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Greece and Her Refugees

THE exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey of 1922-24 was unique in world history in its combination of four elements: first, this "swarming" of two human hives was compulsory and resulted from military events; second, no economic motives were directly involved, no impulse but that of nationalism; third, populations were uprooted which had been indigenous, in the one case for four centuries and in the other for thirty, and, finally, the scale was unprecedented. At the time of the Greek disaster in Asia Minor 800,000 Greeks fled across the Aegean Sea to the mainland and islands of Greece, most of them destitute, and 200,000 more with their household goods and flocks trekked out of eastern into western Thrace and Macedonia. With the latter arrivals expelled from Constantinople and the "voluntary" migrants from Bulgaria, Greece has had to receive and to absorb into her national life some 1,400,000 persons, or about 26 percent of her former population of approximately 5,375,000 people.[i]

The growth of the demand for an exchange of populations requires a little explanation. The demand originated with Turkey, and was one of the bitter consequences of the contraction that took place when Turkish imperialism had spent its strength. As long as Turkey was sovereign over Balkan regions which contained subject populations -- Serbians, Bulgarians, Greeks -- far more numerous than the Turks in the same districts, toleration of their existence there was necessary; their expulsion would have left Macedonia a waste, for there were no Turks to place there. But there came a time when Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece felt themselves strong enough in union to throw off Turkish rule over that part of the Balkan peninsula which was filled with a population united to them respectively by ties of religion, of sentiment, and to a certain extent of race. The young Balkan nations expanded at Turkish expense and divided up old Macedonia and Thrace; the Turks were thus driven almost completely out of Europe and back into their own ancestral home in Asia Minor.

Within that home were about a million and a half Greeks, domiciled subjects of Turkey, but belonging by faith and culture to an alien race. It was to "free" these Greeks, to annex the larger part of the districts they inhabited to European Greece, that Greece undertook the adventure into Asia Minor which ended with the military débacle at the hands of Kemal Pasha in 1922. Small wonder then that Turkish nationalism asserted itself and demanded the expulsion from what remained to the Turks of these enemies within her own household.

The beginnings of this expulsion were catastrophic. The Greek armies in their advance into Asia Minor and during their retreat were charged with having committed atrocities upon the Turkish civilian population, atrocities of such nature as invading armies made up of human fighting animals will commit; the extent of them or the truth of the charge is not matter for consideration here. When the Turks under Kemal in their turn drove down to Smyrna and the sea, the terrorized Greek population, town and country folk alike, fled before them; they knew of old the hand of the Turk and his practice of wholesale killing under the command or intimation of the authorities, and they knew what "reprisals" would be exacted by the Turkish soldiery. These fugitives fleeing pell-mell to Smyrna and the coast got over to the Greek mainland and islands as best they could, by whatever vessel of any size was available. A great swarm came with the retreating Greek army, and such of them as escaped alive were carried across the Aegean in tramp steamers, sailboats, United States destroyers and miscellaneous craft, crowded to the gunwales.

When the Turkish armies entered Smyrna many of the Greeks and Armenians from the countryside and a large part of the city population still remained there. The Turkish soldiery received license to work their will upon these people, and there followed scenes of carnage such as would have warmed the heart of Tamerlane on one of his black days. The Christian quarters were destroyed by a general conflagration started by incendiary bombs, and the fugitives were bayonetted in the streets or shot as they tried to swim to boats in the harbor. Pillage, arson, rapine and massacre are words in the English dictionaries and in the criminal codes; in Smyrna in 1922 they stalked the streets and did the work of fallen Lucifer. When the withering blast had spent itself and means of transport could be organized, the remnants of the Smyrna population were taken over to Greece under the auspices of Nansen, the ferryman of the League, who has become a specialist in transporting lost peoples to places of safety; but the Turks carried away into the interior Greeks between the ages of 18 and 45 to the number of about 25,000 for work in so-called "labor battalions." These unfortunates, marked for death by violence and starvation were reduced to less than 15,000 by the time the treaty was signed for their release, and they too were transported to Greece in 1923.

This treaty provided for the exchange of the Greeks in Turkey, all but those who had become established in Constantinople before 1918, and all the Turks in Greece except those in Western Thrace. That migration has steadily taken place, swollen in the Greek direction by Greek peasants driven out of Bulgaria, until at last the situation has been fairly well stabilized according to the figures given earlier.

The phenomenon of the exchange of populations, as a method of settling the problem of minorities, has been condemned in many quarters as a barbarous innovation in international politics. But it is certainly not an innovation. There are instances of it in history, on a smaller scale, and the question whether it is "barbarous" or not to accept it when forced by a triumphant "nationalism" depends upon the existence of an acceptable alternative; in the Greek case there was none.

The attack of the Balkan countries on Turkey in 1912 brought home to the Young Turks "the fact that the minorities had evolved from religious into national minorities. Fearing that their continued existence might bring about further disruption, and realizing the impossibility of effective assimilation on the part of the ruling race, the Turkish Government embarked on a new policy of eradication, with the object of creating a homogeneous State." The Balkan allies were helpless to prevent the process within Turkey itself and had to accept the "solution adopted . . . that of a formal exchange of populations, which is simply the old form of wholesale expulsion surrounded by certain guarantees as regards the right to dispose of movable property and the liquidation of the estate left behind by the emigrants." The system began with a Turco-Bulgarian Convention of 1913, providing for voluntary emigration of the two populations along the Turco-Bulgarian frontier, and resulted in an exchange of about ten thousand families from each side. An authority on this method of dealing with Balkan population problems says:

"An exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey was first suggested by M. Venizelos in 1914 as a way of solving the difficulties which had arisen at the beginning of that year between the two countries. Relations had become strained owing to the refusal of Turkey to recognize the Greek annexation of the Aegean islands opposite the Anatolian coast. In order to put pressure on the Greek Government, the Turks proceeded to expel the Greek inhabitants of a large number of towns and villages in Eastern Thrace and on the Western Anatolian littoral, installing in their place Moslem emigrants from Macedonia. These Greeks, amounting to 270,000 were forced to take refuge in Greece. It was useless to expect that these refugees would ever be allowed to return, and even if the Turkish Government had given its consent, it is more than doubtful whether they could ever have been reinstalled in their homes, seeing that these had already been occupied by Moslem emigrants. The only solution was therefore to accept the fait accompli and to regularize the situation by an agreement which would have enabled the property abandoned on both sides to be properly liquidated, and also isolated communities which had remained behind, and were in danger of annihilation by the surrounding population, to be removed under proper safeguards."[ii]

The negotiations were prevented by the Great War. In point of fact, a partial exchange of populations had already taken place. Some 100,000 to 150,000 Moslems had quitted Greece and 250,-000 Greeks had come over from Turkey. No attempt was made, however, to settle the property claims on either side. It will be noted that from the outset many more Greeks migrated than Turks, and the result has been a problem of congestion in Greece and a problem of underpopulation in Turkey.

After the Smyrna disaster Greece found herself with most of the Greek population of Asia Minor on her hands, and with an accumulated mass of property questions to settle. Less than 125,000 Greeks were left in Asia Minor, large numbers of them enslaved, "interned" under inhuman conditions, or in hiding; an exchange agreement would save some of them from extermination, and Greece by expelling 375,000 Moslems remaining in Greece would obtain some space in which to place the million or more refugees.

The inducement on the Turkish side was somewhat less, but there was still an advantage for her to be derived from the reintegration of a large number of hard-working Moslems. Pallis says:

"Turkey, what with the enormous drain on her man-power during the war and the expulsion of the Christians, must have lost at least three millions of her population. Whole districts in Eastern Thrace and Anatolia had become depopulated. The abandoned lands and houses of over a million Greeks and Armenians were available. It was therefore sound economic policy to get those waste regions resettled as soon as possible. This consideration, added to the fact that there was bound to be continuous friction in Greece between the Moslem population and the Greek refugees, many of whom had had to be quartered on the Moslem villages, doubtless determined the Turkish Government to accept the exchange as proposed."

These motives were the basis of clauses in the treaty between Greece and Turkey providing for the "compulsory exchange of Turkish nationals of the Greek orthodox religion established in Turkish territory, and of Greek nationals of the Moslem religion established in Greek territory."

The choice of a "religious" test as the sole basis for determining nationality seems a singular one; yet it is purely a question of expediency, and in the Near East other tests may be suggested -- doubtless were -- only to be rejected. A test of blood or descent would be useless, for the racial origin of large parts of the population is not traceable more than a few generations back. If such a test could be applied it would produce a false result; the Cretan Moslems are of Hellenic blood, descended from Greek Cretans who adopted Mohammedanism; in the course of generations they have become ardent adherents of Islam, and it was appropriate that they should go to Turkey.

A language test would have been still less satisfactory. In Crete all adherents of Islamism spoke Greek; the same was true of many of the Moslem communities of Macedonia and Western Thrace. Half the people of the town of Adalia in Anatolia were Orthodox Greeks, speaking Turkish because they had lived there for generations; the inhabitants of the other half spoke Greek because they had come there in 1820 from the Peloponnesus, but they were Mohammedan Turks, and as Turkish in allegiance as the most ardent follower of the Crescent. There were in the writer's office recently a group of refugees from Bakos in the neighborhood of Diarbekr who spoke pure Turkish and no syllable of Greek. They are descended, so their tradition runs, from soldiers of Alexander the Great who subsided there in the course of the great adventure into Asia; all of them are members of the Greek Church, and they marry only those belonging to their own faith.

A real Hellene can be ascertained simply from the expression of his own genuine feelings in the matter of his alligiance. Bérard says:

"A Hellene gives no apparent sign of his nationality, and the only criterion I have yet been able to discover is the answer 'I am a Hellene' which a Hellene will not fail to make to your first question. The Bulgarian and the Serb base their nationality on theories of race or religion: the Hellene appeals only to his free allegiance. The nation has grown, as it were . . . according to the latest philosophical formula, by victory over the spirits of men and by the free consent of individuals. Hellenism deserves the name of the Great Idea, being no other than the resultant of individuals; to be a Hellene it suffices, over and above all material differences, to believe in the Idea, to hope in the Idea, to live in the Idea."

None the less when you make a treaty of exchange it is necessary to have an objective criterion in order to prevent property-owners from forswearing themselves for the sake of keeping a foothold with their property. Among the Greeks, Church has been immemorially interwoven with State and all "Hellenes," even if agnostic, have their children baptized in the Orthodox Church and claim membership in it as the visible sign of their allegiance to the Hellenic Idea. For the Greek exchangeables then the test of formal adhesion to the Orthodox Church was a fair and expedient method of selection. For the Turks, of course, adhesion to Islamism had always been the traditional method of distinguishing between a Turk and an infidel.

The Greeks wherever settled have always exhibited a cultural identity. From the dawn of history to the present time a Greek culture has predominated along the Asiatic shores of the Aegean; ethnically, historically and socially, the Greeks of Asia Minor were an inseparable part of that Aegean Hellenism which was fortified by the conquest of Asia by Alexander the Great.

The Roman conquest brought no interruption to the spread of the Greek spirit; indeed, in the cities and towns of Asia Minor the expansion of Christian doctrine under the philosophical ideas of Greece was more active than anywhere else in the Greek world. The most ancient of the Christian cities of the East was founded at Ephesus, and at Nicaea and in Chalcedon the spiritual heads of the Christian world met in councils to adopt the dogmas of their church and defend them against heresy.

When the Byzantine Empire during the seventh century cast off all Latin characteristics and became entirely Hellenic, the transformation was due in great part to the Hellenized elements in Asia and especially to the Isaurian emperors who came from the uplands of Cilicia; and during the Macedonian dynasty the Asia Minor provinces were the political and economic centre of that empire. For six centuries they were the military power which held back the Ottoman flood and proclaimed Christianity; they would indeed have continued successfully to do so but for the later Crusaders who, abandoning themselves to cupidity, deliberately destroyed the outposts of the Byzantine Empire.

During the Turkish domination of Greek Anatolia for four centuries, Hellenism in Asia Minor remained underground. The war of independence and the creation of a Greek nation roused it out of its sleep. In the whole of Greek Asia Minor the Hellenic spirit began to grow again. The Stavriots, pretended renegades who had taken Mohammedan names and publicly practiced the Mohammedan ritual, though in secret they continued Christian ceremonies, henceforth enrolled themselves in the lists of Christians and demanded to be stricken from those of Mohammedans. More immigration into Asia Minor took place, education was revived, schools and colleges founded. Doctors, lawyers and men of administrative capacity graduating from the University of Athens went in considerable numbers to the prospering Greek cities and towns in Turkey.

In their background and characteristics, then, the "refugees" driven into Greece proper from the Aegean littoral, the Pontus, and Eastern Thrace were folk whom Greece had always regarded as her own children; there were no profound difficulties of sentiment in the way of their assimilation. But after years of intermittent war and continuous mobilization crowned by a major military disaster, the physical side of the problem -- the sheltering, clothing, and feeding of an influx of people equivalent to 26 percent of her own population, of whom about two-thirds were totally destitute -- and the gradual absorption of all these wayfarers into the life of the country were tasks of heroic proportions.

The Greeks exhibited a frenetic energy, the sort that they showed when the tiny city-states resisted the weight of the Persian Empire at Marathon and Salamis; they galvanized their philanthropic organizations, created emergency committees, gave freely, received the destitute into their homes, provided barracks and soup-kitchens and all the other forms of emergency relief. American and British philanthropic societies, notably the American Red Cross, Near East Relief, and American Women's Hospitals, and the British "Save the Children Fund" gave invaluable help. But the most unsparing efforts and self-sacrifice were not enough, and the Greeks turned to the League of Nations for moral support and financial help. That body at once set its appropriate organs in motion. The first thing in any such undertaking is of course to get at the facts, to find out the extent of the need, the resources available and the agencies with which the work can be done; in this case it was necessary to know the number of the refugees, how many were destitute and the extent of the ability of the remainder to look out for themselves, the methods by which they could be "established" or settled in Greek towns and countryside, what they would need in order to become self-supporting, and how the distribution and settlement of them in Greece could be accomplished with the least possible damage to the economic welfare of the country and with the maximum benefit possible to refugees and natives alike. Such information can of course be obtained only on the spot; the League accordingly sent a specialist in such matters, Colonel Proctor, of New Zealand, to dig out the facts and make a report.

From his account it appeared that there were about 1,200,000 destitute refugees, of whom about half were a farming population, that Greece normally imported about a third of its food-stuffs, that the Greek countryside was underpopulated and that perhaps a million and a quarter acres were available for village-building and cultivation; and an estimate of the amount of money necessary for the vast enterprise ran to approximately £10,000,000.

The next element in the problem was that of raising the money. Greece had no funds and needed to be helped with outside capital if some sound financial plan could be devised; the sum involved was too colossal for provision by the customary philanthropic means. Fortunately Greek foreign credit was good, thanks to its management since 1897 by an International Financial Commission.

At this stage the Financial Committee of the League, composed of leading bankers from the League member-countries, began an investigation into the security that Greece could offer for a loan, the machinery for its service and the appropriate organization to spend the money. The last stage was the drawing up of a program of organization, of financing, and of work, and this came direct from the hands of Sir Arthur Salter, of the Economic Section of the Secretariat, author of the plans under which Austria and Hungary have been set on their feet, and the guiding spirit in this whole enterprise.

The Protocol creates an autonomous Commission not dependent upon Greek executive or administrative authority. It consists of four members, two appointed by the Greek Government with the approval of the Council of the League, a third member appointed by the Council, and a Chairman, appointed as the Council may provide, who must be an American citizen. The Commission is responsible to the League for the proper discharge of its functions and reports to the League four times a year.

To this work many of the leading political personages and bankers of the world gave their time and energies with no thought except the benefit of the victims and the avoidance of the social and political dangers which suffering on such a scale creates. At this stage the Greek Government with the help of the League was enabled to make through London and New York bankers a bond issue which produced £10,000,000, and these funds were placed at the disposal of the Commission. Philanthropy in the special sense is forbidden to the Commission; its work is an undertaking of social organization and establishment on a colossal scale.

There are about 600,000 city dwellers among the refugees, families unused to the rigors of country life. For them the Commission has built settlements or quarters in the Piraeus, in Athens and in the smaller cities of Greece. Their inhabitants, although thrown almost naked on the shores of Greece, have displayed such an industrious and active spirit that they are nearly all able today to earn their own livelihood without any help from the Greek Government or any other source, while many of them are attaining a considerable degree of comfort.

It is the peasant-cultivators who have most interested the Commission as a productive force for the future of Greece, to counteract the constant tendency of the Greek population to migrate to the cities or abroad, and to bring up Greek agricultural production as a major economic resource. These peasant-cultivators the Commission has been establishing by building villages for them in "old Greece," in the new provinces and in the islands. You must build a village to hold your Greek; if you put him in an isolated farmhouse he would gravitate at once to the nearest community as certainly as water will seep into a well.

"Establishment" of a family in a village consists in supplying it with a cottage of mud bricks or masonry comprising two rooms, a small storehouse and a stable under one roof, and with the land necessary for the support of the family according to the crop appropriate to the region; and then furnishing to each family a work animal -- ox, mule, buffalo -- a pony or donkey for transport, the tools and seed necessary for the cultivation selected in each case, and subsistence for man and beast until the first crops can be harvested and sold, and to groups of families, plows, harrows, carts, etc., sufficient for their common use. The Commission have supplied the seed for raising the standard cereals, vegetables, leguminous field plants, vetch, tobacco, cotton, rice, sesame, melons, potatoes, millet, etc., vine roots from California doctored against phylloxera, Pasteurized cocoons and many thousands of mulberry trees for silkworm culture. They furnish the communities with sires of selected stock for animal-breeding; they dig wells; they erect schoolhouses; they have created a sanitary service for Macedonia consisting of local doctors and travelling dispensaries and pharmacists, which supplies services and drugs at moderate prices, and distributes quinine gratis to the indigent.

More than four-fifths of the lands allotted to refugees are in Macedonia, for hundreds of years the scenes of massacre and carnage and the breeding ground of wars, and the Greek population in Macedonia has been raised from 513,000 to 1,277,000; more than 1,500 villages have been built, each containing from 100 to 500 families. It is not risky to prophesy that in the course of time the effect of Hellenizing Macedonia will be to destroy brigandage and pillage which have thriven on disturbed political and economic conditions, to eliminate civil or guerrilla war among villages and comitadji, and to reduce appreciably the chances of war between Greece and her neighbors who so often have had or created an excuse for intervening on behalf of non-Greeks in the table-lands and valley-pockets of Macedonia and Western Thrace.

In the two years since their arrival in Greece the refugees have been living in schoolhouses, theatres, town halls, exposition buildings in the cities, even in the old royal palace at Athens; in the suburbs and in the country districts they have maintained a fox-like existence in tents, wooden barracks, shelters of twigs or of turf, even in caves. As work can be provided they set themselves at it courageously; as soon as mud-brick cottages are ready they move in and begin to cultivate the fields allotted to them; if fishing is to be done, large or small commercial transactions to be undertaken, relations to be established with London or New York in the exportation of figs, Zanti currants, or rugs and carpets, none are so prompt or so adroit as the refugees to seize the opportunity. Their morale and their scale of living rise visibly month by month, and their asset value to Greece increases in proportion to the decrease of their miseries.

This is a great League achievement in economics and philanthropy. It should bring the same benefit to Greece as came to the countries which received the Jews, Mohammedans and Catholicized Jews, who to Spain's irremediable loss were driven forth between 1492 and 1610; such as arose for the countries -- the British Isles, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and America -- which opened their doors to the Huguenot émigrés from France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Greeks there were the most advanced element in Turkey, the most active and the most enterprising not only in commerce and financial affairs but even in the management of large agricultural properties. Their nimble-fingered women and girls were far more clever at carpet-weaving than the Turks; they raised the silkworms and wove the silk; they were the expert fig-pickers, the best cultivators of tobacco and raisins; they were the bankers and lawyers, the insurance men and merchants. They made up the whole nexus of business in their part of Turkey; and with voluntary contributions they supported schools and colleges and sent their children to obtain degrees in the universities of western Europe. Wretched as the condition of many of them still is, their morale and ambition are restored; they know that they must save themselves by the gospel of work, and they are practising it. They bring to Greece a fresh endowment of stubbornness, vitality and enterprise.

When the anguish and the years of terrific effort have passed and the refugees have added their productiveness to her wealth and their tenacity to her character, Greece may well comfort herself for her sufferings with the reflection: "The Ionians are mine."

[i]Outside of Greece proper there are about 470,000 Greeks in the United States; about 60,000 in Egypt (56,730 according to the census of 1917); about 300,000 in Cyprus or 97 percent of the population of that island and in the Dodecanese about 100,000 or 99 percent of the population, whom Italy is now trying to force into Italian citizenship. Of these aggregations who desire to be citizens of Greece only Cyprus and the Dodecanese raise an irredenta question.

[ii]Pallis: "Exchange of Populations in the Balkans," p. 3.

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