21 Apr 1923: The "Black Hole" of Selimie, Advertiser, SA

advertiser 21041923


The Advertiser, South Australia.
April 21, 1923.


    Writing from Constantinople, under date
Febrauary 24, a correspodent of the "Man-
chester Guardian" says:-
   In seven days 297 deaths have occurred
among Greek refugees in Selimie Barracks.
All that Turkish authorities have offered
to do in the way of relief is to admit
smallpox and typhus patients to the
Turkish Hospital on payment of three
times what is charged at the Greek Hos-
pital, which is overflowing.
   The Allied Sanitary Commission has now
taken up the situation, but everything is
held up owing to lack of funds. It is hoped
to obtain assistance from the Epidemics
Fund of the League of Nations. Another
instance of the Turkish attitude to the
refugees was given this week, when 700
American tourists aboard the Empress of
Scotland desired to leave old clothes for
the refugees, and were prevented owing
to the Turkish Customs authorities refus-
ing to allow the clothes to be removed
ashore without the duty being paid.
   I paid a visit this week to Selimie Bar-
racks, an immense Crimean building across[?]
the Bosphorus, where the Turks are dump-
ing the thousands of Greek refugees who
are still coming from the Black Sea coast.
They are dumping them, with their last
possessions and pots and pans, and put-
ing policemen on the premises - and let-
ting them die. Thus the unfortunates are
dieing at the rate of fifteen a day. Living
and half-living and sick and dieing and
dead are all mingled together without
separation, without pity, and without
shame. They have overflowed from the
barracks into the cavalry stables, where
they lie on the damp, mud, malodorous
floor all day, shivering in their last rags
of covering. There are not many young
men among them, but old withered couples,
hordes of young children and women,
everywhere women.
            Profitable Business.
   The Turks do nothing. They simply
intern them and say it is not their affair.
The Angora representative, Dr. Adnan
Bey, is again and again approached and
the intolerable conditions are pointed out
to him. He is asked for other premises
to relieve this death-trap so that the next
shiploads which are always arriving need
not be dumped there, but all that the
Turkish authorities give is a sanitary in-
spector or two. Since, however, it is im-
possible to delouse these unfortunates in
hot baths and then return them to the
stables without making the death-rate still
higher, and since there are no funds
whatsoever for fuel for the sanitation, in-
spectors are far from what is wanted.
An efficient, civilised administration would
take a situation of this kind in hand -
the Turkish Administration lets it slide.
It is not their affair, they say. It is their
plea that these refugees are not wanted
here. They think it magnanimous charity
that they give them even loathsome
stables to die in.
   Yet the Turkish authorities were duly
informed that, owing to the overcrowding
of refugees in Greece, it was necessary
to suspend the further transport of refu-
gees from the Black Sea. They were
asked to stop them coming by Turkish
or other ships to Constantinople, where
the local Greek Patriarchate Committee is
without funds or accomodation to cope
with them. This request was met with
an intensification of the arrival of Black
Sea refugees. The Turkish local author-
ities on the Black Sea are sending them
here by thousands mostly by Turkish
Government ships. It is a profitable en-
terprise. There is no other shipping busi-
ness doing, and it is highly convenient
for the shipping companies, since the
refugees are forced to pay their passage.
The fare taken from them from Trebizond
to Constantinople is seven and a half Tur-
kish pounds per head. Some of the larger
ships bring two thousand, so that the
companies' books can show the healthy
sum of 15,000 Turkish pounds (or about
two thousand sterling) for the trip. Busi-
ness is business.
          Aggravating the Situation
   Commercial speculation and Government
pressure are, therefore, the motives which
continue the tragedy. The Turks cannot
say that there is no Government pres-
sure. They have just expelled the sur-
viving Greek population of the Vilayet
of Trebizond and the Kaza of Baibourt
(Vilayet of Erzeroum), thus gratuitously
aggravating the situation. A protest was
made at Lausanne officially, and was met
with the interely erroneous statement
that the population were leaving "of their
own free will." When giving this answer
the Turkish delegation were perhaps not
aware that on January 2/15 a notice ap-
peared in the Trebizond local paper
"Istiklal" ordering all Greeks to leave
within a fortnight, and that on January
3/16 the local authorities were forcing the
inhabitants of Trebizond to leave, in
many cases without allowing them to take
even their personal effects. This is typi-
cal of what is going on, and the situation
is simply that Greece is unable to re-
ceive the refugees, the Turks are unwilling
to help them, and so, full of disease, they
are landed, shipload after shipload, and
piled into Selimie Barracks.
         The Horrors of the Barracks.
   Here, when I entered the courtyard,
there was a line of a dozen or more death-
stricken prostrate figures lying beside the
paved way. They were the sick for whom
there is no hospital room, and who were
waiting, day in and day out, for a launch
to arrive to take them across to the Greek
Hospital (when others should have made
space for them by dying). The only
figure sitting up was a child with face all
swollen and black with smallpocx. The
foreman told me there was little chance
of a launch arriving for them. But some-
how even their suffering did not impress
as much as the huddled suffering in the
stables. As I entered one vast barn
where, in damp obscurity under the leak-
ing roof, 712 refugees are crowded, there
was a wailing of women, and bearers were
carrying out an extompore wooden
stretcher on which lay dead a woman and
child - happier than those they left be-
hind. So at least a priest in dingy, ragged
soutane, and with a crimped stole round
his neck and his fingers in a book of
prayers, told the wailing women. A child
with face blotted with smallpox was
propped against the wall in the lamenting
group, while all around in the huge barn
the hundreds of others huddled in their
coverlets and tried to sleep warmth into
themselves. A vey old man with his
very old woman leant up as we passed,
and begged piteously at least for a room.
At the age of 80 or more a dry floor and
an unleaking roof were not luxuries to
   Looking down from a corner tower of
barracks, looking down from the very
last little room space occupied, I could see
lying off-shore another Turkish ship which
had arrived the night before with about
seven hundred more refugees. At the mo-
ment when I went over the barracks the
wing reserved to these refugees contained
9,884, of whom 3,492 were in the unin-
habitable stables. The hospital across the
water was full and the chief Greek doctor,
together with part of the staff, had just
fallen ill with typhus. Yet there was no
sign that the Turks intended to do any-
thing. On the other hand, the Allied
authorities had been appealed to, and it
had been officially suggested to them that
some step should be taken to force the
Turkish Government to contribute to the
maintenance of these refugees, who are
of its own creating and who are all Ot-
toman subjects, as long as they are com-
pelled to remain in Constantinople. It is
felt that this would be the best means of
preventing the Turks from creating still
further refugees.
             The Lack of Funds.
   The Greek Government has just pro-
tested through the Spanish Legation
against the continuance of the expulsions
from the Black Sea coast. It was only
after transporting over 60,000 of these re-
fugees to Greece that the Greek Govern-
ment was obliged to call a halt and tem-
porarily refuse to receive any more. The
Patriarchate Relief Commission has spent
305,000 Turkish pounds (about £40,000
sterling) on the work in the past three
months, all of which was collected by
private subscription except a contribution
by the Greek Government of about
£9,000 sterling. The Commission is now
entirely out of funds, and the Greek Gov-
vernment cannot send it any more money
for some time.
   The American Near East Relief has been
carrying on the feeding of these refugees
at the expense of about £2,000 a month[?]
and an American naval chaplain has in-
terested the naval units, who are now
helping with food. The British military
authorities have also begun to pay atten-
tion to the dreadful situation, and General
Harrington has sent representatives to ex-
amine what can be done. At the moment
of writing I learn that the Near EaSt Re-
lief is to extend its work by establishing
a hospital and clinic.
   Relief, therefore, is beginning to be pro-
vided at long last, though funds are still
dry. It is a tragedy of the multiple lack
of authority at Constantinople that such
an intolerable refugee sitaution should
ever have been allowed to arise here, after
all the experience we have had of refugees
in the past three years. "A tragedy is
being enacted under your eyes," wrote the
Greek Relief Commissioner, Mr. A. A.
Pallis, to the British Acting High Com-
missioner recently. He did not exaggerate.

THE "BLACK HOLE" OF SELIMIE. (1923, April 21). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 14. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article37307150


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