Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

How To Carve Turkey

Posted in General on July 26th, 2011 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments


You would not imagine that Verdun and the Somme would encourage gleeful optimism among French or British diplomats.  Well, that is why you are not a French or British diplomat.  On the contrary, those distinguished gentlemen could look past an annihilated generation–which likely included their sons–and decide how they wanted to divide up the Ottoman Empire.  Even before the War, both France and Britain had been nibbling at Turkey.  They even justified the fairness in annexing Ottoman provinces.  As they would explain to the Sultan, “If we keep the Russians out of Constantinople, then you certainly won’t mind our protection of Egypt, Tunisia and Cyprus.”  How could the Sultan refuse?  A mugging is a great bargain if the alternative is your murder.

By 1916, however, France and Britain had dispensed with their philantrophic concern for the Ottoman Empire, and were playing post-mortem real estate.  France had a nostalgic claim to Syria and Lebanon.  Seven centuries earlier, French knights had set out for those exotic lands and introduced chivalry and Gallic courtliness there.  At least, that is what the troubadors celebrated.  (The Moslems, the Greek Orthodox and the Jews did not quite see the charm in being conquered and slaughtered.)  There may be a quibbling distinction between atrocity and tenancy, but the Crusades did establish a French presence in Syria and Lebanon.  And now the French were coming back.

At least Britain was not basing its foreign policy on the adventures of Richard Lionheart.  It would be annexing Ottoman provinces solely for logistics.  Since Britain possessed Egypt and India, it now would claim all the lands in between:  Palestine, Transjordan and Mesopotamia.  For its strategic position on the Red Sea and India Ocean, Yemen would also be welcomed into the British Empire.  But the rest of the Arabian peninsula was of no interest to Britain or France.  Let the natives have their sand.

Finally, there was Turkey itself; and there would not be much left of that.  Fulfilling the reactionary fantasies of Tsars and Dostoyevsky, Holy Mother Russia would finally get Constantinople; any surviving Armenians in northeastern Anatolia would also be subjects of the Tsars.   Since Southeastern Anatolia bordered La Syrie, it might as well be French, too.  For no reason other than courtesy among vultures, Italy would get western Anatolia.  Of course, you can guess whose navy whose be controlling the straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean: the Henley Regatta in the Bosporus.  The remainder of Anatolia–more or less metropolitan Ankara–would be the sovereign state of Turkey.

By the end of war, however, a few changes had been made in the division of the spoils. The Allies were not about to turn Constantinople over to Lenin. Indeed,  the Turkish Sultan  (Mehmed VI–if you are planning to be on Jeopardy) still had a job, if only as the figurehead for the Western powers.  Even if he had any qualms or pride, the British fleet in Constantinople had a definite power of persuasion.  So he signed away the empire and assented to the division of Anatolia.  But the treaty negotiations at Versailles had added another European recipient of Anatolia.  Ironically, this concession was the only reasonable one among the demands; and it was the only one that the Turks would never tolerate.

Today Anatolia refers to Turkey, but the Turks themselves are relative newcomers to the land.  Their armies did not conquer it until the 14th century.  Before that, since at least 1200 B.C., Anatolia and its population were Greek.  Homer certainly thought so.  And five centuries of Ottoman rule did not change the demographics: at the time of World War I approximately 1.5 million Greeks lived in western Anatolia.  (By comparison, some 4 million were living in the kingdom of  Greece.) After the war, Greece demanded sovereignty over western Anatolia. History and demographics justified it, so the Allies agreed.  The puppet Sultan in Istanbul consented, too; but Turkish nationalists did not.  The Greeks were their oldest enemies, their long history consisted of mutual massacres.  To see the restoration of Greek sovereignty in Anatolia would be the culminating futility of Turkish history.  So the Turkish nationalists gathered in Ankara, proclaimed a republic and prepared to fight.

A Greek army landed in Anatolia in 1919, and a war began.  The Turkish nationalists, led by Mustafa Kemal, also fought the French and the British.  Of course, this will surprise you but the French were the first to capitulate.  They withdrew to Syria although they thought they should hae been paid for the land they were returning.  Turks have yet to send the check.  The war between Britain and Turkey was largely theoretical.  One side had an navy, the other had an army; there were not many battles.  Indeed, the British fleet’s most notable operation was evacuating the now pointless Sultan to a lovely villa in Malta.

Unfortunately, the war between the Greeks and the Turks could not be drolly described.  The Greeks wanted to avenge history, and so did the Turks. When towns were taken, there were massacres.  Imagine the town first taken by the Greeks, and then retaken by the Turks.  You know who won the war.  But the Turks were not content with military victory; they were determined to drive the Greeks from Anatolia.  And at the seaport of Smyrna, the Turks literally drove the Greeks into the sea.  Smyrna was the main city of the Greek Anatolians.  After taking the city in 1922, the Turkish army set it aflame. Fleeing the fire and the murderous Turks, tens of thousands of Greeks huddled along the wharves, begging for a space on any boat. Some swam to the boats outside the harbor.  The young Aristotle Onassis really had no choice but to swim.  The Turks were especially intent on killing Greek men.  We will  never know exactly how many people died at Smyrna; the Turks were not as meticulous as Germans.  But the estimates range from 15,000 to 100,000.  Smyrna’s entire population was 400,000.

On the whole, however, the Turkish policy was expulsion more than extermination.  In the 1923 treaty concluding the war, the Turks and Greeks agreed to “exchange” populations.  The Turks expelled 1.5 million Greeks from Anatolia, ending a 3,000 year history.  In turn 500,000 Turks and Moslems were expelled from Greece.   Each repatriated population was accepted and granted full citizenship in their new homelands.  There would be no internment camps.  Of course, the Greeks and Turks were still free to hate each other.

Yet, but for the Greek attempt to reclaim its Anatolian kinsmen, who can say if Turkey would have emerged as a strong, independent Republic? History and irony both have Greek muses.



The Princess Diatribes

Posted in General on October 30th, 2009 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

October 30, 1863:  Nepotism Pays Off Even It Takes 22 Generations

There have always been some advantages to being a princess.  If nothing else, you never starved.  (Throughout much of European history, that was a major advantage.)  Unfortunately, most princesses were superfluous and expendable.  In the Russian court, at least until Peter the Great, the imperial sister and daughter were  packed off to a convent.  True, most of those convents had all the luxuries of the Kappa Kappa Gamma house at Northwestern except for the mating with Delta Kappa Epsilon; nonetheless it was exile.  The French Court was a little more generous with mademoiselle la princesse.  The king permitted his spinster sisters to stay at Versailles and teach the harpsichord to his spinster daughters.

Of course, many princesses had diplomatic careers–as the sacrifice in a political marriage.  Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII, was married off to Louis XII–who was three times her age.  At least the old goat was kind to her, and also was obliging enough to die after three months of marriage.  Other princesses were far more miserable.  The French princess who married Edward II discovered she was the lesser queen of the two.  A sixth century Ostrogothic princess had her nose slit off by her husband–quite literally the King of the Vandals; at least her father took her back and broke off the alliance.  There were worse fates than a comfy convent.

During the Middle Ages, the Byzantine Princess was esteemed as the most prestigious bride for a political marriage.  She represented the wealth and sophistication of the greatest power in Christendom.  Indeed, when one Byzantine daughter married into the Capetians, she was the only literate in the French royal family.  Of course, Byzantium dismissed most European suitors as unworthy of an imperial bride; but a few indispensible allies were begrudged the distinction.  The Doges of Venice were entitled to the Emperor’s nieces.  And to placate the northern shore of the Black Sea, the Great Princes of Kiev could have an imperial sister or daughter.

By the end of the 12th century, however, the Byzantine Empire was in decline and so were the standards for a political marriage.  The Empire still dominated the Balkans but had lost Sicily and Southern Italy to Norman brigands.    Holding off the Turks in Western Anatolia (a losing battle since the area is now called Turkey), the Byzantines had no force to reconquer their lost Italian provinces.  However, the Empire still had a strategy for winning back the territory.  Her name was Irene Angelina, the daughter of Emperor Isaac II, and she was married off to the crown prince of Norman Sicily.  Irene was all of 12 years old.

She was a bride in 1193, a widow the same year, and a prisoner in 1194.  Southern Italy and Sicily had been conquered by Philip of Swabia, a cousin of the Norman line, who felt that he had a more legitimate claim to the throne.  He certainly had the better army.  Philip was smitten with the young Byzantine princess.  He was twice her age–but that only made him 27–and he decided to marry her.  The German prince had nothing to gain from a political perspective.  Her father had been overthrown, blinded and imprisoned by his brother–who had his own daughters available for political alliance.  So Irene’s looks and charm were all the dowry she could offer.

But they lived happily ever after–until childbearing finally killed her in 1208.

On October 30, 1863, Prince Christian Wilhelm Ferdinand Adolf George of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksberg arrived in Greece, invited by public vote to take the throne.  No, his name does not sound Greek, but the future George I did boast of his Hellenic heritage.   He was the great-great-great-great-great-(you get the idea–22 generations) grandson of Irene Angelina.