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Paradise Lost by Giles Milton
As the 19th Century drew to a close, Smyrna was a cosmopolitan paradise, prosperous, bustling, and enlightened. The Greeks were numerically dominant, but the city housed Armenians, Jews, Levantines, Ottomans, other Europeans, and even Americans. The inevitable frictions between the ethnic groups were rare. Tolerance and interdependence were the common currency.
The Turks, seemingly shattered and in total disarray after the end of the First World War, rode triumphantly into the city on September 9, 1922, and within two weeks the once glorious city had been almost entirely reduced to embers, hundreds of thousands of people were huddled on the quay, and a humanitarian tragedy of unparalleled scope was fully underway. The Great Powers, whose political machinations had brought the situation into being, stood idly by, reluctant to intervene.
Giles Milton has written an immensely readable chronicle of this dreadful episode in human history.
Lost Paradise is well-researched and well-written, rich in fascinating detail from primary sources. He has unearthed myriad eyewitness accounts which paint a picture of a quite remarkable city, that for an impressive period of time managed to resist the forces that swirled around it, but which ultimately fell prey to sectarian and nationalistic violent excess.
American consul George Horton is quoted thus,
“…one of the keenest impressions which I brought away with me from Smyrna was a feeling of shame that I belonged to the human race.”
This is a tale both sordid and heroic, in ways both expected and unexpected. Milton sews it together with consummate craft.
Would that we would learn something from the adventurous interventions of the past.
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