Stella Tsolakidou – 19/5/13
In 1994, May 19 was selected by the Greek parliament as the day to commemorate the Pontian Greek Genocide by the Turks. The Pontic Genocide is one of the darkest moments in history not only for Greeks, but also for mankind. The Genocide vanished from its ancestral and historic homeland in Pontus a culturally vibrant and unique part of the Greek population that had been fighting for its survival for about 3,000 years.
Records show a minimum 350,000 Pontian Greeks exterminated through systematic slaughter by Turkish troops, deportations involving death marches, starvation in labor and concentration camps, rapes and individual killings. Entire villages and cities were devastated, while thousands were forced to flee to neighboring countries. The Ottoman government’s plan to annihilate the Christian populations living within Turkey, including Greeks, Syrians and Armenians, during World War I was set into force in 1914 with the decree that all Pontian men aged between 18 to 50 would have to report to the military. Those who refused to do so, were ordered to be shot immediately.
Among the causes for the Turkish campaign against the Greek population was a fear that the population would aid the Ottoman Empire’s enemies, and a belief among nationalist Turks that in order to form a modern nation state it was necessary to purge from the territories of the state those national groups who could threaten the integrity of a modern Turkish nation. With the guidance of German advisers the Turkish regime created the so called amele taburu (labor battalions) were the Pontian Greeks who did not enter the Ottoman army would have to work under inhuman conditions in mines, construction works and quarries.
The Ottoman regime feared the Pontiac population not only because of their rapidly growing numbers that had reached 700,000 by the early 20th century, but also because of the cultural and economic growth of the minority. Cities like Samsous, Trapezous and Kerasous displayed a remarkable growth with dozens of schools, newspapers, theaters and other amenities. The rise of the Young Turks movement, however, would put a brutal end to the thriving Greek community of the area. While the Greek state was busy solving out the Crete problem and in no position to open new fronts with Turkey, the Pontians and many other Greeks across Asia Minor were dislocated and systematically exterminated.
The Pontians tried to fight back and resist the new politics, so they fled high to the mountains and organized themselves in small guerrilla groups. By 1921 historical records show that Pontian fighters numbered some 12,000, a force that was unwisely never deployed by the Greek army. The Greek politics of the time that failed to focus on the issue and the lost hopes of the establishment of a joint Ponto-Armenian country allowed Kemal Ataturk to proceed with the final phase of his plan.
The rise of the Bolsheviks in neighboring Russia deprived the Greek Pontians of the help they received against the Ottomans. The new Russian regime and Germany helped Turkey in all ways possible. While the Greek army was marching in the wilderness of Anatolia, Kemal kept the Greeks busy with guerrilla attacks and simultaneously carried on the massacres in Pontus. By the time of the Asia Minor catastrophe more than 300,000 Pontian Greeks had already lost their lives.
The survivors of the extended slaughters migrated to nearby Russian grounds or were included in the population exchanges that followed the end of the Greco-Turkish war (1919- 22). The Pontians that moved into Greece brought with them their surviving culture, language, customs and traditions, and enriched the social structures of the country by adding their own characteristic features.