The following article appeared in The Bridgeport
Telegram, January 22, 1923. (Thanks to Gokalp.)
Prentiss Blames Armenians For Firing City of Smyrna
Greeks and Armenians Destroyed Supplies and Hospital Rather Than Allow Enemy to Use Them
— Turks Had Full Control and Planned to Use Smyrna as Headquarters.
The Hitherto Untold Story of the Smyrna Fire Told by Mark O. Prentiss, American
Representative of the Near East Relief. Armenians, not Turks, Set the Fire, Evidence of
Smyrna Fire Chief Revealed.
(Copyright, 1923, by North American Newspaper Alliance in United States, Canada, Great
Britain and South America.)
By MARK O. PRENTISS
Nearly everybody in America, it appears, is convinced that the Turks were responsible for
the fire which added the final touches of tragedy to the Smyrna horror. The unanimity and
firmness of this conviction surprised me at first, as I believe it would have surprised
anybody else, of whatever nationallity or political allegiance, who had recently come from
the scene of the disaster. The motive, usually considered of supreme importance in crimes
of this sort, does not clearly point to the Turks. They had captured Smyrna. The city, as
it stood, was one of the greatest prizes ever taken in Oriental warfare. The Turks had
unquestioned title to its foods, its commodities of all sorts, its houses. It was a
storehouse of supplies most urgently needed for their peoples and armies, Why destroy it?
It was a matter of common knowledge on the other hand, that the Armenians and Greeks were
determined not to let this booty fall into the hands of their hated enemies. There was a
generally accepted report in Smyrna, for several days before the fire, that an organized
group of Armenian young men had sworn to burn the city if it fell to the Turks. They
certainly had motive enough, and if this was their plan ruthlessly carried out, they paid
a terrible price. No Armenian man, woman or child who was in the Armenian quarter after
the fire started escaped alive. They were either burned or shot down by Turkish soldiers.
The Turks committed atrocities enough without crediting them with others, to which they
haven't a clear title.
Evidence gathered by Paul Grescovich, Chief of the Smyrna Fire Department, and
carefully checked by myself, together with information which came to me from other
sources, points to the Armenians as the authors of the fire. The series of events
which led up to the final terror on the Smyrna waterfront, as I was enabled to
follow them, began in the first days of September, when Rear Admiral Mark L.
Bristol, United States High Commissioner at Constantinople, organized the Smyrna
Emergency Relief Committee in anticipation of what might happen in the city if it
fell, as then seemed inevitable to the Turks.
American Relief in Smyrna.
The U.S.S. destroyer Lawrence, under command of Capt. Wolleson [?] proceeded to
Smyrna, carrying this committee of which I was a member. We arrived on the evening
of Friday, the eighth of September, in time to see the last of the Greek Army
leaving the city. Early in the morning of the ninth, we were ashore and immediately
organized a Relief Committee, which consisted of practically all of the American
residents there, together with representatives of the Near East Relief and the
American Red Cross from Constantinople. Admiral Bristol had sent his Chief of Staff,
Captain Hepburn, as his personal representative to serve as chairman of the
While I was there a squad of from 15 to 20 Turkish soldiers, under command of a
captain, came to take over the hospital for Turkish military purposes. The refugees
were searched, as they came from the grounds, and arms of various sorts sufficient
to fill a truck were taken from them. All of them, men, women and children, who had
taken refuge both in the hospital building and in the adjoining grounds, were
dispersed by six o'clock that afternoon.
The captain in command of the squad had written instructions from the Turkish
military commander to take possession of the hospital and prepare it for immediate
occupancy. He told us that they would begin moving Turkish patients to the hospital
that night. He also mentioned that he had orders to shoot the refugees, without
mercy, if they refused to disarm, and that he certainly would have done so but for
their unexpected docility in giving up their weapons. He credited their willingness
to disarm to the presence of the Americans, Dr. Post, the two nurses and myself. I
had previously gone among them and explained with aid of an interpreter that they
would be shot if they persisted in holding on to the bombs, knives and revolvers
they had concealed about them. The first command of the Turkish captain that they
surrender their arms had not produced results, for they were crazy with fear, and it
was some time before I could persuade them to trust their conquerors.
Signs of Incendiarism.
On the following morning, Wednesday, the 13th of September, the situation was critical in
the extreme. Paul Grescovich, chief of the Smyrna Fire department, told me that he had
discovered bundles of discarded clothing, rags and bedding, covered with petroleum, in
several of the institutions recently deserted by Armenian refugees.
Grescovich impressed me as an thoroughly reliable witness. I had met and had a long talk
with him three days previously on Sunday morning. Fortunately, I needed no interpreter, as
he speaks English fluently. He is an engineer, born and educated in Austria, and has been
identified with several large engineering enterprises in Turkey. Twelve years ago he
became chief of the Smyrna fire department, which he continued to conduct in a very
efficient manner, for that part of the world, during the Greek occupancy. He told me that
during the first week of September there had been an average of five fires per day with
which his crippled fire department had to cope. In his opinion, most of these fires were
caused by carelessness, but some undoubtedly were of incendiary origin. The average number
of fires in a normal year, he said, would be about one in ten days, and the increase to
five a day seemed significant.
As soon as the Turkish military authorities assumed control, Grescovich had applied for
additional men and fire fighting equipment. Instead of helping him, the Turkish military
governor, learning that there were still 12 Greeks in the fire department ordered their
immediate arrest, which left the department with only 37 men. Sunday night, Monday and
Monday night and Tuesday, so many fires were reported at such widly separated points, that
the fire department was absolutely unable to deal with them. They were extinguished by
One of the most serious situations that confronted the committee was the possibility of
fire. This situation developed into one of extreme anxiety when we learned that the entire
city police department, together with nearly all of the Greeks who were members of the
fire department, had deserted their posts and fled the city in fear of the approaching
I made it my business to make a general survey of the situation, and I found that the fire
fighting forces consisted of approximately sixty men with two small station houses. I
found two reasonably good fire engines and about half a dozen hand machines that were used
along the waterfront by dropping an intake hose over the sea wall into the water. There
were only a few buildings in this city over three stories high, the great majority being
two. The water pressure was strong enough to force a stream of water over almost any
building in the city and there appeared to be plenty of hydrants.
The following Tuesday morning, Mr. Jaquith, of the Near East Relief, Major Davis of the
Red Cross and I took a trip by automobile to the outskirts of the city. The Turks, by this
time, were in full occupation. We saw three widely separated fires totally consume
isolated buildings. One of these was a small shop, and in the burning doorway were the
bodies of two women. Obviously, looting, murder, and arson had been committed here by
Hospital Not Burned By Turks.
A report has been widely circulated in this country to the effect that the Armenian
hospital, where some fifteen hundred refugees had gathered, was burned by Turkish
soldiers who slaughtered many of the helpless occupants. The truth of the matter is
that on Tuesday, early in the afternoon, in response to an emergency appeal [?] had
gone to the hospital, accompanied by Dr. Post and two nurses, all of us members of
the Near East Relief Staff.
I discussed with Grescovich the danger at the plant of the Standard Oil company.
Although these tanks were located at least a couple of miles from the city, it was
obvious that fire and explosions there would do terrific damage, and in spite of the
depleted personnel of the department and the isolation of the plant, which was
beyond municipal jurisdiction, he set and maintained two men to act as guards there.
During Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the Turkish soldiers shot down many
Armenians who, they claimed, were caught throwing petroleum and starting fires in
the Armenian quarters and also around the warehouses and station of the Cassaba
railroad. It was on Wednesday morning that Grescovich himself found evidence of
incendiarism. He told me that early that morning he had seen two Armenian priests
escorting several thousand men, women and children from the Armenian schools and
Dominican churches where they had taken refuge down to the quays. When he presently
went into these institutions he found petroleum-soaked refuse ready for the torch.
The chief told me, and there is no doubt that he was sure of it, that his own
firemen, as well as Turkish guards, had shot down many Armenian young men disguised
either as women or as Turkish irregular soldiers who were caught setting fires
during Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Turkish soldiers, armed with rifles and
machine guns, were guarding every street in the Armenian quarter and every man,
woman and child who was in this section of the city as late as mid-afternoon on
Wednesday, was either burned alive or shot down while attempting to escape.
At 11:30 Wednesday morning, at least half a dozen fires were reported almost
simultaneously around the freight terminal warehouses and the passenger station of
the Aldine railroad.
It is noteworthy these fires broke out in buildings which it was greatly to the
advantage of the Turks to preserve, and equally to the advantage of the enemies to
At 12:00 o'clock five fires were reported around the Armenian hospital, then
occupied by the Turks. At about the same time, two fires were reported at the
Armenian club, and a few minutes later several fires started simultaneously around
the Cassabe Railroad station.
Shortly after noon Grescovich, convinced that the city was doomed, again went to the
military authorities to ask for help, and again it was not forthcoming. It was not
until six o'clock in the evening that he was given a company of 100 soldiers to
serve under his direction and it was eight o'clock at night before the soldiers
began the destruction of buildings by bombs, in order to check the spread of the
Gale Fans Flames.
Early in the afternoon, I was at the headquarters of Kaizim Pasha, Turkish Military
Governor of the district, and so from his window I could see several fires in various
parts of the city. I called his attention to this, but he assured me they were of no
consequence. He said he had been worried about the possibility of conflagration, and that
his soldiers received instructions to prevent it. When I left him I made an appointment to
return at five o'clock that afternoon, but the fire had spread so rapidly, the people who
had been driven from their homes down to the quay in such numbers, and the panic was so
great, that I found it impossible to reach his headquarters to keep the appointment.
During the afternoon, the wind began to rise and blow from the southeast, which I was told
was most unusual at that season of the year, and by night a perfect gale was blowing.
People who have lived in Smyrna many years all told me they had never known a wind of such
violence during the summer months. Dense smok and sparks were blown across the decks of
the U.S. destroyer Litchfield, which after midnight was anchored 700 [?] yards off shore.
It was not until three days later that I saw Grescovich again. He told me he had no sleep
for five days and nights and he looked the part. Not only was he physically exhausted, but
his emotions had been so wrought upon by the sights he had seen, that he begged to be
excused from talking over details. Realizing, however, that this was the time to get at
the truth, I pressed him for information, and we went over in chronological order the
history of the fire. On that, and on several succeeding days, we explored the greater part
of the burned area of the city, and I made notes of the most important things he told me.
Later, when Lloyd's men came to ascertain the extent of the damage, he refused to make any
statement at all.
"Why Should We Burn City?"
During several weeks after the fire I had an opportunity to talk with many Turkish
commanders, and they were all of one mind in levelling either bitter of philosophical
accusations at their enemies for destroying the city. They were contemptuous of the
suggestion made in a few quarters that they had any responsibility for the burning.
"Why should we burn the city?"
And isn't that the million-dollar
question. Unfortunately, where anti-Turkish propaganda is concerned, simple logic
never enters into the picture. Similarly, why should there have been a
"genocide" against Armenians, a people known as the "Loyal
Nation" for centuries? Pan-Turkism? Hatred of Christians? None of it makes
Read as well:
TAT's first Izmir page may be accessed here.
Who Set the Fire in Izmir ("Smyrna")?
Heath Lowry on the Burning of Izmir
Mark Prentiss' Jan. 1924 Atlantic
Monthly article, "Actualities at
During the Greek Occupation"