The Great Fire

The Great Fire : One American's Mission to Rescue Victims of the 20th Century's First Genocide

4.26 (111 ratings by Goodreads)
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The harrowing story of a Methodist Minister and a principled American naval officer who helped rescue more than 250,000 refugees during the genocide of Armenian and Greek Christians--a tale of bravery, morality, and politics, published to coincide with the genocide's centennial.

The year was 1922: World War I had just come to a close, the Ottoman Empire was in decline, and Asa Jennings, a YMCA worker from upstate New York, had just arrived in the quiet coastal city of Smyrna to teach sports to boys. Several hundred miles to the east in Turkey's interior, tensions between Greeks and Turks had boiled over into deadly violence. Mustapha Kemal, now known as Ataturk, and his Muslim army soon advanced into Smyrna, a Christian city, where a half a million terrified Greek and Armenian refugees had fled in a desperate attempt to escape his troops. Turkish soldiers proceeded to burn the city and rape and kill countless Christian refugees. Unwilling to leave with the other American civilians and determined to get Armenians and Greeks out of the doomed city, Jennings worked tirelessly to feed and transport the thousands of people gathered at the city's Quay.

With the help of the brilliant naval officer and Kentucky gentleman Halsey Powell, and a handful of others, Jennings commandeered a fleet of unoccupied Greek ships and was able to evacuate a quarter million innocent people--an amazing humanitarian act that has been lost to history, until now. Before the horrible events in Turkey were complete, Jennings had helped rescue a million people.

By turns harrowing and inspiring, The Great Fire uses eyewitness accounts, documents, and survivor narratives to bring this episode--extraordinary for its brutality as well as its heroism--to life.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 512 pages
  • 165.1 x 241.3 x 39.62mm | 703.06g
  • Ecco Press
  • New York
  • English
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 0062259881
  • 9780062259882
  • 114,009

Review quote

"The Great Fire reads like a fast-paced thriller replete with vivid profiles of heroes, villains and ordinary people caught up in ethnic and religious violence."--The Post and Courier
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Back cover copy

A bribe, a lie and an empty threat--these were the tools Reverend Asa K. Jennings used to rescue hundreds of thousands of helpless refugees following the 1922 burning of Smyrna, the richest and most cosmopolitan city of the Ottoman Empire.

A minister from upstate New York, Jennings had arrived in Smyrna just as the final territorial dispute of World War I was being settled in a brutal war between the army of Greece and a force of Turkish rebels--fighting as proxies for WWI's European victors who had been unable to impose a treaty on the defeated Ottoman Empire. Hundreds of thousands of terrified Greek and Armenian refugees fled to Smyrna as Mustapha Kemal (known today as Ataturk) and his Moslem army advanced on the mostly Christian city. The Turkish soldiers set fire to the city and raped and killed countless Christian refugees while French, British, Italian, and American warships, under strict orders to remain neutral, stood immobile in the harbor.

The Great Fire tells the harrowing and inspiring story of Jennings and a strong-willed naval officer, Lt. Commander Halsey Powell, who together orchestrated one of the century's greatest humanitarian missions. Emboldened by his religious faith, Jennings worked tirelessly to feed and transport the thousands of desperate people while Powell, a war hero and Kentucky gentleman, skirted orders so that he could bring America's Navy to the rescue. By the time the horrible events in Turkey had ended, Jennings and Powell had helped rescue almost a million refugees.

Drawing extensively from survivors' stories, fresh primary sources, and years of research, Ureneck has painted an unforgettable portrait of the fire at Smyrna--the symbolic end of five hundred years of Ottoman rule and the final act in a ten-year religious slaughter. This gripping narrative reveals forces that would define the rest of the century: virulent nationalism, trading oil for national principles, and conflict and misunderstanding between the Christian West and Moslem East. This is an astonishing look at a pivotal, but little known, moment in our history viewed through the lens of the hopeful story of two men who faced a savage crisis with an unshakeable decency.
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Rating details

111 ratings
4.26 out of 5 stars
5 42% (47)
4 45% (50)
3 10% (11)
2 2% (2)
1 1% (1)
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