96 Years Since the Catastrophe of Smyrna (Photos and Video)

Today marks 96 years since the Catastrophe of Smyrna, modern-day Izmir in the Turkish coast on the Aegean sea.

It was a cataclysmic event of great importance for the modern Greek history that shaped generation upon generation after 1922, adding to Greece’s long history yet another unforgettable milestone.

The Great Fire destroyed much of the city, causing the majority of Greeks in Asia Minor to flee their homes and seek shelter primarily in Greece, but also in other countries.

Smyrna was undoubtedly one of the wealthiest cities not only in the Ottoman Empire but all around Europe.

It hosted one of the largest populations of Greeks and Armenians in the Ottoman Empire who constituted the Christian community of the city that lived peacefully side by side with the Muslim and the Jewish communities for centuries.

However, politics, interests of the main global powers, alongside with the rising nationalism and the outburst of war were the factors that determined Smyrna’s and its citizens’ fate for the rest of the 20th Century and beyond.

During the Greco-Turkish War from 1919 to 1922, Greek armed forces went to Smyrna on May 15, 1919. After major military and political mistakes made by the Greek government, the Turkish army regained control of the city on September 9, 1922.

The future for the Christian population of Greeks and Armenians was perilous, after a series of events, most of them were killed as part of the Greek genocide that took over the time period of 1914 to 1923.

Eyewitness reports state that the fire began on September 13, 1922, and lasted for about nine days until September 22. The fire’s results were disastrous — the entire Greek and Armenian quarters of the city were destroyed.

Churches, villas, and houses of a great architectural importance, as well as schools and entire markets now belonged to the past.

Official data about the number of the victims does not exist. Experts believe that the  number victims lands somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000, while the refugees who were forced to leave the city and its countryside were between 25,000 and 100,000.

The city suffered a huge-scale damage to its infrastructure — the center literally had to be rebuilt from the ashes.

That’s why today, 40 hectares of the former fire area is a vast park (also known as Kültürpark in Turkish) serving as Turkey’s largest open air exhibition center.

Saint Fotine Church, before being blown up by the Turkish mob