What was cosmopolitan Smyrna on the coasts of Western Anatolia, like at the beginning of the 20th century? How did the Greeks, the largest Christian community, live side by side with the Muslims, the Levantines, the Armenians and the Jews? What was so unique about this Mediterranean port in the Ottoman Empire, which even today, 90 years after the Destruction is still linked to a joie de vivre during the good times and dirges for the Destruction that came so suddenly in September 1922?
Through unknown photographic archives and film footage, collected and preserved in the United States and Europe by the nonprofit organization Proteas, director Maria Iliou, historical consultant Alexander Kitroeff and their collaborators unfold a fascinating story in a documentary film that premiered at the Benaki Museum in Greece in January 2012, played till March 2012 and was a huge success.
After four years of collaboration and research, Maria Iliou and Alexander Kitroeff bring back to audiences images forgotten in "closed" archives as well as a new perspective that includes all the communities of Smyrna as well as the dramatic events of 1922.
90 years after the destruction, the team seeks to honor not only those who were lost in 1922 but also the discipline of history. Historians from the US and Europe present the big picture while first, second and third generation Smyrniots recount their personal stories. Indeed three of them unfold little family stories relative to the events from the Greek, the Armenian and the Turkish side, from the years of cosmopolitanism to the years of the destruction.
While Smyrna burned, Greeks and Armenians trapped on the quayside desperately tried to find ways to escape. The Great Powers, adopting a "neutral" stance in order to protect their interests, instructed their ships not to take on refugees. Certain American citizens saved thousands of lives by taking the initiative to help women and children escape. But the Turkish authorities displaced Christian men to the interior, something that meant hardship and death.
Image: Courtesy Pierre de Gigord Archive Cosmopolitan Smyrna, Beg. 1900