By: Giles Milton (438.1/35882)
On Saturday 9 September, 1922, the victorious Turkish cavalry rode into Smyrna, the richest and most cosmopolitan city in the Ottoman Empire.
Smyrna’s vast wealth had been created by powerful Levantine dynasties – many of them British – that lived in the city for two centuries. They helped to create a majority Christian city that was unique in the Islamic world. To the Turks, Smyrna had always been the infidel city.
In the aftermath of the First World War, Greece invaded Turkey with the aim of restoring a Christian empire in Asia Minor with Smyrna at its heart. The Great Powers, including Britain, supported Greece’s war on Turkey.
By 1922, the Greeks had been vanquished, Many feared that the newly victorious Turkish army would now unleash a terrible fury on Smyrna’s infidel inhabitants: conquering Islamic armies were traditionally granted three days of pillage following the capture of a resisting city.
Yet there had been no resistance to the Turks, and Smyrna’s Christian population (which included Levantines, Europeans and Americans) were confident the Allied fleet in the bay would protect them.
What happened over the next two weeks must rank as one of the most compelling human dramas of the twentieth century. Almost two million people were victims of a disaster of truly epic proportions.
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