Down The Asian Coast
( Originally Published 1936 )
We left Constantinople amidst the lamentations of the three porters who carried our bags to the shore boat. Our courier had declined to pay them until he came back from the ship, and they cried in chorus:
"We have had no breakfast. We want to drink milk." To return to the Abassieh and her friendly company was like a home-coming. The Dardanelles, by moonlight, was more beautiful than by day, and in the early morning we anchored in the harbor of Mytilene. This was the Lesbos of old, the birthplace of Sappho and Alcaeus.
The hills looked soft and green and the peaceful cottages gave no suggestion of the stirring scenes that have taken place on these shores. It is the largest of the lEgean islands, and in these days one of the most prosperous.
In the early afternoon we were before the long quay that marks the waterfront of murdered Smyrna.
Long walls of ashlar form an inner harbor and from its gate a swarm of boats came out to meet us. The weather was fine and clear, but the lighters were hardly tied alongside when it "changed for the worse and a terrifying squall broke over the bay. The sky was black, rain fell in torrents and the wind blew a hurricane.
The scene changed from peace and beauty to con-fusion and alarm. At the first sign of the tempest the boatmen had started for the harbor, and many of them were caught outside. They fought for their very lives and some were forced to come back and find such refuge as they might in the lea of the ship.
The longshoremen wrapped themselves in tarpaulins and clung to the lighters, but the sailboat that had brought them out was soon in difficulties. It lay alongside, tied to the barges, and its mast began to thresh against the side of the ship, threatening to foul the rails. The solitary boatman threw himself upon the bottom and quickly stripped off his coat and shoes. In the brief lulls he made every-thing fast, and with each recurring gust he cast himself froglike on the tiny deck. For more than an hour he continued his battle, encouraged by the cheers of the passengers above. In the end he saved himself and his boat.
During the height of the storm two Turkish freighters alongside began to drag anchor and come down on top of us. Instantly Captain Finlay gave orders for full speed ahead and in the teeth of the gale we fought our way a mile into the bay. When we were clear and the wind began to subside the Captain came down from the bridge and said to me:
"Let's go down and play a game of chess. We are rid of those Turks now. I thought for a minute that one of them was going to stick her nose right into the middle of our dining room. But we are all right now."
We played and it was the only game I ever won from the cool-headed old seaman.
The Bay of Smyrna deserves a wider reputation for beauty than it enjoys. From the moment we passed the " Brothers " the panorama was as lovely as that of Naples. The broad Quay Street, once the scene of teeming life, was deserted, save for a solitary horsecar, and behind it for a space of two miles rose the stark ruins of the great fire. Gone were the hotels, cafes, theaters and shops that made it one of the great thoroughfares of Asia.
The bay sweeps around a great semicircle with a background of green hills and distant mountains. To the north lay the garden suburb of Kordelio, with its bathing beach and tram and ferry to the city. Directly behind the ruins towered the Hill of Pagus, its summit crowned by a Genoese castle whose foundations date back to the times of Lysimachus. To-ward the south, nestling among the hills, is all that remains of Smyrna.
It was a melancholy spectacle—this wreck of a city that was great more than a thousand years before the birth of Christ and proudly proclaims itself the birthplace of Homer. Its half million people have dwindled to one hundred and fifty thousand and her commerce is but the shadow of a once enormous trade.
I do not think that most Americans ever realized the horror of the events that took place here on the night of the 13th November, 1922, and the days that immediately followed. It was a tragedy that has few parallels in history, ancient or modern.
The long chain of events that led up to the catastrophe is a little obscure and the accounts that I have heard and read have always been tinctured with anti-Turkish feeling. Yet in the main I suppose they are truthful.
The Greeks and all who sympathize with them contend that the burning of Smyrna and the massacre of many thousands of her people was but the final act of the extermination of the Christian population of Turkey, which had been going on ever since the Young Turks proclaimed the doctrine of "Turkey for the Turks."
The principal bodies of Christians were always the Armenians and the Asiatic Greeks, who may have lived on these shores from the days of the Ionian Federation. Unlike the Turks, who have been soldiers ever since the armies of Mohammed the Conqueror thundered at the gates of Constantinople, the Greeks were a mercantile people. In the competition of trade the Turks could not hold their own and the wealth of the country fell largely into the hands of the Christian population. Thus economic jealousy reinforced the hatreds of religious fanaticism.
The seed of misfortune for Greece was sown in the year igig when her Government was induced by Great Britain and France to accept a mandate
over the Turkish territories in northern Asia Minor . and to occupy them with armed forces. It was said that this expansion of territory was arranged to compensate Greece for the sacrifices she had made on behalf of the Allied cause. The full support of Lon-don and Paris was promised and the Greek armies landed in Smyrna on the 15th May, 1911.
Immediately there were untoward events. A fleet of allied warships accompanied the expedition, but international jealousies were already awakened and because of mutual distrust no bluejackets were sent ashore to police the city during the occupation.
Snipers fired upon the first Greek contingents, with the result that some of the troops got out of hand and in their rage bayoneted a few prisoners within view of the Allied fleet. Serious rioting followed, during which about seventy-five Turks and at least one hundred of other nationalities, lost their lives. !
Mr. Sterghiades, the Greek High Commissioner, took resolute steps to punish the murderers within his own army and three ring-leaders were executed and buried in a public square by way of warning. To what extent this first mistake was responsible for the final Turkish revenge may never be known, but it at least furnished a pretext for reprisals.
The military leadership of the Greeks in the campaign that followed was very unwise, although it is now to some extent condoned on evidence that the army was betrayed by the Allies. The advance continued as far as the railway That connects Constantinople with Syria, and the lines held were greatly extended. Meantime the Treaty of Sevres had been signed in 1920, and under its terms Greece was to have Thrace, almost to the doors of Constantinople, as well as the entire hinterland of Smyrna.
It was at this juncture that Mustapha Kemal emerged as the leader of Turkey, and set up his Nationalist Government at Angora. His first step was the organization of an army to resist the Greek advance. While he was so engaged affairs went badly in Greece. Venezilos fell and Constantine was brought back as King. This turn of events alienated Great Britain and France, and Italy was already antagonistic because she contended the other Allies had promised her control of Smyrna. The direct result was the withdrawal of Allied support and the sale of surplus war material to the Turks by both France and Italy.
The situation of the Greek armies in the interior soon became hopeless. The morale of the soldiers, already weakened by two years of exhausting toil, was now shattered by reports that they had been deserted and betrayed by their allies. Political agents completed the work of Bolshevization by telling the men that they were fighting for no purpose except to keep Constantine on the throne.
Then came the final blunder. General Hadjianesti detached about one-third of his army and sent it into Thrace, hoping thus to force the Allied nations to surrender Constantinople to Greece.
The army, unable longer to maintain its position, began to retire on Smyrna. The retreat degenerated into a rout in which both the discouraged troops and the Christian civilians who followed their retreat, were harassed by a hostile population.
An American living in Smyrna at the time told me of the arrival of the defeated armies and the refugees. The soldiers, clad in rags and covered with dirt, had cast away their arms and walked as men in trance. They looked neither to right nor left and were oblivious to all around them. Many fell exhausted in the streets. The appearance and plight of the civilians challenge the imagination. No longer able to transport their few belongings, they were without food, clothing or any necessity of life. Yet some of the stronger spirits still strove to help the children and the sick. The extremity of their misfortune had driven from their minds every thought save that of escape from their pursuers.
Turkish cavalry entered the panic-stricken city on the morning of the 9th September. In the center of the town a zealot threw a grenade. The Turkish leader was slightly cut, but he kept his head and did not retaliate. By night large bodies of Turkish troops had arrived and their leader, Nureddin Pasha, issued a proclamation stating that order would be preserved if the population would continue peace-fully about its business. The last Greek soldier had taken to the ships the night before.
How the looting started is not entirely clear. The Greek version has it that it began with attacks on the Armenian quarter by the Turkish civil population. The rioters were soon joined in their orgy of robbery, rape and murder by certain of the Turkish soldiers. The Turkish Government has steadfastly maintained that these troops got entirely out of control, but there is some evidence that they were encouraged by their officers.
On the fourth day of the occupation fires broke out in the Armenian section and the survivors, thus driven out, were put to the sword in circumstances of the utmost savagery. Archbishop Chrysotom was dragged by his beard from the cathedral and clubbed to death in the streets. Men were butchered and women outraged and carried away to distant harems.
Smyrna became a shambles and it is useless to describe the atrocities which now took place on every hand. The flames ate through the business district, driving those who remained alive to the crowded quay. Even here, within sight of American and Allied warships, they were followed by their relent-less enemies and many put to death. Hundreds plunged into the sea and perished in trying to swim to the warships. In such an inferno the greatness of Smyrna ended.
There was a grim sequel in Athens a few months later. Greece was desperate from her misfortunes. The Treaty of Lausanne deprived her of all the fruits of her toil and sacrifice. Driven from Asia she now lost the shores of the Dardanelles and eastern Thrace. Her fugitive army had taken refuge in Mytilene and Chios, and two Majors, Gonatas and Plastiras, had usurped the supreme command. To King Constantine they sent an ultimatum demanding his immediate abdication, and though he was still supported by the garrison of Athens he deemed it wise to accede and retired to Palermo, where he has since died. George the Second was placed on the throne, but within a year the Republic was established by plebiscite, more than sixty per cent. of the voters supporting the change.
The first act of the returned army was to prefer charges against General Hadjianesti, Prime Minis-ter Gounaris, Minister for Foreign Affairs Baltadjes, Minister of War Theotokis, Minister of the Interior Stratos and Minister of Finance Protopapadakis, who was the author of the forced loan resulting in the cut money.
The general charge was treason. More specifically Hadjianesti was accused of dividing his army for political reasons and the Cabinet members were charged with plain treachery. It was alleged that they had been fully warned that the restoration of Constantine would result in the withdrawal of Allied support and that they concealed the truth and re-established the monarchy for no other purpose than to further their personal ambitions.
The court martial was conducted by General Othcenus, backed by Gonatas and Plastiras. All the accused were convicted, and in the face of frantic protests by Great Britain, the unfortunate general and politicians were taken to Goudi, a suburb out Kephissia way, and summarily shot.
A British warship reached the Piraeus in the late afternoon, under instructions to exert every possible pressure to save the condemned men; but the execution was carried out at eleven o'clock at night so that the British commander could not intervene. The British Minister left Athens next day, and two years elapsed and several changes of government took place before the outraged feelings of Britain would again permit her to make recognition of Greece.
"It was the first time in many years that European politicians have been executed," Mr. Kalopothakes remarked to me. " Terrible as it was it was not without effect. In this instance it could scarcely have happened except for the utter desperation of the people."
We picked up a good many passengers at Smyrna, but even with these additions we were still a small company. This time we sat at the Captain's table, where we were joined by a quiet American who had gone up to Constantinople on the same boat. With him were his wife, a small son and a nurse, and in the intimacy of our party he told us that he was a minister of a German Reformed denomination, now returning from a journey that had extended around the world.
His errand was the inspection of the missions of his sect, and it was a revelation to. me to see how pleasant and expensive a task was this supervision of the proselyting of the heathen. This particular journey had consumed a year and could scarcely have cost the folks back home less than $20,000. The clergyman was not stinting himself. He occupied three good rooms and was living at the best hotels. His trip to Constantinople was taken purely for pleasure, as he had no missions there, and in any case the teaching of the Christian religion is not permitted.
There was at our table another American, Peterson by name, a college man who had lived ten years in Japan and was now on the first lap of a 54,000 miles journey to include every country of the world where by any possibility there might be a market for chains. He objected greatly to the clergyman's expensive habits, and during his long service abroad had acquired some opinions on missionaries in general.
"I remained in Tokyo the year around and worked all summer," he said. " It was never as hot as in Chicago. But practically every missionary found the climate trying and must go to the mountains for three months in the summer. If the people at home realized how much better many missionaries live abroad than they ever did at home, and if they knew what staffs of servants they maintain, I doubt if they would be quite so liberal when the hat is passed.
"In the case of our friend here, I really wonder just how necessary it was for him to carry his wife and child and nurse along. I have a wife and son and if I asked my house to pay their expenses around the world I would lose my job. I saw these people at the Tokatlian Hotel every day, and sight-seeing was their sole business in Constantinople."
I have no personal knowledge of the work of missionaries, and I suppose that it is no safer to generalize about them than about any other class of people. I was presented with a book in Constantinople, written by a man who had spent more than thirty years in the Consular service of the United States in the Near East, and who was himself an active churchman. He related that in all the years he had spent in Turkey he had seen but one Moslem converted to Christianity. This was the net result of the expenditure of $45,000,000 on Turkish missions, and it did not prove fruitful, for indignant acquaintances murdered him within ten days after the announcement of his change of faith. The Turkish law now requires that missionary effort be confined to social, educational and medical work, and the workers are put under obligation to refrain from religious teaching.
The Smyrna traders were of various nationalities, but they had in common a sporting instinct. That night they had a poker game in the dining room to the accompaniment of a running comment in five languages. No American took part, though it is reputed to be our national game.
A stocky Italian left the table, and returning a few minutes later, accosted us:
"Who is that tall fellow with the red-headed woman? Is he an American? "
We happened to know that he was a Swede, who had recently been living in Buenos Aires.
"I have a notion to go out and throw the damned swine over the side. He insulted me. Why, I only went out to relieve myself and the dog threatened me, because his woman was on deck. He ought to put her in a glass case."
Still grumbling that nobody but a fool would take offense at an act of nature he resumed his seat. "Yes, yes," said the merry old German who was dealing. "Nature will offend only fools and only fools will offend nature. How many cards? Bring on the sheep. I am ready for the shearing."
We carried as deck passengers eighty pilgrims bound for Mecca. They were mainly old men, some with Mongol features; and this pilgrimage was probably the sole fruit of a life of sacrifice and self-denial. They carried their possessions in duffel-bags, or wrapped in dirty quilts. A few long loaves of bread and a little coffee were the only food supplies. Eight women accompanied their husbands, and they were immediately shut into little canvas pens built on the deck. Here they remained in total seclusion throughout the journey.
Deck passage is not luxurious under any conditions. The ship provides nothing but water. The men spent their days smoking the nargileh, drinking coffee and listening to readers droning over the Koran; but the unfortunate wives sat immured in tarpaulins, seeing nothing, doing nothing and perhaps thinking nothing. They made no complaint, for the world of Islam is not feminized.
At sunrise and sunset the pilgrims formed in two long rows on deck and repeated their prayers, while the unbelievers stood above and watched the show. We were duly cautioned to preserve silence during the long series of prostrations.
That night at 9 o'clock the ship was disturbed by an uncanny wailing on the first class deck. A pilgrim had broken away from his companions and posted himself under the Captain's window. His endless threnody continued until midnight, when the Captain could endure it no longer and had the Egyptian syce take the man away.
When the officer returned the Captain inquired: " What was the fellow saying? "
"But one thing, Master, and he said it many times: 'Our Captain is a good man and he will bring us safe to Jiddah.' "
The pilgrimage to Mecca is an ordeal that would tax the faith of anyone not convinced that to die upon it is to enter Paradise. The party we carried was assembled all over western Asia. After five days on deck they would reach Alexandria, whence they would be sent by rail to Port Said and on another ship down the hot Red Sea to Jiddah. The final stage is a two-day journey across the desert, by camel or afoot.
This pilgrimage is made each year by approximately 200,000 of the faithful and many thousands die on the journey. There are no accommodations in Mecca and the acts of devotion performed there are accomplished under conditions of starvation, misery and filth such as no American can comprehend. Then comes the long, exhausting homeward trail, and many have already spent their all both of money and of strength.
Most of the veterans of the Ahassieh had seen a great deal of the pilgrim traffic, as this ship had made several special sailings to Jiddah. There is no more profitable cargo. " If we carry cattle we have to feed, water and care for them," said Mr. Cavaghan. "But to these people we give nothing but water. If the cattle die we have a loss. If the pilgrims die they are glad. In case of sickness they will accept no aid, for to die on pilgrimage is their hope. As they pay us about ten pounds each and take little space they make a profitable business. The Egyptian Government requires that each pilgrim be allowed deck space of at least six feet by three feet. I remember once to have been on a ship that carried six hundred to AIexandria. Down the African coast we picked up a thousand more. We filled the hold with them. As the temperature was 120 degrees on deck, you can fancy what it was in the hold. A good many died, but we had a profitable trip.
"We have taken many aboard at Port Soudan who have spent two years reaching the coast from their homes in Central Africa. Jiddah is full of slave children, who were sold by their mothers to get money to return to the Soudan. Mohammed was a hard and fast old blighter. He laid down the rules and they have to live up to them; but in the end they get a fine time in Paradise, with plenty of women."
Mr. MacDonald told me of one voyage he madc from Jiddah to Bombay, with a shipload of returning pilgrims.
"The weather was terrible, and the poor people were half dead of heat and starvation when they came aboard. We dropped fifty-three over the side in one week and I ran out of grate bars from using them to weight down the corpses. Every good Mohammedan is supposed to make the pilgrimage once, but I have carried a woman who has made the trip sixteen times. She has made a life job of running back and forth to kiss the black stone in the Kaaba and to make her stand on the Hill of Mercy. But some day she will have a quick trip to Paradise and no stops on the way."
On the second morning we passed Cape Sounion, the white columns of the Temple of Poseidon glistening in the sun. In the outskirts of the Piraeus the - householders were assembled with buckets and oil tins to get their daily supply of water from a tank wagon. On the docks there was excitement, for on the Italian liner Dalmatia Mr. Venezilos was a passenger, en route from his refuge on the Riviera to his old home in Crete. I think it was the first time he had come so close to Greece since his defeat. The Government sent down officers to inquire as to his intentions. He explained that he was through with politics forever and merely wished to visit his birth-place. It was his purpose to go back to France and close his affairs there, and a little later to return to Crete and spend his remaining days in retirement. The authorities accepted his word and permitted him to land in Crete next day. Little did we then think that the kaleidoscope of Greek politics would so soon show him again as Prime Minister and the darling alike of people and politicians.