Who burned down Izmir?
May 19 2010
I believe that facing the truth is an extremely therapeutic exercise.
It is this way for both individuals and for nations. But, of course,
there is a price to pay for facing the "truth."
You have to be ready to feel some anguish, at least, but most of
the time, you have to be ready to feel pain. There are two reasons
for this: When you face a truth that you’ve covered up, it rattles
your sense of self. Facing any kind of truth that has been hidden or
concealed will make you have to redefine yourself. Of course, there
are also a series of "illusions" predicated on these concealed truths.
As a result, accessing a concealed fact about the past leads to the
devastation of many other things that are based on the lie you told
yourself. It is for this reason that coming to terms with the past
is not easy.
Since nationalism is a state of constantly serving one’s own interests,
all "establishment" stories of nationalism contain many fictitious
elements. From a nationalist perspective, "others" are almost always
flawed, wrong and unfair. It is for this reason that "nationalism"
is actually a collective form of "egocentrism." The inevitable outcome
of egocentrism is the inability to grow or mature.
For this reason, nationalism prevents society from facing its past.
Confronting the past dismantles egocentrism and inevitably leads
to the development of the ability to have "empathy" for others. You
can’t be very nationalist when you empathize with others.
The meeting between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime
Minister George Papandreou showed how much the two nations actually
need to have "empathy" for each other. If this empathy continues to
develop, the "Aegean" could turn into a sea of peace.
Turks and Greeks are brothers. If we could put the "dogfight"
in the Aegean aside and sit down and talk, we would be able to
see that we have many things in common. Turks and Greeks have made
many contributions to each other. If a long-term friendship can be
established, they will have a lot to offer each other and the world.
A nationalist Greek regards Turkey as a power that occupied his land
for 500 years. He forgets that the Ottoman Empire was a continuation
of the Byzantine Empire. A nationalist Turk forgets the fact that the
Ottoman Empire dominated Greek lands for 500 years and only recalls
how Greek forces invaded Anatolia. This kind of selective memory is
necessary in order to sustain nationalism.
I want the steps of friendship taken between Greece and Turkey to be
long term and to improve much further. To achieve this, I think the
common history of the two nations needs to be rewritten. I would like
to make a call to everyone at this point. Come, let us rewrite the
common history of Turkey and Greece by liberating it from the effects
of nationalist nonsense. As a small supplement to this, I would like
to point out an article written by Emre AkÃ¶z, a valuable writer in
the Turkish press, in the Sabah daily’s April 8, 2010, edition. In
the article below, AkÃ¶z tracks the real story behind the "Great fire
of Ä°zmir." I am hopeful that these efforts will go beyond the limits
of newspaper columns and evolve into writing an honest common history:
"Confessions of a Kemalist: Why were we burning down Ä°zmir?
One of the books that best explains Ataturk is without a doubt
‘Cankaya’ by Falih RÄ±fkÄ± Atay, who is a trueborn Kemalist.
Occasionally RÄ±fkÄ± would have dinner at the palace. He observed
Ataturk close-up. He wrote several books and articles that explained
him to the younger generations.
About five years ago, I read a striking passage from the book
‘Cankaya.’ I was shocked.
I looked and looked again at the copy I had but I could not find the
Apparently, I had a censored version of the book.
I bought an old edition from a second-hand bookseller. It was two
volumes. This time I found the part that had been censored.
Towards the end of the first volume, RÄ±fkÄ± explains the fire that
took place in Ä°zmir in September 1922 in these words…
(I have provided the exact wording below. I would like to draw your
attention to the sentence in which he refers to the forced migration
"’Why were we burning down Ä°zmir? Were we afraid that if waterfront
konaks, hotels and taverns stayed in place, we would never be able to
get rid of the minorities? When the Armenians were being deported in
the First World War, we had burned down all the habitable districts
and neighborhoods in Anatolian towns and cities with this very same
fear. This does not solely derive from an urge for destruction. There
is also some feeling of inferiority in it. It was as if anywhere that
resembled Europe was destined to remain Christian and foreign and to
be denied to us.
‘If there were another war and we were defeated, would it be a
sufficient guarantee of preserving the Turkishness of the city if we
had left Ä°zmir as a devastated expanse of vacant lots? Were it not
for Nureddin Pasha, whom I know to be a dyed-in-the-wool fanatic and
rabble-rouser, I do not think this tragedy would have gone to the
bitter end. He has doubtless been gaining added strength from the
unforgiving vengeful feelings of the soldiers and officers who have
seen the debris and the weeping and agonized population of the Turkish
towns which the Greeks have burned to ashes all the way from Afyon.’"
(Cankaya, 1958, Dunya YayÄ±nlarÄ± p. 212-213)
[The translation of the above passage is from
"RÄ±fkÄ± wrote the part above while Ä°zmir was being burned down. He
later used it in his book ‘Cankaya.’
The main points that stand out in RÄ±fkÄ±’s narration are these:
– Ä°zmir was burned down by Nureddin Pasha dubbed ‘Bearded,’ the
commander of the first troops that entered the city.
– Aside from various social complexes, the concern about minorities
claiming rights in the future was involved in this choice.
– A similar fire was started to burn down Armenian assets during the
forced migration in 1915.
(Note: I don’t know if it was genocide but I am sure it was ‘ethnic
"This is my look at the incident:
We know that Nureddin Pasha’s men rushed from one place to the next
with gas cans in their hands but… Let us assume that Greeks (or
Armenians) started the fire in Ä°zmir.
That doesn’t change the fact that we did not stop the fire in Ä°zmir.
We let the city be devastated.
At that time, in 1922, Ä°zmir was one of our most advanced, most
modern and most Westernized cities. In fact, perhaps it was our only
city like that.
But no one stopped the fire from burning it down.
So who started the fire?
Let me put it this way. We’re 90 percent sure but since we’re not 100
percent sure, we’re left dealing with censors who act on the small
10 percent gap.
But we know for sure who didn’t stop the Ä°zmir fire.
There another question: Where was the ‘Great Savior’ when all this
That’s a question that needs to be answered not by me but by those
who veered from liberalism to nationalism."