15 Mar A critical assessment by Evanthis Hatzivasiliou on the book of K. Svolopoulos, Η απόφαση για την επέκταση της ελληνικής κυριαρχίας στη Μικρά Ασία: Κριτική επαναψηλάφηση (The decision of Greek expansion in Asia Minor: Critical Review).
THE ESTIMATED DANGER
Was the campaign in Asia Minor the only way for the survival of the Greeks, who would otherwise be condemned to persecution or gradual decline?: A new study re-examines the decision of Venizelos to contest the coast of Asia Minor.
By Evanthis Hatzivasiliou.
The decision of Eleftherios Venizelos to contest the West part of the coast of Asia Minor in 1919-20 was the result of a carefully pondered methodology, similar to the one that lead the Cretan politician to his impressive achievements during the Balkan Wars. It was politics of “estimated danger”, relying on Greece’s potential to establish a wide network of international support, based not only on political realities, but also on the dominant ideological currents of the time, mainly on the principle of national self-determination. The book emphasises the significance of the ideological element: between Venizelos and the leaders of Britain, France and the USA, there were common orientations pointing towards the creation of a new world after the terrifying experience of the Great War, a world founded on freedom and on a rational organisation of the international society. Apart from this, the expansion of the Greek domination, as the author remarks, was also result of the cruel realisation that this was the only possible way for the Greek population of Ionia to survive: the orientation of the neo-Turkish movement towards nationalism and the ensuing persecution of the non-Muslim populations of the Ottoman Empire (Greek and Armenian) proved that there was no other realistic solution to the problem.
This last element is the key to the study in question. The World of “Near East” (this was the name used for the wider area at the time) was reaching a major turning point during the two first decades of the 20th century. It was the end of an era during which, the government model of the multi-national empire had been present for thousands of years. According to the new world order -already obvious since 1919- the model of the nation-state would be generalised there as well; the inertia was enormous; within this context, the Greek expansion in Asia Minor was the only way for the survival of the Greeks, who would otherwise be condemned to violent persecution or gradual decline – as it was the case for East Romilia and elsewhere, e.g. in Egypt after the war. A multicultural solution would be possible only within a democratically organised nation-state. Under these circumstances, any criticism on Venizelos’ decision is safely permissible provided that it is accompanied by the specific assumption that the Greek population of Asia Minor would be condemned and that its persecution was “inevitable”.
K. Svolopoulos points out that Venizelos himself did not believe in a similar unfavorable and inevitable outcome. On the contrary, the study confirms one of the basic presumptions that have been expressed in relation with the matter: the author emphasises that the government change (which was actually a change of regime), after the elections of November 1920, resulted in major realignments that played a decisive role in the developments that followed. Firstly, it provoked the disintegration of the international alliance on which Venizelos based the accomplishment of his plan; the book stresses on this alliance that had not been weakened until the elections’ day (moreover, the Treaty of Sevres was too recent), but it started disintegrating shortly afterwards. Secondly, the change of the international scenery was a factor that may not have provoked but certainly reinforced the expansion of the Kemalist movement; the movement (in more favorable conditions) achieved the political unification of the Muslim populations of Asia Minor that were not -or at least were not considered to be- ethnologically homogeneous in 1919-20, it consolidated the international support and prevailed in the military struggle.
K. Svolopoulos is determined to adhere to the strictest rules of the scientific historical method, and does not express any presumptions: the book does not claim that the campaign in Asia Minor would have “definitely” been successful if Venizelos had remained in office; neither does it attempt to put forward (which would be precarious) assumptions on how the leader of the Liberals would have handled a potential unfavorable development. This kind of assumptions would be pure speculations that the author refuses to make. This methodological approach is probably one of the most important proofs of the book’s scientific consistency.
*Evanthis Hatzivasiliou is an assistant professor at the University of Athens.
(Sunday, May 24th, 2009