Indeed it is; the agora is the marketplace of a Greek polis. The word αγορά is from αγείρειν, meaning “to gather” or “to collect”, and is related to the words “aggregate” and “gregarious”. It’s the gathering place at the heart of a Greek city.
And the city of Izmir hasn’t always been called that. Before it became a Turkish city, it had been Smyrna, a major Greek port and trading center for more than two millennia. Even after becoming part of the Ottoman Empire it remained a primarily Christian city, home to many thousands of Greeks and Armenians.
Until 1922, that is. The week of September 11-17, to be precise. During that period the city was occupied by the forces of Mustafa Kemal, a.k.a. Kemal Attaturk. The Christian areas of the city were looted and torched, and the Armenians and the Greeks were driven from their homes to flee the city or be slaughtered. Of the 400,000 Christians resident in the city beforehand, virtually none remained, and more than 190,000 were never accounted for. The Archbishop Chrysostomos was among the victims, murdered at the hands of a mob while under the “protection” of French marines. The city, except for the Turkish quarter, was reduced to a smoking ruin.
So here we are at yet another anniversary. Another 9-11, and also a 9-17.
Let’s back off a little bit and look at the history of Asia Minor. Below is a map of the region in ancient times, as it was more or less in the time of St. Paul.
Notice all the place names on the map. Those cities and regions were Greek, and had been for a thousand years. While St. Paul was making his way through Asia Minor to Corinth, the Turks were still a tribe of Mongol nomads in the Central Asian uplands.
After the rise of Islam the Turks migrated to Anatolia, picked up Islam on the way, and succeeded where the Arabs had failed, conquering the Byzantine Empire piece by piece. The city of Smyrna fell first to the Seljuk Turks in 1084, was regained by the Greeks, and then later was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. It remained in Ottoman hands until modern times, but was still primarily a Greek and Armenian city, home to thousands of Christian dhimmis.
At the beginning of the 20th century there were an estimated 4.5 million Christians in what is now Turkey, most of them Greek. In 1979 the Greek Orthodox population in Turkey was thought to be no more than 7,000, and is now down to about 2,000.
Where did all those Greeks go? Demetrios didn’t just turn to Sofia one day and say, “Darling, let’s load all our worldly goods onto the donkey cart and we’ll move to Athens or Thessalonica.” It’s not like Smyrna was proselytized by gentle imams who were so persuasive that the entire Greek population converted to Islam, gave up their Greek surnames, and took on Turkish ones instead.
No, Asia Minor was cleared of Greeks and Armenians in the traditional manner, by blood and fire, by the sword and the bullet, by rapine and looting and unimaginable slaughter. But this didn’t happen in 670, or 1084, or 1453, or 1683. It was in 1922, in the recently departed 20th century. It was the Rwanda and Darfur of the 1920s, and it occurred within living memory. Or it would be living, if the memory of it hadn’t been dumped down the oubliette along with all the other inconvenient facts that the bien-pensants would rather not think about.
When the “Sick Man of Europe” — the Ottoman Empire — finally expired at the end of the Great War, the formerly Ottoman lands were divided up by the Western Allies according to the national aspirations of the inhabitants as well as the mercantile schemes of the British and the French. Greece had won her independence from the Ottomans in 1821, but much of Asia Minor, though ethnically Greek, remained part of the Ottoman Empire until it was allotted to the Greek nation under the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920.
The defeat at the hands of the Allies helped spark Kemal Attaturk’s “Young Turk” revolution that overthrew the Ottomans and replaced them with a secular Turkish nationalist government. In 1921 Greek forces secured Smyrna and moved inland to engage the Turkish nationalist army. Unfortunately, they were no match for their opponents, and were pushed back across the Bosphorus by the Turks. Any Greek civilians who failed to flee with them were left to face the revenge of Kemal’s army.
The awful dénouement was realized most vividly in Smyrna. According to Western eyewitness accounts ( derided as “tall tales” by some Turks, but confirmed by other Turkish sources), Turkish soldiers methodically put the Greek and Armenian quarters to the torch when the winds were blowing away from the Turkish quarter. Christian homes and businesses were looted, Christian women were raped by soldiers while their families were slaughtered, and what remained of the Christian populace gathered on the quayside between the flaming city and the waters of the harbor.
Like the people trapped on the upper floors of the World Trade Center, the Christians of Smyrna faced the choice of dying in the inferno or jumping. Many of them did jump, and those who could swim tried to reach the Allied warships anchored in the harbor.
But the British and French seamen had orders from headquarters not to allow any refugees aboard. They cut the ropes and threw water onto the desperate Greeks trying to climb aboard, and many thousands of people drowned.
Not our finest hour, eh?
The Western Allies had read the writing on the wall, and could see that Kemal Attaturk and his genocidal soldiers were the wave of the future. Commercial interests were at stake, after all, so Attaturk got the assistance of the West, the Greeks were driven from Asia Minor, and the Treaty of Sèvres was discarded. The facts on the ground were codified by a new treaty, the Treaty of Lausanne, in 1923.
The Greek Holocaust was a secular one, perpetrated by Turkish nationalists out to secularize the country, and not a product of jihad. Even so, the corpses strewn in the streets were all Christians, and were derided by their murderers as gâvur, the Turkish version of the Arabic word kaffir, or infidels.
And so we have another series of grainy monochrome photos of corpses, the familiar spawn of the 20th century. The brutalized and desecrated victims lie in disordered heaps while the onlookers and perpetrators stare nonchalantly into the camera. The Balkans, Russia, and now Turkey; later Spain, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Ukraine, Bosnia, and Kosovo, on and on and on…
Asia Minor becomes Griechenrein. Turkey becomes a modern, secular, “European” state. The Turks flood Europe.
And so we move on into the 21st century.
Last week the Islamic Street rose in predictable outrage after Pope Benedict XVI mentioned a 14th-century Byzantine emperor’s remarks about the brutal and immoral nature of Islamic jihad.
One of the more outstanding reactions from the Islamic world was this butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-his-mouth quote from Ali Bardakoglu, head of the Turkish Religious Affairs Directorate:
Bardakoglu said he expected an apology from the pope and said it was Christianity, not Islam, that popularized conversion by the sword, according to Turkey’s state-owned Anatolia news agency.
“The church and the Western public, because they saw Islam as the enemy, went on crusades. They occupied Istanbul, they killed thousands of people. Orthodox Christians and Jews were killed and tortured,” he said.
Regular readers of Gates of Vienna don’t have to be reminded that until 1453 Istanbul was Constantinople, a Greek city and the seat of the Eastern Empire. The Crusaders occupied it, and the Byzantines later retook it, before it was finally overrun, sacked, and converted by the Ottomans in 1453.
The Turkish reaction is more than historical revisionism; it is absolute fantasy, on a scale that Big Brother could only admire.
It would be laughable if so many in the West weren’t ready to buy into it, to accept the “Evil Crusaders” meme as gospel truth, to jump on the Pope for examining and restating the plain facts of history, and to turn their naked bellies to the swords of the Saracens, begging for dhimmitude.
What have we come to? How could this happen?
Let’s return to the agora. In a Greek city-state, the agora was at the center of public affairs, the open area where people gathered, business was transacted, and public debate occurred. Its Roman equivalent was the forum, and in the Hispanic diaspora it was the plaza. The American version would be the courthouse square.
This is the Commons, the public space, the area of civic life shared by all citizens.
In the 20th century its traditional forms in the West atrophied as modern forms of communication moved in. Radio and then television supplanted the agora, and the free-for-all exchange of ideas was replaced by a one-way communication. In contrast to a conversation in the square, the Chosen Few read the story into the microphone, and you, Mr. Average Citizen, listened to it through the speaker and accepted it as the narrative of the common culture.
This worked fine as long as the person reading into the microphone and the person listening to the speaker shared the same values and assumptions. But for the last fifty years or so these two have diverged. The average person in the West holds very different values from the people whom Thomas Sowell has dubbed “The Anointed”, typified by the editors of The New York Times and the news anchors of network television. These latter folks are anxious to put one over on you, in order to serve the Common Good, which they, as the privileged minority, have been able to ascertain.
Until the stakes became so deadly this didn’t matter too much. But now, when the Religious Affairs Directorate of Turkey tells us that we are bad and in need of correction, there is no agora in the West, no place where prominent citizens can stand up, shake their fists, and cry, “We’re not going to stand for this!”
Posse Incitatus knows the truth. So do Dave Schuler and Charles Johnson. But that truth is not going to appear on the nightly news or the front page of the NYT.
The agora was the transmission belt of our common culture, and the belt is now broken. The common values of our civilization are no longer being transmitted from generation to generation by the erstwhile guardians of the West.
To switch metaphors a bit, the title-holders of our culture have defaulted on their obligations, and are about to be foreclosed on. The means to do so are at hand.
Two major steps are necessary, and each is difficult in its own way.
First of all, it’s time to kill your television. If you have children, this is a must. Television is the primary propagator of the destructive memes that are poised to bring down the decadent West. It doesn’t matter if you only watch “Masterpiece Theatre” or the Weather Channel: your television is a Trojan Horse, one that will carry everything you don’t want into your house and infect your kids with it.
Secondly, pull your kids out of the public schools. If you spend a couple of hours reading about the fashionable and dangerous Marxist thought being poured into the heads of your kids’ teachers at the schools of education, you won’t hesitate to get your children out of reach of the school system. Make the necessary sacrifice: keep one parent at home and do the homeschooling.
I realize that homeschooling can be quite difficult under the nanny states of some European countries and Australia, not to mention in some of the bluer states in the USA. But if it’s legal where you live, it’s a worthwhile thing to do. Make yourself into the cultural transmission belt, and your kids will be the better for it.
Both of these prescriptions require sacrifice, but both are possible now, thanks to the internet. If your house has broadband and no TV, and if — most importantly — you monitor closely your children’s use of the internet, the information that flows into their impressionable little minds will be quite different from what enthralls and entertains the MTV-and-public-school crowd.
The new media are poised to gather together the disparate strands of the despised traditional culture and weave them into something that can withstand the forces that would destroy us.
Or, to use a genetic analogy, the legacy media are the dominant cultural genes, and the alternatives — the churches, the Boy Scouts, volunteer organizations, etc. — are the recessive ones. In times of stress on a population, recessive genes gain selective value and come to the fore. Information that was once hiding in the genetic shadows emerges now into the sunlight to save the species from extinction.
If you pay attention to the legacy media, the culture of the West seems almost suicidal in its determination to submit to the Great Islamic Jihad. The élites of the Anointed are secure in their bastions in Scarsdale or Ann Arbor or Hollywood, and don’t have to fear for their own skins any time soon. They watch the tide coming in and knocking down the sand castles in Europe, but their little castles are secure.
Or so they think. But there’s no place on earth that’s above the high tide line of Islam.
In 1918, the fall of the Ottomans was the low tide of Islam. The Greek castles were way down the shore near the ebb, and they were the first to go when the tide turned. The castles in Nigeria, Kosovo, Kashmir, and Indonesia are falling now, and those in Sweden, the Netherlands, and Britain will topple soon.
But none of our castles is safe. Ours may not fall in Dan Rather’s lifetime, or in mine. But some cohort of those alive today — people now in their 20s, or 30s, or 40s — will have to face this tide at its flood. It will be no use to emulate Canute and order it to turn back.
The only way the West will be victorious is for us to take back the culture.
We need to empower our heirs by driving pilings deep into the cultural foreshore so that our revered institutions will be strong enough to withstand the pounding of the coming tide.
Resources concerning the Greek Holocaust in Asia Minor:
Human Rights Action
First Greco-Turkish War 1897
Second Greco-Turkish War 1921-1922
Venizelos and the Asia Minor Catastrophe
The Destruction of Smyrna