Dr Theofanis Malkidis
19th of MAY: DAY OF REMEMBRANCE FOR THE GREEK GENOCIDE
1. Introduction: History
The Greeks who once lived along the southern shores of the Black Sea, as well as other parts of Asia Minor, Thrace, Cappadocia, and other regions of the former Ottoman Empire (today Turkey) constituted a significant part of the Greek population living outside Greece, who after a long existence in those regions, were forced to abandon them through violent means.
The persecutions which started just before the beginning of the First World War by the Young Turks, increased in severity during the war, and continued and culminated after 1919 when Mustafa Kemal acquired the de facto authority in the crumbling Ottoman state. The persecutions which then developed into genocide, were tragic and led to the loss of 1.000.000 Greek lives. The Greek Genocide is one of the biggest crimes against humanity which still remains unpunished, since a sizeable part of the Greek minority which inhabited territories of the Ottoman state perished. The Greeks who survived were exiled under inhumane conditions, the end result being total extermination. Thousands were converted to Islam and remained in Turkey, while those who escaped the mass murder became refugees who then became interspersed throughout the entire world. Most ended up in Russia and the former Soviet Union, Greece (and later Germany), the USA, Canada and also Australia. A number of years passed before these people regained their identity recovered from the mental scars of the ordeal. The massive extirpation of the Greeks was undeniably a crime which after a period of silence is now becoming known to the entire world.
Turkey, the Young Turks and the supporters of Mustafa Kemal from 1914 to 1923 organized and implemented the Genocide of the indigenous Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians, yet the Turkish state denies the genocide of these minorities, and distorts reality while trying to deny its responsibility. The reactive policy of Turkey on the case of genocide against its indigenous populations, continually uses the same excuse; the Armenian and Greek threat against the Ottoman empire, the state of the Young Turks, and the established order of Mustafa Kemal. Due to these factors, the Armenians, the Greeks, the Assyrians and others, from 1908 to 1924 experienced extermination and persecution. In this way the massive crime and the uprooting of indigenous populations from their mother country was committed. This was the ‘final solution’ for the Armenian and Greek issue. It was the ‘final solution’ but it was also the first genocide of the 20th century. And as there has been a lack of punishment, the Jewish holocaust then followed. ‘Who remembers the Armenians?’ Hitler once said while planning his own ‘final solution’.
Nearly a century later, Turkish policy on genocide denial hasn’t changed at all, although in recent years more and more people in Turkey are attempting to state the historical truth. The state however does not allow these different opinions to be heard openly or tends to criticize them or suppress them with every possible means, such as the assassination of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007.
However, it seems that violence cannot silence the truth completely. ‘The struggle of humanity against any imposition is the struggle of memory against oblivion’, wrote the well-known Czech writer Milan Kountera. And he is right: although many people, who are not related to humanity, ignore historical crimes because of their political, financial and other reasons, humanity is obliged to strive against these with all its powers. As time goes by, this will not be an obstacle for the next generation of Greeks and of all the democratic people throughout the world, and definitely in Turkey. All these people will not forget and will not abandon this struggle, because they know that sooner or later the time will come that it will be unthinkable to deny the genocide of the Greeks and the battle of memory struggling against oblivion will be resolved. Only then, will all populations live peacefully, harmoniously, on friendly terms, and light will have defeated darkness.
2.The Greek Genocide
The decision to implement the genocide was taken by the Young Turks (Cemal, Enver and Talat Pasha) in 1911, and was put into practice during the First World War, and then completed by Mustafa Kemal in 1919 – 1923. The persecutions originally appeared in the form of violence, destruction of property, deportations and exiles. Soon though, they became better organized, extensive and turned gravely against the Greeks and the Armenians.
The first phase of the Greek Genocide is traced to 1908 and lasts until the beginning of World War I with the rise of the Young Turks to powerful positions in the Ottoman Empire. Germany’s assistance as a strategic ally of the Ottoman state created the right conditions for the initiation of the expulsion of the Greeks of Thrace. During that period, there are no more declarations by the Young Turks regarding fair and equal treatment of all minorities - on the contrary the Greeks were now marked for extermination. A major part of this extermination was the “Special Organization”, whose paramilitary structure made the Greeks and the Armenians their targets.
The second period began in 1914 when fighting during World War I allowed the promotion of the genocidal policies. The Young Turk government ordered a number of actions to be taken in order to further continue the extermination of the Greeks together with the genocide of the Armenians.
The period 1919-1923 is the third and last yet more intense phase of the genocide which saw the establishment of Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) into the interior of the Ottoman state. Coincidentally this is the time of the establishment of the Soviet Union which provided aid to the nationalistic movement of Kemal, as well as the change of course in exterior policy affairs of the great European powers.
The Young Turks and the Kemalist authorities pre-planned and realized the genocide. The orders for the deportations of the Greek populations to Kurdistan, Syria and elsewhere either in the form of governmental decisions, either as bills of the National Assembly, such as 1041 of the 12th June 1921 and 941 of the 16th June in the same year, had been signed both by the Young Turks and Kemal himself.
Consequently until 1923, the Young-Turks and the Kemalists, having taken harsh measures against the Greeks through the means of expulsions, rapes, slaughters, deportations and hangings, exterminated hundreds of thousands of Greeks.
Among the victims of the genocide were a great number of women and children, which was one of the particular plans of the extermination plan. This can be verified through the reports and documents of foreign ambassadors, consuls, embassies, and others where one can find references to these acts of slaughter and brutality.
The final chapter of this mass murder deals with the forced removal of the survivors from their homeland. With the treaty regarding the population exchange which was signed by both Greece and Turkey in 1923, the uprooting of the Thracian Greeks from their land is completed, thus ending the case of one of the bloodiest mass murders in the history of mankind. After 27 centuries of presence, prosperity and contribution of a historical nation, the Greeks of Thrace, Pontus, Asia Minor, Cappadocia etc, abandoned the land of their ancestors, their homes, churches, graves, and a culture which had world wide appeal.
The Greeks of the former Ottoman Empire who nowadays reside in Greece, U.S.A, Canada, Australia, the remainder of Europe and throughout the world, want justice to be attributed in the name of their ancestors that were murdered during the genocide by the Ottoman state. A genocide that cost the life of 1.000.000 Greeks and resulted in more than 1.220.000 Greeks becoming refugees.
3. The Epilogue (?)
The presence of influential Greeks in Thrace, Pontus, Asia Minor, Cappadocia following Ottoman domination was considered a threat. The system of authority and the government resulted in discrimination against the Christians. With the creation of the Young Turks in the Ottoman state, a nationalistic ideology appeared and consolidated. And with their coming to power in 1908, there was a desire for the Christian populations to become extinct - a dream which came true during World War I - and the Greeks were a central target.
When the genocide of the Armenians reached its final phase, it was time for the Greeks to be exterminated by the same means: massacres, violence, arrests of women and children, violent conversion to Islam, death marches. These facts are confirmed by survivors of the genocide as well as foreign witnesses. Many people fled the region taking refuge in Russia.
The Greek Genocide continued after the end of WW I. On the 19th of May 1919, Mustafa Kemal arrived at Samsun. Operations of mass assassinations, deportations, banishments, destruction of cultural and religious property took place as well as burning of villages and towns. No one can explain these crimes and this fact is confirmed by the Turks, many foreigners and allies of Kemal’s coup.
Between 1916 and 1923 approximately 1.000.000 of the more than 2.600.000 Greeks (census 1914) were lost due to massacres, deportations and death marches. This premeditated destruction of roughly 50% of the Greek population constitutes genocide according to criteria of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Article 2, paragraphs a, b, c, d and e).
In order to not repeat this crime, the responsible parties must be identified and held to account. The truth must be sought and presented to international public opinion, which is capable of judging and sentencing without self-interest. On the other hand, the contemporary Turkish state has to answer for the Greek Genocide without making propagandist claims. The Turkish state which was created by Mustafa Kemal, as well as the Young Turks, are responsible for the crime of Genocide. All nation states have the right to intensely demand recognition from the perpetrators. The more the facts are hidden, the more intense this desire for recognition will become. Recognition is a big step towards the fight against genocide; Recognition confirms a nation’s right towards the respect of its existence according to international law and historic truth.