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September 2022

Ionian Vision

By Michael Llewellyn Smith

Hurst

The book Ionian Vision by the erstwhile British ambassador to Greece, Michael Llewellyn Smith, is mainly about the Greek occupation of Asia Minor in the aftermath of the First World War. It examines the events leading up to, during and to a lesser extent following, the Asia Minor catastrophe of 100 years ago. The book is quite a niche work, but most definitely key to understanding the broader context of Greece in World War One, Greece’s National Schism, the Asia Minor campaign and the turbulent interwar period for this small Mediterranean nation. Most crucially, the book is key to understanding the historical approach which is critical of the allies and the Greek government’s involvement in Asia pertaining to the righteousness and the realism of the endeavor. This is an interpretation which does not seem to be well enough represented in the Greek bibliography, but one that does, however, make a very convincing argument. In short, Greece was split over participation in WWI and this division deepened and evolved into a schism which pitched King Constantine’s faction (in favour of Greek neutrality) against that of that of liberal prime minister, E. Venizelos (in favour of joining the war on the side of the Entente). Following the division of the country into two zones administrated by the opposing factions Venizelos was installed as Prime Minister in Athens with the intervention of the Entente. Greece joined the war on the allied side in the war, and, subsequently, joined the various peace talks with a delegation dedicated to furthering the country’s territorial claims. This is the point where the events of the book come into context. The Greeks managed, initially, in order to “protect the Greeks of Asia Minor,” to land a force, which strengthened the Greek claim to this region of Anatolia in the peace talks. Initially, the force was restricted to action against Turkish irregulars even as a Greek high commissioner Aristeides Stergiadis was dispatched to the Smyrna Zone as the area was known. The area was officially awarded to Greece in 1920 with the treaty of Sèvres. However, the problems with the occupation were evident from the start. Only with the incorporation of the islands into the area led the Greeks to have an ethnic majority in the administrative zone which had been created. Turks, Europeans and Armenians were also present and the Turks, the second biggest ethnic group were naturally dissatisfied by the Greek presence. Moreover, the Turkish discontent with the treaty of Sèvres was expressed by a nationalist army officer, Mustapha Kemal, who organised what eventually became an army that would end the Greek presence in Asia Minor in 1922. During the period of the Greek occupation the book mentions the military and the diplomatic manouevres of Greece, her allies and her enemies. Militarily, the Greeks, hoping to deal a decisive blow to the Turkish army, advanced into central Anatolia from where their armies were pushed back in 1922, and, thereafter, they were forced to retreat from Asia Minor. On the diplomatic stage, Greece’s erstwhile allies, with the exception of Britain, gradually withdrew their support for the Asia Minor campaign. The Italians had been hostile from the start since they had wanted the Smyrna zone for themselves, whilst the French slowly started to change their stance to Greece eventually selling weapons to Kemal. British support and encouragement for Greece was constant, but subject to many constraints. Britain’s enthusiasm for the Greek venture was driven by the philhellene and personal friend of Venizelos, David Lloyd George, who viewed the Greek state as a natural and reliable ally of Britain, and, therefore, was enthusiastic about Greece becoming the Eastern Mediterranean’s regional power. Ultimately, Lloyd George’s optimism and promises played a big role in fooling the Greeks into believing that their Asia Minor presence was viable. A big change in Greece's stance came with the November 1920 elections when Venizelos’s government was replaced by a rival faction who bought back King Constantine –an anathema to the entente-. Even Britain cut support to Greece and the government had to revert to drastic measures to fund its presence in Asia Minor whilst simultaneously trying to save the situation in Asia Minor, which not encouraging. Eventually, the overstretched Greek front capitulated, the government in Greece was overthrown by extreme Venizelists, and, six of the anti-Venizelists, considered responsible for the catastrophe, were executed against the will of the Entente whilst Greece was flooded with refugees and was forced to retreat from Eastern Thrace. All in all, the book influenced me profoundly because it presents a point of view which differs from traditional interpretations that are to be found in school books and many Greek history books. The proposition that the “Ionian Vision” was unrealistic is very convincingly argued, reminding us once again of the need to scrutinize history with a great care and resist nationalist tendencies and politicized analyses, which, in the case of Asia Minor, attributed the disaster mainly to Allied indifference and the perceived incompetence of anti-Venizelist politicians.       

Νέα εικόνα (8).bmp
Νέα εικόνα (9).bmp

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