Books About the Asia Minor Catastrophe and Smyrna Disaster That You Should Have


September of 1922 was a defining year for the development of Modern Greece. Known as the Asia Minor Catastrophe, tragic events marked the end of the Greek presence in Asia Minor– modern Turkey’s western shores. It was a presence that had been in existence for thousands of years and it all came to a tragic culmination on the docks of a once-cosmopolitan city known then as Smyrna, today as Izmir.

Tens of thousands of Greeks lost their lives and millions fled to mainland Greece, a place and country they knew nothing of. We’ve selected the ten books that share these tragic stories, each from different perspectives, but all from academic and factual backgrounds. There are numerous books available, including harrowing and emotional survivor testimonies, one of the best being Not Even My Name by Thea Halo. Check our bookstore for more titles.

American sailors pulling a victim from Smyrna harbor.

American sailors pulling a victim from Smyrna harbor.

1) Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City  by Marjorie Housepian Dobkin

In September, 1922, Mustapha Kemal (Ataturk), the victorious revolutionary ruler of Turkey, led his troops into Smyrna (now Izmir) a predominantly Christian city, as a flotilla of 27 Allied warships– including three American destroyers– looked on. The Turks soon proceeded to indulge in an orgy of pillage, rape and slaughter that the Western powers anxious to protect their oil and trade interests in Turkey, condoned by their silence and refusal to intervene. Turkish forces then set fire to the legendary city and totally destroyed it. There followed a massive cover-up by tacit agreement of the Western Allies who had defeated Turkey and Germany during World War I. By 1923 Smyrna’s demise was all but expunged from historical memory. Get the book here.

2) Paradise Lost: Smyrna, 1922  by Giles Milton

On Saturday, September 9, 1922, the victorious Turkish cavalry rode into Smyrna, the richest and most cosmopolitan city in the Ottoman Empire. The city’s vast wealth created centuries earlier by powerful Levantine dynasties, its factories teemed with Greeks, Armenians, Turks, and Jews. Together, they had created a majority Christian city that was unique in the Islamic world. But to the Turkish nationalists, Smyrna was a city of infidels. In the aftermath of the First World War and with the support of the Great Powers, Greece had invaded Turkey with the aim of restoring a Christian empire in Asia. But by the summer of 1922, the Greeks had been vanquished by Atatürk’s armies after three years of warfare. As Greek troops retreated, the non-Muslim civilians of Smyrna assumed that American and European warships would intervene if and when the Turkish cavalry decided to enter the city. But this was not to be. On September 13, 1922, Turkish troops descended on Smyrna. They rampaged first through the Armenian quarter, and then throughout the rest of the city. They looted homes, raped women, and murdered untold thousands. Turkish soldiers were seen dousing buildings with petroleum. Soon, all but the Turkish quarter of the city was in flames and hundreds of thousands of refugees crowded the waterfront, desperate to escape. The city burned for four days; by the time the embers cooled, more than 100,000 people had been killed and millions left homeless. Based on eyewitness accounts and the memories of survivors, many interviewed for the first time, Paradise Lost offers a vivid narrative account of one of the most vicious military catastrophes of the modern age. Get the book here.

3) The Great Fire by Lou Ureneck

The harrowing story of a Methodist Minister and a principled American naval officer who helped rescue more than 250,000 refugees during the genocide of Armenian and Greek Christians—a tale of bravery, morality, and politics, published to coincide with the genocide’s centennial.

The year was 1922: World War I had just come to a close, the Ottoman Empire was in decline, and Asa Jennings, a YMCA worker from upstate New York, had just arrived in the quiet coastal city of Smyrna to teach sports to boys. Several hundred miles to the east in Turkey’s interior, tensions between Greeks and Turks had boiled over into deadly violence. Mustapha Kemal, now known as Ataturk, and his Muslim army soon advanced into Smyrna, a Christian city, where a half a million terrified Greek and Armenian refugees had fled in a desperate attempt to escape his troops. Turkish soldiers proceeded to burn the city and rape and kill countless Christian refugees. Unwilling to leave with the other American civilians and determined to get Armenians and Greeks out of the doomed city, Jennings worked tirelessly to feed and transport the thousands of people gathered at the city’s Quay.

With the help of the brilliant naval officer and Kentucky gentleman Halsey Powell, and a handful of others, Jennings commandeered a fleet of unoccupied Greek ships and was able to evacuate a quarter million innocent people—an amazing humanitarian act that has been lost to history, until now. Before the horrible events in Turkey were complete, Jennings had helped rescue a million people.

By turns harrowing and inspiring, The Great Fire uses eyewitness accounts, documents, and survivor narratives to bring this episode—extraordinary for its brutality as well as its heroism—to life. Get the book here.

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4) Certain Samaritans by Esther Pohl Lovejoy

Esther Clayson was born in Seabeck, Washington Territory at her father’s logging camp on the Puget Sound on November 16, 1870. After graduating from the University of Oregon Medical School in 1894, she joined her husband Dr. Emil Pohl in Alaska for the gold rush. While fighting a meningitis epidemic she persuaded a notorious bandit to give her money to begin a hospital in a barn. Emil died of encephalitis in 1909. Her brother Fred was murdered on the Dawson trail and she lost her only child Frederick at the age of eight to an ulcer of the bowel.

Despite these difficulties she practiced medicine in Portland, Oregon where she became the first female to hold the post of chairman of the Health Department (1907-1909) in a city of that size. She installed the city’s first school nurse, wrote it’s first milk ordinance and demanded sweeping reforms in food handling. She was an outspoken advocate for women and joined women’s suffrage groups and eventually ran as representative to Congress. When she left the Health Department she became head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the Portland medical group of Coffey, Sears, Jones and Joyce. During this period she married Portland businessman George Lovejoy.

Dr. Lovejoy served during the 1st World War with the American Red Cross and in 1919 became the president of the American Women’s Hospital Service. In this capacity she traveled widely to alleviate suffering from war, disaster, famine, revolution and poverty. She organized the relief services of the AWHS throughout the Near East and especially in Greece. A bust of Dr. Lovejoy stands in the town square of Nikea, Piraeus, Greece.

“When the Turks burned the port of Smyrna, which they’d just wrested from the Greeks, Dr. Lovejoy was the only American woman on the scene. Mistaken for a Greek she was beaten with a rifle by a Turkish soldier. Several times, armed only with a terrible look of anger, she stared down Turkish soldiers about to abduct young girls. She rescued others by strapping them down on stretchers.” Esther also was the first president of the Medical Women’s International Association of which she helped to found in 1919. A mural with a portrait of Dr. Lovejoy is displayed in the Esther Pohl Lovejoy Hall at the Philippine Medical Women’s Association building in Manila.

Her book, Certain Samaritans, documented the complex work of the AWHS in the Near East, including several chapters of their work in Smyrna and afterwards in Greece when the group set up a network of hospitals to tend to the tens of thousands of refugees arriving from Smyrna. Get the book here.

5) Crossing the Aegean: An Appraisal of the 1923 Compulsory Population Exchange Between Greece and Turkey by Renee Hirschon

“This volume is a long overdue endeavor to tackle the thorny and delicate issue of the compulsory population exchange . . . The argumentative force of the volume lies in the careful analysis of the contradictory and ambiguous ramifications of the convention.” -The Greek Review of Social Research Following the defeat of the Greek Army in 1922 by nationalist Turkish forces, the 1923 Lausanne Convention specified the first internationally ratified compulsory population exchange. It proved to be a watershed in the eastern Mediterranean, having far-reaching ramifications both for the new Turkish Republic, and for Greece which hadto absorb over a million refugees. Known as the Asia Minor Catastrophe by the Greeks, it marked the establishment of the independent nation state for the Turks. The consequences of this event have received surprisingly little attention despite the considerable relevance for the contemporary situation in the Balkans. This volume addresses the challenge of writing history from both sides of the Aegean and provides, for the first time, a forum for multidisciplinary dialogue across national boundaries. Renée Hirschon was educated at the universities of Cape Town, Chicago and Oxford. Intensive fieldwork among the Asia Minor refugees settled in Piraeus resulted in the monograph “Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe”. She has been Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University, and Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of the Aegean. She is currently Research Associate of the Refugee Studies Centre, Queen Elizabeth House, and Lecturer, St Peter’s College, University of Oxford. Get the book here.

6) American Accounts Documenting the Destruction of Smyrna by the Kemalist Turkish Forces, September 1922 by Constantine G. Hatzidimitriou

In September, 1922, the thriving, cosmopolitan city of Smyrna was captured and put to the torch by Turkish forces, led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This was the culmination of a war that resulted in the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into the modern Turkish state. The destruction of the middle class Greek and Armenian quarters of the city, and the slaughter or expulsion of its inhabitants, represented the final seal of Turkish dominion. The “Progressive” Kemalist secular state-building ideology in part was the child of Bolshevik, proto-facist and radicalist influences. It assumed that the construction of modern Turkish identity required religious, ethnic and even “racial” uniformity. For this reason genocide and the expulsion of heterogeneous, especially middle class and Christian, groups was an integral element and underlying principle of the Turkish modernization reform process. The governments that succeeded that of Ataturk, including the present secular “democracy,” continued to subscribe to this principle (witness the effort to crush Kurdish identity over the last two decades). However, the exigencies of dealing with western liberal democracies required that another reality be superimposed: Turkish regimes hence founded an entire industry to deny the genocides of the Armenians, of the Pontians and other Greeks, even that of smaller religious or ethnic groups such as the Arab Nestorian Christians. The destruction and burning of Smyrna became one of the first projects of systematic denial by Turkish governments. The evidence in this book includes official U.S. State Department documents, press and other eye witness accounts that testify regarding the details of ethnic persecution. The reality they project must be contraposed to that promoted by the present Turkish regime and its mercenary propagandists in Washington and elsewhere. Get the book here.

7) Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the Rescue of the Greeks, Smyrna, September 1922 by Christos Papoutsy

Ships of Mercy reveals the true heroes of Smyrna, forgotten by history. It is based on more than ten years of research by the Papoutsys who traveled around the globe to document the rescue of hundreds of thousand Greek refugees on the Smyrna quay in September 1922. After more than a decade of preparation, this book uncovers surprising answers and displays previously unpublished materials. Vintage photographs, exhibits, naval war diaries and captains’ logs appear for the first time in the pages of this volume. “Ships of Mercy” dispels common myths about the evacuation of the refugees and documents clearly the real saviors in this enormous tragedy. Get the book here.

8) Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus by Renee Hirschon

The war between Greece and Turkey ended in 1922 in what Greeks call the Asia Minor catastrophe, a disaster greater than the fall of Constantinople in 1493, for it marked the end of Hellenism in the ancient heartland of Asia Minor. In 1923 the Treaty of Lausanne ratified the compulsory exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, involving the movement of some 1.5 million persons. Well over one million Greek refugees entered the Greek state in two years, increasing its population by about a quarter. Given the far-reaching consequences for both Greece and Turkey, surprisingly few studies exist of the numerous people so drastically affected by this uprooting. Over half a century later a large section of the urban refugee population in Greece still claimed a separate Asia Minor identity, despite sharing with other Greeks a common culture, religion, and language. Based on the author’s long-term fieldwork, this ethnography of Kokkinia – an urban quarter in Piraeus – reveals how its inhabitants’ sense of separate identity was constructed, an aspect of continuity with their well-defined identity as an Orthodox Christian minority in the Ottoman Empire. This rare study of an urban refugee group fifty years after settlement provides new insights into the phenomenon of ethnicity both structural and cultural. In detailed analysis of values, symbolic dimensions, and of social organization the book illustrates the strength and efficacy of cultural values in transcending material deprivation. The reprint of this study in paperback is particularly timely, marking as it does the 75th anniversary of this major event in the Eastern Mediterranean. Renée Hirschon Philippakis is currently Research Associate of the Refugee Studies Programme, University of Oxford, and Honorary Research Fellow of Oxford Brookes University. Get the book here.

9) Smyrna’s Ashes: Humanitarianism, Genocide, and the Birth of the Middle East (Berkeley Series in British Studies) by Michelle Tusan

Today the West tends to understand the Middle East primarily in terms of geopolitics: Islam, oil, and nuclear weapons. But in the nineteenth century it was imagined differently. The interplay of geography and politics found definition in a broader set of concerns that understood the region in terms of the moral, humanitarian, and religious commitments of the British empire. Smyrna’s Ashes reevaluates how this story of the “Eastern Question” shaped the cultural politics of geography, war, and genocide in the mapping of a larger Middle East after World War I. Get the book here.

10) The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks: Studies on the State-Sponsored Campaign of Extermination of the Christians of Asia Minor (1912-1922) and Its Aftermath: History, Law, Memory by Tessa Hofmann, Matthias Bjornlund, Vasileios Meichanetsidis

The period of transition from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire to the foundation of the Turkish Republic was characterized by a number of processes largely guided by a narrow elite that aimed to construct a modern, national state. One of these processes was the deliberate and planned elimination, indeed extermination, of the Christian (and certain other) minorities. The last two decades have seen a massive amount of research of the genocide of the Armenian population in the Ottoman/Turkish space. Much less scholarly work has been done on the genocide of the Greeks of Asia Minor and Thrace; there are many reasons for this, including the fact that Turkish governments have been successful in intimidating diplomats in the context of Turkish-Greek relations of the last generation, and of subverting academic integrity (inducing some scholars to make a career as denialists supported by international NGOs, in the name of countering nationalism).

Raphael Lemkin, the legal scholar who introduced the term ‘genocide’ into international law, formulated his early ideas on the definition of this war crime by studying the destruction of the Christians of Asia Minor, while the distinguished Turcologist (and recently deceased) Neoklis Sarris has noted that the annihilation of the Christian minorities represented an integral element in the formation of the Turkish Republic. As the editors of this volume note the recent resolution by the International Association of Genocide Scholars recognizing the Greek and Syriac genocides suggests a wider range of victim groups. This volume therefore represents an effort to provide an outline and a direction of a more extensive study of the deliberate destruction and elimination of a Greek presence that spanned over three millennia, in the space that became the Turkish Republic. Get the book here.

The editors of this volume (themselves distinguished genocide scholars) have included article contributions on a number of areas and collaborated with distinguished scholars from Europe, the United States and Israel; they have have divided these contributions into three areas: Historical Overview, Documentation, Interpretation; Representations and Law; Genocide Education; Memorialization; Conceptualization; as well as a very extensive Bibliography. The volume also includes 37 halftones, two maps (one a double-page foldout). Get the book here.

11) Before The Silence by Sofia Kontogeorge Kostos

This book is a collection of newspaper reports documenting the massacres and genocides of Greeks, Armenians and Assyrian minorities who inhabited Asia Minor over many millennia by the Ottoman Turks and later the Kemalists. These reports emanating from English language sources show that there was a systematic and organized campaign by Turkish authorities to eliminate all traces of the memories of these minorities from the face of the earth. Before the Silence will serve as a permanent reminder that the many massacres starting from 1822, and the genocides carried out during the years 1914-23 are a crime against humanity and the memories of the victims should never be forgotten but respected and remembered. Get the book here.



  1. Alexandra Zouncourides-Lull on

    Great list of books. Thanks for making this available to all of us. We should never forget our history!

  2. Eleftherios Liber Pissalidis on

    And do not forget Richard Reinhardt's: "Ashes of Smyrna; a Novel of the Near East".
    Interesting stories of 4 unique characters combined into one significant historical period which affected the people of both sides of the Aegean.

  3. Christine Rulli on

    Also, I would include the following:

    “Twice A Stranger” by Bruce Clark

    “The Blight of Asia” by US Consul General George Horton

    “Farewell Anatolia” by Dido Sotiriou


  4. I have recently written an historical novel entitled Flames on the Water – Tears in the Sea. It describes the suffering and bravery of two Asia Minor Greek families and the heroic life of AK Jennings.

  5. In 1989 I published an autobiographical novel ‘Smyrna’ (Penguin Books) based on my father’s story as a child fleeing Smyrna in 1922. The novel was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, Australia’s most prestigious literary prize. ‘Smyrna’ is currently out of print but copies are sometimes available on EBay and at secondhand bookstores and online. (e.g. Odisseas Editions, Athens, published a Greek translation in 2003 (trans: Yanis Vassilakos). The events of Smyrna are also included in my forthcoming novel ‘The Conduct of Arrows’.

    • Tony I live in Brisbane and would love to get hold of a copy of your book on Smyrna. I am the author of BLUE RIBBONS, BITTER BREAD (Pirgos Press & Amazon) which documents the life of an Australian aid worker Joice NanKivell Loch in the Greek refugee village of Ouranoupolis BLUE RIBBONS FOR HER MEDALS RECEIVED FROM GREEK GOVT and Bitter Bread because in the refugee camps acorns were addedto the bread dough to make it go further.

      Did your father record anything about the refugee camps and the volunteer workers who went there? Joice and her husabnd saved the lives of many hundreds of Greeks who had escaped from Smyrna who were starving in the refugee village of Ouranoupolis near Thesssaloiniki. She started the women weaving rugs with Byzantine designs, sold the rugs in Australia and America and and gave the money to the half-starved refugees and set up a medical centre in her tower home as she and her husband had teh only medicine chest in the village. Joice had ;previously worked in the medical centre of a refugee camp at Thessaloniki I illustrated this remarable story of Greek survivors in the village by photos taken by Joice and by my father, a young naval officer on board tehe King George V at Smyrna a ship which after watching the agony of the Greeks on the quayside was eventually alllowed to transport refugees to Athens on its deck. My father’s account of the rescue will be a chap;ter in my memoirs Old Master, Young Mistresses, out next year. I will try to get a copy of yhour book on Smyrna on amazon or perhaps its in Australian libraries. I hop;e so.

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