History – Silent Diplomacy in Turkey – Looking back at how it happened


Silent Diplomacy in Turkey

Looking back at how it happened

By Ismail Veli…….

Turks and Greeks often discuss history from their perspective. Many clearly have their own preconceived ideas or axe to grind. History is never as clear cut as we imagine it to be. It’s not often we hear a particular part of history from someone whose grandfather was actually involved in the decision making and negotiations. Following the Greek invasion of Turkey in 1919, which culminated in a waking-the-lioncatastrophic defeat for the Greeks in 1922. The effect was the transfer of the Greek population from Turkey to Greece and the Turkish population from Greece to Turkey. It effectively uprooted whole populations who were on the receiving end of some brutal treatment depending on their ethnicity.

Roger gives us a vivid description of his grandfather’s amazing diplomatic skills in assisting both the Greeks and Turkish refugees in the aftermath of this terrible war .

Asa K Jennings was respected in equal measure by both peoples. Leaders like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the hero of the Turkish people, and the Greek government of the day worked closely with him in the monumental task of transferring millions to new homes. The tragedy was on a massive scale. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had a great deal of respect for Asa. Due to the debacle of the Greek invasion of Turkey, the Greek government was in complete turmoil with at least 4 presidents in a short period of four years. In-spite of the turmoil the Greek government put their trust in Asa Jennings and the legacy he left is that he was not only adored by the Greek refugees for his ceaseless and amazing efforts, but is still the highest decorated person in Greek history.

That is a legacy that Asa’s amazing humanitarian efforts left to both the Greek and Turkish people. Thanks to his grandson Roger, Cyprusscene is in the unique position of being given the opportunity to share a part of history that is talked about, but rarely seen from a different angle other than the recriminations and propaganda pursued by many. An important aspect of Roger’s history is that contrary to what many of us think, much of the hard work is not always carried out due to governments decision making policy makers. This is done by what he calls ”Silent Diplomacy.” A true eye opener to say the least.

It may be well to reflect that nearly a  century forward from the events in this article the world is faced with a refugee crisis biblical in proportion. Sadly there are no Asa’s to help persuade an ineffectual and indifferent Western leadership to rise to the challenge of solving what is essentially one of the greatest humanitarian disasters this century. This in itself is a sad indictment of the indifference to the suffering of our fellow human beings. With the absence of people like Asa Jennings on the world stage, the suffering of our fellow human beings looks set to increase rather than diminish. History will I’m afraid judge our generation with the abhorrence we deserve…… 

Silent Diplomacy 

By Roger L. Jennings……..

Not all diplomacy is conducted by the State Department, foreign ministries or other government officials. Some of the best work has been performed by civilians that went unnoticed.

Two countries were at war – Greece and Turkey in 1919-22. This was a particularly ugly war.  There was a 400 year history of Turkish oppression of Greeks. The Greeks hated Turks, and the Greek Army landed in Turkey in 1919 with the approval of diplomats by the Treaty of Sevres.

Immediately, Greek soldiers started killing innocent people.  Before this war was over, people were hacked to death and burned alive in their houses by both armies. Every form of brutality was committed. Finally, the Turkish Army won the last battle by August 30, 1922, and the panic stricken Greek Army ran out of Turkey.

This is history that was created by the highest level personnel in the foreign ministries of European governments. Army Generals from the U.K., France and Italy, and an Admiral from the U.S. later wrote in the Inter-Allied Commission report that allowing the Greek Army to enter Turkey was a mistake by the diplomats, and an allied force should have been formed to protect the ethnic populations of Smyrna.

The Turks wanted vengeance. The Greek Army had left Turkey, but many ethnic Greeks remained.  Some of them had joined in the violence against the Turks. The Armenians had been particularly violent against the Turks, and when the time for retribution came, the Armenians were singled out by the Turks for the greatest punishment. There was a large Jewish population in Turkey, but they were not contentious, and were not singled out by the Turks.

Smyrne in flames

At the beginning of September 1922 there were 350,000 civilians trapped on the quay of Smyrna (Izmir today), Turkey.  Turkish brigands were raping the women and girls, and killing innocent people at will for the fun of killing. The City was burned to the ground on September 13, 1922. There was insufficient water and food. Dead people, and parts of people were everywhere rotting in the hot sun. There were no sanitation facilities. The stench was horrific.  Disease could break out at any time, and spread very quickly.

The American community organized by a YMCA employee formed The American Relief Committee. At first, they were feeding up to 350,000 people per day meager rations of bread and soup.  They rescued all they could from the violence. Flour was gathered from local sources, and then they acquired the flour left behind by the Greek Army. Near East Relief, an American organization created to feed the Armenians, donated flour from its warehouses in Istanbul. The U.S. Navy provided transport. No foreign government helped other than the U.S. Navy.

However, The American Relief Committee could not stop the tide of destruction overcoming the thousands of innocent people. The Committee repeatedly asked U.S. Consul General George Horton, who was married to a Greek woman, to go to the Turkish leaders on behalf of the refugees – many of whom were Greek. Horton would only say “bring it up at the next meeting.”

The nationalist government of Turkey announced that everyone would be marched to the interior of Turkey to avoid disease.  All knew this meant death, because like the Armenians of 1914, there was insufficient water and food to support the people.

Asa K. Jennings

Asa K Jennings

Then, the American civilian working for the YMCA who organized The American Relief Committee, became the diplomat humanity needed. The civilian, Asa K. Jennings, went to the headquarters of the Turkish Army and got a meeting with the Turkish supreme commander Gazi M. Kemal Pasha.

Jennings was only 5’2” tall and had a hunch back from a disease as a young man. However, he was not timid. He was called a genius at converting others of what he wanted to do.  He also knew the Gazi had a huge problem and no solution.

Jennings proposed a solution. The proposal was to remove the non-Turkish population from Turkey to bring “peace at home, peace in the world.” The Gazi agreed, with conditions.  The website of the Turkish Foreign Ministry today shows that as the objective of the Turkish Republic.  Turkey has followed that course until today. With one stroke, the Turks were turned away from an Ottoman past and to a modern future

Jennings had no money, title or authority, but he had determination, intelligence and creativity. A Methodist minister of the highest Christian principles, he then blackmailed the Greek Government to gain control of 50 Greek ships to remove 25,000 Jews, 25,000 Armenians and 300,000 Greeks from Smyrna in 11 days. He then went with his 50 ships to all ports of Turkey and removed 1,250,000 people in 10 months. Critical to the effort was the support of the U.S. Navy. The full story is in the book Waking the Lion by Roger Jennings and sold by Amazon click here

The Turks would not allow any ships of foreign navies in their ports, except the U.S. Navy.  The U.S. technically was at war with Turkey, an ally of Germany, during WWI, but never took any action against Turkey. The U.S. never claimed any Turkish territory after WWI like France, U.K., Italy and Greece.  In fact, during WWI American missionaries helped the Turkish people deal with their problems being friends with the Turks.

That conduct by Americans during and after WWI, and the performance of The American Relief Committee created an opportunity for Jennings to open the diplomatic door to Turkey.  That door is still open today.

Shown under are pictures of honours given to Asa K Jennings and the order for ships and these documents may be read by clicking here

asa-k-jennings-documents

Jennings brought the ships to Turkey that removed the minorities who the Turks saw as the source of all the violence.  A great service had been rendered to the Turks.  The hatred of Christians from centuries of abuse was no longer controlling behavior. The Gazi found that Jennings was a fair and honest man the Turks could trust. So the Gazi appointed the hunchback American as Turkey’s diplomat at the Treaty of Lausanne for population and POW exchange.  The Gazi made the appointment knowing the Greeks also appointed the same American as their diplomat.  Asa K. Jennings was the national hero of Greece for saving the Greeks at Smyrna. Greeks would kneel out of respect when Jennings was walking on Greek soil and they wanted to kiss the hand of this little man who was so huge to the Greeks.

All during the greatest rescue in history Asa K. Jennings, a physically weak man with only 45% breathing capacity, was assisted by his 15 year old son Asa W. Jennings. Together after the rescue they organized the American Friends of Turkey.

Asa K Jennings 1

The American Friends of Turkey was staffed by Turks, but led by Americans, and funded by generous Americans like William Hoover of Hoover Vacuum in Canton, Ohio, and Arthur “Golden Rule” Nash, a business executive in Cincinnati, Ohio. Jennings left employment with the YMCA to work for the American Friends of Turkey (AFOT), because anything Christian among Turkish Muslims was viewed negatively.

The AFOT started social and training programs that were the beginning of a modern Turkish Republic. For example, they started child care in Smyrna (Izmir) so Turkish women could feel their children were safe while the women worked in the packing plants.  That also brought the women out of the seclusion of their homes to be contributors to a new, stronger Turkey.

The AFOT built the first athletic field of Turkey in Izmir.  There were dressing rooms for men, women and officials. The conduct and observance of game rules were supervised by the AFOT.  No coarse language or violation of the rules was allowed. The Turkish men loved the competition, and learned to compete and still be friends after the game. That is a marked change from Islam where losing is not acceptable.

When the U.S. military first went into Afghanistan there was a pick up basketball game with the U.S. soldiers on one team and Afghan soldiers on the other team. When the Americans started to win, the Afghans attempted to kill the Americans until observers stepped in to stop the violence.  That lesson teaches us in the future to integrate teams.

Playgrounds were built all over Turkey to teach this tolerance from an early age. At first, women were slow to join into athletic events. Religious leaders opposed this western culture which they viewed as evil – much like Iran today.

The AFOT received written instructions from the Chicago Health Department about how a mother should care for a new born baby.  The AFOT had these instructions translated into Turkish and at the urging of the Turkish Government distributed all over Turkey  to mothers of new born children.

constantinople-falls-to-the-ottomans-in-1453

Constantinople falls to the Ottomans in 1453

The Ottoman Turks had ruled for nearly 700 years, but all the work had been performed by the minorities who had just left Turkey. The AFOT started training programs in many of the skills required in society. The minorities had believed in educating youth, but the Turks were mostly uneducated.  The Gazi mandated universal education, and the AFOT financially supported promising young Turks who went to the U.S. for their educations. These young men returned to Turkey to become the future leaders of Turkey.  No U.S. agency or other government was involved in any of these humanitarian programs for Turkey.

Asa K. Jennings and his son Asa W. Jennings (AWJ) had many meetings with the Gazi.  They were always welcomed.  In January 1933 Asa K. died.  AWJ continued the work while going to law school at New York University.  Upon graduation in 1934, AWJ married and left immediately with his bride on a trip to France, Germany, Italy, Greece and Turkey.  At a meeting at 3 a.m. with the Gazi, AWJ informed the Gazi that the AFOT operations in Turkey would be shut down . There no longer was financial support from the U.S. due to the Great Depression.

The Gazi asked what AWJ planned to do. AWJ, my Father, informed the Gazi that he had just passed the bar exam in New York and would return to the U.S. to practice Law. The Gazi appointed AWJ as Turkey’s lawyer in the U.S. with a stipend of $50 per month.

president-ismet-inonu

President Ismet Inonu

The Gazi died in 1938. His close friend Ismet Inonu became the second President of Turkey. Greece was attacked by Italy, Bulgaria and Germany in 1940. Turkey feared they would be attacked next to control access to the Black Sea.  Turkey held the key to any support for Russia. Turkey went on full mobilization. However, the Turks lacked the arms needed to defend their sovereign territory. The Turkish Government presented AWJ with a long list of required items. For example, they wanted 100,000 Colt revolvers with ammunition, wire, chemicals to make explosives, airplanes, airplane trainers, and more with mules to move these arms up the hills of Turkey.

In 1940 the U.S. would not help the U.K. during the Battle of Britain, but a civilian obtained all the arms requested by Turkey. My Father had the arms loaded on ships displaying flags of neutral countries. The ships then left the U.S. and sailed to South America.  Then they crossed to Africa and went north to the Mediterranean to avoid the U-boats.  No ship was attacked.  The Turks got a good deal for $50 per month.

After the U.S. entered WWII on December 7, 1941, the U.S. wanted to send food and arms to our ally Russia.  Supplying Russia through Iran was slow and expensive.The Russians could be supplied by a rail line from the Black Sea that the German Army never seized.

My Father went to President Inonu and said that when Turkey needed help America came to your aid.  Now America needs a return of the favor.  My Father asked to send ships with flags of neutral countries to the Black Sea.  Turkey was a neutral country during WWII.  If the German spies in Istanbul had ever learned what was in those ships, the violation of Turkey’s neutral status would have brought an attack by the Nazis against Turkey.

Some of the greatest diplomatic work is done by people who are not “diplomats.”  Diplomatic success is built on good deeds and trust.  Then one achievement, like removing the minorities, can lead to another, like arming Turkey and then arming our ally Russia.  This is diplomacy unknown to the diplomats.  These are diplomatic successes they could not achieve.

To learn more of my grandfather’s achievements as a silent diplomat please click here for details of my book “Waking the Lion” that is available from Amazon and I leave you with a video below which will show you more of those desperate days when my grandfather saved so many people.

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