The Astonishing Death Toll In The Greco-Turkish War

by Daniel Russ on September 11, 2013



Please file this under another war that few have ever heard of. Yet it took three years to fight and cost upwards of a quarter of a million casualties, possibly more. In the chaos after World War I, land grabs were occurring in broad daylight. Although if you look back far enough in history it is easy to find an excuse for a country, a people, to remember an insult from days of yore, and use that to take back land. Greece was an empire from the Classical period, surviving in the modern era, and Turkey was crumbling under its own weight, weight it had carried since about 1453 when Mehmet II defeated Constantine. Greece for its own part did not purloin territory on their borders as a land grab per se. But almost three million ethnic Greeks lived in the area on the Turkish border anyway. Also Greece was just collecting on a debt, owed by the League of Nations that promised expanded territories if they fought with the Allies. So yes, Greece felt the Turkish holdings on its border belonged ultimately to Greece.


The populations of ethnic Greeks and ethnic Turks were so intermingled that it was really not possible to draw demarcation lines. So with a nod to history, to the Megali Idea, or the re-establishment of Greek power, the Greek Army in May of 1919 sent troops to occupy Smyrna. Under the Treaty of Sevres, the Greeks or other allies could take up defensive posts on any place in Turkish territory in the defense of their own national interests. It must  have been something in the air. Soon both Germany and Italy would reassert the drive for a new empire.


From here the Greeks advanced into Turkish territory and planned to cut Anatolia in half. Turkish resistance was stiff and Greeks took severe casualties. Still they managed over the next few years to take Eskisehir and secured a huge occupational zone all the way from Smyrna.


Two events conflated to change fortunes. King Alexander died from sepsis after one of his palace monkeys bit him. His heir was King Constantine who was overthrown and in exile. His return was marked by the sudden firing of blooded and experienced  World War I veteran commanders and the return of military control to the generals of the previous era. Churchill refers to Alexander’s wound as “the monkey bite that killed a quarter of a million people.”


The Turkish push back from Kemal’s forces (Attaturk) began in earnest and this Turkish Army was ready and able for battle. At the battle of Ïnönü, a single Greek division was repulsed and the morale in the Turkish resistance soared.


Over the next year the Turks took back most of the Greek held positions and drove the Greeks back over the border. Humiliated, the Greek Army instituted a scorch Earth withdrawal and whatever feelings there were between the two sides were now gone for an entire generation. Hundreds of thousands were massacred by an army that was tired and so broke they could not maintain a long term deployment. Estimates vary on the death toll between sides. The Greeks may have murdered 200,000 Turks. The Turks probably killed 150,000 Greeks, Nestorians, Armenians and Christians.


And this from a war few have ever known.



sources: wiki




Related Posts:

  • Stay Tunes For Similar Posts

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Louis September 28, 2017 at 8:46 am

It also eradicated more then 2500 years of Greek presence in Anatolia. There were probably greek speaking families there that had been there long before the Turks even arrived on the fringes of the Byzantine Empire. However, as the Greeks had killed all turkish speaking people on the way in, it was no surprise that the turks retaliated this way, when they drove the greeks out again.
The Turks only stopped at the sea shore because they did not have a navy, or not enough navy to challenge the British, Italian and Greek ones. That is why all the Aegean islands are (still) greek, eventhough some are less then 5 klicks from the shore, and the whole turkish shore, which use to be Ionia, and overwhelmingly greek speaking, even during the Ottoman empire, is now turkish speaking.
Afterwards Kemal Attaturk used all those half-empty cities, towns and villages (for instance Bodrum aka Halicarnassus, and the birthplace of Herodotus, father of History)) as a sort of internal Siberia, banishing people to them, who were a little too critical of his regime.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: