Christos Papoutsy Dispels Myths of 1922 Catastrophe

Reprint from Hellenic Comserve a September 28, 2009 article

Christos Papoutsy Dispels Myths of 1922 Catastrophe

By Catherine Tsounis
The facts about Smyrna have always been sketchy,” said Christos Papoutsy in the preface of his book “Ships of Mercy: The True Story of the RESCUE OF THE GREEKS Smyrna, September 1922. “Did events really unfold as many Greeks and others believe? We decided to find out the truth, as we believe that all sides need to know, without doubt, what occurred in Smyrna during September 1922.”
The current Modern Greek perspective is that American warships were in the Smyrna harbor and turned a blind eye. Japanese ships rescued civilians. America and the WWI allies double-crossed the Modern Greek government by ordering them to march into Anatolia. Then, the major powers abandoned them when the Turks pushed the Greek army back to the coast. 

The harbor of Modern Izmir.
Official documents uncovered by Mr. Papoutsy reveal Asa Jennings, a former Methodist pastor for ten years, was the real hero. In 1922, he was secretary for boy’s work at the YMCA in Smyrna. According to the 1923 Saturday Post, Jennings was “an average person risen to extraordinary heights by circumstance.” Mr. Papoutsy believes “Jennings knew he was facing the greatest challenge of his life. Could he, one man work a miracle and save hundreds of thousands of innocent people?”

Jennings formed the American Relief Committee to house the most vulnerable, feed as many as possible, and protect where they could the helpless from the Turks,” said grandson Roger Jennings. “U.S. Consul George Horton was requested by Jennings and the Committee to take action on behalf of the refugees, but did nothing. When the foreign community was ordered to leave the city on ships, all left except Jennings. Jennings put his wife and three children on a U.S. Navy destroyer, and drove through the violence at great risk of his own life to the Turkish Army camp. Jennings got a meeting with Kemal Pasha (later known as Ataturk) and worked out the terms for the evacuation of the refugees. Jennings then returned to the port, and was provided with a boat and coxswain by the U.S. Navy to visit ships in the harbor.”

Jennings first went to a French ship, but the captain refused to get involved and sailed off with an empty ship,” continued his grandson. “Then Jennings was able to begin the coordination of removing Smyrna refugees from the quay, by bribing an Italian Captain to land them in Mytilene. After overcoming obstacle after obstacle, Jennings was able to get the Greek Prime Minister and his Cabinet to place all the ships in the Aegean at his disposal. He even evacuated refugees from Aivali and Tseme. The rescue would not have been possible without very significant help from Captain Theofanidis of the Greek battleship Kilkis.” 

Roger Jennings, the grandson and archivist of Asa Jennings official sources, believes the “Italian ship captain was soliciting a bribe. This was a rescue situation. For example, at Dunkirk , the British citizens who took their boats to rescue British soldiers did not demand payment. My grandfather, Asa Jennings raised money to pay the Italian captain who demanded more. AKJ (Asa Jennings) answered with a proposal that he go on the ship to Greek territory to negotiate the disembarkation of the refugees from the ship. That trip led AKJ to see Greek soldiers and empty ships. However, the Italian’s character was deplorable.”

Asa Jennings was never commissioned an Admiral by the Greek government,” explained Roger Jennings. “Persons called him Admiral. He did not wear the uniform of the Greek Navy, receive any money from the Greek Government, take orders from the Greek Government or in any way appear as an official of the Greek Government. He was called Admiral, because he commanded 26 ships at first and 55 ships after Smyrna was evacuated.” 

According to grandson Roger Jennings, “AKJ blackmailed the Greek Prime Minister after they refused to make ships available to save 300,000 Greeks in Smyrna who were at risk of death. His blackmail was a last resort only when all other efforts to get the ships to rescue the Greeks had failed. The ultimatum was that AKJ would send his next message without putting the message in code so all the world would know the Greek Government allowed the Turks to kill 300,000 Greeks in Smyrna.” 

During a personal interview with Roger Jennings, he revealed to me that “Asa Jennings evacuated 350,000 persons from Smyrna. The most amazing part of his story should encourage anyone not to give up in the face of physical handicaps. My grandfather, Asa, was stricken at the age of twenty-eight years with typhoid that left him weak with a fever and a curvature that lost 3 inches in height (in plain words a hunchback). He was supposed to die. His wife opened the Bible and read St. John’s 11th chapter, 4th verse that says “This sickness is not to end in death, but is for the honor of God, that through it the Son of God may be honored”. That was 1906. Asa Jennings survived. There is no coincidence. Redemption was in September 1922, when he evacuated the Smyrna refugees. AJK was born on September 20, 1877 and died January 27, 1933. He was 55 at the time of his death.”

This is a story about human character,” said grandson Roger Jennings. “There were many people who could have helped the refugees, but did not. Those who put their own interests before those refugees, who wanted to avoid the most unspeakable of crimes and death included: George Horton, the Italian captain, French ship captain, General Frankou, the Greek Prime Minister and his cabinet. Those who put the lives of others before all other interests were Asa K. Jennings and Captain J. Theofanides of the ship Kilkis. Captain Theofanides’ help in beginning the first evacuation by a Greek ship and his personal intervention with the Greek Government, makes him a Greek hero, who is unknown by the Greek public today.”

When AKJ would walk the streets of Greece, people would kneel out of respect and kiss his hand and feet,” said Roger Jennings. “At the Treaty of Lausanne, Asa K. Jennings represented both the Greek and Turkish sides for the exchange of prisoners of war. He was the only person respected by both sides. The Greek government awarded him their highest medals of honor.” 

The belief that the United States did not act to save civilians is false, according to his research. Mr. Papoutsy has investigated accounts from captains’ and ship logs that describe the role of Jennings and the United States Navy. “The Destroyer Litchfield in particular evacuated Greek and Armenian refugees after September 12, 1922,” said the author. “Destroyers assisted civilian relief agencies, attempting to feed and evacuate thousands from famine and war.” This is all cited from the Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division in Washington D.C. U.S. Rear Admiral Mark Bristol commanded the American naval detachment in Smyrna. Admiral Bristol, in a report to the Secretary of Navy, said Mr. A.K. Jennings of the YMCA demanded Greek ships from the Greek Prime Minister for evacuation. Amazingly, Jennings stated that he would publish facts to the world that the Greeks and the Greek government refused to render assistance to Greek refugees in Smyrna, if they did not act. They relented. Jennings commanded the Greek ships. 

personally was amazed to discover that Marjorie Housepian Dobbins’ account in “Smyrna 1922: Destruction of a City” was inaccurate, regarding Japan’s assistance in evacuating refugees. This assumption is based on oral records of survivors, without specifying particular Japanese ships, or records. Mr. Papoutsy stated that numerous popular books written about the Smyrna Catastrophe repeat their statements. Every single captain’s logs documentation from the nations present record each nation’s participation in evacuating Greeks in varying degrees. Research shows, according to Christos Papoutsy, “that the Japanese naval ships were not the primary rescuers of the Greeks…but Japanese naval ships were not even present in Smyrna Harbor during September 1922, never mind leading the rescue.” This is documented by the following: three Japanese governments; Japanese Military History Department, the Japanese National Institute for Defense Studies and the Information and Culture Center of the Japanese Embassy. All these sources say no Japanese military or merchant vessels were in these waters.


Another view of the harbor of Izmir.
IIn fact, Japan sympathized with the Turkish government. The author believes stories of Japanese rescue ships origin will never be known. He believes “that a Japanese fishing boat or merchant ship was present in a nearby harbor…such a vessel provided some help. But, clearly, there were not a large number of Japanese ships leading the rescue.”

Many of us, almost a century later are unaware that “the refugee population was unique in that it was largely women and children, the ill and the elderly,” according to the writer. Mr. Papoutsy claims Greece accomplished an extraordinary achievement. Six years after the 1922 Catastrophe wrecked human lives were sheltered, medically healed, given homes, land. Greece accomplished a unique humanitarian effort. “Yet the world at large has heard nothing about it,” he said.

The author sheds new information on the Asia Minor refugees that isn’t widely known in English, historical sources. “The Greeks of Turkey were different from the Greeks of Greece,” he explains. “These Greeks were direct descendants of the Ionian Greeks, who settled the Aegean coast of Asia Minor, more than a thousand years ago. They were a strong, dynamic part of the population, largely controlling the banking, shipping and general mercantile business….to become penniless refugees, living in tents and driven to accept the most menial work, was a huge emotional shock….so many overcame these circumstances is a testament to the Greek spirit. Not only were people horribly wronged, but an entire region was changed as well.

The “Ships of Mercy” reveals that the Smyrna Catastrophe, plight of the refugees was forgotten with the onset of WWII, remembered only by the disposed. Jennings role in the Lausanne conference is ignored by all history books. He unofficially arranged for an exchange of forty thousand prisoners between the Greeks and Turks. He was trusted by both sides. He defended the U.S.A. and explained to the U.S. public its humanitarian efforts. He died young at 56 years old in 1933, during the Great Depression. Mr. Papoutsy concludes his book by saying the “U.S. did not forget Greece. By June 1923, the U.S. spent more than 18 million dollars in relief work in the Near East, with more than half going to Greece. America’s contribution was eight times that of other nations.”

Christos and Mary Papoutsy gave an extraordinary lecture in October 2008 on their research at the Kimisis Tis Theotokou of Southampton Asia Minor lecture. “Over one hundred persons attended the lecture,” said Dimitri Hagistavrou, president of the parish Council and a descendant of Smyrna refugees. I am personally impressed with the time and money spent researching the facts with his wife, Mary. Mrs. Papoutsy recited a beautiful poem on Smyrna that was in Horton’s Book (The Blight of Asia). Bill Theodosakis showed his extensive photo collection of the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Christos Papoutsy acknowledged the assistance of Theodosakis, who is the Director of the Memorial Committee of Asia Minor 1922, in the Acknowledgments of “Ships of Mercy”

The Statue of the Mikrasiatiki Mother with her three children at lies at Mytilene’s Harbor is on the back cover of his book. It is a deeply moving photograph, revealing Mytilene as a heroic island. Byron Kanaris, of the Transfiguration of Christ Church in Mattituck, Long Island said “my Father, Antonis, was mayor of Mytilene during the Catastrophe. He did all in his power to help.”

In 2009, an educated public wants to know the truth. Not only do the Christian descendants of 1922 Catastrophe feel the sorrow. The European Muslims, who now live on the coast of Asia Minor, feel the pain of being uprooted from ancestral homes in the exchange of population in 1922. During my three visits in six years to different areas in the state of Smyrna, the middle class Turks in the business community spoke about their grandparents who were Greek. They believe their families were victims in the uprooting of communities based on religion. It is a pain that remains. Asa K. Jennings did not merely save the refugees of 1922 Smyrna, but allowed these persons to root their families in Greece. Each time a child was born to a Mikrasiatic family in the following generations Asa K. Jennings will be responsible in thought and by word. Christos Papoutsy’s book “Ships of Mercy” is a masterpiece that will reshape the history of the 1922 Smyrna Catastrophe.



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