places though: ‘As they retreated the Greeks burned down and destroyed the towns and the villages which they controlled. The Rum people ran away together with the Greeks’. And thus the West Anatolia is ‘cleaned from the Greeks’ (pp. 119-120).[7]

     This approach is followed for about five decades. Until 1970s the Greeks are not accused of the fire of Smyrna in the textbooks. Actually this particular fire is not mentioned, it is forgotten or it is perceived as a secondary issue, even though the burning down of villages and other towns by the Greeks is repeatedly mentioned. For example in a textbook of 1947 it is mentioned that ‘as they retreated the Greeks burned down our most beautiful villages and towns. The Ottoman citizens Rum population walked out together with the Greek army’ (Su, 1947)

     In the textbooks prepared by authors such as  Niyazi Akşit (his books were in use in the years 1951-1980), Emin Oktay (books of 1950-1980), Enver Behnan Şapolyo (books of 1961-1979), Enver Ziya Karal (books of 1954-1979) the fire of Smyrna is not mentioned.[8]

 

 

Rewriting of history in the 1970s

 

     The 1970s mark the changing in interpreting the past. Actually in a textbook prepared for technical schools and published in 1969 we find probably one of the first cases where the Greeks are presented as the arsonist of Smyrna: ‘The Turkish cavalry in the morning of 9 September entered İzmir which had been burned down by the enemy. Beautiful İzmir which had been under the occupation of the enemy for four years joined the homeland anew. Atatürk had saved the homeland and threw the enemy into the sea’ (Mesleki…).  After mid 1970s the Greeks are presented with an increasing frequency as the sole responsible of the fire. In Ferruh Sanır’s textbooks, published in 1977, the statement is clear: ‘It is 9 September 1922… İzmir is in flames… This is the last evil of  those who run away: the Greeks had set the city on fire on several locations’ (Sanır, 1978, p. 109).

     This interpretation is almost standardized by time. It is interesting that the date of the fire is changed. It is moved from 13th of September  to 9th  for obvious reasons. It appears more convincing to present the enemies setting the fire before their departure and before the city was under the control of the victor.

     In the following years the textbooks normally introduced the fire of  Smyrna, together with a stressed negative image of ‘the other’, expressed with an emotional  rhetoric. In a civic textbook for primary schools of 1980s for example, we read the following narrative: ‘The enemy runs away continuously. Young Mehmet (an epithet for the Turkish soldier, H.M.) is chasing him without stopping to take a breath. The Greek army, in utter confusion and scattered, runs away leaving behind thousands of dead and prisoners… The only hope to save his live by running away is the combined fleet of the enemies which waits in the bay of İzmir. Alas, if they could only step on board of those ships…  The day is 9th of  September 1922. İzmir is on fire. This is the last evil of those who run away: The Greeks had set the city on fire on several locations. An altogether new, prosperous İzmir is going to rise in the place of the burned down İzmir. A young, alive Turkish State is being born in the place of an empire which withered away. It was not only the Greeks who lost hope, it was also those who supported them. Those hopes were buried in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. But history did not forget and will never forget that shameful assault… This victory accomplished the cleaning up of Western Anatolia from the enemy’ (Sanır, 1986, pp. 103-104).

    Language textbooks of junior high school also blame the Greeks for the fire and express the hope which the fire inspires. The students read a letter of a young boy allegedly sent on September 22nd 1922 where the happiness of the Turks is expressed in spite of the fire and even, possibly, due to the fire: ‘If you see beautiful İzmir you won’t recognize it. Smoke and flames rise from everywhere. But we know that these are the last places that the cruel enemy burns down and destroys. From now on nobody will dare lay hand on our sacred homeland. If they dare to, they will be thrown into the sea like the ones we saw here and they will perish... You should have seen them early in the morning how they threw themselves into the sea to reach the boats which waited out in the sea! The whole İzmir was in a turmoil…  My dear Adnan, never existed such a fire, such a celebration, such a festivity in a place on fire. Our house started burning as the fire reached us from next door. We did not feel sorry for the furniture, for our property. We were carrying water and carrying away the furniture singing, full of joy… Our (Greek, H.M.) neighbor Niko and his family sought refuge in the ships together with the Greek soldiers. The Rums who for years tortured us they were afraid of us. They sought their escape in running away together with the soldiers... We heard that the next day Mustafa Kemal would enter the city. The fires had not been extinguished. Smokes were coming out from everywhere. But we, full of joy, were in the streets to meet Mustafa Kemal and his friends. My God! What a big joy it was! (Demiray: 1986, p. 3-4)

           The joy and the sense of relief that the fire inspires is also noticed in some Turkish novels (See Millas: ‘Smyrna Fire and the Arsonists: The Absentees of  Turkish Novels’, in this volume). The fire is clearly dated earlier than the arrival of Mustafa Kemal. This kind of a narrative continuous until today, the fire of Smyrna per se sometimes being mentioned and sometimes omitted. In a textbook dedicated to the War of Liberation and the Kemalist reforms, used almost unchanged throughout the decades of 1980 and 1990 for senior high schools, we read about the traitorous role of the minorities (characterized with religious symbols) and the violence and the vice of the enemy, even though the fire of Smyrna itself is not narrated: When the Greek army enters the city in 1919,  ‘The church bells toll, the Rums who crowded along the seashore, men and women, threw bundles of flowers to the Greek soldiers and  shouted ‘zito!’ in a frenzy of demonstration. The archbishop of İzmir, with the cross in his hand raising it high in the air, blessed the soldiers and gave speeches inciting them against the Turks… (Then the violence of the Greek army is narrated: killing officers, heroes who resisted the invasion like Hasan Tahsin, etc.) … Thus, the Greek violence, which the Turks will never forget, started…(Su: 1992, pp. 42-43), (and many pages later the result: )…. ‘They ran away in a hurry. As they ran away they did not stop committing their last treachery, they burnt down the Turkish villages and killed whoever they met. The fields which were set  on fire were burning in great flames… Uşak was in ruins…  (p. 166).       

     In the junior high school textbook of the same period a similar narration is followed, the fire itself is again not mentioned, but a historic association is introduced: ‘The battle of Mantzikert opened the doors of Anatolia to the Turks, the victory against the Greeks (Başkumandan  Meydan Muharebesi), proved that Anatolia will remain a Turkish homeland to infinity’ (Orta Okullar…: 1992, p. 112).

     In the later primary school history textbooks (called Social Sciences / Sosyal Bilgiler ), the fire of Smyrna is not mentioned but two phrases appear in all of them: ‘They did not stop doing evil (fenalık) as they ran away, setting fire on villages and cities which they abandoned… West Anatolia was cleaned up from the Greeks (Yunanlılardan temizlendi)  (İlkokullar İçin…: 1994, p. 163 and Şenünver: 1999, p. 45). In the second textbook the phrase ‘this sacred victory showed  that Anatolia will remain a Turkish homeland to infinity’ appears again (p. 46).

 

 

A final retouch by changing dates

 

     A recent senior high school history textbook (Palazoğlu: 1996), even though it is only 228 pages long, dedicates many paragraphs to Smyrna and to the role of the Greeks. In this textbook the date of the fire is changed to comply with the well known ‘historical truth’: the fire is on the 13th of September and Mustafa Kemal is already in the city. It narrates the organizations which the ‘minorities’, the ‘Rums’, founded after 1919 - Mavri Mira, boy scouts, Etniki Eterya (SIC), organizations in Pontus - in collaboration with the Patriarchate of Istanbul and sometimes with the Armenians, backed up by the Greek government, all with the purpose, ‘to create the Byzantium Empire anew’ (p. 40). Many familiar phrases are repeated but ‘barbarism’ is introduced - in a dramatic present time tense - for the first time: ‘They did not stop doing evil as they ran away, setting on fire and demolishing the environment and killing whoever they met, presenting their barbarism to the world’ (p. 189)…

    ‘The occupation of İzmir which started on May 15th 1919 ended on September 9th 1922 and the harbor of İzmir was now full of tragic and comic scenes of the enemy soldiers who were pushing each other into the sea in order to get into the boats that will take them to the ships… Still lots of foreigners and especially Rums remain. They are afraid. They are afraid that the Turks will do to them what they did to the Turks three years ago when the Greeks occupied İzmir. But their fear has no base. It is out of question for the Turks to answer back barbarism with a counter barbarism… On the other hand the representative of the Allies applied to Mustafa Kemal to stop the possible acts of vengeance of the Turks against the minorities. But this was an unnecessary act, because Mustafa Kemal had already taken the appropriate precautions…

     However, the barbarism comes again from forces which are outside the Muslim people. İzmir all of a sudden is in flames. The minorities which collaborated with the Greeks who were running away from the Turkish army, added a last anti- civilized act to their behavior of the last three years and turned beautiful İzmir to ashes. Exactly like the villages, towns and cities which left behind as they ran away (September 13th 1922). Mustafa Kemal watched this terrible scene with great sorrow. But he tries not to give great importance to it. He shifted his thoughts to the civilized and prosperous İzmir of the future’  (p. 190). 

 

 

An assessment

 

     This short review of the textbooks shows that some components of the ‘Turkish national myth’ mentioned at the very beginning of  this article can be detected in the discourse associated with the fire of Smyrna: ‘The other’ is an enemy who threatens our sovereignty (the Greeks want to create Byzantium anew, claiming they are the heirs of ‘our’ lands). The westerners are behind them (they help the Greeks with their ships and they are disappointed when the Greeks lose the war). The Westerners are prejudiced (the Greeks are the barbarians, not us who protect the minorities and do not do what the Greeks have done to us).[9] The Greeks hate us and they treat us badly (they destroy and burn down our cities). The ‘Rums’ (derived from ‘Romans’) who live on our lands, and in Smyrna, are not associated with the ‘Greeks’ (Yunan)  of Greece, they are traitors, they do not compose a single nation, so the Greeks are invaders and not liberators of their compatriots.[10] The victory of the Turks against the Greeks demonstrates that the these lands will remain Turkish (and the historical era that started with ‘our arrival’ from Asia to Anatolia in 1071 and with the battle of Mantzikert is now completed). The religious demarcation line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is also dominant in the texts: the cross of the archbishop, the church bells which toll in nationalistic joy and the ‘barbarism that comes outside Islam’ are such cases. 

     A trend in the last decades of presenting the fire of Smyrna in a more emotional way is also apparent. Anatolia was ‘cleaned’ of the Greeks and the enemy who ran for his life ‘set fires in the villages and cities’ in all textbooks throughout, from 1930 to present. However starting with the 1970s a more nationalistic approach is noticed.[11] The fire of Smyrna is narrated in detail and usually in a dramatic present tense and the accusations against ‘the other’ become predominant (barbaric, evil etc.). Eventually the Rum minority, characterized as the ‘foreigners still lived in Anatolia’ are shown to be the ones, in collaboration with the Greek army, who ‘turned Smyrna into ashes’. 

    There are some issues which are silenced or at least not clearly stated. The way the Greek army and the Rum population left Anatolia is not clear. The general impression is that they left all together, before the liberation of Smyrna by the Turkish troops. Only in the last textbook mentioned above the date of the fire is stated as September 13th . This infers a relative Turkish control in Smyrna on the day of the fire.

     In the discourse of these textbooks the liberation of Smyrna, together with all incidents related to this, the fire included, as a general metaphor,  is a happy incident. The fire of Smyrna does appear as a treacherous and evil act of ‘the other’ but not necessarily an unhappy incident which brings only sorrow. We have seen scenes where joy among the Turks prevailed along with a narration of the fire. The fire is like a tribute to be paid for better days. One may even suspect that it is a necessary means to wipe away the last traces of the loathed ‘other’. Contrary to the Greek case in which the fire is perceived as the final act of a national catastrophe, the very same fire, among the Turks is the ‘last evil act of the other’ which opens the way to a happy future.    

     Finally, from historiographical point of view the rewriting of history, as is disclosed in these textbooks, is of utmost interest. We see that the time factor does not secure more mature history writing: neither the time elapsed nor the general improvement of history writing secured a more sound interpretation of the fire of Smyrna. The textbooks appear to be seriously influenced by politics, ideologies and other similar factors which are not supposed to determine the discipline of historiography. In the 1970s the Greeks - who up to that time had not been presented as the arsonists of Smyrna - suddenly are accused of the fire. For 25 years it was repeatedly claimed that the Greeks (mostly the Greek army) started the fire before the entrance of the Turkish army in the city. The date of the fire changed only lately from the 9th to the 13th September, the arsonist still remaining the same.

     And all this alchemy is performed about an incident which took place only a few decades ago for which there are eyewitnesses alive… 

 

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Bibliography

 

Akşit, Niyazi. Tarih III, Yeni ve Yakın Çağlar, Remzi Kitabevi, İstanbul, 1951, 1958, 1962, 1967 and 1980.

Alkan, Türker. The Political Integration of Europe, Content Analysis of the Turkish, French, German and Italian History Textbooks, Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi, Ankara 1982.

Copeaux, Etienne, 'De l'Adriatique a la mer de Chine: Histoire turque et identite', in Internationale Schulbuchforschung, Georg-Eckert Institut, Braunschweig,  1996.

----. "Türk Kimlik Söyleminin Topografyası ve Kronolojisi", Tarih Eğitimi ve Tarihte 'Öteki' Sorunu,  Tarih Vakfı Yurt, 1998 (Minutes of the conference: 'Greeks in Turkish Textbooks', in the  2. International History Congress of History Foundation 'History Education and the Other in History', İstanbul, 8 -10/6/1995)

----.Tarih Ders Kitaplarında (1931-1993), Türk Tarih Tezinden Türk-İslam Sentezine, Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, İstanbul 1998.

Dal, Kemal; Çakıroğlu, Orhan; Özyazgan, Ali İhsan. Ortaokullar İçin Vatandaşlık Bilgileri III, Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı Basımevi, İstanbul, 1992.

Demiray, Kemal. Ortaokullar İçin Türkçe 1, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul 1986.

Dündar, Orhan-Ehan. İstiklâl Fedaisi Yüzbaşı Cemil, Milli Eğitim Bakanlığı Yayınları, 1999.  

Ersanlı, Büşra Behar. İktidar ve Tarih, Türkiye'de Resmi Tarih Tezinin Oluşumu (1929-1937), İstanbul: ADA, 1992.

İlkokul Türkçe Ders Kitabı 4, Anadolu Üniversitesi, Eskişehir 1992.

İlkokullar İçin Sosyal Bilgiler 5, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul 1994b.

Karal, Enver Ziya. Türkiye Cumhuriyet Tarihi, MEB, İstanbul, 1954, 1966, 1971, 1978.

Millas, Hercules. `Türk Yunan İlişkileri ve İlkokul Kitapları', Yeni Düşün Dergisi, 9/1987.

---- `Τα Σχολικά Βιβλία της Ελλάδας και της Τουρκίας', Ελευθεροτυπία, 24/2/1988.

---- Tencere Dibin Kara, Türk Yunan İlişkilerine Bir Önsöz, Amaç, İstanbul 1989.

---- `History Textbooks in Greece and Turkey', History Workshop, London, 4/1991.

---- 'Türkiye'de Etnosantrik Tarihçiliğin Pratik Sonuçları', Tarih Öğretimi ve Ders Kitapları/1994 Buca Sempozyumu, Tarih Vakfı Yurt, 1995

---- `The Mythical Past and the Tense Present: Education in Greece and Turkey', Culture and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe, (Conference of Association for Democracy in the Balkans), Paratiritis, Thessalonika, 26-29/6/1997).

---- 'Türk Ders Kitaplarında Yunanlılar: Bütünleştirici Bir Yaklaşım', Tarih Eğitimi ve Tarihte 'Öteki' Sorunu,  Tarih Vakfı Yurt, 1998 (Notes of meeting: 2. International History Congress of History Foundation 'History Education and the Other in History', Istanbul, 8 -10/6/1995)

---- Türk Romanı ve ‘Öteki’, Ulusal Kimlikte Yunan İmajı, Sabancı Üniversitesi Yayınları, İstanbul, 2000b.

----. Εικόνες Ελλήνων και Τούρκων, Σχολικά Βιβλία, Ιστοριογραφία, Λογοτεχνία και Εθνικά Στερεότυπα, Αλεξάνδρεια, 2001.

Mesleki ve Teknik Eğitim Okulları Ders Kitaplar, Tarih III, (Anonymous), MEB. İstanbul, 1969 and 1977.

Oktay, Emin. Tarih II, Remzi Kitabevi, İstanbul, 1953.

----. Tarih II, Atlas Yayınevi, İstanbul, 1962, 1970 and 1978.

----. Tarih Lise III, Atlas Yayınevi, İstanbul, 1966, 1968, 1973 and 1980.

Orta Okullar İçin Türkiye Cumhuriyeti İnkilâp Tarihi ve Atatürkçülük 3, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul 1992.

Ortaokullar İçin Türkiye Cumhuriyeti İnkilâp Tarihi ve Atatürkçülük 3, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul 1994.

Palazoğlu, Ahmet Bekir; Bircan, Osman. Türkiye Cumhuriyeti İnkılâp Tarihi ve Atatürkçülük 1, Bemkoza, İstanbul, 1996.

Kullapis Loris. Η Παρουσίαση της Οθωμανικής Ιστορίας στα Σχολικά Εγχειρίδια της Ελλάδας και της Τουρκίας, translation of unpublished PhD. dissertation in Ludwig-Maximilians - Universitat, Munchen, 11/8/1993.

----. ''Türkiye'de Tarih Ders Kitapları ve UNESCO'nun Önerileri'' in Tarih Öğretimi ve Ders Kitapları, 1994 Buca Sempozyumu, Edit.. S. Özbaran,  Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, İstanbul 1995.

Sanır, Ferruh; Asal, Tarık; Akşit, Niyazi. İlkokullar İçin Sosyal Bilgiler, 4. Sınıf, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul, 1978.

----. İlkokul, Sosyal Bilgiler, 4, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul, 1986.

Su, Kamil and Duru, Kazım Duru. Orta Okullar İçin Tarih III, MED., İstanbul, 1947.

Su, Mükerrem; Mumcu, Ahmet. Liseler İçin Türkiye Cumhuriyeti İnkilâp Tarihi ve Atatürkçülük, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul, 1992.

Şapolyo, Enver Behnan. Türkiye Cumhuriyet Tarihi, Rafet Zaimler Kitabevi, İstanbul, 1954, 1972, 1977 and 1979

----. Türkiye Cumhuriyet Tarihi, İstiklal Matbaası, Ankara, 1961.

Şenünver, Güler (and six more writers). İlköğretim Sosyal Bilgiler 5, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul 1999.

Tarih 4. Türkiye Cumhuriyeti. Devlet Matbaası, İstanbul 1931.

 

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[1]“‘The Greeks say that the Turks burned down Smyrna, the Turks say that it was the Greeks who did it. Who can ever know the truth.’ I did not feel like getting into a discussion’’. From the memoirs of Yorgos Seferis (July 1, 1950), visiting Smyrna and talking to a Turkish diplomat.

[2]  These myths can be named paradigms, metaphors, national discourses, (imagined) national past and/or identity, perceptions of us versus the ‘other’, national ‘consciousness’, world-views (weltanschaung) etc. Actually not the ‘name’ but the existence and function of these myths and the perceptions of the people are of importance.

[3]For a detailed exposition of these ‘myths’ see also Millas: 2000, pp. 274-278 and Millas: 2001 pp. 391-395 (for the references see Bibliography below).

[4] For the image of Greeks in Turkish textbooks (and some cases of Turks in Greek textbooks) see Copeaux: 1998, 1998b; Koullapis: 1993, 1995; Millas: 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1997, 1988.

[5]For the political and ideological climate of the time and the preparation of these first  textbooks of the new republic see Ersanlı: 1992.

[6] The book which is allocated to Modern Turkey and to the Turkish War of Liberation is in total more than 500 pages. 133 pages are about the war and 240 pages about the reforms of the new state. There are another 131 pages of photographs on both topics. The textbooks of the later periods hardly ever exceed 350 pages.

[7] In Turkish the term ‘Yunan’ is used for Greeks and ‘Rum’ for ethnic Greeks of Ottoman or Turkish nationality/citizenship (and for other non-Greek citizenship, such as Greeks of America, of Cyprus etc.). The term ‘temizlendi’ is used in Turkish for the ‘cleaned’ Anatolia.      

[8] See bibliography for the particulars of these textbooks.  

[9] In an civic textbook for junior high school (Dal: 1992, p. 75) among the properties of  the ‘character of  the Turks’, along with good manners, hospitality, love for the home country and the family, etc., it is mentioned that Turks ‘do not cast a malignant eye at the people entrusted (SIC) to them’ (Kendisine emanet edilen insanlara kötü gözle bakmaz).

[10]     In other parts of  these textbooks it is stated that the Ionians a) are actually ancient Turks (in the textbooks of 1930), and b) are not associated with the ancient Greeks (in later periods). (See: Copeaux: 1998; Millas: 1998 and 2001, pp. 64-100.

[11] This is the opinion of Türker Alkan too, who writes with respect to the textbooks of Turkey: ‘in the text of 1977 there is a rising tendency of nationalism… The policy of the pro-fascist National Front Coalition was probably one of the reasons’ (Alkan: 1982, p. 68).  

 

Text of January 2002 - Unpublished

Greeks Set Smyrna on Fire in (latest) Turkish Textbooks

By H. Millas

 

‘Ό Έλληνες λένε πως οι Τούρκοι έκαψαν τη Σμύρνη,

οι Τούρκοι λένε πως οι Έλληνες την  έκαψαν.

Ποιος μπορεί να ξέρει την αλήθεια.’

Δεν έχω κέφι για συζήτηση.[1]

 

Two myths or two mirror images

     Turkish history textbooks, as most textbooks worldwide, express the official version of the story of ‘the homeland’.  Not only do they interpret the past on a national basis but at the same time reproduce the image of ‘the other’ in accordance to the -real or imaginary- needs of the state. ‘The other’, on the other hand, develops a counter view, an altogether different story. Therefore, the tale of a city differs to the degree the two nations associate themselves with two dissimilar ‘pasts’. The fire of Smyrna (‘İzmir’ for Turks and ‘Smirni’ for Greeks) was an unfair act of the Greeks in the Turkish discourse, and the culmination of a disaster caused by the Turks in the Greek case. Here I will discuss the fire of 1922 as presented in the Turkish textbooks and I will try to interpret this version.

     The narration of the textbooks can be best understood if the perceptions in the two countries with respect to their bilateral relations and the image of ‘the other’ are taken into consideration. The Greek and the Turkish ‘points of view’, broadly speaking, can be reduced into two simple myths. These two national argumentations can also be perceived as a framework in which national identity is nourished.[2]

     The Greek myth, as it would be phrased by an ‘average’ citizen, can be summarized as follows: We, the Greeks, compose an old nation. We existed continuously for many thousand years. We have developed great civilizations (the Ancient Greek, the Hellenistic, the Byzantine). In this respect we are unique and superb. Now, if our present might is not so apparent is due to the ‘other’ (basically to ‘Tourkokratia’). The Turks, so different from us, are an Asiatic and barbaric nation. Their characteristic behaviour is repeated through history: they captured our lands, destroyed our country (Byzantium), they enslaved us for hundreds of years. We suffered a lot. Eventually we shed our blood and we liberated ourselves. However, the same Turks are still nearby and similar problems still exist: the Turks still occupy Greek lands in Asia Minor, Constantinople and Cyprus, they are threatening our sovereignty in the Aegean and in Thrace, treat our ethnic groups in Istanbul badly. They hate us since they know they are the invaders; we are the original inhabitants of the lands they occupy. The ‘West’ is not helping us, as it never did,  because it is in its interest to align with Turkey since Turkey occupies a strategic area and/or because the Catholic/Protestant West does not like us. That’s why the Westerners pretend to be unaware of our problems and of the attacks we face. 

     The Turkish myth goes as follows: We originated in Asia but we have lived for centuries in Europe as a sovereign nation. We are part of Europe. When we first came we encountered an Empire in ruins. This empire was not Greek but Roman to begin with. The claims of modern Greeks to be the heirs of Byzantium are not valid: they are not the same race or nation with the ancient people; i.e., the Ionians and  the Byzantines are not 'the same' with modern Greeks. Their claim on these lands is not justified. We treated them well during the Ottoman rule and this rule was beneficial to them. Turks proved their good will and unbiased attitude toward the 'others'. We lived together so closely within one benevolent Turkish state for centuries. The Greeks, sometimes serving the interests of the ‘West’, did not want to live with us, they revolted. And from there on, they continuously attacked and captured our lands: in 1881, 1897, 1912, 1919. They tried to expand their boarders in Cyprus in 1974 too. They discredit us as ‘barbaric’, they hate us, they always mistreat the Turkish populations, especially in Western Thrace. Actually it is the Greeks who are not civilized and are ultra nationalists. The whole ‘West’ is against us because they are prejudiced: they have a negative image of the (Muslim) Turks and they always back up Greece because they form a Christian family.[3]

     It is natural that in historiography these arguments are voiced in different ‘styles’ depending on the personality of the writer: nationalistic and aggressive, academic and 'scientific' or sophisticated and disguised, i.e., in a roundabout manner. In the textbook, since they are addressed to students, the language used is quite straightforward and simple.[4] The Greeks are presented as enemies, often as a diachronic threat, a nation which tries to capture ‘our homeland’ and causes serious problems. The fire of Smyrna, together with other ‘fires’ of Turkish towns, comes to the agenda in this context.

Greeks are ‘not guilty’ in early textbooks

       The history textbooks which the Ministry of Education prepared with great enthusiasm and expectations for the intermediary education in the beginning of 1930s are the most detailed textbooks ever produced in Turkey.[5]  The fire of  Smyrna is not especially mentioned however, in Tarih IV (of  1931), i.e., in the textbook prepared for intermediary education, even though about seventy pages are allocated to the war of  1919-1922 fought against the Greeks.[6] The Greeks do set fire on other places though: ‘As they retreated the Greeks burned down and destroyed the towns and the villages which they controlled. The Rum people ran away together with the Greeks’. And thus the West Anatolia is ‘cleaned from the Greeks’ (pp. 119-120).[7]

     This approach is followed for about five decades. Until 1970s the Greeks are not accused of the fire of Smyrna in the textbooks. Actually this particular fire is not mentioned, it is forgotten or it is perceived as a secondary issue, even though the burning down of villages and other towns by the Greeks is repeatedly mentioned. For example in a textbook of 1947 it is mentioned that ‘as they retreated the Greeks burned down our most beautiful villages and towns. The Ottoman citizens Rum population walked out together with the Greek army’ (Su, 1947)

     In the textbooks prepared by authors such as  Niyazi Akşit (his books were in use in the years 1951-1980), Emin Oktay (books of 1950-1980), Enver Behnan Şapolyo (books of 1961-1979), Enver Ziya Karal (books of 1954-1979) the fire of Smyrna is not mentioned.[8]

 

Rewriting of history in the 1970s

 

     The 1970s mark the changing in interpreting the past. Actually in a textbook prepared for technical schools and published in 1969 we find probably one of the first cases where the Greeks are presented as the arsonist of Smyrna: ‘The Turkish cavalry in the morning of 9 September entered İzmir which had been burned down by the enemy. Beautiful İzmir which had been under the occupation of the enemy for four years joined the homeland anew. Atatürk had saved the homeland and threw the enemy into the sea’ (Mesleki…).  After mid 1970s the Greeks are presented with an increasing frequency as the sole responsible of the fire. In Ferruh Sanır’s textbooks, published in 1977, the statement is clear: ‘It is 9 September 1922… İzmir is in flames… This is the last evil of  those who run away: the Greeks had set the city on fire on several locations’ (Sanır, 1978, p. 109).

     This interpretation is almost standardized by time. It is interesting that the date of the fire is changed. It is moved from 13th of September  to 9th  for obvious reasons. It appears more convincing to present the enemies setting the fire before their departure and before the city was under the control of the victor.

     In the following years the textbooks normally introduced the fire of  Smyrna, together with a stressed negative image of ‘the other’, expressed with an emotional  rhetoric. In a civic textbook for primary schools of 1980s for example, we read the following narrative: ‘The enemy runs away continuously. Young Mehmet (an epithet for the Turkish soldier, H.M.) is chasing him without stopping to take a breath. The Greek army, in utter confusion and scattered, runs away leaving behind thousands of dead and prisoners… The only hope to save his live by running away is the combined fleet of the enemies which waits in the bay of İzmir. Alas, if they could only step on board of those ships…  The day is 9th of  September 1922. İzmir is on fire. This is the last evil of those who run away: The Greeks had set the city on fire on several locations. An altogether new, prosperous İzmir is going to rise in the place of the burned down İzmir. A young, alive Turkish State is being born in the place of an empire which withered away. It was not only the Greeks who lost hope, it was also those who supported them. Those hopes were buried in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. But history did not forget and will never forget that shameful assault… This victory accomplished the cleaning up of Western Anatolia from the enemy’ (Sanır, 1986, pp. 103-104).

    Language textbooks of junior high school also blame the Greeks for the fire and express the hope which the fire inspires. The students read a letter of a young boy allegedly sent on September 22nd 1922 where the happiness of the Turks is expressed in spite of the fire and even, possibly, due to the fire: ‘If you see beautiful İzmir you won’t recognize it. Smoke and flames rise from everywhere. But we know that these are the last places that the cruel enemy burns down and destroys. From now on nobody will dare lay hand on our sacred homeland. If they dare to, they will be thrown into the sea like the ones we saw here and they will perish... You should have seen them early in the morning how they threw themselves into the sea to reach the boats which waited out in the sea! The whole İzmir was in a turmoil…  My dear Adnan, never existed such a fire, such a celebration, such a festivity in a place on fire. Our house started burning as the fire reached us from next door. We did not feel sorry for the furniture, for our property. We were carrying water and carrying away the furniture singing, full of joy… Our (Greek, H.M.) neighbor Niko and his family sought refuge in the ships together with the Greek soldiers. The Rums who for years tortured us they were afraid of us. They sought their escape in running away together with the soldiers... We heard that the next day Mustafa Kemal would enter the city. The fires had not been extinguished. Smokes were coming out from everywhere. But we, full of joy, were in the streets to meet Mustafa Kemal and his friends. My God! What a big joy it was! (Demiray: 1986, p. 3-4)

           The joy and the sense of relief that the fire inspires is also noticed in some Turkish novels (See Millas: ‘Smyrna Fire and the Arsonists: The Absentees of  Turkish Novels’, in this volume). The fire is clearly dated earlier than the arrival of Mustafa Kemal. This kind of a narrative continuous until today, the fire of Smyrna per se sometimes being mentioned and sometimes omitted. In a textbook dedicated to the War of Liberation and the Kemalist reforms, used almost unchanged throughout the decades of 1980 and 1990 for senior high schools, we read about the traitorous role of the minorities (characterized with religious symbols) and the violence and the vice of the enemy, even though the fire of Smyrna itself is not narrated: When the Greek army enters the city in 1919,  ‘The church bells toll, the Rums who crowded along the seashore, men and women, threw bundles of flowers to the Greek soldiers and  shouted ‘zito!’ in a frenzy of demonstration. The archbishop of İzmir, with the cross in his hand raising it high in the air, blessed the soldiers and gave speeches inciting them against the Turks… (Then the violence of the Greek army is narrated: killing officers, heroes who resisted the invasion like Hasan Tahsin, etc.) … Thus, the Greek violence, which the Turks will never forget, started…(Su: 1992, pp. 42-43), (and many pages later the result: )…. ‘They ran away in a hurry. As they ran away they did not stop committing their last treachery, they burnt down the Turkish villages and killed whoever they met. The fields which were set  on fire were burning in great flames… Uşak was in ruins…  (p. 166).       

     In the junior high school textbook of the same period a similar narration is followed, the fire itself is again not mentioned, but a historic association is introduced: ‘The battle of Mantzikert opened the doors of Anatolia to the Turks, the victory against the Greeks (Başkumandan  Meydan Muharebesi), proved that Anatolia will remain a Turkish homeland to infinity’ (Orta Okullar…: 1992, p. 112).

     In the later primary school history textbooks (called Social Sciences / Sosyal Bilgiler ), the fire of Smyrna is not mentioned but two phrases appear in all of them: ‘They did not stop doing evil (fenalık) as they ran away, setting fire on villages and cities which they abandoned… West Anatolia was cleaned up from the Greeks (Yunanlılardan temizlendi)  (İlkokullar İçin…: 1994, p. 163 and Şenünver: 1999, p. 45). In the second textbook the phrase ‘this sacred victory showed  that Anatolia will remain a Turkish homeland to infinity’ appears again (p. 46).

A final retouch by changing dates

     A recent senior high school history textbook (Palazoğlu: 1996), even though it is only 228 pages long, dedicates many paragraphs to Smyrna and to the role of the Greeks. In this textbook the date of the fire is changed to comply with the well known ‘historical truth’: the fire is on the 13th of September and Mustafa Kemal is already in the city. It narrates the organizations which the ‘minorities’, the ‘Rums’, founded after 1919 - Mavri Mira, boy scouts, Etniki Eterya (SIC), organizations in Pontus - in collaboration with the Patriarchate of Istanbul and sometimes with the Armenians, backed up by the Greek government, all with the purpose, ‘to create the Byzantium Empire anew’ (p. 40). Many familiar phrases are repeated but ‘barbarism’ is introduced - in a dramatic present time tense - for the first time: ‘They did not stop doing evil as they ran away, setting on fire and demolishing the environment and killing whoever they met, presenting their barbarism to the world’ (p. 189)…

    ‘The occupation of İzmir which started on May 15th 1919 ended on September 9th 1922 and the harbor of İzmir was now full of tragic and comic scenes of the enemy soldiers who were pushing each other into the sea in order to get into the boats that will take them to the ships… Still lots of foreigners and especially Rums remain. They are afraid. They are afraid that the Turks will do to them what they did to the Turks three years ago when the Greeks occupied İzmir. But their fear has no base. It is out of question for the Turks to answer back barbarism with a counter barbarism… On the other hand the representative of the Allies applied to Mustafa Kemal to stop the possible acts of vengeance of the Turks against the minorities. But this was an unnecessary act, because Mustafa Kemal had already taken the appropriate precautions…

     However, the barbarism comes again from forces which are outside the Muslim people. İzmir all of a sudden is in flames. The minorities which collaborated with the Greeks who were running away from the Turkish army, added a last anti- civilized act to their behavior of the last three years and turned beautiful İzmir to ashes. Exactly like the villages, towns and cities which left behind as they ran away (September 13th 1922). Mustafa Kemal watched this terrible scene with great sorrow. But he tries not to give great importance to it. He shifted his thoughts to the civilized and prosperous İzmir of the future’  (p. 190). 

An assessment

     This short review of the textbooks shows that some components of the ‘Turkish national myth’ mentioned at the very beginning of  this article can be detected in the discourse associated with the fire of Smyrna: ‘The other’ is an enemy who threatens our sovereignty (the Greeks want to create Byzantium anew, claiming they are the heirs of ‘our’ lands). The westerners are behind them (they help the Greeks with their ships and they are disappointed when the Greeks lose the war). The Westerners are prejudiced (the Greeks are the barbarians, not us who protect the minorities and do not do what the Greeks have done to us).[9] The Greeks hate us and they treat us badly (they destroy and burn down our cities). The ‘Rums’ (derived from ‘Romans’) who live on our lands, and in Smyrna, are not associated with the ‘Greeks’ (Yunan)  of Greece, they are traitors, they do not compose a single nation, so the Greeks are invaders and not liberators of their compatriots.[10] The victory of the Turks against the Greeks demonstrates that the these lands will remain Turkish (and the historical era that started with ‘our arrival’ from Asia to Anatolia in 1071 and with the battle of Mantzikert is now completed). The religious demarcation line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is also dominant in the texts: the cross of the archbishop, the church bells which toll in nationalistic joy and the ‘barbarism that comes outside Islam’ are such cases. 

     A trend in the last decades of presenting the fire of Smyrna in a more emotional way is also apparent. Anatolia was ‘cleaned’ of the Greeks and the enemy who ran for his life ‘set fires in the villages and cities’ in all textbooks throughout, from 1930 to present. However starting with the 1970s a more nationalistic approach is noticed.[11] The fire of Smyrna is narrated in detail and usually in a dramatic present tense and the accusations against ‘the other’ become predominant (barbaric, evil etc.). Eventually the Rum minority, characterized as the ‘foreigners still lived in Anatolia’ are shown to be the ones, in collaboration with the Greek army, who ‘turned Smyrna into ashes’. 

    There are some issues which are silenced or at least not clearly stated. The way the Greek army and the Rum population left Anatolia is not clear. The general impression is that they left all together, before the liberation of Smyrna by the Turkish troops. Only in the last textbook mentioned above the date of the fire is stated as September 13th . This infers a relative Turkish control in Smyrna on the day of the fire.

     In the discourse of these textbooks the liberation of Smyrna, together with all incidents related to this, the fire included, as a general metaphor,  is a happy incident. The fire of Smyrna does appear as a treacherous and evil act of ‘the other’ but not necessarily an unhappy incident which brings only sorrow. We have seen scenes where joy among the Turks prevailed along with a narration of the fire. The fire is like a tribute to be paid for better days. One may even suspect that it is a necessary means to wipe away the last traces of the loathed ‘other’. Contrary to the Greek case in which the fire is perceived as the final act of a national catastrophe, the very same fire, among the Turks is the ‘last evil act of the other’ which opens the way to a happy future.    

     Finally, from historiographical point of view the rewriting of history, as is disclosed in these textbooks, is of utmost interest. We see that the time factor does not secure more mature history writing: neither the time elapsed nor the general improvement of history writing secured a more sound interpretation of the fire of Smyrna. The textbooks appear to be seriously influenced by politics, ideologies and other similar factors which are not supposed to determine the discipline of historiography. In the 1970s the Greeks - who up to that time had not been presented as the arsonists of Smyrna - suddenly are accused of the fire. For 25 years it was repeatedly claimed that the Greeks (mostly the Greek army) started the fire before the entrance of the Turkish army in the city. The date of the fire changed only lately from the 9th to the 13th September, the arsonist still remaining the same.

     And all this alchemy is performed about an incident which took place only a few decades ago for which there are eyewitnesses alive… 

**

Bibliography

 

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Alkan, Türker. The Political Integration of Europe, Content Analysis of the Turkish, French, German and Italian History Textbooks, Orta Doğu Teknik Üniversitesi, Ankara 1982.

Copeaux, Etienne, 'De l'Adriatique a la mer de Chine: Histoire turque et identite', in Internationale Schulbuchforschung, Georg-Eckert Institut, Braunschweig,  1996.

----. "Türk Kimlik Söyleminin Topografyası ve Kronolojisi", Tarih Eğitimi ve Tarihte 'Öteki' Sorunu,  Tarih Vakfı Yurt, 1998 (Minutes of the conference: 'Greeks in Turkish Textbooks', in the  2. International History Congress of History Foundation 'History Education and the Other in History', İstanbul, 8 -10/6/1995)

----.Tarih Ders Kitaplarında (1931-1993), Türk Tarih Tezinden Türk-İslam Sentezine, Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, İstanbul 1998.

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İlkokullar İçin Sosyal Bilgiler 5, Milli Eğitim Basımevi, İstanbul 1994b.

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Millas, Hercules. `Türk Yunan İlişkileri ve İlkokul Kitapları', Yeni Düşün Dergisi, 9/1987.

---- `Τα Σχολικά Βιβλία της Ελλάδας και της Τουρκίας', Ελευθεροτυπία, 24/2/1988.

---- Tencere Dibin Kara, Türk Yunan İlişkilerine Bir Önsöz, Amaç, İstanbul 1989.

---- `History Textbooks in Greece and Turkey', History Workshop, London, 4/1991.

---- 'Türkiye'de Etnosantrik Tarihçiliğin Pratik Sonuçları', Tarih Öğretimi ve Ders Kitapları/1994 Buca Sempozyumu, Tarih Vakfı Yurt, 1995

---- `The Mythical Past and the Tense Present: Education in Greece and Turkey', Culture and Reconciliation in Southeastern Europe, (Conference of Association for Democracy in the Balkans), Paratiritis, Thessalonika, 26-29/6/1997).

---- 'Türk Ders Kitaplarında Yunanlılar: Bütünleştirici Bir Yaklaşım', Tarih Eğitimi ve Tarihte 'Öteki' Sorunu,  Tarih Vakfı Yurt, 1998 (Notes of meeting: 2. International History Congress of History Foundation 'History Education and the Other in History', Istanbul, 8 -10/6/1995)

---- Türk Romanı ve ‘Öteki’, Ulusal Kimlikte Yunan İmajı, Sabancı Üniversitesi Yayınları, İstanbul, 2000b.

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***

 


[1] “‘The Greeks say that the Turks burned down Smyrna, the Turks say that it was the Greeks who did it. Who can ever know the truth.’ I did not feel like getting into a discussion’’. From the memoirs of Yorgos Seferis (July 1, 1950), visiting Smyrna and talking to a Turkish diplomat.

[2]  These myths can be named paradigms, metaphors, national discourses, (imagined) national past and/or identity, perceptions of us versus the ‘other’, national ‘consciousness’, world-views (weltanschaung) etc. Actually not the ‘name’ but the existence and function of these myths and the perceptions of the people are of importance.

[3] For a detailed exposition of these ‘myths’ see also Millas: 2000, pp. 274-278 and Millas: 2001 pp. 391-395 (for the references see Bibliography below).

[4] For the image of Greeks in Turkish textbooks (and some cases of Turks in Greek textbooks) see Copeaux: 1998, 1998b; Koullapis: 1993, 1995; Millas: 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1997, 1988.

[5] For the political and ideological climate of the time and the preparation of these first  textbooks of the new republic see Ersanlı: 1992.

[6] The book which is allocated to Modern Turkey and to the Turkish War of Liberation is in total more than 500 pages. 133 pages are about the war and 240 pages about the reforms of the new state. There are another 131 pages of photographs on both topics. The textbooks of the later periods hardly ever exceed 350 pages.

[7] In Turkish the term ‘Yunan’ is used for Greeks and ‘Rum’ for ethnic Greeks of Ottoman or Turkish nationality/citizenship (and for other non-Greek citizenship, such as Greeks of America, of Cyprus etc.). The term ‘temizlendi’ is used in Turkish for the ‘cleaned’ Anatolia.      

[8] See bibliography for the particulars of these textbooks.  

[9] In an civic textbook for junior high school (Dal: 1992, p. 75) among the properties of  the ‘character of  the Turks’, along with good manners, hospitality, love for the home country and the family, etc., it is mentioned that Turks ‘do not cast a malignant eye at the people entrusted (SIC) to them’ (Kendisine emanet edilen insanlara kötü gözle bakmaz).

[10]     In other parts of  these textbooks it is stated that the Ionians a) are actually ancient Turks (in the textbooks of 1930), and b) are not associated with the ancient Greeks (in later periods). (See: Copeaux: 1998; Millas: 1998 and 2001, pp. 64-100.

[11] This is the opinion of Türker Alkan too, who writes with respect to the textbooks of Turkey: ‘in the text of 1977 there is a rising tendency of nationalism… The policy of the pro-fascist National Front Coalition was probably one of the reasons’ (Alkan: 1982, p. 68).