HomeGreeceArticle by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias in the special feature...

Article by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias in the special feature of the newspaper “Dimokratia” on the anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe (31.08.2022)

At the same time, however, the same traumatic event became the starting point for the enrichment of Greek society by the rich and unique cultural elements that the survivors of the Asia Minor Catastrophe brought with them from the other side of the Aegean. Elements that they passed on to the following generations and which today constitute elements of modern Greek culture. Smyrna, Ephesus, Philadelphia, Anchialos, Nikaia, Adana, Vourla, Phocaea and so many other place names are more than just recollections or names of today’s regions and streets. They are the geographical context of experiences, which link the past with the present.
But on this occasion, I would like to emphasize that the Asia Minor Catastrophe remains the most visible proof that whenever Hellenism was divided over a foreign policy issue, the results were disastrous.
But, as it, unfortunately, turns out, present-day Turkey has learned nothing from the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, which it completely irrationally yearns for. And it is using it as an excuse to revive a nationalist spirit, which is both a clear challenge and proof that it has its eyes fixed on the Ottoman past rather than a European future, which, thankfully, is still envisioned by a significant part of its society.
The refugee populations that have settled in many parts of the country have, in many cases, contributed to a genuine regeneration of these areas. It is true that their integration into the society of metropolitan Greece was fraught with difficulties, but it was ultimately a triumph for a country struggling to recover from years of war. Their dynamism and ingenuity empowered them to distinguish themselves in all fields within a few decades.
A second conclusion to be drawn from the Asia Minor Catastrophe is that Greece cannot act in isolation from global developments. It should read the signs of the times and, relying on its alliances, seek maximum benefit when conditions allow. Only in this way can it have a say and a role in developments in its region.
This conclusion can only serve as a reminder of the importance of preserving national unity as the apple of the eye, at least when it comes to major decisions concerning the country’s international relations. It goes without saying that individual differences are legitimate, just as the right to criticize is unquestionable.
The Asia Minor Catastrophe remains today, 100 years later, a traumatic event for our collective memory and our contemporary history, but also an occasion for drawing national self-awareness conclusions.
“National unity is the best tribute to the victims of the Asia Minor Catastrophe”
The uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Greeks from their ancestral homelands of the Ionian and Aeolian lands for millennia, combined with the persecution of the Greeks of Pontus and the shrinking of the Hellenism of Istanbul, constitutes a ‘wound’ that has not healed in our national consciousness and will not heal in the foreseeable future.
However, in a critical period such as the present one, it would be unfortunate if we allowed a new Schism to bring about the disastrous results of the past. Everyone, inside and outside the country, should bear in mind that the two most traumatic events for Hellenism in the last 100 years, the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the Turkish occupation of Cyprus (despite their significant individual differences), occurred only after Greece had been divided on principle on both these issues. Today, the Mitsotakis government has, thankfully, succeeded, in preventing the foreign policy from becoming a field of fierce partisan confrontation. I wish and hope that, with the contribution of the opposition parties, this will continue at a critical juncture such as the one we are currently experiencing, and that the quasi-election period will not overshadow the need to preserve national unity. I dare say that 100 years later, the best way to pay tribute to the memory of the victims of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, and of those who came from the other side of the Aegean and contributed to the reconstruction of the country, is precisely to preserve the national unity I previously mentioned.
The poetry of the diplomat George Seferis, the literature of Elias Venezis and Dido Sotiriou, Aristotle Onassis’ entrepreneurship, Karolos Koun’s directorial vision, and Manolis Kalomiris’ compositions, are just a few examples of the Asia Minor people’s contribution to the country’s cultural life, as well as their distinct aesthetics and zeal for creation and progress, with which our compatriots of Asia Minor origin infused Greek society. Their contribution to the national struggles that followed was also extremely important.
Lastly, the transformation of the Asia Minor Catastrophe anniversary into a celebration of hatred and war cries from the other side of the Aegean is nothing but sadness.  Greece, despite its occasional failures, managed to turn the Asia Minor disaster into a factor of national creation. And it managed gradually over the years to become a member of a strong European group of states, the present European Union. Greece developed into a society of values and principles, with full adherence to the Rule of Law, including of course International Law.
The unforgotten homelands, the persecution, the hundreds of victims, the human pain, the refugees, the families that were separated and lost, but also the integration into a stagnant Greek society, are all “alive” today.   Experiences that are constituent elements of the country’s current identity. Nothing has been the same for Hellenism since 1922.
However, the Asia Minor Catastrophe serves also as a reminder to reflect on the consequences of the National Schism that preceded it and it is essentially, in one way or another, the result of it. In a debate about the causes that, even a century later, remains politically and ideologically charged, I would not wish to take a position on “who is to blame”, nor would I claim any historical laurels.


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