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How the Fire of Smyrna changed Europe

It is the 100th anniversary of a seminal event in world history: the Great Fire of Smyrna in September 1922.

The wilful destruction of this legendary cosmopolitan metropolis, today’s Izmir in Turkey, killing tens of thousands of its inhabitants, was one of the worst war crimes and humanitarian tragedies of the 20th century.

Known as the “Pearl of the Aegean”, Smyrna was a prosperous port city and home to Greeks, Turks, Armenians, Jews, Europeans, Americans, and Levantines. In an atmosphere of religious tolerance, the communities lived together and created a uniquely mixed urban culture that made Smyrna the first global city in the modern sense.

The burning of Smyrna in 1922 led to a massive refugee crisis across the region. In response, Turkey and Greece agreed on a gigantic population exchange, in which millions of Ottoman Muslims and Christians were forcibly expelled from their ancestral homes and re-settled.

The population exchange of 1923-24, the first state-organised ethnic cleansing in world history, would serve as a blueprint in Europe for the 20th century expulsions and deportations.

Today, as many developments seem like a re-run of the 1920s, the Smyrna story is more relevant than ever.

„Lutz C. Kleveman weaves his various stories together with ease, creating an opulent but intimate portrait of a place and its texture, a painting of a monstrous crime, a meditation on identity and exile, as well as personal encounters, which place Europe’s current treatment of desperate migrants in a historical context. A masterpiece.“
Philipp Blom

Book presentation (Video)

TV Interview (Video)

Praise for SMYRNA

  • ”In his book, Kleveman combines personal experiences with literary discoveries and political history in breath-taking frequency (…) The general tone is curious and well-read, but never lecturing. He offers an impressive wealth of history and stories, which never gets tiring.”
    René Wildangel, German National Radio, 09 May 2022 
  • ”The history of Smyrna, vividly told by Kleveman in a mixture of historical narrative and personal travelogue, compresses the region’s tumultuous history as if under a burning glass.”
    Florian Keisinger, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 03 June 2022
  • ”Do we really need to know that Kleveman rents a red scooter or that he is unvoluntarily single? Undeniably, transcending the genre towards travel report and impressionistic descriptions makes for lightness and a certain flair – also, his book is accessibly written and elucidating as a nutshell account of a catastrophe with global consequences.” 
    Alexander Kluy, Der Standard, 26 March 2022
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