Venizelos left Greece on the 4th [17th] November 1920 and, accompanied by friends and political colleagues, he arrived first in Nice and from there he went to Paris. When he was questioned by French journalists he answered that he was retiring from politics but that he was ready if requested to offer his services to his country.
During the period of his absence from Greece Venizelos married for a second time. His marriage to Elena Skylitsi, a long-time admirer of his from a Greek ship-owning family of London, took place on the 2nd [15th September] 1921. Elena Skylitsi proved an invaluable support to him at a crucial time in his life and she also gave him much needed financial support.
During his absence the situation in Greece had deteriorated significantly. France, the Soviet Union and Italy had officially voiced their support for Kemal and Britain had adopted a neutral stance. At the same time, the anti-Venizelos party that was governing Greece and which before the elections had promised to demobilize the Greek soldiers and to bring the war to an end not only continued the war but extended it and started to give an aggressive character to the war operations in order to satisfy the ambitious and unrealistic plans of the leadership. Moreover, the dismissal of the pro-Venizelos officers and their replacement with men who were often bureaucrats with no war experience, as well as the underestimating of Kemal's nationalist movement led ineluctably to the Asia Minor catastrophe of the Greek populations.
Nevertheless, in the summer of 1921 the Greek army with admirable heroism marked up significant successes. Kemal was still not ready to meet the Greek army. He was continually strengthening his forces, however, and at the same time he was drawing his enemies ever deeper into Asia Minor away from their bases of supply in order to inflict on them a decisive defeat.
The advance of the Greek forces to the Sangario river via the Almyra desert showed that the Greek soldier responded to the demands made on him with self-sacrifice and heroism in spite of the frivolity of his military and political leadership.
The attempt to take Ankara in August 1921 failed at a cost of 25,000 dead and missing among the Greek forces. This led to a loss of morale among the troops and also caused an economic crisis in Greece.
In 1922 the Greek army had fallen back to the mountain range Eski Sehir - Kiutahia - Afion Karahisar and was no longer on the offensive but very much on the defensive. The Asia Minor war had turned into an adventure with unforseeable consequences for Greece.
Venizelos, even though in exile, did not cease to work for the vital national interests. In no way did he wish to see the collapse of the edifice of Greater Greece which he had built up.
As a faithful friend of the French and British he enjoyed close relations with their leaders and remained in high standing in diplomatic circles. The letter he wrote at this time to the Greek charge d' affaires in Paris, Petros Metaxas, is well known. In this letter he informs the charge d' affaires of the results of his meeting with the British Prime Minister. In view of the economic crisis in the country following its political abandonment by the Western Allies he recommended: "If I saw that the economic situation was hopeless I would abandon the territory of Asia Minor which is occupied today and I would confine myself to the territory which has been ceded to us plus the Maiandros valley; the defence of this territory could be achieved with a force of three divisions, that is 45,000 men, according to the estimates of the Greek and Allied Chiefs of Staff".
But the Government, even though it was leading Greece towards disaster, was deaf to this advice. A few months after the election of the Popular Party, Dimitrios Rallis had as Prime Minister suggested that Eleftherios Venizelos assume a political role and participate in the representation of the Greek Government at the London Conference, but Dimitrios Gounaris and the anti-Venizelos leadership rejected the proposal.
The actions of the "Asia Minor Defence" to give autonomy to Ionia did not bear fruit. A few days before the Asia Minor Catastrophe Venizelos was to express his bitterness at the way in which his advice had been ignored: "They have done the very opposite of what I advised them. Instead of appearing moderate they wished to outdo my policy. They were in no danger of being accused of being conciliatory by me whom they regard as the leader of the opposition since I myself was recommending conciliation".
The Asia Minor Catastrophe
On the 13th August 1922 Kemal launched an attack on the underbelly of the Greek front at Afion Karahisar with eleven divisions of infantry in the front line and four divisions of cavalry and an equal number of infantry divisions in reserve. The main mass of the attackers was met by two divisions of the Third Army Corps, the First and the Fourth. In spite of their brave resistance, the defenders were forced to retreat. The next day the front began to collapse. The army retreated in disarray. Within fourteen days the Turks entered Smyrna and put it to the torch, having slaughtered on the way the Greek population of the area. The foreign forces watched the dreadful catastrophe unfold without intervening.
The Metropolitan Bishop of Smyrna Chrysostomos met a martyr's death as he remained with his flock. The Greek population of Asia Minor ascended to its Golgotha. Greece followed the events in a state of shock with a political leadership incapable of reacting.
Officers from the Asia Minor front who had crossed with their troops to the islands of Lesbos and Chios formed a Revolutionary Committee under the leadership of Nikolaos Plastiras, Stylianos Gonatas and Dimitrios Fokas. Their first actions were to restore order and to proclaim an amnesty for political infractions. At the same time they sent an ultimatum to King Konstantinos demanding his abdication. The Committee also appointed Venizelos as representative for Greece abroad.
In Greece the Government of Krokidas was appointed. Venizelos, as soon as he accepted the appointment, saw the British Foreign Secretary on the 31st October 1922 in London. At this meeting he was informed of the decisions of the Entente. Venizelos communicated to Athens the brutal reality now facing the country: Eastern Thrace was also to be lost.
The armistice which was signed at Moudania on the 11th October 1922 confirmed Venizelos' predictions of a treaty unfavourable to Greece and the Greek population of Eastern Thrace. It was, however, all that could be obtained at that time by the Greek state in its sorry condition.
Those regarded as primarily responsible for the Asia Minor Catastrophe were hastily court-martialled. Of the eight accused, six (D. Gounaris, N. Stratos, P. Protopapadakis, N. Theotokis, G. Baltadzis and the commander-in-chief G. Hadzianestis) were sentenced to death on the charge of high treason.
They were executed on the 15th November 1922. The trial, which was essentially a sop to popular anger and an attempt to restore the prestige of the army, came to be know as the "Trial of the Six". On the eve of the executions, Venizelos sent a telegram to the Greek Government from Lausanne were he was staying as National Representative in an attempt to prevent the sentence from being carried out since it was an action which met with Allied disapproval.
Venizelos' telegram arrived too late to prevent the executions, although it is far from certain that even if it had arrived earlier it would have changed the course of events.
Following the Treaty of Moudania (11th October 1922) there came the Greek-Turkish agreement on the exchange of populations (30th January 1923) which was to constitute Article 10 of the Treaty of Lausanne which was signed on the 24th July 1923.