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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 5 May 2018
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 5 MAY 2018 21 OPINION hand, is careful to distance Turkish national leader Ataturk from the act, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Nureddin Pasha, who had a reputation for brutality: "At the time it was said that Armenian arsonists were responsible. But was this so? There were many who assigned a part in it to Nureddin Pasha, commander of the First Army, a man whom Kemal had long disliked . . ." In his influential 2008 book Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922, Giles Milton provides plausible evidence that in fact, it was the Turkish army that brought in thousands of barrels from the Petroleum Company of Smyrna and poured them over all of the buildings except those in the Turkish quarter of the city. He also suggests that this was done with the full approval of Atatürk, who was determined to ride Turkey of its minorities, in order to establish a new ethnically homogenous republic. American industrial engineer Mark Prentiss was present in Smyrna during its holocaust. He wrote: "Many of us personally saw – and are ready to affirm the statement – Turkish soldiers often directed by officers throwing petroleum in the street and houses. Vice-Consul Barnes watched a Turkish officer leisurely fire the Custom House and the Passport Bureau while at least 50 Turkish soldiers stood by. Major Davis saw Turkish soldiers throwing oil in many houses. The navy patrol reported seeing a complete horseshoe of fires started by the Turks around the American school." Turkey loses nothing in accepting its culpability for the Great Fire. Subsequent to the destruction of Smyrna, peace treaties were signed with its adversaries, including Greece and the city was rebuilt as a Turkish one. Had Turkey admitted liability and apologised, the nations concerned and affected would have moved on, forged closer ties and relegated the affair, albeit painfully, to history. Instead, Turkey has done the opposite. By committing the act in the first place, it has proven that persistent aggression and violence can allow one to violate international treaties and evade international law, a practice it has employed again during the invasion of Cyprus in 1974 and in its current invasion of Syria. By then denying it committed that act and transposing the blame for it on its victims, its political culture has shown that not only does it lack the requisite moral introspection to understand that evasion of responsibility is tantamount to a wholesale endorsement of the crime itself but also, that the state is capable of committing such acts in the future. Finally, by returning to this event, it does not grant victims and their families the ability to surmount its trauma, retaining it, unnecessarily, as a ‘live’ issue. Just before the end of his final term in office, US President Barack Obama gave a speech in Athens, extolling the virtues of democracy, to the descendents of those who invented the concept. At no stage did he state that the United States, a country that has constantly interfered in Greek affairs and in the case of the junta, supported the subversion of the Greek democratic system, stands with Greece against foreign aggression. As a result, an emboldened Turkey has been encouraged to turn the clock back to the horrific days of 1922. Where before, its jets flew over Greek airspace and sabre-rattling was formulaic and ritualistic, today, its politicians gleefully threaten to "throw the Greeks into the sea," threaten war, and kidnap and imprison disoriented Greek soldiers, all because the powers that be, have turned a blind eye to Turkish state aggression, have tacitly permitted Turkey to cover up past crimes and thus, encouraged Turkey in its conviction that aggression and bullying is a viable foreign policy option. Culprits aside, the Great Fire of 1922 was a catastro- phe for humanity. It showed that despite humankind's level of technological and social advancement, we were unable to learn anything at all from the carnage of the First World War. It proved that despite the rhetoric about modernity and the new man, there is no evolution, but rather only revolution around the axis of a vicious cycle of savagery. Greece has put its trust in international structures of security and jurisprudence that while paying lip service to the rudiments of civilisation that Turkish politicians so parody, actually reward their behaviour. Nonetheless, Greece constantly affirms its commitment to peace and amity between nations by responding to ever-increasing racist taunts and threats of violence from across the water, in a mature and composed fashion, as truly behooves a modern civilised nation. It does so because it understands just how catastrophic the irresponsible remarks of the petulant and power- ful can prove for the lives of its people and because it knows that the safety of its peoples are much more important than the outmoded egotistical posturings of the bellicose. We do not really need to prove that a holocaust that took place 100 years ago, and which signalled the demise of 3,000 years of Greek civilisation in Asia Minor was not our fault. As the poet Yiannis Ritsos wrote: “Λοιπόν δεν είναι ανάγκη να φωνάξω για να με πιστέψουν, να πουν: Όποιος φωνάζει έχει το δίκιο. Εμείς το δίκιο το `χουμε μαζί μας και το ξέρουμε”. What Turkey's politicians need to prove is that in the ensuing century, their nation has been able to draw valuable lessons about the necessity for peaceful coexistence and tolerance. Their leader's latest verbal paroxysm casts grave doubts in that direction and dashes hopes for achieving stability in the region, stoking fires that will smoulder for generations to come.
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