15 Mar 90 years form the liberation of Smyrna. The collapse of Venizelos’ legacy: An article by Nikolaos Emm. Papadakis
An article by Nikolaos Emm. Papadakis* about the conditions, the facts, the role of Eleftherios Venizelos and the destructive work of his opponents.
What was Elefhterios Venizelos’ heritage to his successors, when he left Greece, after the electoral defeat of November 1920?
First of all, he provided them with strongly built relationships with the allies, a fact that led to the Treaty of Sevres, signed by all the allies, a treaty that, apart from the benefits offered to Greece, was balancing the international conflicts in the Near East. The benefits for Great Britain were very important, but France also achieved the majority of its objectives relating to the former Ottoman Empire. The French- British competition in the area had been diminished, which was favourable for the Greek interests. By the 1st of November of 1920, none of the allied countries – not even Italy, that had already settled its differences with Greece – requested a revision of the Treaty of Sevres or the pullout of Greece from Asia Minor.
The basis of Venizelos˘ foreign policy was the idea of controlled allied relations, which was, to a large extent, expressed also by the Treaty of Sevres. For any retraction, for example of France from its obligations to the allies, Venizelos disposed the strategic counterbalance of Great Britain, where, in spite of the hesitation of part of the political and military leadership, the policy of Lloyd George had been imposed. This policy was fully interwoven with the Greek aspirations in Asia Minor and the British Prime Minister was not willing to commit a political “suicide” by leaving Venizelos on his own.
The position of the country was also powerful in the battle field. The operations of the Greek army, which were carried out in Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace, had convulsed Kemal˘s structure. The result was numerous desertions by Turkish soldiers, as well as massive movements of thousands of inhabitants, who were seeking refugee in areas occupied by Greeks. “We were beaten in the battle field once more from all sides” admitted later Kemal himself, regarding those operations.
The biographer of the Turkish Leader, Armstrong, wrote about the period from June to October 1920: “Kemal˘s forces could not present any resistance to the Greeks, who were in a good condition […] Defeated and repulsed in such a shameful way, the Turks were totally discouraged. The men started to desert the troops. The well-known, old and tired cry for peace was heard in the villages once again”.
The discouragement and the defeatism of the people had been transmitted to the leadership. Kemal himself, a little before the elections of November, asked Prodromos Bodosakis to intervene. The Turk leader was offering Thrace and was accepting the autonomy of Smyrna under Turkish domination or its exchange with Constantinople. After the electoral defeat of Venizelos, Kemal withdrew his proposals.
Referring to the same period Ismet Inonou said to Spiros Markezinis in 1972: “The Turks kept on fighting directly against the French in Cilicia, indirectly against the British that in their opinion were behind the Greeks […] there was no final agreement neither with the Bolsheviks. The authority of Kemal was internally weak and his leadership was strongly questioned”.
The defeat of Venizelos changed dramatically the international position of Greece. His opponents, disregarding the ultimata of the allies, reinstated Konstantinos, “Germany˘s agent in the throne of Athens”, as he was qualified by the London Times. After a war with millions of victims, the reinstatement of Konstantinos in Greece was, for the allies and the European public opinion, equal to the reinstatement of the allies of the defeated Germany.
Within a few days, Venizelos˘ successors had ruined in the most sensitive part of the planet the bridge of trust, which was built with the allies after a long and skilful effort by Venizelos. The war in Asia Minor turned from a war between the allies and the Turks into a war between the Greeks and the Turks, which Greece was obliged to fight alone without any military and financial support by the allies. According to Churchill: “There was only one way open for Konstantinos and his ministers: to achieve peace with Turkey with the best possible terms”.
The anti-venizelist governments, though, preferred to continue a war, in which they did not believe and which they underestimated, writes Markezinis. Ousted from the international scene, they constantly had to apologize for their German friendly past and to carry out a desperate fight in order to be recognized by the allied governments, while Kemal was gaining international recognition.
Although they had no international support, they did not even try to strengthen their position on a national level. On the contrary, they extended the gap that divided the Greeks and they fired new conflicts. Through purges they destroyed the coherence of the army and, instead of reconciliation, they dispersed the spirit of division and party retaliations. They rejected the services of Venizelos in the allied capitals, which would probably safeguard Eastern Thrace. They did not even adopt Venizelos˘ and Metaxas˘ proposals for the defence strengthening of the territorial zone of the Treaty of Sevres.
Churchill commented on the utopian choice for the continuation of the campaign: “The military and political circles of the royalty wanted that Venizelos had nothing to do with those successes […] The idea of abandoning whatever had been won was unbearable for their pride and harmful for their popularity”.
Conclusion: From 1912 until 1920 Venizelos had planned only one war: the allied one. His successors, after isolating Greece from the allied forces, started a hopeless war in Asia Minor. They ignored Bismarck˘s theory: in a combination of five players, it is wise to be on the side of the three. Unfortunately for Greece, in this war there were no play-mates. The catastrophe was inevitable.
*Nikolaos Emm. Papadakis is the CEO of the National Research Foundation “Eleftherios K. Venizelos”.