Greco-Turkish War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After the Allies encouraged Greece to assume control of territory in Anatolia, formerly part of the collapsing Ottoman Empire, Mustafa Kemal organized a new Turkish army to repel Greek forces.

Summary of Event

During World War I, England and France helped install the pro-Allied government of Eleuthérios Venizélos in Greece. At the same time, they forced Constantine I, the German emperor’s brother-in-law, and his eldest son, Prince George, into exile, which made Constantine’s younger son, Alexander, the king. The Allies promised Venizélos that Greece’s loyalty to the Allies would be repaid with land in Turkey. Venizélos and the Greeks had hoped for Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) as their prize, but the Allies had not yet decided the fate of the city. As they divided the Ottoman Empire among themselves, they encouraged Athens to take over western Anatolia. Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922)[Grecoturkish War] Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922) [kw]Greco-Turkish War (May 19, 1919-Sept. 11, 1922)[Greco Turkish War (May 19, 1919 Sept. 11, 1922)] [kw]Turkish War, Greco- (May 19, 1919-Sept. 11, 1922) [kw]War, Greco-Turkish (May 19, 1919-Sept. 11, 1922)[War, Greco Turkish (May 19, 1919 Sept. 11, 1922)] Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922)[Grecoturkish War] Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922) [g]Ottoman Empire;May 19, 1919-Sept. 11, 1922: Greco-Turkish War[04760] [g]Turkey;May 19, 1919-Sept. 11, 1922: Greco-Turkish War[04760] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 19, 1919-Sept. 11, 1922: Greco-Turkish War[04760] [c]Expansion and land acquisition;May 19, 1919-Sept. 11, 1922: Greco-Turkish War[04760] [c]Independence movements;May 19, 1919-Sept. 11, 1922: Greco-Turkish War[04760] Atatürk Mehmed VI İsmet Paşa Venizélos, Eleuthérios Constantine I Alexander I

Mustafa Kemal (center) after his forces repelled the Greek army.

(Library of Congress)

In May of 1919, against his military commanders’ advice, Venizélos ordered Greek troops to disembark around Izmir (formerly Smyrna), a Turkish town with a large Greek community that Venizélos hoped to add to Greece. From there the Greeks proceeded eastward. Other Allied forces controlled different parts of Anatolia as well as the remainder of the Ottoman Empire, but they denied the Greeks’ hopes for shared control in these regions. Meanwhile, on May 28, 1918, Armenia declared its independence.

Under the circumstances, Mustafa Kemal, who had been a supporter of the Young Turk Young Turks movement in 1908 and made a name for himself as a commander at the Battle of Gallipoli and on the Russian front, began to establish a Turkish national government at Ankara (formerly Angora) in central Anatolia. Kemal intented to regain control of the Turkish homeland—but not the whole Ottoman Empire—and to establish a secular republic. To do this, however, Kemal first needed to drive back the Greeks and Armenians.

The Treaty of Sèvres Sèvres, Treaty of (1920) (signed in August of 1920) between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire left the Ottomans with Anatolia and Istanbul. The Greeks were awarded Thrace (north of Istanbul), certain islands, and the Izmir district until a plebiscite could be held. The advance of the Greek military into territory that had been awarded to Turkey led many Turks to support Kemal in spite of his opposition to the theocratic monarchy. The Treaty of Sèvres and the Greek invasion gave Kemal enough support to win the parliamentary elections of 1919, and after this victory he was able to express his distaste for the sultan’s regime freely. The Allies feared Kemal’s influence, and they encouraged the Greek invasions. By July, Greek troops had captured Bursa (formerly Brusa), across from Istanbul, and Edirne (formerly Adrianople) and had reached the Sea of Marmora. The sultan acquiesced and accepted Sèvres, but real power now lay with Kemal.

While the war-weary Greek citizens supported the occupation of Izmir, they were unhappy with the later invasions. When King Alexander suddenly died on October 25, 1920 (from an infectious bite from his pet monkey), the supporters of the exiled King Constantine voted Venizélos’s Liberal Party out of power (at the time of the election, Venizélos was away at the Paris Peace Conference). Constantine returned and resumed power. Even though the monarchists had initially campaigned against the Turkish adventure, the lure of incorporating Anatolia was too great to resist, and the invasion continued.

On January 11, 1921, the Greeks drove the Turks back in a minor skirmish called the First Battle of İnönü İnönü, First Battle of (1921)[Inönü, First Battle of] but their failure to follow the victory with decisive action meant that they lost a chance to drive the Turks from Eskisehir. The Greek advance, however, continued into central Anatolia. In March the troops from occupied Bursa met the Turks at the Second Battle of İnönü İnönü, Second Battle of (1921)[Inönü, Second Battle of] (March 26-31), and Greek forces successfully attacked the Turkish right wing and captured an important area known as Metristepe Hill. On March 27, Turkish forces under İsmet Paşa failed to retake the heights during a nighttime attack, but four days later they received support from Kemal and successfully conquered the area. The fighting continued into April at Afyon, where the Turks scored another victory. While the Turks withdrew and reorganized, the Greeks reinforced their positions and occupied Eskişehir. This caused some consternation among the Turkish leaders in Ankara, but Kemal remained steadfast and issued a series of decrees that confiscated material for the army.

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In mid-August, the Greeks were still deep in enemy territory, but their communication with the coast was limited to a single railway line, and Kemal took advantage of the Greek weakness and made his stand. The fierce Battle of Sakarya raged from August 24 to September 16, when the Turks forced the Greek army to retreat. The casualties on both sides were horrendous: As many as half the soldiers in each army were killed. Kemal became Turkey’s hero, and the sultan was left without power. The Allies were divided on the question of whether they should continue to support Greece or make peace with Kemal, who managed to subdue the Armenians and sign treaties with Italy, France, and the Soviet Union that ensured the evacuation of Turkish territory. As a result, Kemal was able to secure his eastern flank and concentrate his troops against the Greeks, who were left without significant support.

In 1922, Kemal launched his final campaign and drove the Greeks out of Anatolia. The Allies proposed an armistice in March, but Kemal rejected it and pushed on. On August 22, the last decisive battle of Dumplinar (near Afyon) brought victory to the Turks; this is the date now celebrated as Turkey’s day of national independence. Turkish armies soon entered Izmir (September 9-11) and set the city ablaze. An armistice was signed on October 11 at Mudanya. The Allies then recognized Kemal as the president of the Turkish republic, turned Istanbul and Edirne over to him, and replaced the Treaty of Sèvres with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. Lausanne, Treaty of (1923)

Significance

The Greco-Turkish War established modern Turkey as an important republic in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean. Secure in his position at the country’s head, Mustafa Kemal carried out his revolution of secularizing and modernizing Turkey. He made the Turks adopt last names, and he became Atatürk (Father of the Turks). İsmet Paşa, who succeeded Kemal as president of the republic, named himself İsmet İnönü, a name he took from Kemal’s great victory. These reforms were never completely accepted by all the Turks, however, and many conservative Muslims and those living in the countryside continued to oppose them.

In Greece, the commander of the Anatolian campaign and five government officials were executed because of the defeat. Shortly thereafter, King Constantine was forced into exile once again, this time by his own people. Furthermore, there were a series of population exchanges among the Greeks, Turks, and Bulgarians. Although most of these changes benefited the Turks, some Greeks continued to live in Turkey, especially in Istanbul and Izmir. Tension between Ankara and Athens continued throughout the century, although after 1974 the main point of contention centered on the island of Cyprus, which had a mixed Turkish and Greek population. The republic of Cyprus was mainly Greek, but politicians in Ankara helped establish a Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that was recognized only by Turkey. Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922)[Grecoturkish War] Turkish War of Independence (1919-1922)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dakin, Douglas. The Unification of Greece, 1770-1923. London: Benn, 1972. Contains an interpretation of the war from the Greek point of view.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Koliopoulos, John S., and Thanos M. Veremis. Greece: The Modern Sequel; From 1831 to the Present. New York: New York University Press, 2002. A thematic interpretation of modern Greek history by two distinguished scholars. Suffers from a bias toward Greek propaganda.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Shaw, Stanford J. From Empire to Republic: The Turkish War of National Liberation: A Documentary Study, 1918-1923. Ankara, Turkey: Turk Tarih Kurumu Basimevi, 2000. Published in the Turkish Historical Society Series. Contains an introductory chapter on the Ottoman Empire and Turkish documents on the war. Bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. 2 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976-1977. A standard history that favors Turkey.

Young Turks Stage a Coup in the Ottoman Empire

Balkan Wars

British Mount a Second Front Against the Ottomans

Armenian Genocide Begins

Cyprus Becomes a British Crown Colony

Greece Invades Bulgaria

Treaty of Ankara

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