Book Review by Stavros T. Stavridis of Sophia Kostos' Before the Silence: Archival New Reports of the Christian Holocaust That Begs to Be Remembered

Title: Before the Silence: Archival New Reports of the Christian Holocaust That Begs to Be Remembered
Author: Sofia Kontogeorge Kostos, editor
Publisher: Gorgias Press, Piscataway, NJ
Date of Publication: 2010
Language: English
Description: <hardcover or softcover>, 345pp, and whether or not illus. or maps, etc.>
Availability: and other major book vendors

This is the author’s first book in documenting the Genocides of Christians who lived in the Ottoman Empire covering the period 1822-1926 with 1922 containing the largest number of news reports. The book is a collection of newspaper articles organized chronologically from a diverse range of English-speaking newspapers from as far as Japan and Australia showing the destruction of the Christian populations domiciled in Asia Minor. Whilst there are numerous books written on the Armenian Genocide, however, the research on the Greeks and Assyrians has been overlooked largely by historians.

Gleaning from the information presented in the book, the author exhibits a strong opinion about the issue of Genocide in which she states :

During those years [1822-1922], millions of Christian Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks were relentlessly erased from their ancestral homes and lands in Asia Minor by the Turks. From newspaper clippings stored in envelopes and in microfilms, I painstakingly transcribed the news reports, word for word, line by line, and column by column. Because of the revelations of my findings. I felt an urgent need to share them. (p. 21)

The book captures the brutalization, torture, starvation and state-sanctioned murder of ordinary people at the hands of the Ottoman and Kemalist regimes that were determined to remove all Christians from Asia Minor. The author’s work is geared to break through the denials for the sake of historians, our youth, and future generations as well.

Kostos challenges those who seek to deny or trivialize the information contained in the news reports. Successive Turkish governments have done everything in their power to distort the truth and deny this dark chapter in their history. There are Turkish academics, writers and publisher such as Ragip Zarakolu, Dr. Taner Akçam, Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Literature winner), and Elif Shafak who acknowledged the Armenian Genocide and subsequently faced prosecution under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code for “Insulting Turkishness.” The resolution of the International Association of Genocide Scholars passed in 2007––recognizing the Genocide of the Christian populations in Asia Minor further enhances the viewpoint of the author.

The author uses the news articles as a primary source to show that “as the archival news reports do attest, every Greek afflicted by the onslaught of the deliberate annihilation of the entire Greek population of Asia Minor. (p.29)” Kostos has also “…referred to books that corroborate with those reports…. (p.21) to show her readers that the news accounts and books compliment each other. Some of these book references are out-of-print whilst in some cases some have been recently reprinted.

The reports were enhanced with the addition of photographs providing a graphic image of human suffering. No amount of words can ever record the mental anguish, suffering and deprivation which a camera can capture. References to books, and cross references to other reports, and commentaries by experts in their fields lend further authority to the selected news reports.

The Appendix contains an invaluable eye-witness report by the Metropolitan of Ephesus, Chrysostomos Hatgistavrou to the Patriarch of Constantinople, Meletios IV (Metaxakis) describing the Genocide and the uprooting of the Christians in Asia Minor. He recounts the political and diplomatic negotiations between the major European powers and the Kemalists in seeking to remove the Christians from Turkey and his very own escape to Athens.

Books were written by: Henry Morgenthau, the former US Ambassador to Turkey 1913-1916; George Horton, the US Consul General in Smyrna 1919-22; Dr. Mabel Elliott, Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Dr. Clarence D. Ussher, (An American Physician in Turkey) a “medical missionary,” Edward Hale Bierstadt, (The Great Betrayal) and several other eye-witnesses. They all lived through this terrible period of human history recording their impressions of what took place in the Near East. They were in good positions to assess and understand the machinations of great power rivalry in this troubled region.

Bierstadt stated “…the greed of the economic interests behind the foreign policies of the Great Powers (p.39)” and oil factor resulted in so much human grief and destruction for the Christians of Asia Minor. Two news articles published in The Times titled Mesopotamian Oil, A Story of Abdul Hamid , December 4, 1922 (p.296), and New York Times Chester Oil Claim interests French , April 3, 1923 (pp.322-4) reveal the importance of this economic resource regarding the relations of major powers in the wider Middle East.

Horton was an experienced American diplomat who served as Consul General in this region for nearly thirty years. He had an excellent understanding of Ottoman politics and how they treated their minorities. In his book The Blight of Asia, he mentions that some 328,477 people were massacred by the Ottoman Turks from 1822-1909. Even though he was not a witness to the Smyrna inferno, on his departure from that city he records “One of the keenest impressions I brought away with me from Smyrna was a feeling of shame that I belonged to the human race. (p.33)”

The Greek War Cross of Valor was awarded for the first time to two remarkable American women by the Greek Government; they were Dr. Mabel Elliott of Benton Harbor, Michigan and Dr. Esther Lovejoy of New York City. They were both honored for their work in Asia Minor.

The two women physicians, Lovejoy (Certain Samaritans) and Elliott (Beyond Ararat) witnessed the suffering of Greek and Armenian refugees. Lovejoy, the President of the Medical Women’s International Association 1919-24 and General Director of American Women’s Hospitals, did everything that was humanly possible to assist these poor wretched souls who lost loved ones and personal property in Smyrna. Elliott, the head of the American Women’s Hospital in the Near East 1920-23, had assisted refugees on Chios and Armenian orphans in Soviet Armenia.

Finally, Morgenthau used his diplomatic position as Ambassador to Turkey during the First World War to convince the Young Turks to stop the deportations and massacres of Armenians without success. He recorded his experiences in his books, Ambassador Morgenthau’s Story, and Secrets of the Bosphorus, I Was Sent To Athens.

Some modern works written by Professors Marjorie Housepian Dobkin, Speros Vryonis, Dora Sakayan and Vahakn N. Dadrian, based on official government sources, personal diaries and other sources enhance our knowledge on the issue covered and also add further justification in the use of newspapers as a historical source. As Professor Dennis Papazian states in the Foreword that “after all newspaper stories are the first in defining history. (p.19)” Here a few examples used for illustration purposes:

Dobkin’s book, Smyrna 1922 is a classic work outlining the history of the Near
East until the destruction of Smyrna by the Kemalists and supports the news
articles provided by the author in this book.

Another publication is the personal journal of Dr. Garabed Hatcherian, An
Armenian Doctor in Turkey, edited by his granddaughter Professor Dora Sakayan
who was born and raised in Thessaloniki. Hatcherian was in Smyrna during the
time of the arson fires and managed to escape with his family to Greece.

The Appendix containing an eye-witness account compliments Hatcherian’s
journal. Furthermore, two books by Fred Aprim, Assyrians: From Bedr Khan to
Saddam Hussein, and Assyrians: The Continuous Saga, are very important in
understanding the suffering of the Assyrians.

As stated earlier, the news accounts are organized chronologically “1822, 1849, 1867, 1894, 1895, 1896, 1909, 1910, ––massacres that then increased to the full fury of Genocides from 1914 through to 1922-23. (p.21)” The economic, diplomatic, strategic, political, administrative, humanitarian and genocidal themes show when reading these news accounts of human death and suffering. A sample of these themes will be explored below:

In 1919, Morgenthau urged the US government to take the Ottoman mandate
whereby good administration (judicial, educational, economic, finance and military)
could be established in Asia Minor. It was important that the French, Italians and
Greeks should not be allowed to have a mandate in areas largely populated by Turks
as this would lead to war (pp.139-49).

Another example is that the greatest bulk of the articles focus on the year 1922
(pp.160-311). There are reports covering atrocities committed by Kemalists against
the Greeks living along on the shores of the Black Sea, also known as the Pontus
region. American Near East Relief workers, Major Frank D. Yowell and Dr. Mark
Ward, were eye-witnesses to the deportations whose accounts were published in
well-known papers such as The Atlanta Constitution, The Scotsman, The Times, The Irish
Times, Christian Science Monitor, and New York Times and lesser known journals as The
Sheboygan Press Telegram and The Nevada State Journal (pp.161-82). It is important to
Kerasunda, Sivas, Malatia, Kharput, Trebizond, Amasia, Tokat, Cesarea, Van and
Bitlis where deportees were either rounded up or marched through to their eventual
deaths somewhere in eastern Turkey.

September 1922 contains nearly half of the news accounts for that year. They
describe the defeat and evacuation of the Greek army, the occupation of Smyrna
and the deliberate torching of the city by the Kemalists and diplomatic efforts by
the major European powers to resolve the Near Eastern crisis. India’s Moslems
were ecstatic with Kemal’s victory over the Christians. The plight and suffering of
the refugees seeking to escape is well documented in the selection of news articles.

There are two suggestions in the organization of this book. The news articles could have been presented under separate chapter headings giving the reader an overview of each chapter. I would have liked to have seen other news accounts from The Times, Manchester Guardian and Christian Science Monitor as a contrast to the events of September 1922 as reported in the New York Times. In no way, however, does that diminish the New York Times reports of September 1922.

I believe this book will attract a lot of attention from a wide readership. Hopefully, when this valuable book is reprinted, an index will be included to allow the reader to quickly search for particular information from the news reports.

Through the many newspaper accounts, Before the Silence provides its readers with clear insights into the Genocide of the Christian populations by the Ottoman Turks and by the new Turkish Regime. The quotes in the Preface from individuals who were eyewitnesses to these horrendous events cannot be dismissed as simply partial views. Their personal accounts support news reports of Genocide in an era when newspapers weren’t subject to political correctness like today. I would recommend this book to students of journalism and mass communication to help them understand how the press can be used in historiography and to increase their knowledge of events which are still overlooked in the first decade of the 21st Century. Once and for all, this book should help to obliterate the word “forgotten” from the commonly used phrase “The Forgotten Genocides.” Furthermore, no longer will the extermination of the millions of Christians in Asia Minor (now Turkey) be described solely as Armenian Genocides, Assyrian Genocides, or Greek Genocides. Clearly, the archival news reports prove that what happened to the Armenians –– happened to the Assyrians –– and happened to the Greeks too!

Stavros Terry Stavridis has a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Political Science/Economic History and B.A. (Hons.) in European History from Deakin University and M.A. in Greek/Australian History from RMIT University. His M.A. thesis is titled The Greek-Turkish War 1919-23: an Australian Press Perspective which was published by Gorgias Press in 2009. He has written many articles on the Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians in Turkey covering the period 1914-23.

(Posting date 15 July 2012)

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