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A Journal on the Smyrna Catastrophe in 1922

Dr. Garabed Hatcherian’s journal is an eyewitness account of the 1922 Smyrna catastrophe, when the ancient city was destroyed by a spectacular fire and the entire Armenian and Greek populations were either massacred or forced to flee. The sequence of events that led to this disaster stems from the defeat of Turkey by the Allies in WWI, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of the Kemalists and the postwar peace settlements. Dr. Hatcherian’s journal covers the period between August 28, 1922 and April 7, 1923, with a special focus on the two infernal weeks of September 9 through 25, when the family of eight miraculously escaped the catastrophe. Ten other members of the extended family, including the mothers of the Hatcherian couple, along with their brothers and their families, stayed behind and were all massacred. The journal chronicles on a day-by-day basis the most significant events in and around Smyrna, as well as the suffering of the Christian civilian population — Armenians and Greeks alike — who in those horrific days became the target of Mustafa Kemal’s nationalists. Dora Sakayan is Dr. Hatcherian’s granddaughter. She first learned about the existence of Dr. Hatcherian’s manuscript (completed and signed on June 1, 1923 in Salonica) in 1992. It had been kept in the Argentinean branch of the family for almost seventy years. She read the West Armenian manuscript in 1993 and undertook immediately to publish the original West Armenian journal. She subsequently founded her own publishing company, Montreal: Arod Books, where she published the second edition of the West Armenian original. She then translated the original journal into English, she added an introduction, numerous notes and photos, an epilogue, a bibliography, etc., thus making the English version a more substantial publication. She then became the general editor of a multilingual series, all based on her English edition. The last three, the German, East Armenian and Russian, versions have the addition of an extended preface, “Smyrna 1922: Historical Background and Context” a contribution by Dr. Tessa Hofmann, the prominent German historian and academic, expert on the Armenian genocide, and a Human Rights activist.

There are presently nine editions dealing with Dr. Garabed Hatcherian’s journal on the Smyrna catastrophe. They are:

a. In West Armenian: Զմիւռնիական արկածներս 1922-ին [My Smyrna Ordeal of 1922] Montreal: Arod Books, 1997, 98 pp. This is the second, revised edition of the Armenian original (First edition: 1995).

b. In English: An Armenian Doctor in Turkey (Montreal, Arod Books, 1997, 125 pp. This is the first English edition of Dr. Garabed Hatcherian’s journal “My Smyrna Ordeal of 1922”. Translated from the original into English by Dora Sakayan.

c. In French: Smyrne 1922: Entre le feu, le glaive et l’eau. Les épreuves d’un médecin arménien. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000. Translated from English into French by Ethel Groffier.

d. In Spanish: Esmirna 1922: Entre el fuego, el sable y el agua. El diario del Dr. Hatcherian. Montréal: Arod, 2001. Translated from the English and Armenian into Spanish by Juan R. S. Yelanguezian.

e. In Modern Greek: Μεταξύ πυρός, ξύφους και θαλάσσης: Στη Σμύρνη το 1922. Montréal: Arod, 2001. Translated from English into Greek by Nakos Protopapas.

f. In Turkish: Bir Ermeni Doktorun Yasadiklari. Garabet Haçeryan’in Ízmir Güncesi. Translated from English into Turkish: Atilla Tuygan, Istanbul: Belge, 2005.

g. In East Armenian: Զմյուռնիա 1922. Բժիշկ Կարապետ Խաչերյանի օրագիրը, Երևան, ԳԳԱ, Ցեղասպանության թանգարան, 2005

h. In Russian: Смирна 1922. Дневник Карапета Хачеряна. Ереван, Музей-Институт Геноцида Армян, 2005.

i. In German: Smyrna 1922: Zwischen Feuer, Schwert und Wasser. Das Tagebuch des armenischen Arztes G. Hatscherian. Klagenfurt: Kitab-Verlag, 2006. German Translation by Dora Sakayan.

About the Journal

Dr. Hatcherian's journal is a chronicle of the Smyrna catastrophe in 1922. It is written in the general form of a diary, chronicling the most significant events in Smyrna in September 1922. The narrator's thoughts and concerns during these events are recorded on a day-by-day basis. The manuscript is comprised of 52 tightly-written pages, covering the period between August 28, 1922 and April 7, 1923. The journal can be broken down into three distinct structural segments: Introduction, Story, Epilogue. The Introduction reports on the twelve ominous days between August 28 and September 8, preceding the 1922 Smyrna catastrophe. The events are presented in their gradual development, preparing the reader for the central episodes in the journal. The Story, which describes the Hatcherian family's last two weeks in Smyrna, encompasses the time from September 9 to September 24. This section is a detailed account of what Dr. Hatcherian and his family of eight endured in those fifteen horrifying days. The Epilogue depicts the seven months (September 25, 1922 to April 7, 1923) that the refugee Hatcherian family spent on the Greek island of Mitilini.

About the Author of the Journal

Dr. Garabed Hatcherian was born in 1876 in Bardizag (Turkish: Bakhchedjik), situated in the province of Izmit in Turkey. In 1901, he graduated from the Constantinople School of Medicine. In 1907, he married Elisa Costanian (born in Akhisar, near Smyrna). They had five children.
          In 1914, along with 1,500 young men from Bardizag, Dr. Hatcherian was conscripted into the Turkish army and served there as a medical officer for the duration of World War I. While he was in the army, in 1915, the Armenian part of Bardizag was ravaged and destroyed, and the Armenian population was massacred, deported or forced to flee.
          In 1918, Dr. Hatcherian settled down with his family in Smyrna, where he soon achieved social prominence. In 1922, during the Smyrna catastrophe his career came to an abrupt end. Within a matter of days, Dr. Hatcherian lost his livelihood and his home, and was arrested by the Turks for the crime of being Armenian. After suffering greatly himself and witnessing the agony of his fellow Christians, both Armenians and Greeks, he was released from prison. On September 24, 1922, the Hatcherian family escaped to Mitilini, leaving behind in Akhisar, ten members of the extended family on both sides, including the mothers and brothers with their families. All ten family members, were massacred. In the Spring of 1923, Dr. Hatcherian moved to Salonika, Greece, where he was appointed the chief physician of the local chapter of the Armenian General Benevolent Union's (AGBU) pediatric clinic. In 1950, Dr. Hatcherian and his family moved from Greece to Argentina, where he passed away in 1952.
          Besides being a respected physician, Dr. Hatcherian was a prominent Armenian public figure in the Armenian community wherever he lived. He was also coeditor of the Armenian medical journal 'Pzhishg' [The Physician], and he authored many articles in local Armenian newspapers.
          Dr. Garabed Hatcherian was an idealist who espoused no political party, but strongly believed in the benevolent goals of the AGBU and was one of its most ardent supporters. Love for his people, and his vision of a better future for them, inspired him to serve their needs unfailingly, carrying out his professional and civic duties with great integrity and dedication.

About the time and place of writing the document

The names of places and people in the journal are so accurately documented, and the chronological descriptions of the unfolding political and military events so vividly detailed, that one is tempted to believe that each entry of the journal was made either concurrently with, or immediately following each event. Considering the difficult circumstances, however, this hypothesis is almost certainly excluded. A brief Postscript section supports the idea that the main part (Aug. 28 - Sept. 24) was written within days of the events, evidently upon arrival in Mitilini. There, as a survivor, Dr. Hatcherian probably felt the compelling urge to testify; moreover, he must have felt the need to analyze the events intellectually. As for the Epilogue and the final copy of the journal, it was completed in Salonika. This is confirmed by the date and place inscribed below Dr. Hatcherian's signature under the manuscript: June 1, 1923, Salonika (p.52). The meticulous care the author provided for the manuscript is strong proof that he was aware of how crucial it was to preserve the story for posterity, and to record the details as soon as possible.

About the significance of the document

Recent controversies on the validity of Armenian survivors’ accounts of the Armenian genocide have questioned the reliability of survivors who witnessed these events many decades ago, and as children. Even if these arguments were valid, they do not apply to Dr. Hatcherian’s work. For this is not a memoir written many years after the described events, but a journal based on facts, recorded by an eyewitness who takes pains to report what he has seen and known for himself and sets it down while it is fresh in his mind. The journal is, consequently, a primary, not a secondary, source of information, which agrees well with the synthesis of data from other primary and secondary sources on the Smyrna disaster.
          The voice of the narrator is the cool, stoic voice of reason. Dr. Hatcherian is a forty-six year old intellectual who is interested in serving his own ideals of truth and goodness. He sees himself as a loyal citizen, who is far from being a threat to the Turkish government; on the contrary, besides working for almost ten years as a municipal doctor in Turkey, he served for four years as a medical officer in the Turkish army during World War I and was decorated with medals for his exemplary medical service.
          His journal treats the delicate issue of Turkish-Armenian relations with diplomacy. The Hatcherian case refutes the conventional Ottomanist thesis, according to which steps taken against the Armenians were normal precautionary measures in a state of war, reciprocating the aggressive actions of the Armenians. Dr. Hatcherian sheds light on the political situation of the 1920s, showing that Kemalist nationalists cannot be absolved of the charge of anti-Armenian sentiment. In fact, the Kemalists carried on with the Young Turks' program by eliminating - along with the Greek population - the whole Armenian community in and around Smyrna, a region in Turkey where Armenians were not directly touched by the massacres and deportations of 1915.
          Dr. Hatcherian denounces the Kemalist Turks for reducing the most prosperous part of Smyrna, the “beautiful Ionic city,” to ashes (p. 21), and for ending the presence of Armenians and Greeks in Smyrna and surroundings. He is critical not only of the Kemalist Turks, but also, of the Greek government for concealing from the public that the enemy was approaching and that the danger was imminent. He also blames the international community, especially the representatives of the European and American nations, whom he indicts with the charge that for them “civilization, humanism, Christianity have become empty words.” They were “mere spectators,” filmmakers and photographers on board their armored ships, turning a deaf ear to the entreaties of Armenian and Greek Christians caught between “fire, sword and water”.
          Many of the questions posed by Dr. Hatcherian remain unanswered until today. For, alas, in the 84 years since the Smyrna disaster, very insignificant progress can be reported regarding the protection of minorities who have been victimized around the world.

Recent Updates

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Review of "They drive them into the desert": Clara and Fritz Sigrist-Hilty, eyewitnesses of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1918, by Reto Neurauter, Werdenberger & Obertoggenburger, 27 October 2016