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On October 31, 1922, in the city of Athens, six statesmen and military leaders of Greece - Minister of Justice D. Gunaris, Minister of Foreign Affairs G. Baltadzis, Minister of Internal Affairs N. Stratos, Minister of the Military N. Theotokis, Prime Minister P. Protopapadakis and General G. Hadzianestis - appeared before the court. They were sentenced to death for leading the country to the defeat in the war against Turkey in 1922. In the course of this war, Greece lost most of its ancestral territories in Asia Minor, from where the indigenous Greek population was evacuated.

How did it all start?

The Megali Idea vs The Armenian Question

Having studied the history of Greece after the invasion of Asia Minor by the Seljuk Turks, many parallels can be drawn with the history of Armenia and the Armenian question, which is not at all surprising. Greeks and Armenians are two main nations that lost a large part of their historical homeland as a result of this intervention and the subsequent formation of the Ottoman Empire: Greeks - in the eastern part of the Empire, Armenians - in the western part.

Despite the similarities, the Greek question has its own characteristics. As the Greek politician Ioannis Kolletis said in 1844, “There are two great centers of Hellenism. Athens is the capital of the Kingdom. Constantinople is the great capital, the dream and hope of all Greeks." Thus, there is the concept of the “Great Idea” (Greek: Megali Idea) - the desire of the Greek nation to revive the former Byzantine Empire.

As you may have noticed, unlike the Armenian issue, the Great Idea of the Greeks exists in the form of a concept and has a clear territorial aspiration - the restoration of the empire within certain borders, while the Armenian Question mainly concerned only the rights of the civilian population under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, and now it refers the struggle for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide.

Hence, It is logical to assume that one fact played a significant role in the difference between the Greek and Armenian approaches. The fact that the Greeks had an independent state much earlier - in 1832, and the formation of state institutions, the rise of their political leaders inevitably led to the formation of a national ideology/goal/dream (call it what you want).

Indeed, if the Greek Great Idea is a constructive concept in which the leitmotif is the reconstruction, revival, expansion of the territory to the east - to the mainland, then the Armenian question exists only in the form of some vague demands to reserve the rights of a group of people on the territory of the Ottoman Empire (which is no longer so relevant) and to get compensation for the damage. Even the very wording of the issue with the presence of the word "question" already speaks of something unapproved and unstable.

How the Great Idea Turned into an Action or the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922)

From the very moment of its fall in 1453 until today, Constantinople continues to be in the hearts of the Greeks as the capital of the Greek Empire. About five centuries later, during the First World War, the Greeks had a real chance to return the capital of their hearts and the Asia Minor part of their homeland (Eastern or mainland Greece), thereby putting an end to the centuries-old Ottoman occupation.

Despite the fact that the war was the initiative by the Allies of World War I, who simply used the Greek factor to their advantage, E. Venizelos, Prime Minister of Greece in 1910-1915, believed that the First World War and the existing balance of power was a good opportunity to recreate Great Greece on the territories of two continents.

Map of Megali Hellas (Great Greece) by E. Venizelos, 1920, The National Historical Museum

This was not just a self-confident statement: Armistice of Mudros, concluded in 1918 (an armistice agreement, which aimed at the final resolution of the Eastern Question by actually destroying the Turkish statehood) confidently led to a better outcome for the Greeks.

It is noteworthy that the war was of a national-liberative nature both from the perspectives of the Greeks and the Turks. For the latter, this was part of the general War of Independence against foreign intervention, led by Mustafa Kemal, the founding father of the Republic of Turkey, who ultimately defended the country's integrity: the Greek troops, which advanced as far as to manage to take control of most part of western Asia Minor at first, nevertheless, were eventually defeated by the Kemalists. This led to the conclusion of the Armistice of Mudros and the Peace Treaty of Lausanne, according to which the Allies recognized Turkish sovereignty within its new, present-day borders.

Greek infantry attack near the Gediz River during the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922) 

Consequences of the war and the "Execution of the Six"

Let's go back to the aftermath of the war. After the defeat of Greece and the actual loss of Eastern Thrace and the Asia Minor part of the Greek lands, the military (commanders of the troops and soldiers) blamed the Greek government for the failure of the operation.

On August 28, 1922, the government headed by P. Protopapadikis was deposed, and King Constantine the First was forced to renounce the throne. The rebels demanded the formation of a new government and bodies of power that would take over the war and bring it to a victorious end.

The military elite, who organized the uprising and the military coup d'état (the removal of an existing government from power), formed an “extraordinary military tribunal”, during which five members of the government and one general were sentenced to death.

Members of the Greek government - Witnesses to the Asia Minor Military Catastrophe  

Of course, such a punishment may seem extremely harsh to many, but it is important to remember all the tragic consequences that Greece faced as a result of the policies pursued by its government.

The defeat in the war not only put an end to the active phase of the Great Idea, but also to the existence of the Greek-Christian element of population in their ancient settlements, which meant the end of the 3,000-year-old Greek history of Asia Minor. The events that led to this outcome were rightly designated in historiography by the term "Catastrophe".

The French historian É. Driault wrote that "The Asia Minor catastrophe was larger and more terrible than the fall of Constantinople." The French Hellenist O. Merlier wrote that “The loss of Asia Minor meant the end of the history of twenty centuries. 1453 marked the end of Byzantium. 1922 was more tragic as it marked the end of Asia Minor Hellenism.”

The Greek Catastrophe, which in all respects corresponds to the name "genocide", had a huge impact on the collective consciousness of the nation and became part of the self-identification of the Greeks.

Author: Eleonora Sargsyan

Translated by Margo Sargsyan


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