Overview

 

Minnie Belle Mills (1872-1965) was an American missionary who was present at Smyrna in September 1922 when the cosmopolitan city was torched and ultimately destroyed by Kemalist forces. Mills was dean of the American Collegiate Institute for girls (otherwise known as the American Girls' School) which was located in the Basmahane district of Smyrna close to where the fire first broke out. The school was founded in 1875 by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, a US based Christian missionary organization.,

Mills was born in Magnolia, Iowa and educated at the Olivet College in Michigan. She arrived at Smyrna in 1897 as a teacher for the American Girls' School and remained there for 25 years teaching science and maths and in administration.1 When Kemalist forces entered the city on the 9th of September 1922, the American Girls' School became a refuge for staff and students and also to 1,200 terror-stricken Smyrnaeans, all women and girls. On the day the fire started, Mills witnessed Turkish soldiers pouring petroleum into houses near the college. Although she was offered safe passage out of the college by American naval personnel, Mills refused to leave without the children. As fire approached the school, Mills and her staff and children were evacuated.2 She described the events as follows:

Soon after lunch fire broke out very near the school, and spread rapidly. I saw with my own eyes a Turkish officer enter a house with small tins of petroleum or benzine, and in a few minutes the house was in flames. Our teachers and girls saw Turks in regular soldiers' uniforms, and in several cases in officers' uniforms, using long sticks with rags at the end which were dipped in a can of liquid, and carried into houses which were soon burning. There was no one in the streets at that time, but bands of Turkish soldiers. While the fire started just across the street from our school, throughout the quarter (the Armenian quarter) every third or fifth house was set on fire... The wind, though not very strong, was away from the Turkish quarter and blowing toward the Christian quarters, and it looks as if they waited for a favorable wind.3

In another news report on September 15, 1922, Mills said:

Besides the pupils, about 1,300 refugees had been taken into the quarters, which is near the place where the fire started. The fate of many of the girls is unknown and it is announced they have been carried off by the Turks[...] Prior to the fire there were massacres, which continued through the night in the midst of flames. It is impossible to estimate the number of killed. Dr. Post, an American, who with members of the American relief administration made an investigation, expressed the opinion the number of victims up to the time of the fire amounted to 1,000. A large number of Christians are believed to have perished.4

Not long after the fire was extinguished, sections of the media questioned the origins of the fire. Determined to get the truth out to the American public, she made the following statement in the New York Tribune on September 27, 1922 when Christians in Smyrna were still being mistreated:

I believe that the true conditions at Smyrna have been misrepresented in the American press. The brutal massacre by Turkish soldiers and officers, carried out under the eyes of Allied battleships, was one of the most degrading situations of modern history. Thousands were killed and looting and rape occurred on a wide scale. There is indisputable evidence that the Turks set the fires which destroyed all the Christian quarter. Only a small proportion of the population escaped. The remainder, deprived of bread and water, at the mercy of the army, were massacred. Only American relief and strong action by some civilized government can stop the terrible slaughter. Refugees on Greek island are exposed to starvation and disease.5

Mills arrived in Athens on September 16, 1922 and the following year she co-founded the Junior College for Girls in the Palio Faliro district of the Greek capital. The school was later renamed Pierce, The American College of Greece. The first students were 89 refugee girls from Smyrna made up of Armenians, Greeks and one American girl. Mills served as the college president from 1928-1940 during which the school became one of the leading teaching institutions in the country. In 1950, she was recognized by the Greek Ministry of Education of Religious Affairs for her contribution to the education of women in Greece. She died at Bellevue, Washington in 1965.


1. Amerikan Bord Heyeti (American Board), Istanbul, "Memorial records for Minnie B. Mills," American Research Institute in Turkey, Istanbul Center Library, online in Digital Library for International Research Archive, Item #17280, http://www.dlir.org/archive/items/show/17280 (accessed September 3, 2021).
2. Ureneck L, The Great Fire. Harper Collins, 2015, pp.201-202. 
3. Bierstadt E, The Great Betrayal: A Survey of the Near East Problem, Robert M. McBride and Co, New York 1924, p. 34.
4. Turks Carry off Girl Pupils. Ogden Standard-Examiner, Sep 15, 1922, p.1.

5. Near East Relief Hears Turks Slew Thousands. New York Tribune, Sep 27, 1922, p.2. 

 
Further Reading:
- 15 Sep 1922: Smyrna Burning, 1,000 Massacred, New York Times
- Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City.
- The Great Fire | Smyrna, September 1922
- 15 Sep 1922: Turks Kill Women and Babes, The Evening Star

 

The following online resources may be helpful in conducting research on the Greek Genocide.

Resource Useful for:
Digital Library for International Research American missionary archives
Chronicling America American newspaper archives
Utah Digital Newspapers American newspaper archives
Trove - National Library of Australia Australian newspaper archives
Papers Past New Zealand newspaper archives
Library of Congress Archival photos and other 
   



 
Rev. Charles Dobson in 1914. Source: The Auckland Star, New Zealand. 

Reverend Charles James Hamilton Dobson (1886-1930) was an Anglican chaplain who was an eye-witness to the Smyrna Holocaust in September 1922. His testimony later played an important role in a trial brought on to determine the origins of the fire that destroyed the city. The trial concluded that the fire was deliberately lit.1

Dobson was born in New Zealand. During WW1, he served as a military chaplain on the western front and also at Gallipoli. He took up the Smyrna post in 1922 and was present during the Kemalist military advance on the city. Dobson witnessed the looting and the massacres and rendered assistance to terror-stricken Christians. He also buried the dead. He was evacuated from Smyrna on the 14th of September and arrived at Malta a few days later with his wife and two young children. Soon after escaping from Smyrna, Dobson learned that there were some who refused to accept that the Turks had set fire to the city. His account was published in 1923 in a piece titled The Smyrna Holocaust and describes his experience at Smyrna just prior to his escape. 

I was in Smyrna when the Kemalist troops entered the city. For some days previous to this entry, there was increasing apprehension among the residents.[...]

The entry of the Kemalist cavalry came sooner than most of us expected. I personally became aware of their presence while returning from the Consulate through a back street. There was suddenly a lot of screaming, and a woman threw herself on her knees shrieking for protection. Next moment about a squadron of mounted rifles swept round the corner at an easy gallop; some held sabres; most carried rifles at the ready across the crupper. They pulled their horses aside to avoid riding down the woman at my feet. Up a side street I caught a glimpse of horsemen passing along the quay. They were walking and their rifles were slung. Further in the town I heard the trampling of hoofs, some shouting, and two or three shots. When I reached home I found the masses of people in the square full of terror. Already some Turkish civilians were beginning to loot and maltreat the Greek refugees. On the whole the entry seemed to me (speaking with a close experience of actual war) to have been accomplished with very little bloodshed about our part (the Point). [...]

I brought an injured man into my church: he died during the night. Next day, Sunday, I went to the Orthodox Church of St. John, which like all other churches was crammed with refugees, lying in appallingly insanitary circumstances and, terror-stricken, after a night of desultory rifle-fire and screaming. One of the priests volunteered to accompany me to bury the dead. The Turkish police commandeered a cart for us, and even offered us protection. We relied, however, on carrying the Union Jack. We found five bodies near the Aidin Railway Station. I do not think we missed many. With regard to burials, people kept coming to me and showing me bodies thrust behind hedges and in some cases lying in carts. I was particularly struck with one group consisting of women and babies, and a young girl, almost nude, shot through the breast, and with clotted blood on her thighs and genital organs, that spoke only too clearly of her fate before death. These bodies were buried by Orthodox priests. I moved about freely in the city and soon saw that the orderliness of the entry was due to the iron discipline, the exigencies of such a military entry demanded. The discipline, as far as relation to the civil population is concerned, became rapidly bad and worse. There was desultory shooting, looting and rape all over the place. The Armenian quarters suffered severely. It was reported that the Armenians refused to surrender arms and were throwing bombs. This may have been so, but what is undoubtedly true is that the Armenians were constantly being killed in their houses, their women folk ravished and their valuables stolen. In the back streets even nationals of the Great Powers were held up and looted of their money and their valuables. Armenians, gathered in one of their churches, refused to surrender; they surrendered finally on the promise of life for women and children; the men were marched away. We heard at the back of our house, one day, a lot of cheering in which  I recognised the Turkish word 'padishah' (Sultan, I think). On looking out, I saw about two hundred Greeks or Armenians kneeling and sitting on the road, guarded by Turkish soldiers. I afterwards learned from an absolutely unimpeachable source that these men were subsequently butchered. The method of killing, my informant told me, was by steel to avoid rifle fire. One could give a multitude of isolated incidents, which go to prove the absolute unleashing of lust and savagery among Kemalist troops. I mention but one: A child brought a message to me from the priests of an Orthodox Church, asking that I might come and spend the night with them in order to give them protection, because they had warning of a contemplated attack on the church, and they knew that on the previous night Turkish soldiers had burst into another church and there mutilated men and violated women.[...]

In the back streets there was, in some parts, a great running of terror-stricken people, carrying children and bedding; some of them had been injured; one man had his face smashed and his mouth bleeding. There was constantly shooting in the back streets, followed by screams and panic-stricken running. The Turks were openly looting everywhere. One man was shot through both thighs, one of which was fractured, his screams were unheeded by the terror-stricken people. The general atmosphere was terrible, and I began to fear that we might have left our retreat till too late. The fires broke out that afternoon. I was astonished when in Italy, and again here in France, to find how unwilling some circles were to believe the culpability of the Turkish troops in the burning of Smyrna. It seems to me the firing of the city by the fanatic element of the Turkish Army was the natural culmination of the breakdown of restraints imposed by military necessities, and of the unbridled indulgence of xenophobia. I have not yet met anybody who was in a position to know the circumstances, who does not contemptuously discredit the assertion that the Armenians fired the city.[...]

It is most significant that the fire shot up in several places with very little intervals of time and pointed to a systematic incendiarism such as only a well co-ordinated movement could have effected. Also, that the city was fired immediately after the changing of a wind that for the previous three days was in the general direction of the Turkish quarter. Any fire, previous to this change, would have swept the Turkish quarters. Independent witnesses, who have been at Smyrna since the fire, speaking of the unsatisfactory and lame stories of the Turks, tend to confirm their guilt in this matter. I have met, recently, a nurse, who left Smyrna ten days after the fire and who told me of her work in extracting bullets from bodies of wounded children, and who was a witness of the ravishing of Greek women. I mention this to show that the Turkish treatment of the Christian population was not a sudden excess, but a sustained policy.[...]

I have tried in giving this account to avoid being influenced by hostilty to the perpetrators of these horrors. Also, I have ommitted many small incidents that carry conviction to my own mind of the barbarity of the Kemalistic forces, but which it might be egotistical to dwell on.2

 


1. Hyslop, Joanna, A brief and personal account: the evidence of Charles Dobson on the destruction of the city of Smyrna in September 1922. Modern Greek Studies, Vol. 16–17, A (2013–14).
2. Rev. Charles Dobson, The Smyrna Holocaust appendix in Lysimachos Oeconomos, The Tragedy of the Christian Near East, London 1923, pp. 21-29. 

 

 

Portrait of Ruth Parmelee from the frontispiece of her privately printed booklet A Pioneer in the Euphrates Valley, 1967. Courtesy: Armenian News Network, Groong.

Dr. Ruth Azneve Parmelee (1885-1973) was a medical missionary who witnessed the persecution of Christians during the genocide in Ottoman Turkey and cared for the survivors. She was born in Trebizond (today Trabzon, Turkey) to parents who were both missionaries. Her father, Dr. Moses Payson Parmelee M.D was a Christian missionary for the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) and was based in Trebizond since 1863. After initially studying with her parents, at the age of 11 she travelled to the United States to obtain formal study. She received her B.A from Oberlin College in 1907 and her M.D from the University of Illinois in 1912.1 

In 1914, Parmelee was appointed and commissioned by the ABCFM and returned to Turkey where she set up a medical practice in Harput specializing in obstetrics, training nurses and taking care of orphans. She is considered one of the first women doctors in Turkey and one of the first doctors of either sex in the Euphrates Valley. She continued this work until 1917 then resumed the post from 1919-1922.

Parmelee, who was fluent in many of the Near East languages including Greek, Armenian and Turkish was also the head of the Harput Hospital of the Near East Relief. During her time there, she opened a baby hospital to take care of refugee mothers and their babies. At one stage, she was in charge of 5,000 orphans who were being supported by the Near East Relief.2  In 1922, Parmelee, along with two other relief workers, Dr. Mark H. Ward and Isabelle Harley were expelled from Turkey. Parmelee had been particularly sympathetic toward the persecuted Christians, as was Mark Ward who kept notes on the deportations which were being planned and executed by the Kemalists at the time. Parmelee wrote: "What is the civilized world going to do about… [the Turkish government’s] steady oppression of the Armenians and the deportation of so many of the Greeks?"3

In October 1922, she went to Thessaloniki, Greece to help the Christians who had survived persecution and had been expelled from Turkey, the country where she was born. She directed medical work in the Thessaloniki district for the American Womens Hospitals (AWH). Some of her assistants were refugee physicians and nurses who had served with her in Harput. Her work in the Thessaloniki district included training nurses and organizing camp services, clinics and a 100 bed hospital. The Thessaloniki Hospital played a crucial role in providing medical aid to sick and undernourished genocide survivors. It also became a refuge for expectant mothers. During the first few months, over 500 children were born there.4 From 1925-1933, she was the director of the AWH hospital in Kokkinia (today Nikaia), a suburb in Athens situated close to the port of Pireaus. At the same time, she continued to run the school of nursing which had moved with her from Thessaloniki.

Dr. Ruth Parmelee (standing) with a refugee mother and child. Source: Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Certain Samaritans. New York, 1927.

In 1941, Parmelee left Greece due to the German occupation. She later returned to Athens and from 1946-1947 acted as Medical Advisor and Director of the Near East Foundation's School of Physical Therapy. After a leave of absense in the US, she returned to Greece again and from 1948-1953 served at the Pierce College in Elleniko near Athens teaching hygiene, community health and medical information to social wokers. She returned to the US and died in 1973.

Ruth Parmelee served in Greece over three decades and was bestowed a number of awards. In 1924, King George II of Greece awarded her the Silver Cross of the Chavaliers of our Order of the Savior while in 1953 King Paul appointed her the Order of Beneficience (Tagma tis Efpiias). 

    

Memorial record for Ruth A. Parmelee, an employee of the American Board.5


1. Online Archive of California, Register of the Ruth A. Parmelee papers, Biographical note. https://oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt596nf1c5/admin/ accessed 12 Aug 2021.
2. Near East Relief, Vol. IV, No. 19. May 13, 1922, p.1.
3. Ruth Parmelee, typescript, “Relief Work at Harpoot, Turkey, 1919-1922,” 5, in Ruth Parmelee Papers, Box #2, Folder, Correspondence, Selected Reports, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California. Quoted from Virginia Metaxas, Working with the Sources: The American Women's Hospitals in the Near East, Drexel University Legacy Center, accessed 12 Aug 2021, https://drexel.edu/legacy-center/blog/overview/2014/october/working-with-the-sources-the-american-womens-hospitals-in-the-near-east-full-article/
4. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, Certain Samaritans. New York, 1927. p.275.
5. Amerikan Bord Heyeti (American Board), Istanbul, "Memorial records for Ruth A. Parmelee," American Research Institute in Turkey, Istanbul Center Library, online in Digital Library for International Research Archive, Item #17332, http://www.dlir.org/archive/items/show/17332 (accessed August 14, 2021).


Further Reading:
Ruth Parmelee's description of the 1915 Harput deportations including rare photos, Armenian News Network/Groong.  
6 May 1922: Killing by Turks has Been Renewed, The New York Times. 
- Dr. Mark Hopkins Ward (Near East Relief)

 

Subcategories

The perpetrators of the Greek Genocide were responsible for planning and executing the destruction of Greek communities. They include members of the Committee of Union and Progress Party, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and his nationalist supporters (Kemalists) as well as German military personnel. 

A focus on some of the regions affected and other documentary evidence.

Many individuals and organizations provided relief to the victims and survivors of the Greek Genocide. The following are some of the individuals who sometimes risked their lives to provide such care. This is a new section of the website and is currently being updated.

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