Asia Minor Disaster
Asia Minor Disaster is the name Greeks use for the defeat of the Greek Army in 1922 in the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) - also known as the Asia Minor Expedition - and the subsequent expulsion of Greek presence from Asia Minor.
Greek Presence in Asia Minor
By 1922, Greeks had had a 3000-year uninterrupted presence in Asia Minor. They first settled in the southwest part of Anatolia around the time of the Doric invasion of mainland Greece (1100 BC). They were followed, from the 9th until the 6th Century BC, by waves of Ionians, Aeolians and Dorians who colonised the western coast building important cities and establishing a civilisation equal, if not better than, that of mainland Greece.
Throughout antiquity, though conquered and ruled by Persia, western Asia Minor retained its Greek character which, after Alexander the Great's conquests, spread to central regions as well, throughout the Hellenistic age.
Following the division of the Roman Empire into western and eastern empires, Asia Minor became an important part of the Byzantine Empire. It supplied the Christian, Greek-speaking empire with most of its soldiers and, indeed, with more emperors than Greece itself.
After the Battle of Manzikert, Asia Minor came gradually under Turkish rule. Many Christians converted to Islam and accepted Turkish customs, however, those who lived mostly on the coast and, to a lesser extent others, preferred to keep their Christian faith and Greek character despite the taxation and other disadvantages they were subjected to.
By 1900, it is estimated that Asia Minor had a population of 2,500,000 Greeks. This number decreased to around 2,000,000 by the end of World War I as many were forced to leave or chose to immigrate to avoid service in the work brigades and other hardships imposed by the Young Turk leadership of that era.
Following the outcome of the First World War, the area around Smyrna ("Ionia") was awarded to Greece, by the Treaty of Sevres, as an occupation zone for five years. After the 5-year period, a referendum was to be held to decide the political future of the region. Greek troops landed in Smyrna harbour on May 15 (May 2 OS), 1919, and were greeted with great enthusiasm by the Greek population and with bullets by the Turks. The occupation zone soon spread beyond what the Sevres Treaty envisioned.
Initially, the Greek army had much success in their efforts to extend their hold over western and northwestern Asia Minor, however, the great political divide of the 1910s surfaced once more with disastrous consequences: despite advice to the contrary by Georgios Kafantaris and other political allies, Eleftherios Venizelos conducted elections in November 1920. Owing to the complexity of the electoral system, his Liberal Party (Komma Fileleftheron) was defeated by Dimitrios Gounaris' Popular Party (Laiko Komma). Venizelos himself failed to be elected in the Hellenic Parliament and left Greece on self-imposed exile.
The new government immediately conducted a referendum on the return of Constantine I to the throne, despite his deep unpopularity with the country's Entente allies. After his approval by the Greek electorate, France and, to a lesser extent Britain, became cold towards the occupation of Asia Minor by troops ruled by their former enemy.
The Popular Party government proceeded to replace Commander-in-chief Leonidas Paraskevopoulos, as well as most senior officers, with men on the basis of their political loyalty to the new regime rather than on merit. The new Commander-in-chief, Anastasios Papoulas, was a liaison officer with little combat experience - clearly the wrong man for the job. His inexperience immediately showed at the First Battle of Inonu where he ordered his troops to pull back from certain victory, awarding the Turkish bands of Kemal Ataturk a big propaganda victory.
The Greeks initiated another attack on March 27 (Second Battle of Inonu), which ended in their first major defeat by the Kemalist troops on March 30. The British had favoured a Greek territorial expansion but refused to offer any military assistance in order to avoid provoking the French. The Turkish forces however received significant assistance from the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the Greek army managed to scale the Asia Minor plateau and occupy a line running from Eskisehir to Afyon Karahisar.
In June 1921, a reinforced Greek army advanced afresh to the River Sakarya (Sangarios in Greek), less than 100 km (62 miles) west of Ankara. The advance of the Greek Army faced fierce resistance which culminated in the 21-day Battle of the Sakarya (August 23 – September 13, 1921). The ferocity of the battle, coupled with the inhospitable landscape, exhausted both sides to such an extent that they were both contemplating a withdrawal, but the Greeks were the first to withdraw to their previous lines.
That was the furthest in Anatolia the Greeks had advanced, and within few weeks they withdrew orderly back to the lines they held in June, intending at least to protect the Smyrna area.
To be continued