Theocharis Anagnostopoulos considers the competing visions of Smyrna’s future that divided the Greek community, in both triumph and catastrophe.
Theocharis is based at the School of Social Theology and Christian Culture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Οn May 1st, 1919, Admiral Ilias Mavroudis announced in the palace of Smyrna’s metropolitan that the Greek army would land in the city the next day. The Metropolitan of Smyrna, Chrysostomos Kalafatis, delivered a very enthusiastic speech with ethnocentric references, suggesting (incorrectly) that the arrival of the Greek army meant the de facto union of Smyrna and its hinterland with Greece. The Triple Entente (mainly Britain) had in fact granted Greece a mandate to land its army at Smyrna, but both the Metropolitan and the prominent local Greeks had not realized how fragile this allied mandate was.
The next day, on May 2nd, units of the Greek army landed in the port of Smyrna. However, the disembarkation was followed by clashes between the Greek army and the Greek population with armed Turks, resulting in casualties that included Muslim residents of the town. These incidents put Greece in a difficult position, with the Allies already questioning whether the Greek authorities were able to keep order in the region. Greece’s Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, appointed Aristides Stergiadis as High Commissioner of Smyrna, a Cretan lawyer who had previously served as General Commissioner of Epirus.
From the moment he arrived Stergiadis sought to keep the Greek population under strict control, and soon came into conflict with the Metropolitan, Chrysostomos. Venizelos had granted the Commissioner full administrative authority. Stergiadis brought with him a small group of experienced collaborators, none of whom hailed from Smyrna or Asia Minor. Stergiadis’ reluctance to solicit assistance or even advice from Chrysostomos in carrying out his administrative work made the Metropolitan feel marginalized in this new era.
Stergiadis’ attitude towards the Muslim population caused additional dissatisfaction. The Commissioner wanted to prove the impartiality of the Greek administration to the Great Powers. The leniency shown to Muslims, the release of Turkish officers and the punishments meted out to Greek Orthodox for offending the religious or national feelings of the Muslims and Turks did not go unnoticed by Chrysostomos. Stergiadis did not give the Greek Orthodox population any special treatment. In contrast to the dissatisfaction of the Metropolitan of Smyrna, Stergiadis’ policy was never challenged by Venizelos.
Stergiadis did not hesitate to interrupt the preaching of Chrysostomos when he thought the latter to be speaking out of turn, adopting overly ethnocentric rhetoric. Naturally Chrysostomos considered this a direct insult to his institutional authority. Tensions between Stergiadis and Chrysostomos were exacerbated by the Commissioner’s intervention in the local Greeks’ education system, something hitherto tightly controlled by Smyrna’s Greek Orthodox Community. The High Commission thus took financial control of all educational institutions catering to the local Greek-Orthodox population.
Then we have the events of 1921, when Stergiadis intervened in the election of the new Patriarch of Constantinople. On May 19th, 1921 the pro-royalist Greek government convened an archpriest assembly in Adrianople. Two days before Stergiadis telegraphed Chrysostomos, announcing that Asia Minor’s archpriests would depart for Adrianople the following day. That evening evening the Commissioner threatened to adopt violent means in the event the archpriests refused to depart for Adrianople. The Metropolitan did set out for Adrianople and attended the assembly, which decided to postpone the patriarchal election until the termination of hostilities between the Greek army and Mustafa Kemal’s military forces in Asia Minor.
In defiance of this assembly’s resolution the pro-Venizelos Meletios Metaxakis was elected Patriarch on November 25th, 1921. Although Chrysostomos objected to both Meletius and the manner in which he had been elected, he refused to participate in the efforts of the Greek Government to annul the election, despite pressure from Stergiadis.
Chrysostomos thus proposed a state centred around Asia Minor’s Greek element, which would have absolute control in the region. Stergiadis by contrast drew up a more technocratic plan, envisioning a state in whose administration all the ethnic and religious groups of Asia Minor would have a part. Both plans were equally impracticable due to Greece’s weakness to support such a state militarily or financially.
Chrysostomos and Stergiadis not only differed in their philosophy of public administration, they essentially represented two different eras. The clash between the two men was another consequence of the complex transition from the age of empires to that of nation states. Chrysostomos represented generations of the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s archpriests, who played a significant role within their provinces during the Ottoman era. The Metropolitan of Smyrna was not eager to adapt to a more limited role within the confines usually set by the nation-state. On the other hand Aristides Stergiadis was a senior civil officer who held that the Church should submit to the dictates of secular administration. The High Commissioner was not, admittedly, conspicuous for his diplomacy. At the end of the day Stergiadis seemed no less foreign to the Greek-Orthodox Community of Smyrna than an authoritarian Ottoman governor.
Theocharis’ forthcoming book, Από την αυτοκρατορία στο έθνος – κράτος: Ηελληνόφωνη ορθόδοξη Κοινότητα Σμύρνης στην ύστερη Οθωμανική Αυτοκρατορία (1908-1922) [From Empire to Nation-State: The Greek-Speaking Orthodox Community of Smyrna in the Late Ottoman Empire (1908-1922)] examines the challenges confronting the Greek Orthodox Community of Smyrna between the Young Turk Revolution (1908) and the Asia Minor Catastrophe (1922).
MAIN IMAGE: GREEK POSTAGE STAMP OVERSTRUCK FOR USE IN SMYRNA, 1919.