The Turkish-Greek conflict (1919-1923)
As a result of the conflict, hundreds of thousands of people from both sides became refugees. The ICRC was involved with visits to prisoners, helping the refugees and displaced and trying to protect threatened minorities.
At the end of the First World War, Greece felt that, with Turkey apparently much weakened, the situation was favourable for an extension of its sovereignty in Asia Minor. In May 1919, a Greek expeditionary force disembarked in Smyrna and set out to conquer the hinterland, penetrating into the heart of Anatolia. However, the Turks resisted, regaining the upper hand in August 1922 and retaking Smyrna on 9 September.
An armistice was signed at Moudania, in Anatolia, on 11 October 1922. A conference of all the powers interest ed in restoring peace to the Near East met in Lausanne in January 1923. The Turkish-Greek accord that resulted on 30 January provided for the repatriation of all civilian internees on both sides regardless of number, as well all of the Turkish prisoners of war and an equal number of Greek prisoners of war. The remainder of the Greek prisoners of war were to be repatriated after signing the peace treaty, which took place on 24 July 1923.
The Turkish-Greek conflict caused hundreds of thousands of persons of Greek origin to flee Asia Minor, while thousands of people of Turkish origin fled Thrace for Turkey.
Helping civilian internees and prisoners of war
In January and February 1922 and again at the beginning of 1923, ICRC delegates visited prisoners of war and civilian detainees on both sides. In Greece, the ICRC visited all of the detention camps. The majority of the detainees were civilians, mainly women, children and old men. Representatives of the Hellenic Red Cross made regular visits to those places and distributed aid.
At the end of its round of visits, the ICRC called for the old men, women, children and breadwinners in particular to be repatriated first. These repatriations began shortly after the ICRC mission.
In Turkey, an ICRC delegate visited the Greek prisoners, who, unlike the Turks interned in Greece, were practically all military personnel. As these persons had no personal effects, they were provided with clothing by the Turkish Red Crescent. At the end of his visit, the ICRC delegate distributed aid in cash and kind.
With the support of the International Union for Child Welfare, the Helle nic Red Cross and the Turkish Red Crescent, the ICRC undertook a large-scale relief operation to assist the refugees. Even before the armistice, delegates were dispatched to Greece and Turkey to assess the number of refugees and the nature of their needs.
In Greece, the ICRC delegate arrived on 26 September 1922 and was received by the king and queen. He was informed that some 250,000 refugees of Greek origin had already arrived in the country and that thousands more were expected. In some places, these people were completely destitute. Greek and foreign committees were set up to aid these refugees.
On the other side, thousands of Muslim refugees fled western Thrace into Turkey. On 25 September 1922, an ICRC delegate arrived in Constantinople, where he began arranging for aid to be delivered in Anatolia. He then proceeded to the area and organized distributions.
However, the refugees were so numerous (over two million in all) that the ICRC’s resources proved insufficient. For this reason, the relief operation was taken over by the High Commission for Refugees with the support of the League of Nations.
In 1921, the ICRC began receiving complaints about the treatment of the Turkish population in Thrace. Following these complaints, which appeared to be justified, the ICRC called on the Greek government and National Red Cross Society in June 1921 to permit the dispatch of a relief mission to the area. This request was refused.
At the same time, the Hellenic Red Cross asked the ICRC to organize a relief operation to help Turkish Christians in Anatolia, who it alleged were victims of serious ill-treatment. The ICRC approached the Turkish government, asking that one of its delegates be allowed to distribute aid to them, but the necessary authorization was not given.
Repatriating civilian detainees and prisoners of war
The Lausanne accord between Greece and Turkey provided for the repatriation of prisoners of war and civilian detainees under the auspices of a commission comprising three representatives of Red Cross societies from States which had remained neutral during the First World War, as well as one Greek and one Turkish representative. Entrusted with the task of naming the members of the commission, the ICRC called on the services of Colonel Wildbolz and Dr Page of the Swiss Red Cross and of Dr Lindsjö of the Swedish Red Cross.
From 19 March to 4 May 1923, the commission directed the repatriation of 4,601 Turkish civilians, 320 Greek civilians, 9,748 Turkish soldiers and 293 officers, and a similar number of Greek officers and men. The remaining 5,000 Greek prisoners of war – visited by the ICRC in June and July 1923 – were repatriated by the commission after the peace treaty was signed. In total, 33,183 prisoners of war and civilian detainees were repatriated.
Although established separately from the ICRC, the commission acted as part of the International Committee, to which it appealed for assistance in conducting its operations when faced with difficulties and to which it reported when it had completed its mandate.