22 September 2021

The Greeks have a word
for it (33) Genocide

The monument on Mikrasiaton Square in Rethymnon commemorating the Greek Genocide in Asia Minor 100 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

In every corner of Rethymnon, it seems, I stumble across reminders of the Greek Genocide in Asia Minor a century ago.

These reminders come are found in street names and placenames, from Smyrni Street beneath the slopes of the Fortezza, and Mikrasiaton Square in the heart of the old town, to Tsesmes, the suburban village on the eastern fringes of Rethymnon, beside La Stella Hotel, where I was staying for the past two weeks.

Mikrasiaton Square (Πλατεία Μικρασιατών) has been transformed into the biggest square in the heart of the Old Town. Its name recalls the refugees from Asia Minor, who were known as Μικρασιάτες or Mikrasiates, people from Minor Asia.

The Greek genocide (Γενοκτονία των Ελλήνων, Genoktonia ton Ellinon) was the systematic killing of the Greek Christian population of Anatolia or Asia Minor, during World War I and its aftermath (1914-1922).

The wholescale massacre of people and communities was carried out systematically on the basis of religion and ethnicity. It was instigated by the Ottoman government led by the Three Pashas and intensified and systematised by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

The genocide included massacres, forced deportations, death marches, expulsions, summary executions, and the destruction of Greek cultural, historical, and religious monuments. Up to a million Greek people living in the Ottoman Empire and its successor the Turkish Republic were murdered and died in this period.

By late 1922, most Greeks in Asia Minor had either fled or were murdered. The majority of survivors fled as refugees to Greece, adding over a quarter to the population of Greece at the time.

The refugees who arrived in Rethymnon first found shelter in the area now known as Mikrasiaton Square. Many found shelter in the Church of Saint Francis (Agios Franciskos), which had been used as an imaret or poorhouse during the Turkish era; others found homes in outlying villages such as Tsesmes, which takes its name from Cesme, north-west of Smirni (Izmir).

The refugees from Asia Minor integrated quickly into to the local population, bringing with them their arts, crafts and creativity, and actively contributing to the revitalisation of the local economy.

Today, Mikrasiaton Square is an attractive plaza, filled with strolling families, playing children and tourists taking selfies in front of the minaret and domes of the Neratnzes Mosque. There are bikers and skaters too, park benches and attractive restaurants. In pre-pandemic times, this was a popular venue for open air concerts and live music.

Some abandoned buildings might have blighted this square in the past and become typical recipients of graffiti and painted scrawls. But instead, an imaginative initiative has attracted the talents of street artists, adding to the attractions of the square.

The buildings around Mikrasiaton Square include some of the town’s most important buildings from the Venetian and Ottoman periods, such as the House of Culture, the Nerantzes Mosque, the former Venetian Church of Agios Franciskos (Saint Francis), now housing temporary exhibitions of the Archaeological Museum, and the Historical and Folklore Museum of Rethymnon.

The new monument on the east side of Mikrasiaton Square recalls the Asia Minor catastrophe and is an initiative of the descendants of those refugees who arrived in Rethymnon a century ago. It is five meters long and four meters in high, and depicts the horrors of burning homes, death marches, murders and grieving mothers.

The names of the towns in Asia Minor that had sizeable Greek majorities until a century ago are inscribed on the monument, beginning with Symrni, and including Tsesmes, Ephesus, Pergamon, Miletus, Iconium (Konya), and Sardis … many of them Greek-speaking cities long before Saint John wrote from Patmos to the Seven Churches in the Book of Revelation.

Smyrni Street beneath the slopes of the Fortezza in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Before the word genocide came into legal use, the destruction of the Greeks of Asia Minor was known by Greeks as ‘the Massacre’ (η Σφαγή), ‘the Great Catastrophe’ (η Μεγάλη Καταστροφή), or ‘the Great Tragedy’ (η Μεγάλη Τραγωδία).

Ataturk provided a ‘model’ for genocide for the Nazis. Hitler once declared that he regarded himself as a student of Ataturk, and described him as his ‘star in the darkness.’ Ataturk and his new Turkey of 1923 constituted the archetype of the ‘perfect Führer’ and of ‘good national practices’ for Nazism. Nazi propaganda emphasised the ‘Turkish model’ and continuously praised the ‘benefits’ of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

At the height of the Holocaust in World War II, the word ‘genocide’ was coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin in his book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe. He formed hybrid word by combining the Greek word γένος (genos, ‘race, people’) and the Latin suffix -caedo (‘act of killing’).

Lemkin was a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent, and in his writings on genocide he detailed the fate of Greeks in Turkey. In August 1946, the New York Times wrote: ‘Genocide is no new phenomenon, nor has it been utterly ignored in the past … The massacres of Greeks and Armenians by the Turks prompted diplomatic action without punishment. If Professor Lemkin has his way, genocide will be established as an international crime.’

Genocide was declared an international crime in international law in 1948. Last week (13 September), Greece marked the 99th anniversary of the ‘Catastrophe of Smyrna’ (Izmir), when Greeks were forced to flee the city when Turkish forces set fire to it. The great fire of Smyrna began on 13 September 1922, and lasted nine full days and nights until 22 September 1922, 99 years ago today.

The monument on Mikrasiaton Square recalls the genocide of the Greeks of Asia Minor (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Yesterday: Hypocrite

Tomorrow: Cinema.

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
116, Saint Mary Woolnoth

The Church of Saint Mary Woolnoth has links with John Newton and TS Eliot (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before the day begins, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is Wren churches and former Wren churches in London. My photographs this morning (22 September 2021) are from Saint Mary Woolnoth.

Edward Lloyd, founder of Lloyd’s of London, remembered in a memorial plaque in the Church of Saint Mary Woolnoth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of Saint Mary Woolnoth is an arresting landmark at the centre of the City of London, on the corner of Lombard Street and King William Street near Bank station.

The church is interesting as one of the Queen Anne Churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, but also for its associations with many interesting people, including the founder of Lloyds Edward Lloyd, the abolitionist and hymnwriter John Newton and his friend William Wilberforce, and the poet TS Eliot.

This site has been used for worship for at least 2,000 years. Traces of Roman and pagan religious buildings were found under the foundations of the church, along with the remains of an Anglo-Saxon wooden structure.

The full and unusual dedication of the church is to Saint Mary of the Nativity. The name of the church is first recorded in 1191 as Wilnotmaricherche. The name ‘Woolnoth’ may refer to a benefactor, possibly Wulnoth de Walebrok, a Saxon noble who lived in the area earlier in the 12th century. Alternatively, the name may be connected with the wool trade – this was so with the nearby church of Saint Mary Woolchurch Haw.

The present church is at least the third church on the site. The Norman church survived until the mid-15th century, when it was rebuilt. The new building was consecrated in 1438, but additional work appears to have taken place towards the end of the century, and a spire was added in 1485.

The church was badly damaged in the Great Fire of London in 1666, but was partially rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren in 1670-1675. Sir Robert Vyner, Lord Mayor of London in 1674, made a major contribution to the cost of this work, and the church was known at one time known as Sir Robert Vyner’s church. Vyner had his own entrance to the east end of the church, a privilege inherited by the Post Office which later stood on the site of his mansion in Lombard Street.

Nearby Saint Mary Woolchurch Haw was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was not rebuilt, and its parish was united with Saint Mary Woolnoth.

The style of the church was described as ‘modern Gothick’ in 1708. But Saint Mary Woolnoth was only partially repaired by Wren. The building became unsafe and in 1711 it was decided to build a new church under the Fifty New Churches Act – the only church in the City to be built under the Act. By 1712, the condition of the church was so dilapidated that the parishioners were afraid to worship there, and the structure was repaired.

Between 1897 and 1900, the City & South London Railway (C&SLR) built Bank station beneath the church. The company had permission to demolish the church, but public outcry forced the company to think again.

The crypt was sold to the railway and the bodies there were moved for reburial at Ilford, including Edward Lloyd. However, the bodies of John Newton and his wife Mary (Catlett) were reburied at Olney, where he had been a curate and then vicar before moving to London, in 1893.

The crypt and plinth of the church were used as a booking hall in 1897-1900. The walls and internal columns of the church were then supported on steel girders while the lift shafts and staircase shaft for Bank station were built directly beneath the church floor. At the same time, the bells were also rehung with new fittings.

The lower part of the south elevation is now masked by the single-storey former Underground station entrance, with a new vestry, in a style that pays tribute to Hawksmoor.

Despite its small size, the Church of Saint Mary Woolnoth is surprisingly spacious inside (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 9: 1-6 (NRSVA):

1 Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money – not even an extra tunic. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. 5 Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ 6 They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.

A plaque recalling John Newton bears the epitaph he wrote for himself (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (22 September 2021) invites us to pray:

We pray for the ongoing work of the Melanesian Brotherhood, their commitment to peace and to the communities of the Solomon Islands.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The pulpit, with its unusual bulging shape, was made by Thomas Darby and Gervaise Smith (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Church of Saint Mary Woolnoth continues to be actively used for services (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)