“What are we to do in Anatolia … Our interests may be in the Balkans, in Macedonia, and the Islands, but what is Anatolia to us? Why did they send us there? After all these years, one can now analyze the past better and reach well-grounded conclusions on it. Now, I do not hesitate to admit it that we had no interest in the Anatolian war. We were tools of foreign states. So many people died from you and from us. We gave so many martyrs. What happened in the end? Here we are brothers today. The Anatolian operation was a mistake, a colossal mistake.”
These are the words of the Greek Forces Commander Lieutenant General Nikolaos Trikupis, who had five divisions at his command during the Great Offensive 98 years ago, in his interview with the politician Hıfzı Topuz, who was on an official visit to Athens in 1952. The general was freed in 1923 through a mutual exchange of prisoners of war but was not tried in the court established for those responsible for the Asia Minor Catastrophe. By contrast, the court issued a verdict for the last Prime Minister Gounaris, Commander-in-Chief of the Greek Army Hadjianesti, former Prime Minister Protopapadakis, former Prime Minister Stratos, War Minister Valtadzis and Theotokis to be executed by shot in November 1922.
WHY DID, IN TRIKOUPIS’ WORDS, THE “GREAT CATASTROPHE” HAPPEN?
The answer to this question can be attributed to two main factors. The first is that the “Megali Idea” centered political passions unrestrained since the establishment of Greece and which we still face today. The second is imperialism, which uses Greece as a proxy state for its own interests. Excerpts from Alexandros Anastasios Palles’ book in 1937 titled “The Anatolian Adventure and After”, referred by the author Bilge Umar in his piece “War of İzmir”, explains everything:
“It is understood that the Asian Idea started to form in Venizelos’ mind for the first time in January 1915. Accordingly, Turkey’s decision to go to war alongside the allied powers in October of 1914 meant that if the Entente states win that would bring a definitive end to the Ottoman Empire. At the end of 1914 had begun talks of possible partition of Turkey’s European and Asian lands… The idea in Venizelos’ s mind had thoroughly matured by January 9, 1915. On that day, Venizelos had a conversation with the British Ambassador about sending Greek troops to Serbia for help… In return for some land gains, Venizelos offered the British Ambassador an immediate entry to the war and his promise to convince the King and the Army General Staff to send troops to Serbia in spite of Bulgaria’s precarious situation.
On January 23, 1915, the British Prime Minister, Sir Edward Gray, offered Greece important land concessions on the coast of Asia Minor. Venizelos, with his niche excitement, examined Anatolian geography and ethnographic structure to determine Greece’s quest for territorial expansion. Upon consulting the army, Colonel Metaxas, the acting Chief of General Staff, emphasized in his report to Venizelos that accepting any land concession to Greece in Anatolia would be extremely imprudent for both military and political reasons. Metaxas, on the last item of his report, stated that even if Greece gains temporary military superiority and occupies parts of İzmir, to retain Greece’s overseas territories against Turkish threat would put a huge burden on the military and financial resources.”
İZMIR’S OCCUPATION IS ONCE AGAIN ON THE AGENDA
This proposal was rejected by Prime Minister Zaimis’ government after the change in power on September 24, 1915. Two years later, on June 14, 1917, Venizelos became the Prime Minister again, and the Greek participation in the war alongside the Allied Powers came to the fore once more. In the letter he wrote to the British Prime Minister Lloyd George on November 2, 1918, three days after the Mudros Armistice, Venizelos “reiterated Greek claims on Western Anatolia and demanded that the part from Marmaris to Ayvalık be ceded to them.” However, there was an obstacle to this offer. Italy strongly opposed it, citing the Saint Jean de Maurienne agreement of 1917. What was this deal? The Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne Agreement, signed between France, England and Italy on April 19, 1917, was concluded to reconcile disputes in areas where France and Italy would establish sovereignty in the event of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire.
While the Adana region was allocated to France, Italy would take the rest of southwestern Anatolia, including İzmir. The treaty was signed by the three powers, subject to the approval of Russia, which was unrepresented in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne due to the collapse of the tsarist regime. On May 12, 1919, Greek Prime Minister Venizélos, despite the Italian opposition, invalidated the provisions of the agreement by informing participants of the Paris Conference and received British and the US support for invading İzmir. The US, England and France did not want Italy to invade İzmir and its surroundings, since Italy already occupied the 12 Islands Region (Dodecanese). Instead of the domination of Italy in İzmir and its vicinity, they preferred a state that would always be the servant of imperialism and would not go out of the Anglo-Saxon will. On the morning of May 15, 1919, at 08:00, under the guidance of a British destroyer, the Greek Kilkis battleship and four transport ships carrying Greek divisions escorted by two Greek destroyers boarded at İzmir’s Kordon district. The reason for the occupation was the protection of the Greeks and Armenians living in İzmir and its surroundings against the Turks and the prevention of a massacre.
According to Alexandros Anastasios Palles, the pain and resentment caused by the occupation and the ensuing events created an insurmountable gap between Greeks and Turks. The Turks were extremely offended by the local Greeks, who viewed the Greek occupation army as savior with sympathy. The vast majority of Greeks had committed cruelty and genocide against the Turks. On the other hand, the Italians displayed a more humane behavior towards the Turkish people in the southern and south-western Anatolian coastal settlements they occupied. When Count Sforza, the commander of the Italian occupation forces in Istanbul, realized that Mustafa Kemal, who came to Istanbul after 13 November 1918, would be arrested by the British, he said that Mustafa Kemal would be invited to the Italian Embassy and offered protection. This ultimatum deterred the British from arresting him. Greek newspapers had adopted a style that constantly blamed Italians for the Turkish resistance and political moves they encountered after the occupation of May 15, 1919. The British also joined in on the Italian hostility. The occupation forces commander, High Commissioner Admiral Calthorpe, turned guns onto Italian warships that wanted to land soldiers in İzmir after Greece and openly threatened them with the use of firepower. Other incidents also happened. Taking over the command of İzmir prison, the Italian Major released the Turks and continued to keep the Greeks. The tragedy that began on the morning of 15 May 1919 ended on the morning of 9 September 1922. Anatolia was saved. İzmir became the symbol of the liberation of Anatolia. Having lost hundreds of thousands of corpses, the Greeks fled to the west of the Aegean Sea.
HISTORY REPEATS 100 YEARS LATER
This time, Greece and GCA (Greek Cypriot Administration) are attempting to invade Turkey’s seas with a 100-year old, anachronistic mindset. We have the US instead of England and the EU instead of France, although France itself is playing the same role once again. Italians are in a different position than they were then. Even though on February 21, 2018 the Italian energy giant ENI’s drilling platform was driven out by Turkish warships, Italy has a nuanced approach towards Turkey. They did not participate in the East Med gas pipeline project signed by Greece, Israel, and the GCA. Italy, like Malta, did not approve the European Commission’s draft proposal in previous weeks to apply sanctions on Turkey. Together with Turkey, they support the GNA in Libya. Turkish-Italian rapprochement in recent years is very important for the Mediterranean geopolitics. Italy is not an ordinary EU and Mediterranean member state; it is a country that is disturbed by France’s geopolitical ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean, North Africa, and the Sahel region. It is also uncomfortable with the increasing French involvement in Libya, which Rome has considered its front yard for the last century. Also, France’s increased military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean by acquiring air and naval bases in GCA give discomfort to Italy. This enables geopolitical rapprochement with Turkey. Italy will not forget the EU’s indifference during the COVID pandemic.
THE ITALY – TURKEY GEOPOLITICAL AXIS
Michael Tanchum, a researcher at the AIES strategy think tank based in Austria, is a researcher who observes Italian-Turkish rapprochement. His recent article last week drew a lot of attention: “Italy and Turkey in the Euro-Africa Trade Corridor: Rome and Ankara’s geopolitical common living space creates a new Mediterranean Strategic Paradigm”. The author affirms in this article the rise of a new geopolitical paradigm enabled by Turkish-Italian rapprochement and draws attention to a new trade corridor between Turkish ports, the mega Italian port of “Taranto” on the “boot”, and Tunisia. Let us remind ourselves that a Turkish company acquired the operating rights of Taranto port last week. Italy realizes that the EU is falling apart and is mapping new routes for itself. Even though it is a G-8, NATO, and EU member state, Italy put its signature on China’s BRI (Belt and Road) initiative on March 24, 2019 with huge investments, during the visit of the Chinese President. The country has been accused of being a Trojan horse in the EU. After the Venice agreement signed in 2017, in 2019, agreements were inked for Genoa, Trieste and Palermo ports to join the BRI. With Turkey, especially since 2019, Italy launched a new process of cooperation in the North African axis.
THE BALANCE OF POWER
On the other hand, as a member of the EU and the Mediterranean Gas Union, Italy maintains balances against Turkey. Its policy is sometimes against us and sometimes in our favor. After the NAVTEX issued on August 23, 2020, in an environment where tensions were at peak on south of Crete, PASSEX exercises with the destroyer of Durand De La Penne and Etna tanker ship which resupplied Turkish vessels on the east of NAVTEX area received harsh reaction from the Greek media, which said “we were stabbed in the back”. After these activities, we can say that Italian participation with a warship to the GCA’s exercise on south of Cyprus is aimed at balancing these discourses. In short, our relations with Italy are important in a period when we are under pressure on every front in the Eastern Mediterranean. We need to work on a new geopolitical symbiosis with the new trade route axis that has been created. It is time to evaluate overlapping areas of interest between Turkey’s Blue Homeland doctrine and Italy’s Mediterraneo Allargato (Wide Mediterranean) doctrine. In addition to Italy’s BRI route and transport networks, it is inevitable that an opening will be created into Africa over intermodal routes via Turkey, Italy, and Tunisia/Libya. Turkish-Italian cooperation in Africa will offer new opportunities for the future. In this context, if Turkey is to develop the recently discovered Sakarya gas field in the Black Sea with foreign partners, it can make a call to Italian firms, taking into account our potential cooperation in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkish-Italian geopolitical rapprochement, even if Italy is part of the anti-Turkish EU bloc, could be a counterweight against the military / political stationing of the US in Greece and of France in the GCA. This situation may resemble Italy’s withdrawal from Alanya and Antalya during Turkey’s War of Independence and support for Ankara as a result of disappointment with Britain, France, and the US for having lent support to pampered Greek invasion of the promised territories in İzmir. History reveals a similar conjuncture 100 years later. Such a situation will undoubtedly create serious challenges for Greece in the future.
Let’s go back 100 years in order to conclude our article.
Hıfzı Topuz continues to explain: “Trikupis is still silent for a while. I try to understand the regret of the retired general. Poor Greek martyrs, poor heroes of the War of Independence! Destroyed in vain: our villages that burned and collapsed! And the regret of our “old enemy” behind “dark clouds of history”. What a tremendous contrast. Trikupis; for us to become brothers today, Anatolian lands had to be watered by blood”. I’m not saying we should be brothers; lets not enter the realm of fantasy. However, we should also not be cheap blood dor mperialism again 100 years later. Learn to coexist.
On the 98th anniversary of the great victory, I commemorate the saint martyrs of Liberation and the Foundation and our veterans who migrated to eternity with mercy, gratitude, appreciation and loyalty. With every breath we take, I believe that the eternal Commander-in-Chief Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the heroes of the National Forces were in the right. I bow down to these heroes, who give us the privilege of living in such a beautiful country, knowing that we would not exist today without them.