“Confessions of a Kemalist: Why were we burning down İzmir?
One of the books that best explains Atatürk is without a doubt ‘Çankaya’ by Falih Rıfkı Atay, who is a trueborn Kemalist.
Occasionally Rıfkı would have dinner at the palace. He observed Atatürk 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 ‘Çankaya.’ I was shocked.
I looked and looked again at the copy I had but I could not find the same part.
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, Rıfkı explains the fire that took place in İzmir 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 of Armenians)”
“‘Why were we burning down İzmir? 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 İzmir 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.’”
(Çankaya, 1958, Dünya Yayınları p. 212-213)
“Rıfkı wrote the part above while İzmir was being burned down. He later used it in his book ‘Çankaya.’
The main points that stand out in Rıfkı’s narration are these:
– İzmir 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 cleansing.’)”
“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 İzmir.
That doesn’t change the fact that we did not stop the fire in İzmir.
We let the city be devastated.
At that time, in 1922, İzmir 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 İzmir fire.
There another question: Where was the ‘Great Savior’ when all this was happening?
That’s a question that needs to be answered not by me but by those who veered from liberalism to nationalism….”
….It was shortly before lunch on September 13th, 1922. Miss Minnie Mills, dean of the American Collegiate Institute for Girls in Smyrna, glanced out of her office window and was shocked by the sight that greeted her.“I saw with my own eyes a Turkish officer enter a house with small tins of petroleum,” she later wrote. Seconds later, the building was in flames.Miss Mills was even more alarmed when the neighboring houses also caught fire. As the conflagration spread from building to building, it began inching its way toward the American Collegiate Institute.
Miss Mills looked out of her study windows and saw scenes of violence. The irregular Turkish forces were sacking the Armenian quarter and murdering its inhabitants.“We saw many killed likewise in front of our windows and in front of the door of the school. The dead bodies were left on the streets for one or two days and were very often mutilated.” …….At every corner she saw “mutilated corpses-and ……(σελίδα 27)
………..the streets were full of savage tsetes [irregulars] loaded with booty…She also noticed small fires breaking out in nearby homes. Fearing for the college’s safety, she requested the Turkish firemen to protect the buildings. “But they refused to act.”On September 13, the fires took a more sinister turn. “I saw a Turk officer in uniform coming out of a house, taking with him tin containers full of petrol which were situated on the exterior staircase of another house.” In rapid succession, house after house burst into flames.Miss Mills’ first duty was to protect the college. She instructed refugees to spray the roofs and walls with water. But they were forced to stop when the Turkish soldiers in the streets threatened to shoot them if they continued. “We realized,” said Miss Mills, “that the burning down of the school had been pre-decided.”(σελίδα 28)
“The brutal massacre by regular Turkish soldiers and officers of the regular army …was one of the most degrading situations of modern history,” wrote Miss Mills.(σελίδα 29)