Prime Minister Venizelos had chosen a fellow Cretan, Aristeidis Stergiadis (1861-1949) to be the High Commissioner in Smyrna. A complex and solitary man, he was born and raised in Muslim Herakleion, Crete, into a family from Ottoman Thessaloniki. Having studied law in Paris, he returned to Crete, which was the site of many lethal revolts by Cretans and suppressions by the Ottoman authorities in the 19th century.
A career civil servant specialising in Muslim law, he had served as the Governor General in Epirus, recently liberated from the Ottoman Empire. When Gilbert Bagnani travelled as a student in this region in May 1922, the Italian consul told him that Stergiadis “had left the reputation of being one of the most violent people on earth, but admittedly very able but too autoritaire.”
While in Smyrna Stergiadis attempted to establish an administrative system fair and effective to both factions. He dealt so harshly with excesses committed by Greek civilians, bishops and the military against the Turks that he earned the opposition and opprobrium of the Greeks while seemingly tolerating comparable Turkish transgressions. Llewellyn Smith, who paints a full picture of his character, sums him up as “a capable, dictatorial proconsul.” (Ionian Vision, pp. 91-101, 342)
With disaster in Anatolia looming and town after town being suddenly evacuated, by September 1922 Stergiadis ordered the provincial officials to assemble all their papers and secretly prepare to evacuate while still publicly advising the Greek population to stay in their homes.
On Friday 8, the Naxos sailed away from Smyrna bearing the higher Greek officials and bureaucrats with their archives. The last Greek ships sailed out of the harbour to pick up their troops at Chesme. The last symbol of Greece in Anatolia and the Great Dream, High Commissioner Stergiadis himself, in the evening walked to a launch and sailed over to the Iron Duke and the next day, after transferring to a Romanian ship, sailed ignominiously away forever from Greek and Turkish soil to spend the rest of his life in self-imposed exile in southern France where he died in 1949.
On Friday 8 September, two men sailed away from worlds that were about to disappear violently: the one, homesick Gilbert Bagnani, never imagining the speed and scale of events to come, to go home to Rome before coming back the following year to a very changed world, and the other, Aristeidis Sterghiades, anticipating the unimaginable, into self-imposed exile never to set foot in Greece or Turkey again.
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