Monday, June 30, 2008

Managing Director of Iran’s Carpet Cooperation Jalaladin Bassam:Annual carpet weaving in Iran tops 5m sq.m

Managing Director of Iran’s Carpet Cooperation Jalaladin Bassam:Annual carpet weaving in Iran tops 5m sq.m
Annual carpet weaving in Iran tops 5m sq.m
BOJNOURD, May 24 (MNA) – Annually over 5.3 million square meters of hand made carpets are weaved in Iran, Managing Director of Iran’s Carpet Cooperation Jalaladin Bassam said here on Saturday.

“Over 3.1 million square meters of these hand made carpets are exported and 2.2 million square meters are sold within the country,” he added among reporters at the sideline of the First Hand Made Carpet Fair held in Northern Khorasan, IRNA reported.

Bassam also stated that currently there were 1.1 million carpet weavers in the country.

Elsewhere he referred to a rise in domestic purchase of carpets.

“The amount of hand made carpets purchased within the country has doubled compared to the previous year (March 2007 to March 2008),” this official explained.

GOB King Aram Dermentjian will retire this year... Maybe!

Aram retiring after 50 years


You heard it here first! Aram Dermentjian will retire this year!

Forget about all the other times he considered retirement and held a big sale. Forget about the storefront sign that's been posted for many months at his downtown carpet store thanking Sarnians for their patronage.

This is really it!

Over the last 50 years, Dermentjian has proven his staying power through good times and bad in the oriental rug and broadloom business.

Many might say he's been advertising a perennial retirement sale without really meaning to retire. But he flatly denies it.

What he will admit, however, is that he's now 82 and has been trying to take a back seat to the business since 1990. That's the year his son, Diran, took over. At that point, the advertisements started announcing big sales in honour of Dermentjian's retirement.

In fact, for the next 12 years, he says he was semi-retired. But a few years ago, Diran left for Vancouver to pursue another venture and his father took back full possession of the business.

"That's why there have been so many retirement sales," Dermentjian insisted during an interview a few days ago. "I was always thinking about retirement. Yet I never did it."

Then he looked me straight in the eye and said, "Cathy, you are the first I'm going to tell. I have decided. I will retire this year. Before I was just thinking about it. Now I've decided."

Barring any unforeseen changes, his retirement will coincide with the 50th anniversary of Aram's Oriental Rug Gallery, an institution in Sarnia's downtown since 1958.

Dermentjian arrived in Canada from Greece in 1953. As a new immigrant, he was sponsored by a rug dealer in London and started working for him.

In Greece, Dermentjian -- who is of Armenian origin -- had worked at his father's silk factory and was a trained textiles engineer.

While working in London, one of his customers was Marshall Gowland, the mayor of Sarnia at the time.

"He invited me to Sarnia. He told me it was Canada's booming city with Imperial Oil and Dow," Dermentjian said. "I wanted to open my own store without competing with my sponsor in London so I moved here."

Besides, he said the blue water of the St. Clair and Lake Huron reminded him of Greece.

"I had no money but I had terrific faith," he said of his early days in business.

Initially, he took ownership of Hakimian Rugs on Davis Street.

Sales were always good in the 1950s, he said. "I knew the broadloom and oriental rug business and I'm a good salesman."

Sarnia's downtown was flourishing. Those were the days when all the stores remained open Friday nights and the sidewalks were crowded with shoppers.

Soon, he moved to the corner of Front and Lochiel streets on the riverside and renamed the business Aram's. Ten years later, he relocated to Christina street.

Over the years, the business switched addresses a number of times before moving into the current location at 174, 176 and 178 Christina in 1995.

By that time, the commercial area was rapidly growing in the east end of the city and downtown was struggling, said Dermentjian.

He's always been a strong proponent of getting the bus transfer stations off Christina and building a terminal.

Now, as he plans to retire, the city

is undertaking a major reconstruction of Christina, something Dermentjian welcomes and believes will be good for the downtown.

"I've never regretted a day in this business," he said. "But it's time to retire." He intends to continue his oriental rug appraisal business and former customers will still be able to get their rugs professionally cleaned.

But sales will soon be over and all those proclamations that Aram is retiring will finally come true.

He plans to do some traveling with his wife and enjoy time with his family.

Some may be skeptical when they notice the retirement sales this summer.

But this time, he says he's not just thinking about it. He's decided.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dowlatabad Garden in Yazd

Dowlatabad Garden a Must See Site

The Dowlatabad garden has an aggregate of buildings which were designed and constructed during the time of Mohammad Taqi Khan in the Zandieh era in the city of Yazd
According to Irantravel website, it was the residence of Khan and his government and officials. The wind trapper of this garden is 33 meters high and is considered an architectural masterpiece and a symbol of the Yazdi architects’ genius, mental ability, talent and art.
The most significant characteristic of the design of the buildings is believed to be the attempt of the architect in selecting tactful angles for providing the best views and landscape.
Dowlatabad garden is regarded as one of the sites worth visiting due to verdant gardening skill in landscape architecture, irrigation method, and richness of architectural design. It is for this reason that the same has been recorded as a historic building.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Migration Season Begins

Migration Season Begins
In summer nomads from across
the country make
their annual migratory trip to cooler pastures.
(Photo by
Reza Moattarian)

Ilam Glory of the Past

Ilam Glory of the Past

Ilam Province is an area with a large number of archeological sites dating back to Bronze and Iron eras. Of course, most of the sites are cemeteries.
The city of Ilam, the provincial capital, is located 710 kilometers from Tehran and surrounded by forest-covered mountains, Press TV reported. It is important to unravel the mysteries of the past and Ilam can be a good evidence for providing a link between the Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia.

Historical evidence shows Ilam, once called Alamto or Alam meaning ’mountains’ or ’the country of sunrise’ in Elamite and Babylonian inscriptions, was an important center in the Elamite civilization.
Cemeteries and burial sites are excellent resources in terms of elucidating the mysteries surrounding the religious and cultural practices of the ancient times. They provide invaluable ethnographical and chronological data about social and economic relations.
While no major research has been undertaken on the prehistoric funerary rites and rituals of the inhabitants of the Iranian plateau, a Belgian study revealed that most of Ilam’s gravesites belonged to nomadic tribes, which settled in the region around the first millennium BC.

Three famous cemeteries
Chenar Graveyard, a site dating back to the first millennium BC and located in the Chenarbash region, contains graves in which the dead were buried in small or large earthenware jars along with their possessions.
Kian-e-Gonbad Graveyard, which archaeological studies suggest dates back to 2500-2600 BC, is located 30 kilometers to the southeast of Ilam.
Pelkeh Kan Graveyard, where numerous artifacts belonging to Stone Age hunters have been discovered, is located in the historical Halilan area. The location of a grave, along with its contents and internal decoration present clear evidence of the concerns and beliefs of the dead and whether the worlds of the living and the dead were regarded as separate and hostile to each other or as part of a continuum.
Historical and anthropological investigations reveal that burial rituals reflect a society’s view of not only the nature of death but also the totality of human existence in relation to the cosmos.
Equipment found in the ancient graves suggests that humans may have always been unable to accept physical death as the end of life and that they believed in an afterlife similar to the one they knew on earth.
Archeologists believe that during a certain period people were buried on the basis of the position of the sun in the sky at the time of their death; if a person died at sunrise or sunset, they were buried facing the east or west, as found in the Iron Age cemetery near Sarab Karzan village in the Shirvan region.

The Sarab Karzan graves are covered with huge gravestones, each weighing one to five tons, which had been placed atop each other in a conical shape without any mortar.
The pile of stones above the graves may have served as a means to keep the dead within, to warn the living that the site belonged to the dead and perhaps as a simple form of remembrance of those buried in their eternal resting place.
The graves in the Poshtkoh region are mostly quadrangular with stone covers and though the bones have not survived due to the acidity of the earth, the sites contain spearheads, earthen vessels, teapots, jewelry and many other revealing artifacts.
Smaller quadrangular graves refer to the fact that children were buried alongside adults.
Up to the third millennium BC (the early to Middle Bronze Age), the dead were usually buried under the familial abode. Fetal burials, the covering of bodies with red ocher (a substitute for blood as the symbol of life) and gifts placed in the grave are characteristics of the funerary rites of this era.
Wealth and social status played an important part in the objects placed in graves; the poor were buried with simple earthen vessels while jewelry was found in the graves of the rich.
The Iron Age is important because it explains the origins of what came to be known as the unique Persian culture.
A survey of gravesite relics from this era shows that the social, cultural, economical and racial structures gradually evolved, leading to the emergence of Monotheism.
Until the end of the Bronze Age, burial rites remained unchanged and the dead who were the subject of affection or reverence continued to be buried within the house or family compounds. However, with the development of urbanism, the old custom was abandoned and cemeteries gained popularity.
As the dead were now viewed as sources of fear and death was thought to contaminate the living, the burial sites, which were seen as belonging to the dead, were built in areas remote from the place of living.
Many cultures had the desire to draw a pronounced line between the world of the living and the dead and tried to hasten their departure by showing kindness to the dead so they would not harm the living.
The modern cemetery could be seen as the continuity of the necropolis (city of the dead) belief.
Burial in the earth is in a way the recognition of the cycle of life and death in which man as part of nature takes part. Humans created from clay would return to the place that had once brought them forth.

June 10 is World Handicraft Day

June 10 is World Handicraft Day

A tribal woman
weaving Kilim, a coarse rug that is used for floor coverings.
Kilim that features
tens of motifs
in several colors
is woven with fine threads of wool or mixture of cotton and wool. Kilim weaving is common among tribal women.

Desert Impact on S. Khorasan Handicraft

Desert Impact on S. Khorasan Handicraft

Southern Khorasan province stretches over an area of more than 95,000 square kilometers. Most of the province is located in Lut Kavir that is 650 meters above sea level. It has mild semi-Saharan to warm Saharan climatic conditions.
The impact of climatic conditions of Lut desert is evident in the handicrafts of Khorasan province.

It has more than 50 tribal zones and more than 2,000 villages in seven townships that has resulted in emergence of more than 48 different types of handicrafts, Fars News Agency reported.
Handicraft of South Khorasan province is influenced by the handicrafts of Afghan, Baluch, Sistan, Yazd and Kerman which is seen in the design patterns of the province.

Artists have been greatly influenced by animals and birds such as gazelle, sheep, dog, camel, cow, donkey, snake, fox, wolf, as well as sparrow and partridge.
Deputy head of South Khorasan Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Department for handicrafts said that the wool of the local sheep and livestock is used for weaving.
Hamta Mousavi pointed out that the most important handicrafts of the province are carpets, kelim, pottery and leatherwork.

Rasht, Astara Attractions

Rasht, Astara Attractions

Rasht is the capital of the northern Gilan province, located eight meters above sea-level in the vast expanse of Sefidroud River Delta. It is located 330 kilometers from northwest Tehran , at the end of the main road to the Caspian Sea and on the way to Bandar Anzali from Qazvin province.
Rasht consists of six districts of Central, Khomam, Khoshkebijar, Sangar, Koochesfahan and Lashte Nesha, reported.
It is the gateway to the province and its geographical position is advantageous for facilitating trade and export.
The city enjoys a climate known as ’moderate-Caspian’ that ranges from hot and humid summers to mild winters.
Armenian and Jewish minorities also live in this city.

Past & Present
According to historical sources, Rasht most likely gained importance in the pre-Islamic Sassanid Era, during which the provincial center was transferred from Bieh Pas to Fooman and then Rasht.
Rasht was called Dar-al-Emareh or Dar-al-Marz in the past. The city was the only route for conducting commercial transactions through Anzali Port to Europe and it was a major trading center from the time of King Abbas’s reign up to the end of the Qajar Dynasty.
Caravans stopped for purchasing silk and dispatching their cargoes to Mediterranean ports.

Most of its native people speak Gilaki with the Bieh Pas dialect. They engage in agricultural, fishing, commercial, and industrial activities. However, rice cultivation is the main activity of the villagers.

Tourist Attractions
Buildings in Rasht have a special style of architecture among which buildings near the main square of the city, Shohada Square (former City Hall Sq.), are of cultural and artistic significance.
Rasht Fishmongers’ Bazaar and the Main Market nearby are among the most important shopping centers of Gilan.
Some of the well-known historical and tourist attractions include Kolah Farangi Edifice, City Hall, Rasht Museum, Qadiri House, Rasht National Library, Abrishami’s House, Armenian Church, Lat Caravansary, Gilan Rural Heritage Museum, Tourist House, Qods Park, Mellat Park and Daneshjoo Park.

Religious Sites
Iranians from across the country and the native people of the province make pilgrimage to Khahar Imam Mausoleum, Imamzadeh Hashem (30 km from Rasht), Safi and Haj Samadkhan Mosques, Shrines of Aqa Seyyed Ibrahim & Aqa Seyyed Abbas (Saqarisazan), Dana-ye Ali Shrine (Chomar Sara), Bibi Roqayyeh Shrine (Aliabad) and Mirza Koochak Khan Jangali (Soleyman Darab).

Astara is the northernmost port city of Gilan bordering the Republic of Azerbaijan . The city is the historical village of Gilan known as ’Astarab’ in the past. Because of using a lot of earthen roofs for residential and commercial buildings, it is also known as “the City of Ceramic Roofs “.
Astara Chay River , as the marine border between Iran ’s Astara and that of the Republic of Azerbaijan , flows in the north of the port city and creates spectacular views.
People speak the Azari dialect and are highly cultured and hospitable. Astara Township consists of two districts, namely Central and Lavandvil.
The city thrived in the past. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the independence of Russian ex-Soviet states, Astara’s economy and tourism have flourished due to cordial tourism and commercial relations with these states, especially the Republic of Azerbaijan.
Due to its geographical position adjoining the Heiran Pass in a mountainous region, Astara’s mild and humid climate is slightly cooler than other low-lying areas of Gilan province.

Sightseeing Spots
The itinerary of tourists to Astara includes visits to Abbasabad Garden, Heiran Green Area, Kooteh Koomeh and Alidashi spas, Esteel Wetland, Sadaf Seashore Recreational Area, Behesht-e-Kaktoosan (Cactuses Paradise), Lavandvil Waterfall, Tea Garden, Heiran Laq Village, Bibi Yanloo Jungle Park, Javandan Wetland, schools of Shahid Marhaba & Shahid Madani, Lamir Mahalleh Castle and Vaneh Bin Ancient Cemetery.

Religious Sites
People also visit the shrines of Imamzadeh Seyyed Qasem, Imamzadeh Seyyed Ebrahim, Sheikh Tajeddin Mahmoud Khivy and Pir Qotbeddin to offer prayers and seek their hearts’ desire.

Yazd registered Global Heritage Site

A Prize of History

The plan for registration of the historical texture of Yazd as global heritage was approved by provincial officials and Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization, said Head of Yazd ICHHTO Department Azizollah Seifi.
He added that Yazd governor-general, Mohammad Reza Fallahzadeh and ICHHTO both have agreed that Yazd’s case must be sent to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization soon.
“ It must be noted that the large area of the historical texture, the overall conditions of the historical structure and the importance of the city in various eras are parameters that necessitate registration of the city’s old texture,“ CHN quoted him as saying.

He noted that Yazd’s registration case is being finalized.
“Given its area of 743 hectares and that Yazd is the second ancient and historic city in the world, its registration at the international level is a necessity. Many Iranian and foreign tourists visit Yazd every year. Unique houses, the grand mosque, Amir Chaqmaq Complex and ancient markets are among the distinct features of the texture of the city,“ he pointed out.
Seifi emphasized that registration of Yazd as world heritage site will certainly have positive economic and cultural effects and will help boost tourism.

He noted that eight Iranian sites have been registered as global heritage so far and Yazd is the ninth.
The official underlined that presenting innovative renovation plans (in line with the traditional architectural style), paying attention to handicrafts and transforming old houses to traditional hotels as well as renovating historical edifices, especially those which belong to the Qajar and Ilkhanid periods are moves which can improve the overall conditions of the texture.
Yazd is located to the east of Isfahan and south of Kavir-e Lout with a longitude of 54 degrees and 24 minutes and a latitude of 31 degrees and 25 minutes. Its altitude is 1,240 meters. The city is surrounded by mountains in its eastern, southern and northern parts. It is some 608 kilometers from Tehran and is accessible by bus, plane and train.
Yazd has been of great value since ancient times. Today, it is the center of attention of experts of tourism and oriental studies. The city is indeed the country’s economic hub which is located en route to Bandar Abbas and the strategic Persian Gulf.

Golestan is one of the green provinces in northeast Iran

A Tourist Haven
By Sadeq Dehqan
Golestan is one of the green provinces in northeast Iran . Turkmenistan lies on the north and the Caspian Sea to its west.
The capital of the province is Gorgan, which has always been an important city throughout history.

Most parts of the province have mild climatic conditions. However, the Gorgan Plain, due to its proximity to Turkmenistan ’s desert and low altitude, has a semi-arid climate.
Chalouei Shah Kouh is one of the most important summits of the province with a height of 3,750 meters.
The main rangelands are in the Gorgan Plain, which make it suitable for livestock breeding and affiliated industries.
Golestan is one of the economic hubs of the country, especially in agriculture.

Ethnic Diversity
People from different ethnic backgrounds live in this province. Its inhabitants speak languages such as Persian, Mazandarani, Katooli and Turkmani.
The residents of Gorgan mainly speak Persian. Mazandarani is spoken in the western villages and cities (Kordkooy, Bandar Gaz and Nokondeh). People residing near Aliabad speak Katooli while Turkmani is spoken in the eastern and northern regions.
The province of Golestan is host to one of the oldest nomadic tribes of northeastern Iran known as Turkmans who organize horse races in spring and autumn. Races are also held during a wedding, birth of a child and other festive occasions.

Natural Attractions
Golestan National Park is the largest and most attractive the country.
The province has beautiful shores, forests, farms and gardens. It also boasts of natural attractions like mountains, sea, waterfalls, rivers and spas as well as fauna.
Given its ecotourism, historical and cultural attractions, the province has a special status nationwide. Most residents of the province are Shiite, but the residents of Gonbad and Gorgan are mostly Sunni.
Natural attractions of the province include Gomishan Wetland, Miyan-Kaleh Wildlife Refuge, the waterfalls of Lou, Shirabad, Baran Kouh, Ziyarat and Kaboodval, Deland Forest Park, Ashuradeh Island and Jahan-Nama Protected Zone.

Historical Allure
The most important monuments of the province are the Grand Mosque, Mausoleum of Makhtoom Qoli Faragholi, Imamzadeh Roshan, Aqa Qola Bridge, Imamzadeh Noor (Es’haq), the Old Bazaar, Imamzadeh Hendijan, Radkan Tower, Tourang Hill, Gorgan and Gonbad Friday markets, Eskandari Dam, Maran Castle, Shahin Palace, Golshan Mosque, Agha Mohammad Khan Palace, Sardar Seminary, Imam Hassan Askari (AS) Mosque, Darulshafa Theological School, Karim Abshar mosque and theological school and Gorgan Museum.
Souvenirs of the province include jajim, handicrafts, caviar, carpets, Turkman rugs and Posht-e Zik (a delicacy).
Diverse natural and historical attractions along with its residents’ way of life and Turkman traditions make Golestan a tourist haven for all seasons.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Drugs Conceled in Oriental Rugs

June 23, 2008

China Pulls Rug From Under Flying Carpet Drug Smugglers

Filed at 10:22 p.m. ET

BEIJING (Reuters) - Drug traffickers in China's far west are smuggling heroin into the country woven into carpets imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan, state media said on Tuesday. Customs officials in Xinjiang, which borders both countries, have seized more than 30 carpets containing some 50 kg (110 lb) of heroin in the last several months, the official China Daily said.

"The traffickers have become more sophisticated and are using new techniques," it paraphrased Wang Zhi, deputy director the General Administration of Customs' anti-smuggling bureau, as saying.

"Wang said traffickers first inject heroin into plastic tubes of 1-2 mm diameter and wrap them with colorful natural or synthetic fibers to make them look like yarn. They then weave them into the carpet along with normal yarn," the report said.

The new smuggling method was making detection harder as equipment normally used by customs' officers was not up to the task, the newspaper added.

While drug smuggling into China from the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia -- including Laos, Myanmar and Thailand -- had fallen, drug trafficking was on the rise from the Golden Crescent, which includes Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The opposite used to be the case about two years ago," Wang said.

"Drugs smuggled into China are in turn sent to other destinations. Heroin and cocaine usually go to Australia and Europe, while new drugs such as Ecstasy are more likely to be smuggled into South Korea and Japan," the report added.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Isfahan - City of Polish Children

Isfahan - City of Polish Children
Jun 22, 2008
Ryszard Antolak - Persian Journal

The Polish Postal Service has commemorated the role Isfahan played during World War 2 in caring for Polish orphans.

The new stamp, "Isfahan - the City of Polish Children", went on sale earlier this month. It depicts a pupil at School No. 15 near Isfahan (Stanislaw Stojakowski), standing in front of a Persian carpet woven at the city's Carpet School in 1944.

In 1942, Isfahan housed thousands of Polish orphans released from the Soviet work camps of Siberia and Kazakhstan. At its peak, twenty one areas of the city were exclusively allocated to the welfare of the ragged and emaciated orphans who had been sent there from reception centres in Anzali, Tehran and Mashad. Many of them remained in the city for up to three years, earning it the title "City of Polish children", the name which also appears (in Polish) on the stamp's First Day Commemorative Cover. In addition, the cover sports a design showing hundreds of the Polish names fading illegibly into oblivion.

Between 1942 and 1945, Iran played host to almost 150,000 men women and children of the "Polish Exodus from Russia". The majority of the children ended up in Isfahan.

The stamp, issued on 10th June 2008, has a face value of 2 zloty 40 groszy, and is already proving extremely popular with the Polish public.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Plastic or Nylon in Afghan Rugs

Plastic or Nylon in Afghan Rugs

Plastic or Nylon in Afghan Rugs
On Turkotek two separate threads brought up Afghan Rugs with plastic mixed in the wool. No one answered so I thought I may as well comment. My experience is that bits of plastic get mixed in with the wool and make their way into Afghan Rugs. I wrote about the rug to the left in an article that I wrote last century called Afghan War Rugs. My bother Jim who is now a photographer in Tokyo theorized that the fiber was from nylon rice bags. It sounds reasonable to me, tribal and village weavers use nylon bags to hold wool. The rug to the left is from low-end war rug dealer Andy Hale of Anahita Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The destruction of OCM in Smyrna

June 15, 2008

Paradise Lost Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance by Giles Milton

A powerful account of one of the most horrific humanitarian disasters of the 20th century

For centuries, the great city of Smyrna was a European foothold on the Anatolian coast. The British Levantine Company had had a factory there since 1667, trading in raisins and carpets, and even then the place was renowned for its lively social life. Francesco Lupazzoli, the priapic Venetian consul, lived on a diet of fruit, bread and water and a few slices of unseasoned meat, yet survived until the age of 114, and fathered 126 children on his five wives and innumerable Smyrniot mistresses.

By the end of the 19th century, Smyrna had grown into one of the largest, richest and most cosmopolitan cities in the Mediterranean. It contained large Armenian and Jewish communities, plus at least twice as many Greeks as then lived in Athens. There were 11 Greek newspapers available in the city, as well as seven in Turkish, five in Armenian, four in French and five in Hebrew. Smyrna was also home to a collection of amazingly rich Anglo-Levantine families. The Girauds owned the Oriental Carpet Manufacturing Company, which employed 150,000 people, while the Whittalls controlled an even larger fruit exporting empire. These clans inhabited vast palaces and were serviced by a string of opera houses, theatres, department stores and brasseries. According to one visitor, even their hair salons “were reminiscent of ballrooms”. There were no fewer than 17 companies dealing with Parisian luxuries for these families. It is the lives of these dynasties, recorded in their diaries and letters, that form the focus for Giles Milton’s brilliant re-creation of the last days of Smyrna.

In the course of the late 19th century, the Ottoman empire lurched from disaster to disaster, slowly and bloodily shedding its Greek, Bulgarian and Egyptian fringes. To make matters worse, it backed the wrong side in the first world war, thus losing its remaining possessions in the Hejaz, Palestine and Syria. Yet through all this, Smyrna flourished as if on a separate planet. Protected by Rahmi Bey, its liberal Ottoman governor, Smyrna continued to prosper while nearby the caliphate collapsed, the Armenians were led off to their genocide and allied troops died in their tens of thousands trying to capture Gallipoli. Pictures taken in 1917 show the Smyrna Opera packed to bursting with Edwardian gentlemen in black tie, enjoying Rigoletto only a few miles from the landing beaches where so many of their compatriots had died.

Then quite suddenly, in 1922, four years after the end of the first world war, Smyrna was snuffed out in a single week of mass-murder, rape, looting, pillage and one of the greatest acts of arson in the 20th century. At the end of it, the New York Times ran the headline: “Smyrna wiped out.” As Milton points out: “It was not hyperbole; it was a bold statement of fact.”

Britain played an important role in this disaster. Lloyd George hated Muslims, and especially the Turks. In the course of the Paris conference, at the same time as he casually handed over Palestine (then 90% Arab) to the Zionist movement, he encouraged the ambitions of his friend Eleftherios Venizelos, the prime minister of Greece, to annex chunks of Anatolia. When Venizelos dined at Downing Street, Lloyd George proposed the toast: “May the Turk be turned out of Europe and sent to . . . where he came from.” Lord Curzon agreed: “For more than five centuries, the presence of the Turk in Europe has been a source of distraction, intrigue, and corruption . . . Let not this occasion be missed of purging the earth of one of its most pestilent roots of evil.”

In 1919, while the Paris peace conference continued its deliberations on the future of the Middle East, Greek troops landed in Smyrna under British protection. Blessed by the Greek bishop Metropolitan Chrysostom, they began committing atrocities against the city’s Turkish inhabitants, killing large numbers of unarmed citizens. The Greek army then advanced inland, and was soon pushing back Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s new Turkish Republican army.

Lloyd George dismissed Ataturk as a “carpet seller in a bazaar . . . [given to] unnatural sexual intercourse”, yet the Turkish leader was more than a match for the Greeks. Arming his troops with weapons procured from Italy and France, both of whom distrusted this Anglo-Greek imperial project, Ataturk stalled the Greek offensive, and cut off their supply lines with his cavalry. By August 1922, the Greeks were in chaotic retreat, committing further atrocities as they staggered back to the Mediterranean. It was Smyrna that paid the price for British and Greek miscalculations. When the Turks entered the city on September 9, few doubted they would take revenge for what had been done to them. Few, however, guessed the scale of the horrors that would be meted out on the city. Estimates vary but some suggest that by the end of the mayhem 100,000 people had been killed, with many times that number turned into homeless refugees.

Perhaps the only flaw in Milton’s powerful and moving narrative is the degree to which he depicts Smyrna as somehow an exceptional case: as the book’s subtitle has it, he believes he is writing about “the destruction of Islam’s city of tolerance”. In reality, both the pre-first-world-war tolerance, and the bloody fragmentation of that multicultural world as the empire collapsed, were part of a wider pattern across Ottoman lands. What is true of Smyrna was equally true of Salonica, Istanbul, Alexandria and Jaffa. For across the Ottoman world, eastern Christians, Jews and Muslims lived side by side for nearly one and a half millenniums. By modern standards, the Christians and Jews (the dhimmi) were often treated as second-class citizens, but it was at least a kind of pluralist equilibrium that had no parallel in Europe until the 1950s.

What one historian has called this hybrid “multiconfessional, extraordinarily polyglot Ottoman” multiculturalism where even “bootblacks commanded a working knowledge of six or seven languages” survived until European ideas of the nation state shattered the mosaic in the early 20th century. Across the Ottoman empire, the century saw the bloody unravelling of that tapestry — most recently in Kosovo and Bosnia, but before that in Cyprus, Palestine, Greece and Anatolia. In each,pluralism was replaced by a savage polarisation as minorities fled or were driven to places where they could be majorities.

Milton has written a grimly memorable book about one of the most important events in this process. It is well paced, even-handed and cleverly focused: through the prism of the Anglo-Levantines, he reconstructs both the prewar Edwardian glory of Smyrna and its tragic end. He also clears up, once and for all, who burnt Smyrna, producing irrefutable evidence that the Turkish army brought in thousands of barrels from the Petroleum Company of Smyrna and poured them over the streets and houses of all but the Turkish quarter. Moreover, it is clear that it was done with the full approval of Ataturk, who was determined to find a final solution to his “minority problem” to ensure the future stability of his fledgling Turkish republic. A relatively homogenous Turkish nation state was indeed achieved; but as Milton shows, the cost was suffering on an almost unimaginable scale and one of the most horrific humanitarian disasters of the 20th century.

Paradise Lost Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance, by Giles Milton

Sceptre £20 pp426

Buy from BooksFirst for £15.29 with free delivery in the UK