Researcher Vicken Babkenian described how a Japanese ship saved the lives of thousands of Armenians and Greeks during the 1922 genocide in Smyrna, as well as the humanitarian aid provided by Japan.
Together with Peter Stanley, Babkenian is the author of the book “Armenia, Australia, and the Great War”. In the book, they write about the previously unknown Japanese humanitarian aid shown towards Greeks and Armenians.
The most noteworthy story of the Japanese humanitarianism during the catastrophe relates to the captain and the crew of a Japanese ship saving thousands of lives in 1922.
Prior to Turkish nationalists entering and occupying Smyrna on September 9, 1922, hundreds of thousands of Armenian and Greek refugees had fled to the city. The occupation was accompanied by mass killings and deportation of Armenians and Greeks.
At the harbor, about 20 allied ships were watching the events when a fire broke out in the Armenian quarter several days later, destroying most of the city. One of the ships mobilized to save the remaining refugees. That ship was from Japan.
The wife of the American Professor Birge from the International College at Smyrna Mrs. Anna Harlowe Birge witnessed the desperate refugees crowding the quay of Smyrna as the city began to burn. Men and women drowned swimming in search for rescue.
In an article published in the American Hellenic International Foundation’s Policy Journal, Stavros T. Stavridis wrote:
“In the harbour, at that time, was a Japanese freighter, which had just arrived loaded to the decks with a very valuable cargo of silks, laces, and china representing many thousands of dollars. The Japanese captain, when he realized the situation did not hesitate. The whole cargo went overboard into the dirty waters of the harbour, and the freighter was loaded with several hundred refugees, who were taken to Piraeus and landed in safety on Greek shores.”
Another account published in the New York Times on September 18, 1922, reads:
“Refugees constantly arriving… relate new details of the Smyrna tragedy. On Thursday [September 14] last there were six steamers at Smyrna to transport the refugees, one American, one Japanese, two French and two Italian. The American and Japanese steamers accepted all comers without examining their papers, while the others took only foreign subjects with passports.”
The records of Armenian and Greek survivors of the Smyrna catastrophe also testify to the Japanese aid. Additionally, Stavridis recently found out the name of the ship, the Tokei Maru, which had been published in several coeval Greek newspapers.
In honor of his nation’s efforts in the 1922 Smyrna Genocide, Japan’s ambassador Masuo Nishibayashi was awarded a shield-shaped plaque by the Greek community organizations in Athens in June 2016.
Besides, the authors wrote about the establishment of an Armenian relief fund in Tokyo after the visit of the Rev. Loyal Wirt, the international commissioner of the American Near East Relief organization. Viscount Eiichi Shibusawa, a prominent Japanese banker and diplomat, headed the Armenian relief fund.
From 1894 to 1923, the Armenian indigenous population of Western Armenia was subjected to the Armenian Genocide by three Turkish governments.
On December 29, 1917, the decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of Soviet Union proclaimed the rights of Armenians of the occupied territories of “Turkish Armenia” (Western Armenia), as well as their freedom of self-determination up to full independence.
On January 19, 1920, the Allied Supreme Council at Paris Conference de facto and on May 11, 1920, at San Remo Conference de jure recognized the Armenian state in Western Armenia as an independent and sovereign state. The state’s boundary with Turkey was the subject of an arbitral award by the United States President Woodrow Wilson on November 22, 1920. However, the State of Western Armenia is not recognized by UN officials as it is occupied by Turkey.
By Philip Chrysopoulos
The Great Catastrophic Fire Of Smyrna – Izmir