Background Paper on the Pontian Genocide

Hellenic Resources Network
Monday, 8 March 2004

Background Paper on the Pontian Genocide

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From: Akis Haralabopoulos [email protected]

Pontus means “sea” in Greek and is located in the south-eastern littoral of
the Black Sea. Its connection with Hellenism stretches back to pre-historic
times to the legends of Jason and the Argonauts quest for the Golden Fleece
and to Heracles obtaining the Amazon Queen’s girdle. The coastal region was
colonised by the Ionians, especially the city of Miletus which founded
Sinope (785 BC), Trapezunta (756 BC) and the numerous other cities along the
coast from Heracleia to Discurias in the Caucasus. The Hinterland was
gradually Hellenised and this was completed after Alexander’s conquests. Its
contribution to Hellenism in those 2800 years has been enormous: Diogenes
hailed from Sinope and Strabo from Amaseia, it was here that Xenophon found
a safe haven, that the great Comneni dynasty reigned, the home of Cardinal
Bessarion and the Hypsilandis family; it was also the last Greek territory
to fall to the Turks (in 1461). Many famous churches, monasteries and
schools are a testament to the resilience of Hellenism. The Pontians are a
distinct Greek people with their own dialect, dances, songs and theatre.

For the Pontian Greeks all ended in tragedy in the years 1914-22. Of the
700,000 Greeks living in Pontus in 1914, 300,000 were killed as a result of
Turkish government policy and the remainder became refugees. Three millenia
of the Greek presence was wiped out by a deliberate policy of creating a
Turkey for the Turks. The Pontian people were denied the right to exist, the
right of respect for their national and cultural identity, and the right to
remain on land they had lived on for countless generations.

The turning point in the treatment of Greeks in Turkey was the alliance
between Germany and the Sultan that commenced after the Treaty of Berlin
1878. Germany regarded Anglo French protection of Christians as an obstacle
to its interests and convinced the Turkish authorities that the Greeks were
working for the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Germany opened the Berlin
Academy to Turkish military officers and General Gotz was appointed to
restructure the Ottoman armed forces. The successful national movements in
the Balkans posed a threat that the same would occur in Asia Minor. After
the Balkan Wars the Young Turks decided that Asia Minor would be a homeland
for Turks alone and that the Greeks and Armenians had to be eliminated. The
outbreak of World War I made this possible and Germany willingly sacrificed
the Christian minorities to achieve its aim in the Middle East. However, it
is the German and Austrian diplomats reports that confirm that what took
place was a systematic and deliberate extermination of the Christian
population. Genocide. Not security or defence measures, not relocations of
population (why forcibly relocate populations?) not war, not retaliation in
response to the activities of Pontian guerillas or Russian invasion but

Terrorism, labour battalions, exiles, forced marches, rapes, hangings,
fires, murders, planned, directed and executed by the Turkish authorities.
This can be corroborated by the German and Austrian archives now made

24 July 1909 German Ambassador in Athens Wangenheim to Chancellor Bulow
quoting Turkish Prime Minister Sefker Pasha: “The Turks have decided upon a
war of extermination against their Christian subjects.”

26 July 1909 Sefker Pasha visited Patriarch Ioakeim III and tells him: “we
will cut off your heads, we will make you disappear. It is either you or us
who will survive.”

14 May 1914 Official document from Talaat Bey Minister of the Interior to
Prefect of Smyrna: The Greeks, who are Ottoman subjects, and form the
majority of inhabitants in your district, take advantage of the
circumstances in order to provoke a revolutionary current, favourable to the
intervention of the Great Powers. Consequently, it is urgently necessary
that the Greeks occupying the coast-line of Asia Minor be compelled to
evacuate their villages and install themselves in the vilayets of Erzerum
and Chaldea. If they should refuse to be transported to the appointed
places, kindly give instructions to our Moslem brothers, so that they shall
induce the Greeks, through excesses of all sorts, to leave their native
places of their own accord. Do not forget to obtain, in such cases, from the
emigrants certificates stating that they leave their homes on their own
initiative, so that we shall not have political complications ensuing from
their displacement.

31 July 1915 German priest J. Lepsius: “The anti-Greek and anti-Armenian
persecutions are two phases of one programme – the extermination of the
Christian element from Turkey.

16 July 1916 German Consul Kuchhoff from Amisos to Berlin: “The entire Greek
population of Sinope and the coastal region of the county of Kastanome has
been exiled. Exile and extermination in Turkish are the same, for whoever is
not murdered, will die from hunger or illness.”

30 November 1916 Austrian consul at Amisos Kwiatkowski to Austria Foreign
Minister Baron Burian: “on 26 November Rafet Bey told me: “we must finish
off the Greeks as we did with the Armenians . . . on 28 November. Rafet Bey
told me: “today I sent squads to the interior to kill every Greek on sight.”
I fear for the elimination of the entire Greek population and a repeat of
what occurred last year” (meaning the Armenian genocide).

13 December 1916 German Ambassador Kuhlman to Chancellor Hollweg in Berlin:
“Consuls Bergfeld in Samsun and Schede in Kerasun report of displacement of
local population and murders. Prisoners are not kept. Villages reduced to
ashes. Greek refugee families consisting mostly of women and children being
marched from the coasts to Sebasteia. The need is great.”

19 December 1916 Austrian Ambassador to Turkey Pallavicini to Vienna lists
the villages in the region of Amisos that were being burnt to the ground and
their inhabitants raped, murdered or dispersed.

20 January 1917 Austrian Ambassador Pallavicini: “the situation for the
displaced is desperate. Death awaits them all. I spoke to the Grand Vizier
and told him that it would be sad if the persecution of the Greek element
took the same scope and dimension as the Armenia persecution. The Grand
Vizier promised that he would influence Talaat Bey and Emver Pasha.”

31 January 1917 Austrian Chancellor Hollweg’s report: “. . . the indications
are that the Turks plan to eliminate the Greek element as enemies of the
state, as they did earlier with the Armenians. The strategy implemented by
the Turks is of displacing people to the interior without taking measures
for their survival by exposing them to death, hunger and illness. The
abandoned homes are then looted and burnt or destroyed. Whatever was done to
the Armenians is being repeated with the Greeks.

Thus, by government decree 1,500,000 Armenians and 300,000 Pontian Greeks
were annihilated through exile, starvation, cold, illness, slaughter,
murder, gallows, axe, and fire. Those who survived fled never to return. The
Pontians now lie scattered all over the world as a result of the genocide
and their unique history, language (the dialect is a valuable link between
ancient and modern Greek), and culture are endangered and face extinction.

A double crime was committed – genocide and the uprooting of a people from
their ancestral homelands of three millenia. The Christian nations were not
only witnesses to this horrible and monstrous crime, which remains
unpunished, but for reasons of political expediency and self interest have,
by their silence, pardoned the criminal. The Ottoman and Kemalist Turks were
responsible for the genocide of the Pontian people, the most heinous of all
crimes according to international law. The international community must
recognise this crime.