Home Community AHI Forum Marks the Centennial of the Smyrna Catastrophe

AHI Forum Marks the Centennial of the Smyrna Catastrophe

Nick Larigakis, Dr. Constantine Hatzidimitriou, Ismini Lamb and Stavros Terry Stavridis. AHI Photo

Washington, DC – The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) hosted a Virtual Speakers Forum, ‘The Enduring Lessons from the Burning of Smyrna and the Turkish Genocide of Anatolian Hellenism: One-hundred Years of Turkish Denial and Distortion,’ on September 30.

The panelists were: Author and AHI Foundation Fellow Dr. Constantine Hatzidimitriou, former adjunct associate professor at the Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies Center at Queens College/CUNY; Ismini Lamb, director of the Modern Greek Studies Program at Georgetown University; and Author and Academician Stavros Terry Stavridis. Scheduled panelist AHI Board Member Dr. Van Coufoudakis could not participate due to Hurricane Ian.

AHI President Nick Larigakis moderated the discussion and provided opening and closing remarks.

Dr. Hatzidimitriou, whose involvement in the events surrounding the Smyrna Catastrophe stem from his own family history, said “it’s personal.” He provided context with historical events culminating to what he describes as the “Turkification” of Asia Minor, beginning in the 11th century.

“We have the documents,” Dr. Hatzidimitriou said about the facts of what happened in Smyrna in 1922. “They have been published […] and they show what happened.”

His extensive research has uncovered key previously classified documents which implicate the U.S. in having knowledge of what was occurring.

Dr. Stavros Terry Stavridis provided further background partcilarly concerning the Japanese ship the Tokei Maru which heroically rescued thousands of refugees.

Ismini Lamb, Director of Georgetown University’s Modern Greek Studies Program, gave a presentation entitled, “Anatomy of a Disinformation Campaign: The Case of Smyrna.” It was based on findings from her recently released biography of George Horton, The Gentle American: George Horton’s Odyssey and His True Account of the Smyrna Catastrophe. She noted Horton explained a century ago why it was evident Kemal’s soldiers burned Smyrna. Kemal was in complete control of both regular and irregular forces, in complete control of Smyrna, and in complete control of the fire! Beyond all that, Turkish soldiers only burned the Christian sections of Smyrna, and after the fires died down, dynamited the few surviving churches, making it quite evident that Turkish intent was to wipe out just the Christian presence in Smyrna. Even so, Prof. Lamb explained Turkish disinformation has succeeded surprisingly well, and cited modern historians who profess to not know who burned Smyrna. Prof. Lamb provided three reasons why Turkey’s false stories about the burning of Smyrna have succeeded in partially distorting history.

1) Admiral Mark Bristol, the senior American in Turkey and Horton’s boss and nemesis, promoted false news reports. The journalists he dispatched to Smyrna reported the opposite of the truth, as Horton revealed. 2) Allies of the Turks such as the French, disseminated official disinformation that muddied the water. Given the many eyewitnesses who saw and reported Turkish soldiers igniting and guiding the fires in Smyrna, it would have been an open and shut case with such official government disinformation. 3) Bristol maligned the most credible American source on Smyrna: George Horton. Prof. Lamb asserted the full details of Bristol’s astonishing skullduggery are explained in her biography, but in the interests of time, only mentioned a handful during her presentation. Those included forcing Horton to leave Smyrna and spreading false allegations about his conduct there. Prof. Lamb concluded her presentation by noting the truth about Smyrna only became widely understood after U.S. documents were declassified. With that in mind, she argued that to prevent the kind of historic disinformation that has confused the world about what really happened in Smyrna, every American must insist on free speech and government transparency.

President Larigakis concluded the discussion by applauding the panelists for their research contributions to the Greek community. Larigakis stressed how their ongoing work contributes to the importance of holding an annual commemoration for the Smyrna Catastrophe.