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The Asia Minor Catastrophe as Case Study in Management and Leadership
by Dora Vakirtzi*
The Institute on Social Dynamics, an Athens based think tank, organized a conference on October 2nd at Estia Neas Smyrnis, titled “Asia Minor Catastrophe as Case Study in Management, Leadership, Crisis Management and HR”. The idea came while working on social problems that block the development of industry in Greece and after we noticed some findings quite relative with those found when studying the Minor Asia Catastrophe, like poor management and poor leadership skills and most importantly the low level of social cohesion.
It is quite common in developed countries for managers to study wars, important battles, the strategy of renown marshals in order to learn from their successful or unsuccessful decisions. Studying the Asia Minor Catastrophe we realized that from this emblematic period that changed the map of Hellenism and had quite a tragic impact for Greece, we can use several case studies for management, leadership, HR and crisis management.
The distinguished speakers that participated in the conference were:
– Stratis Zafeiris, General Secretary for Industry at the Hellenic Ministry of Economy, Development & Tourism. He talked about the need for a holistic approach and careful planning on Industrial development, setting targets on most favorable sectors where primary efforts should focus. The state mush provide flexible services, supporting and not manipulating the private sector. Furthermore, it is crucial for small enterprises to overcome obstacles arising from their small size through collaboration with others. He also underlined that the most proper development model is the one based on differentiation and added value products/services where creative thinking is a precondition.
– Dr. Vlassis Agtzidis, Historian, Author of 16 books, awarded by the Academy of Athens. He pointed out that the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922, was the real and symbolic end of a great historic procedure associated with the final entry of the Near East to the nation-state era. The transformation of the multiethnic, islamic Othoman Empire was not peaceful and bloodless. It was associated first with the collapse of internal reform efforts due to the emergence of a novel militarist nationalist movement known as the Young Turks.
The Young Turks tried to solve the national issue with the extermination and exclusion of populous Christian communities and by forcibly converting the multi-ethnic Muslim populations to modern Turks. This internal procedure led to unprecedented homogenization methods of the society, methods that humanity will realize a few decades later by the absolute horror of the Holocaust.
The historical starting point, according to Mr. Agtzidis, was the military coup of the nationalist Young Turks in 1908. The physical extermination of Christian populations in the Ottoman Empire was decided and planned in order to reduce the financial strength of the “slaves” by imposing forcible transfer capital from Christians to Muslims and build a Turkish bourgeoisie. The Greeks of the Ottoman Empire before 1914 were about 2.2 million in a total population of about 10 million. Their economic power was greater than their population proportion. It is estimated that 50% of invested capital in industry and 60% in manufacturing industries belonged to Ottoman Greek communities.
At the same time the Greeks in Greece were 4.5 million and lived in a completely different way, when it came to social and civil terms. The productive forces were poorly developed like other structures that were essential for a nation-state. The actual structural weaknesses will lead to an ideological “overcompensation” based on ancient recall, the revival of a dead past as compensation to the real cultural identity of Greek centers outside Greece itself. It will also establish self-recognition by the ideology of the “metropolis” as a superiority feeling.
The key feature in the development of the Greek society is the absence of major urban strata. This will lead to overactivity of the state sector, thus creating strong bonds between free market and state-party function. The policy of the new state was quite introvert. There was only the emergence of Bulgarian nationalism that claimed territory in Macedonia and Thrace that motivated forces in Greece. There will be a severe rupture between old conservative policy represented by the monarchy of King Constantine and reformists represented by El.Venizelos.
The internal contradictions of the Greek Hellenism will lead to a loss, which was not predetermined at all. The Government of Popular Party that was elected in 1920 will follow completely irrational policy which finally led to Kemal’s victory and the Asia Minor Catastrophe. After that the Greek state chose a policy of oblivion.
-Nick Kakaris, management consultant for the Organization of Information Technology. He presented several cases from the Asia Minor expedition showing lack of managerial skills, complete absence of crisis plan, inadequate knowledge of battlefield, insufficient information about the enemy. He also analyzed the completely different leadership skills of General N. Trikoupis and Colonel N. Plastiras and how these affected the development of the war.
Mr Kakaris noticed that similar attitudes we can see in business field today, like lack of collaboration culture, insufficient knowledge of competition and global markets and trends, inferior management skills. History is our society’s experience and this knowledge should be exploited.
– Liana Lekanidis, HR Consultant with great professional experience, having collaborated with private and state organizations. Her presentation was based on the autobiography of Constantinos Politis. Literature provides the experience and the feelings of people who lived a certain historical period. This autobiography is quite interesting due to the long duration (1917-1924) and the variety of experiences the author had. Studying it by HR theory, Mrs.Lekanidis showed that the author managed to survive due to certain skills and attitudes (team mentality, solidarity, emotional intelligence, continuous shelf improvement etc) which are also valuable nowadays as we have to overcome difficulties due to the current economic crisis and act creatively.
-Stelios Fenekos retired Admiral, with studies in management, international policy, strategy, crisis management and rich professional experience. He gave emphasis on the proper military training and how useful is for officers to know and respect the involvement of their subordinates in a project. He pointed out that the current migration crisis is quite different from the refugee crisis after the 1922 catastrophe. The new crisis must not be handled only with humanitarian criteria but with rational and professional management as well.
Managing it should take into consideration the needs of these people but also their different culture and in some cases their effort to establish in Europe values quite different from the European ones. Just for managerial issues, the state could use the skills of officers trained to manage big human groups.
-Dr. Nikolaos Uzunoglu, professor at NTUA, Division of Information, Transmission Systems and Material Technology. He is also President of the Ecumenical Federation of Constantinopolitans. He pointed out that organizing commemorations for historical events like the Asia Minor Catastrophe is useless if the scope is not to learn from mistakes. In accordance:
-Study of these facts should teach the importance of dialogue at national level to avoid divisions. This is primarily an issue of democracy, the development of perception dialogue and the importance of avoiding frontal collisions. Equally it means avoiding demagogic and populist attitudes and understanding their consequences as in the case we are considering.
– History should be taught not as a series of events but in order to disclosure the mechanisms that act and their configuration.
– Regarding Military Schools and Political Studies, there should be courses that enable students’ critical thinking about events like this. Especially in military schools there should be taught contemporary history of Turkey and the Greeks of Near East in light of the above principles. Postgraduate studies should also be offered for the above mentioned issues.
Along with this conference The Institute on Social Dynamics organized an exhibition in collaboration with Mr. Nikos Kardasilaris, businessman and collector. A small part of Mr.Kardasilaris collection was presented under the theme: The Greek Newspapers in Asia Minor at the period of the Greek army expedition 1919-1922. The exhibits offered supplementary information and the emotion of “touching” traces of history.
Dora Vakirtzi is President of the Institute on Social Dynamics.