The Massacre of Phocaea (Greek: Η Σφαγή της Φώκαιας, I Sfagí tis Fókaias) occurred in June 1914, as part of the ethnic cleansing policies of the Ottoman Empire. It was perpetrated by irregular Turkish bands against the predominantly ethnic Greek town of Phocaea, modern Foça, in the east coast of the Aegean Sea. The massacre was part of a wider anti-Greek campaign of genocide launched by the Young Turk Ottoman authorities, which included boycott, intimidation, forced deportations and massive killings. and was one of the worst attacks of this campaign.
In 1914, the Ottoman Empire had just emerged from the disastrous Balkan Wars, in which it had lost most of its European territories, except for Eastern Thrace, to the Christian Balkan League. Several tens of thousands of Balkan Muslims were streaming into the Empire as refugees.
At the same time tensions mounted with the Kingdom of Greece over possession of the islands of the northeastern Aegean, which Greece had captured during the wars. In February 1914, the Great Powers decided that Greece would keep most of them, a decision that the Ottoman government rejected. A Greco-Ottoman naval race was the result, with threats of war over the issue of the islands. In this atmosphere, the Greek population of the Ottoman Empire became a target of the Young Turk Ottoman government, from a press campaign against them, limitations to the autonomy of their educational institutions, the imposition of military service, as well as various financial measures, culminating in a boycott of Greek-owned businesses.
The Young Turk leadership began implementing ethnic cleansing policies in the spring of 1914. The Greek communities of the Aegean region of Anatolia and Eastern Thrace were targeted, facing boycott, intimidation, attacks by irregulars and massacre. Some communities had the opportunity to avoid death by converting to Islam. In the Aydin Vilayet, on the Aegean coast of Anatolia, a total of 8,000-10,000 armed irregulars (bashi-bazouks) were operating as part of this campaign. According to reports submitted by the Danish consul of nearby Smyrna, Alfred Van de Zee, these groups were financed and run by the Ottoman state.
During early June 1914, Turkish irregular bands looted the villages south of Menemen, causing the Greek populations to flee. Greek refugees of the surrounding regions poured into nearby Phocaea on June 11. Phocaea, a coastal town north of Smyrna, comprised ca. 9,000 inhabitants and was predominantly populated by ethnic Greeks.
On June 12, irregular bands launched their attack against Phocaea itself. The attack began during the night from three different sides and was well organized from the beginning. The armed groups broke into several dwellings and shot their inhabitants, irrespective of age and sex, while apart from the killings, several rapes also occurred. German ambassador Wangehheim and American ambassador Henry Morgenthau reported that about fifty people had been killed, while reports of Greek refugees from Phocaea raised the number to 100. The bodies of those massacred were thrown into wells and included priests, old men and children. Dwellings and stores which were already abandoned by the panic-stricken population were systematically looted.
The amount of the looted property was so extensive and widespread that even irregular groups who didn't participate in the massacre and the destruction took part in the share. The surviving civilian population ran to the harbor and tried to escape by boat. Due to the general disorder, some people were drowned while trying to swim in order to save themselves.
On June 25, the Danish consul of Smyrna, Alfred Van de Zee, quoted an eyewitness of the destruction:
[W]ithin a quarter of an hour after the assault had begun every boat in the place was full of people trying to get away and when no more boats could be had the inhabitants sought refuge on the little peninsula on which the lighthouse stands. I saw eleven bodies of men and women lying dead on the shore. How many were killed I could not say, but trying to get into a house of which the door stood ajar I saw two other dead bodies lying in the entrance hall. Every shop in the place was looted and the goods that could not be carried away were wantonly destroyed.
Meanwhile, the members of the local French archaeological mission, under Félix Sartiaux, took drastic measures to help the remaining population and managed to save hundreds of them. They provided shelter whenever possible, while the irregular groups were still committing atrocities. According to French archaeologist and eyewitness, Charles Manciet, the Ottoman authorities sent regular troops to Phocaea to deal with the perpetrators, but these troops also participated in the destruction of the town.
The Ottoman authorities tried to cover up the incident. However, after two days a French steam tug boat arrived at Smyrna and spread the news about the massacre. The crew had observed a large number of people on the promontory and sent ca. 700 survivors to the nearby Greek island of Lesbos. The Greek authorities there rescued the remaining 5,000–6,000 inhabitants by sending boats to bring them to the island. According to Manciet, the massacre continued until 18 June, when there were no Greek inhabitants left and Phocaea was finally turned into a ghost town.
The events in Phocaea elicited sympathy for the victims in Europe, especially in France. The people of Marseille raised a sum of 20,000 French francs to support the refugees.
Similar activity was also carried out by Turkish irregular bands against several other settlements in western Anatolia, while on one occasion almost all inhabitants of the village of Serekieuy, near Menemen, were killed after local Greeks armed themselves for resistance. These attacks against the Ottoman Greeks were performed in manner similar to those undertaken at the time against the Armenian population in eastern provinces of the Ottoman Empire.
During 1914, a total of ca. 154,000 ethnic Greek inhabitants living in the Ottoman Empire lost their homes. With the outbreak of World War I the Ottoman policies against the Greek communities took a more violent and systematic form and affected a more extensive area, including also Pontus in northern Anatolia. These policies included confiscations of property, as well as the creation of forced labor battalions for all Greek males.