When Madness Swept the Mediterranean
In my one and only visit to Izmir to meet my wife’s relatives, we walked along the quay to see some of the picturesque city’s landmarks including the statue of Mustafa Kemal that looked toward the sea. My wife’s cousin Ceyda, the daughter of a General assigned to NATO and a rock-ribbed Kemalist, paused in front of the statue to inform me that this was where their war of independence was won. The quay, from which the city’s Greek population was literally driven into the sea, is as important a symbol of that country’s birth in the early 1920s as the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is to an American.
Although I have been very critical of Toni Negri and Michael Hardt’s “Empire”, I am tempted to agree with their argument that the nation-state is a toxic formation when I think about Turkey’s origins over the mountains of Armenian, Greek and Kurdish skulls. Like the Native American corpses that are vomited up at the end of “Poltergeist”, that’s the chilling spectacle you get in the powerful documentary “Smyrna: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City” that opens on April fifth at the Quad in New York. With previously unseen photographs and film footage, the city is revealed in both its cosmopolitan glory and the immolation in 1922 that changed the character of the city forever. Henceforth it would be referred to by its Turkish name—Izmir—just as Constantinople would be known as Istanbul.