The Great Smyrna Fire


The aftermath of the war between Greece and Turkey starting from 1919 led to the event called the Great Smyrna fire. The city of Smyrna which has been renamed Izmir in the present day Turkey is regarded as one of the world’s wealthiest cosmopolitan cities with different nationals residing within the metropolis. At the time, Armenians, Jews, Greeks, Turks, Britons, and Americans mostly inhabited the city. This city was one of the most beautiful cities with the best of cinema houses, operas, departmental stores and it was even popularly called the ’little Paris of the East.’

The Proximate Cause of the Great Smyrna Fire

While it is generally agreed that the Great Smyrna Fire started on September 13 of 1922 and lasted till September 22 of the year when it was put off, there exists two different versions about the proximate cause of the fire. One account claims that the Greek and Armenia quarters in Smyrna were set on fire by the rampaging victorious Turkish Army that conquered the Greek forces while the other account which emanated from Turkish sources claim that the fire was ignited by the Greeks and the Armenians. Historical accounts before the outbreak of the fire claim that the Turkish forces raped, stole and killed a lot of Armenians and Greeks before the outbreak of the Great Smyrna Fire. While the fire rages for days, hundreds of thousands of Greeks and Armenians ran to the water front to escape the fire and attacks by the Turkish soldiers.

The Impact of the Greek-Turkish War on the Great Smyrna Fire

According to historians, the background of the war between Greece and Turkey that culminated in the Great Smyrna Fire could be traced to the rivalry between the Muslim and the Christian populations in the city. Report shows that the Christians and the Muslims in the city were in the ratio 2 to 1 since the Greeks who were generally Christians outnumbered the Turks and the Ottomans of the period generally referred to Smyrna as the Infidel Smyrna because of the large population of non-Muslims in the city.

Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who led the victorious soldiers over the Greek forces came down to Smyrna on a revengeful mission for the previous genocide perpetrated by the Greeks when they had the support of Western Allies against the Turks. The military forces led by Mustafa Kemal were trained and had the logistic supplies of both the French and Italy, and, hence, the Turks were able to overrun the Greek forces in the counter attack. As the Greek forces were pushed into Smyrna, the city was overtaken by the Turks coming from the Turkish quarters and these soldiers went on killing, raping and also set on fire everything that belongs to the Armenians and Greeks. This was a form of reprisal attack and it was possibly aimed at dislodging Christians from Smyrna.

The month of September of 1922 was a period of doom and catastrophes for the Greeks living in Smyrna as Turkish forces set ablaze the city and the Armenians and Greeks were killed and the roads filled with dead bodies while many were drowned while trying to seek help from the ships belonging to Western Allies stationed in the nearby waters around Smyrna.

Hundreds of thousands of people died after a week of this tragic event and the huge death toll could possibly have been avoided as there were at least twenty-one foreign warships within the continental waters around Smyrna. There were eleven British warships, five French warships, one for Italy and two warships belonging to the United States around Smyrna within the period the event took place. The forces on these foreign warships could have reduced the carnage but they remained passive perhaps in compliance with the order of their respective governments possibly in order to protect the interests of their home governments in form of some business concerns. A year after the carnage in Smyrna and the Great Smyrna Fire, the Western Allies recognized Turkey officially as a republic. Today, Smyrna is known by its cultural Turkish name, Izmir, and Turks largely live in it.