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.
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About the Author
Lou Ureneck, a former Nieman fellow and editor-in-residence at Harvard University, is a professor of journalism at Boston University. Ureneck is the author of Backcast, which won the National Outdoor Book Award for literary merit, and Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine.
Table of Contents
Cast of Characters xiii
Note on the Text xv
Chapter 1 End of an Empire 9
Chapter 2 An Innocent Arrives 18
Chapter 3 The Great Offensive 29
Chapter 4 George Horton, Poet-Consul 36
Chapter 5 Garabed Hatcherian 45
Chapter 6 Admiral Bristol, American Potentate 48
Chapter 7 Washington Responds 60
Chapter 8 Jennings's Suggestion 70
Chapter 9 Theodora 92
Chapter 10 An American Destroyer Arrives 95
Chapter 11 The View from Nif 122
Chapter 12 Back in Constantinople 128
Chapter 13 Captain Hepburn's Dilemma 136
Chapter 14 Garabed Hatcherian 168
Chapter 15 Nourcddin Pasha 171
Chapter 16 Fire Breaks Out 191
Chapter 17 "All Boats Over" 216
Chapter 18 Morning After 229
Chapter 19 Garabed Hatcherian 237
Chapter 20 Oil, War, and the Protection of Minorities 241
Chapter 21 Bristol's Resistance 248
Chapter 22 Halsey Powell 259
Chapter 23 Theodora 286
Chapter 24 Days of Despair 290
Chapter 25 "We Are Celebrating Smyrna" 299
Chapter 26 Jennings and the Hand of God 307
Chapter 27 Garabed Hatcherian 319
Chapter 28 Washington Feels Pressure 325
Chapter 29 Jennings Negotiates with a Prime Minister 338
Chapter 30 The Evacuation Begins 348
Chapter 31 The Rhodes Letter Resurfaces 369
Chapter 32 Revolution 375
Chapter 33 British Assistance 378
Chapter 34 After Smyrna 383
Selected Bibliography 449
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Great Fire is a highly accurate portrayal of one of the most disastrous fires in history--and a terrific read, as well. The fire of Smyrna in September of 1922 marked the end of a great empire (the Ottoman Empire), the emergence of a modern nation (Turkey), and the beginning of the final chapter in the ridding of ethnic Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians from all of Asia Minor, where they had lived for millennia. Many tens of thousands of these peoples died at the hands of the Turks in the process, but thanks to an American missionary and a sympathetic American naval officer on the scene, some three hundred thousand people lived who otherwise might have died. At the author’s request, I read an earlier version of the manuscript, and I have just read the newly published book. I learned even more this time through. Aided by his ability to capture personality and character in a few sentences, the author illuminates what is a complex historical background at the same time he masterfully sketches a story that a reader does not want to put down. Based on my own years of research, I’m certain that the author’s accounts both of the genocidal events perpetrated by the Turks & of the American admiral’s impulse ever to hush those things up are absolutely accurate. It is also true that some 20 Allied warships in the harbor at Smyrna did virtually nothing to stop the carnage, instead playing records to drown out the screams. Nevertheless, telling the story of a final, astonishing rescue is the author’s real passion. The writer is correct in calling this one of the greatest naval evacuations in history. It’s also a great story, awfully well told.