ROSEMONT, Ill. (A.W.) – On Sat., Nov. 7, the Academic Conference onthe Asia Minor Catastrophe took place at the Westin Hotel in Rosemont,Ill.
One hundred people attended the daylong event. GeorgeMovropoulos, president of the Pontian Greek Society of Chicago,welcomed everyone and presented a brief overview of last year’sconference, the first of its kind on the subject of the Asia MinorCatastrophe—the genocide of the Greeks in the Pontus region ofAnatolia. He stressed the importance of such a conference in order topromote research, knowledge, and the culture of the Greeks in thatregion. He added that to date not enough published literature isavailable on the topic. For that reason, the society is working onestablishing a research center. After representatives from the variousGreek organizations, as well as the Greek Vice-Consul, were invited tosay a few words, Movropoulos introduced the moderator, GeorgeShirinian, director of the Zoryan Institute in Toronto, Canada, andexecutive director of the International Institute for Genocide andHuman Rights Studies (a division of the Zoryan Institute).
In his opening remarks, Shirinian briefly discussed the previousyear’s conference, the need for more publications, more scholars, andtraining in the languages involved, such as Greek, Armenian, andTurkish. “These efforts,” Shirinian said, “lead to constructive andpowerful action.” As he concluded his remarks, he stated, “When apeople’s rights are trampled on, no people are free from the samething. In a sense, this is a shared human experience.” Shirinian’sfather was a genocide survivor. Following his opening remarks,Shirinian introduced the speakers.
Dr. Taner Akcam, associate professor of history at Clark University inWorcester, Mass., presented his paper titled “The Greek ‘Deportations’and Massacres of 1913-1914, A Trial Run for the Armenian Genocide,”addressing the elements and the calculated methods of destruction ofnon-Turkish minorities, namely the Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians,along with any signs of their respective cultures in Ottoman society.The goal of the Ottoman government was to “free themselves ofnon-Turkish elements in the Aegean—to kill and annihilate them,” Akcamsaid. “In 1913 through 1914, a large number of people were expelledand murdered.” As for the Armenians, many were forced to convert toIslam but later most were killed. The aim of the campaign of riddingthe country of certain citizens was to reduce the Christian populationto 5-10 percent for “security” reasons. The entire act was a socialengineering process—the killing of the Armenians, and the riddance ofthe Greeks, most of whom were deported. “The government,” explainedAkcam, “presented two policies—one legal, the other private.” In thelegal policy, they presented a face of “humanitarianism” in theirmanner of “moving” or “deporting” their unwanted populations, whileprivately, they conducted illegal and treacherous activities againstproductive and peaceful Christian members of their society. Ottomanarchives were to leave the impression that the government carried outits mission of depopulating the Greek villages in a humane manner. Forthose Greeks who survived, in addition to what they had suffered,fares were collected from them as they were shipped away to Greece. Inhis concluding remarks, Akcam explained that the Greek massacres anddeportations were so successful that they became the forerunners forthe Armenian Genocide. When asked about the Armenian Genocide, hereplied, “Turkey will never admit the Armenian Genocide—a crime maybe,but not genocide.”
Dr. Constantine Hatzidimitriou, Queens director of school improvementfor the NYC Department of Education, and associate adjunct professorat St. Johns University in New York, presented his paper titled“Official and Unofficial American Reactions to the Asia Minor‘Catastrophe’—What the Documentary Evidence Reveals.” Hatzidimitrioudescribed the burning of Smyrna, and referenced publications, namelyMarjorie Housepian Dobkin’s Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City,and Giles Milton’s Paradise Lost, Smyrna 1922; the Turkification ofminorities and the seizing of their properties; ethnic cleanings andcover-ups, which continue today; and the use of sanitized reports,such as those by Admiral Mark Lambert Bristol, instead of those byGeorge Horton (The Blight of Asia), which were detailed and damning,and as a result kept secret until the 1950’s. Hatzidimitriouemphasized the large volume of archival sources describing thedestruction of the Greeks (among them, the massacre of 350,000 PonticGreeks) and other minorities in Asia Minor. “If you were a Greek or anArmenian,” he explained, “your property was seized by the governmentbecause you were not there (either massacred or forcibly driven away).When there were inquiries about missing people in the region, theTurks would say ‘they never existed,’ and the Americans, for example,would say, ‘they are presumed dead because they can’t be located.’”The example Hatzidimitriou gave of seized property was that of theburning of the American Consulate by Turkish soldiers and how, as aresult, the consulate found a house to rent. The house was that of anArmenian who had fled Smyrna, and therefore the property was declaredabandoned.
Matthias Bjornlund, a Danish archival historian who specializes in theArmenian Genocide and related issues, presented his paper titled“Aspects of Western Sources and Interpretations of the PontianGenocide.” Bjornlund is a researcher and translator of Danishdocuments on the Armenian Genocide for a Danish section of the Germanwebsite (www.armenocide.de), a committee member preparing for the 2010exhibition and conference on Scandinavia and the Armenian Genocide incooperation with the Armenian Genocide Museum-Institute(www.genocide-museum.am), and author of a monograph on Denmark and theArmenian Question. His MA thesis was titled “Et Folk Myrdes. DetArmenske Folkemord i Danske Kilder” (“A People is Being Murdered: TheArmenian Genocide in Danish Sources”). In his paper, Bjornlunddiscussed the destruction of Greek and Armenian communities in Smyrnaand stated that the Danish Consul there, as well as Swedisheyewitnesses described the violence against these people, and theAustrian Consulate reported mass arrests of Armenians. In 1916, theOttoman government had attempted to exterminate the Armenians in thatcity but the Germans stopped them. Finally, in 1922, the Greek andArmenian communities in Smyrna were destroyed. Bjornlund outlined someof the methods and reasons for expunging not only Smyrna’s ChristianGreek and Armenian minorities, but also the entire country’s Christianminorities. He explained that the extermination of these minoritieswas the official policy of the Ottoman government. Expulsions were toaccompany torture, intimidation, and violent persecution. Greek andArmenian merchants were forced to close their businesses, which werequickly replaced with Turkish ones. People were instructed by Muslimreligious leaders to boycott Christian businesses, and as a result,merchants went bankrupt. In 1914, Inga Nalbandian (a Danish womanmarried to an Armenian) reported from Turkey that Muslim women werethreatened not to buy from Greek and Armenian merchants, and thatGreek and Armenian professors were fired from their universitypositions. In his concluding remarks, Bjornlund said that, in general,England, Europe, the Scandinavian countries, and the U.S. try to placea lid on the Greek and Armenian genocides for economic reasons.
Alexander Kitroeff, associate professor of history at HaverfordCollege in Pennsylvania, where he also serves as the academic directorof the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, presented his papertitled “The Plight of the Greek Refugees After the Break-Up of theOttoman Empire.” He discussed the importance of photographic evidence,which documents the way people live, the destruction, the burning, aswell as the superficial or obvious, such as symbols, flags—things wetake for granted. “And the way the photographer takes pictures revealsmuch. For example, some photos of victims are taken in a passive way,”he added. Kitroeff discussed the resettlement of the Ottoman Greeks inGreece in the 1920’s, their adoption of a “refugee identity” based ontheir place of origin and the memories it generated—their commonexperience of violence and displacement, and their treatment byothers. He stated that the refugee identity has a history. For theOttoman Greeks, it was resettlement in the 1920’s; establishment andincorporation in the 1930’s to 1950’s; and upward social mobility inthe 1960’s to 1980’s. The professor concluded his presentation bysaying that for political reasons, the Greek government does not wantto raise the issue of the Greek Catastrophe, and so refers to it inindirect ways, such as literature.
Dr. Van Koufoudakis, rector emeritus, University of Nicosia, Cyprus,and dean emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences, IndianaUniversity and Purdue University, presented his paper titled “Turkey’sDeliberate and Systematic Violations of International Agreements Since1923,” in which he described how the Pontian Greeks and the Armenianswere forcibly removed from their homes—their ancestral homeland datingback 3,000 years—because of their ethnicity, religion, language, andculture. To assist in the ethnic cleansing of these minorities, whichwas the Turkish way of dealing with ethnic groups, criminals were letloose to terrorize these populations. The people were intimidated,their properties confiscated, forced to labor under horrendousconditions, raped, and murdered. The rape of women and children wasthe ultimate attack because the offenders knew they had the protectionof the state. Evidence that showed where these minorities had livedwas destroyed, such as buildings, churches, schools, and cemeteries.Koufoudakis discussed Turkey’s violations of international agreementssince 1923; international apathy, which allows Turkey to continue withits violations of international laws with impunity; and the practiceof “blaming of others, which is how Turkey can deny what they did.”Koufoudakis concluded his presentation by stating that American andBritish policies against Turkey’s violations are to overlook theactions on the basis of political expediency for economic andstrategic reasons. “What can we do?” he asked, and then gave examplesof what has been done: “1) The Cypriots have taken Turkey to theEuropean Court of Human Rights. 2) The Greeks and the Patriarchate ofIstanbul have gone against Turkey for violating property rights to theEuropean courts and have won.”
As the academicians took final questions from the audience, and thenas Hatzidimitriou presented the closing remarks—in which he discussed“placing the events of the Anatolian Genocide in the broader contextof Hellenic and world history”—I could not help but think of the finaltwo lines of the poem, “They Thought They Were Free”: “…When they camefor me, there was no one left to speak out.”
With conferences such as this one, with the establishment of researchcenters, more researchers and publications on the topic of genocide,anguished voices brutally silenced will be heard again.
Πηγή: Armenian Weekly