Genocide, Pontians, Asia Minor : The dark side of the Greek world

Genocide, Pontians, Asia Minor : The dark side of the  Greek world  

 By Vlassis Agtzidis (*)

silenceOne of the fields of public controversy today in Greece is related with crucial and unexamined issues of the Greek history and society. It regards issues either related to the sphere of society (refugees from the former USSR) or to the sphere of history concerning not only the great geopolitical and socio-economic transformation, which took place in the Near East during the time period of 1908 (Young Turks movement) till 1923 (Treaty of Lausanne), but also the soviet experiment and in particular Stalin’s time period.

Furthermore, it gives us the opportunity to examine the perceptions created in the Greek area regarding these issues, the understanding of those facts by the sovereign power (in its monarchic and democratic version) as well as by the (regime or non-regime) intelligentsia, the historians etc. Moreover, it creates the opportunity to consider in the light of criticism the “orientalist” perception on these issues, a dominant perception for a significant part of the Greek historians.

The “gap”

The lack of jointly agreed upon narrative on the specific historic and social issues created an interpretation gap directly perceived by all those who work on these issues either as researchers or as social solidarity institutions for the affected populations (refugees). A corollary of this “gap” has also been the way that the dominant political and ideological powers of the Right and of the Left have dealt with the new requests and issues of the refugees’ sphere and in particular:

-the public attestation of their historic point of view of the fact that they have been victims of an organized genocide (1914-1923) by the Turkish nationalism
-the reference to the persecutions suffered by the Greek minority from Stalinism in USSR after 1937-38.

At the same time, weirdly, the cunning History “offered” to the inhabitants of Greece another experience: to “receive” from the Perestroica era in the same inhospitable way tens of thousands of their own population and immigrants from the collapsed / collapsing USSR.

These refugees whose condition was set out in the provisions of the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations, Treaty of Lausanne, represented a paradox residue of the Asia Minor Catastrophe living in an enclave in the Soviet Union subjected to the conditions of the “socialist greenhouse” lasting more than 70 years. Around 250.000 “refugees” entered the Greek state during the last two decades carrying in their luggage old stories and unresolved issues which the Greek society and its various political and public state expressions have in vain tried to conjure up. The policy of the “elimination” of this population – as well as of its historic meaning- was not only a state policy, but also a policy of the largest part of the Left, which dealt with the new refugee matter, as if it were similar with the issue of the “Pakistanis in Britain” (2) …

These new refugees were found in the middle of the cyclone which devastated Eastern Europe in the 1980s and in the 1990s, as they suffered the consequences of the anti-minority policy of Stalinism several decades ago from 1937-1938 (along with other political refugees from Greece, members and friends of the Communist Party of Greece (3). Just 2,5 decades ago before the commencement of Stalinist persecutions they were victims of the generalized ethnic cleansing pursued by the Turkish nationalists (Young Turks + Ataturk) in order to resolve the ethnic “problem”.

The Greek historiography never expressed its perception of the historic facts with regard to all these issues. This was a corollary of its traditional position regarding the historic experience of the refugee population. In fact, for seven decades after the Asia Minor Catastrophe the refugees of 1922 were never allowed to renegotiate their own collective historic narrative within the common nation-state narrative, in such a way that they could become a part of the national narrative. The relatively recent dispute of the historic fact of the Genocide by a part of the Left, which ended up in Negationism, goes hand-in-hand from a time and a quality point of view with the Right revisionism aiming at establishing responsibility for the Asia Minor Catastrophe and “…sets at the forefront the confrontation between the Greeks of the Greek state and the Greek refugees, a confrontation which has engraved the refugee memory as well as the sense of the exclusion of the refugee memory from the official history”.(4)


One of the issues which divide the historians’ community is the question whether the ethnic cleansings which took place in the Ottoman Empire by the Young Turks (1914-1918) and Mustafa Kemal Pasha (1920-1923) can be defined with the legal term “Genocide” (5). The definition of this term by the UN is very specific and concrete and was introduced in this way in the international law and jurisdiction.

The respective sectors of the scientific research concerning the “crime of Genocide” are in the process of development on an international scale and significant researches take place, while at the same time several particularly useful announcements and papers are being published. Furthermore, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) has been founded as an international scientific institution with expertise in the study of the crime of Genocide and follows up the violation cases of the relevant rules of international law.

A plethora of texts have been written regarding the Ottoman Greeks [Asia Minor (Ionia, Pontos, Bithynia etc) and eastern Thrace] during the final geopolitical transformation of the Near East and the introduction of this area into the era of nation – state.5. The unprejudiced citizen can be well informed by the existing bibliography (6).

A major sticking point for a number of confrontations and misunderstandings regarding this historic procedure is related to the persistence of many Greek historians to interconnect vertically the inner-ottoman processes, the social oppositions and the class disputes within the Ottoman Empire – which are eliminated from the research field – with Greece and its desires and dreams of the Magna Grecia idea. The actual historic framework in which the transformation phenomenon of the Near East took place is very well depicted by Enzo Traverso regarding the Armenians: «Due to their social, economic and cultural role within the Ottoman Empire Armenian represent an obstacle in the ethnic homogenizing policy process promoted by the Young Turks Movement. This is the first genocide committed in the name of the modern nationalism, as a birth act of a western type nation – state in the place of the old multinational empire”(7) .

However, regardless of the public statements and the ideological confrontations IAGS has stated clearly its position since December 2007. In the introduction of its statement the following is stated: «The International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) has voted overwhelmingly to recognize the genocides inflicted on Assyrian, Greek, Armenian and other Christian and religious minority populations of the Ottoman Empire between 1914 and 1923. The resolution passed with the support of over eighty percent of IAGS members who voted. The resolution (full text below) declares that “it is the conviction of the International Association of Genocide Scholars that the Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontian and Anatolian Greeks.”

It “calls upon the government of Turkey to acknowledge the genocides against these populations, to issue a formal apology, and to take prompt and meaningful steps toward restitution….” (8)

This position goes hand-in-hand with the considerations of significant Turk historians contributing thus to the debate and stating new points of view. Halil Bektray’s approach is without any doubt interesting (during a relevant interview he referred to the Pontic sub-case): “The truth is not negotiable, but it can be taught. Over the last 10 years the general attitude regarding the Genocide has loosened up…However, the abuse of the word Genocide invalidates it and provokes indignation. This term is difficult and dangerous. I believe there was only one Genocide and by that I do not mean that what took place in Pontos was not a Genocide. On the contrary, I say that the Unionists, in other words the leadership of the “Committee for the Union and Progress”, mainly Talaat, had a massive plan for the turkification of Anatolia. This plan was applied on Armenians, Pontians and Assyrians. I prefer to regard this as a single plan, being thus more debatable and understandable” (9).

The historic fact of the Genocide of Ottoman Greeks (10) (along with the Armenians and the Assyrian-Chaldeans in a single historic category) is already accepted by academic scholars out of Greece who study the crime of Genocide according to its definition by the International Law (11). As a general outline, we could say that regarding the transformation of Anatolia from an Empire into a nation – state and the transition mechanisms (Genocides), there are today two schools of thought, each one with a wide spectrum of internal nuances. On the one side, there is the traditional school of thought which is dominant and on the other side there is the approach regarding the ethnic cleansings which is more or less identical with the approach of Berktay, Dudar, Aksam and of other significant scholars and considers, in general terms, the decision of the IAGS as its interpretative core element.(12).

Perpetuation and transformation of the Trauma

The Trauma of 1922 existed and was expressed until then in a variety of ways. It had been preserved for decades as an “underlying trauma” in the refugees’ communities, living excluded from the ideological expression regarding the political interpretation of their historic experience. In the dominant system the refugee memory was regarded as a burden and obstacle to the foreign affairs but also to the internal affairs policy. (13). There are typical attitudes of several key players of the political stage of the years between the two World Wars – such as El. Venizelos (14), Ioannis Metaxas (15), Nikos Zachariadis (16) – who “reveal” a similar perception which was inherited and has been the psychological and ideological platform of the phenomenon of the Negationism of the Genocide. (17).

The analysis of the internal social oppositions and competitions leading to the implementation of specific genocide policies on behalf of the Young Turks against the non incorporated ottoman communities, was never a core element of study for the dominant version of the Greek historiography.The opinion formed in Greece was entirely compatible with the official linear regime understanding which dominated also in nationalist Turkey. Studying the Greek historiography, the process of perceiving the contemporary history and in particular the specific historic period through two eras (1908-1923) we are confronted with the Kemalist interpretative scheme.

In Greek historiography there is no rupture between the Ottoman and the Turkish sphere, but conversely there is an indisputable and single Turkish national sovereignty in Asia Minor and in Anatolia which is disputed from outside by Greeks. There is no awareness or internalization of the independent from the Greek state existence of the factor “Ottoman Greeks”. This is about a truly essential factor and an existing and numerous population requiring either the coexistence with other peoples in a common democratic multicultural ottoman world, or its autonomous political existence, whereas the Young Turks exclude every possibility of a democratic development.

For the hegemonic tendencies of our historiography there have been no genocide and organized crime against Christian communities by the Young Turks, because the Young Turks are regarded as a positive power and their policy as a “legal reaction”. Moreover, the next day of the ottoman collapse is not being analyzed (November 1918) as a resolution opportunity of the internal national affair, as the Christian communities are not considered as collective subjects with political rights. The legitimization of ethnic cleansings committed by the Turkish nationalism constituted a common understanding. The silence and the absence of every single research attempt regarding the Stalin’s persecutions against the Greeks of the Soviet Union since 1937 can be considered as a development of the same policy.

The anti-memory of the refugees

However, the anti-memory, in other words the memory sphere being formed downwards, started questioning the dominant narratives since the 1980s. With the request formulated by the refugee communities regarding the acknowledgement of the Genocide by the Turkish nationalism during the time period 1914 – 1923 as well as with their criticism against the Greek elites for their negativity and against Stalinism for its attitude towards the Greeks who tried to take refuge in the USSR, the dominant ideological schemes and the request for a selective oblivion as a whole were disputed.

The dominant Greek historiography through a new perception of the recent historic past chose the path either of the non acknowledgment or of the scorn or of the infertile Negationism. Over these years, two historiography worlds were shaped regarding the study of these two eras, with little communication possibilities. However, the debate regarding all these issues began (Genocide, Stalinism, soviet collapse, wave of refugees).


(1 ) PhD in Modern and Contemporary History, mathematician, . This text is a summary of a larger article written on the occasion of a recent ideological confrontation.

(2) A typical example of this point of view in: Antonis Liakos “Nees Epoches”, newspaper Το Βήμα (To Vima), October 22nd 2000.

(3) With regard to this unknown historic fact see the special section: Marios Markovitis – Vlassis Agtzidis «Στάλιν Vs ΚΚΕ….. Αναζητώντας τους χαμένους κομμουνιστές» (Stalin vs the Communist Party of Greece… in the quest of lost communists) regarding the case of Marios Markovitis : ( 6-11-13)

(4) Christina Koulouri «Η Δίκη των Εξι και ο Κολοκοτρώνης» (Trial of the Six and Kolokotronis), newspaper To Vima, February 14th 2010.

(5) e.g.: “The Genocide in the East. From the Ottoman Empire to the nation – state”, E-Istorika, May 2013, including texts of Turk historians and sociologists such as Taner Akçam, Fikret Baskaya, Ahmet Oral, Dogan Akanli, Attila Tuygan, Pervin Erbil), some of which are published for the first time (Fuat Dundar, Μehmet Akyol, Izmail Besiktzi, Sait Çetinoğlu, Sibel Ozbundan. My relevant introductory text has been uploaded at : You can find some of the texts of the Turk writers in «Δρόμο της Αριστεράς» / “Dromos tis Aristeras” (Path of the Left) : .

Some exceptional Turk historians, among them one of the top leading historians Taner Aksam, were involved in the documentation of the crime of the Genocide, which was decided in 1911 in Ottoman Thessaloniki, it was organized systematically thereafter while it was implemented since 1914. The Turk historian Fuat Dundar published his doctoral thesis entitled «ModernTurkiye’ninSifresi». More Turk historians attempt to shed light on a particularly dark era.

(6) A recent edition (2012) regarding this topic is the following: “The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks: Studies on the State-Sponsored Campaign of Extermination of the Christians of Asia Minor (1912-1922) and Its Aftermath: History, Law, Memory.”, where a number of historians and other scientists write such as Tessa Hofmann, Matthias Bjornlund, Israel W. Charny, Racho Donef, Matthew Stewart, Harry J. Psomiades, Afred de Zayas, Ronald Levitsky, Michel Bruneau, Donald Wallace, Abraham D. Krikorian, Eugene Taylor et al.

(7) Enzo Traverso, «A feu et à sang: De la Guerre européenne 1914-1945 », publ.: tou Ikostou Protou, Athens, 2013, pages 162-173.

(8) Ι.A.G.S. «Ottoman Genocide against Christian Minorities: General Comments and Sources», ( 30-10-2013)

(9). From the interview of Halil Bektray to Ach. Chemikoglou in the newspaper “To Vima”, November 30th 2010. Halil Bektray is historian and gives lectures on history and historiography of the Turkish nationalism at the Sabanci University.

(10) A sticking point that divides the historians is the number of the victims. There can be no specific information on any region of Asia Minor and eastern Thrace. For the first period of the ethnic cleansing (1914-1918) there was some information in the “Black Book” published by the Patriarchate in 1919. Regarding the victims of the second period of the persecution (1920-1923) there is no information. Only hypothetically can the number of casualties of the Christian –orthodox community be reckoned, taking into consideration two figures: the total population of the Christian-orthodox community before the First World War which was approximately 2,2-2,3 million (Th. Veremis cites the figure of 2,6 million) and the number of the official population census in 1928 when the refugees’ population was registered as 1,25 million people.

The reason of this problem consists once more in the policy chosen by the Greek state. There was no institution as well as no other organization who attempted to register the human casualties. There were made only two serious attempts from the private initiative, on the one side the initiative of Octave Merlier and of his wife from the Asia Minor who founded in 1930 the Centre for Asia Minor Studies and on the other side the initiative of the Committee for Pontian Studies, founded by Pontian intellects in 1928 in Athens.

(11) In this framework the scientific congress entitled «The Ottoman Turkish Genocides of Anatolian Christians: A Common Case Study» took place in Chicago in May 2013. «The largest academic conference ever held focusing on the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek Genocides concluded on Saturday, May 11, after two days of presentations by over a dozen scholars from Armenia, Australia, England and across North America. Attended by over 120 participants each day, the conference was filled to capacity with an enthusiastic and inquisitive audience. The conference, entitled, was organized by the Armenian National Committee of Illinois, The Asia Minor and Pontos Hellenic Research Center and the Assyrian Center for Genocide Studies, and was held at the prestigious Illinois Holocaust Museum and Educational Center in Skokie, IL, on May 10 and 11, 2013.» ( 30-10-13)

(12) «Η γενοκτονία και η άρνησή της» (Genocide and Negationism), , και «Kεμαλισμός και νεοελληνική ιστοριογραφία» (Kemalism and Greek historiography) (30-10-13).

(13) The most typical example of this attitude is that the Greek governments never confiscated or prevented the cargo ships, mostly the British ones which – on behalf of French businesspeople from Smyrna and Moudania- transported human bones from Turkey to France for industrial use. Let it be noted that the Kemalists sold the bones of their victims. The human bones were used by French businesspeople for fertilizers, porcelain strength agents and sugar processing. Only the cargo of December 1924 from Marseille contained 400 tonnes of human bones corresponding to 50.000 persons. See «Μικρασιατική Τραγωδία: Oι έμποροι Κεμαλιστές, οι αγοραστές Γάλλοι, οι μεταφορείς Βρετανοί», (Asia Minor Tragedy: Kemalist traders, French buyers, British transporters) ( 30-10-13)

(14) Concerning the proposal of the Prime Minister of Greece El. Venizelos to the Nobel Committee for the award of the Nobel Prize to Moustafa Kemal Pasha – with the nickname Ataturk (meaning the Father of Turks). The text sent to the Committee in which Kemal was referred to as: “πραγματικός στυλοβάτης της ειρήνης” (a true pillar of peace) is truly interesting

(15) The anti-refugee policy of Metaxas which will be symbolically reflected on his gesture in 1938, when he donated to the Turkish state the house where Moustafa Kemal was supposed to have been born and he renamed the Apostolou Pavlou Street into Kemal Ataturk Street right in the heart of the “refugees’capital”, in other words the capital of the victims of the Turkish nationalism. [«Το πένθος δια τον θάνατον του Κεμάλ Ατατούρκ. Εκδηλώσεις ελληνικής θλίψεως» (Mourning for Kemal Ataturk’s death. The Greek grief), newspaper Elevtheron Vima, 12-11-1938.]

(16) Thirteen years after the Asia Minor Catastrophe the clear reference of Nikos Zachariadis in this article in Risospastis confirmed a dogmatic perception of the historic facts reflecting and echoing the soviet points of view. “The Asia Minor Campaign was not only against modern Turkey, but far beyond that it was against the most essential interests of the Greek people. Therefore, not only did we not regret the civil defeat of the çifliks in Asia Minor, but moreover we pursued it [«Μια επιφύλαξη», (A certain hesitation) newspaper Risospastis, July 12th 1935.] For the text of Zachariadis see: «O Νίκος Ζαχαριάδης για τη Μικρασιατική Καταστροφή», (Nikos Zachariadis on Asia Minor Catastrophe) ( 6-11-13).

(17) The common point of view –symbolically- is obvious through interesting comparisons and parallels that set Asia Minor (consequently the Greek from Asia Minor ) outside the Greek boundaries: Asia Minor was for «Ιό» (Io) «το Βιετνάμ των Ελλήνων», (Greeks’ Vietnam), for Δίκτυο ’21 (Diktyo 21) «η Κορέα των Ελλήνων» (Greeks’ Korea) , for Arios Pagos ( Hellenic Supreme Court) Asia Minor was «η Ινδοκίνα των Ελλήνων» (Greeks’ Indo-China) regarding the acquittal of those responsible for the Asia Minor Catastrophe. The judgment of Arios Pagos (Hellenic Supreme Court) regarding the annulment of the Trial of the Six is typical of the anti-Asia Minor ideology living still within the hardest conservatism. ( 4-11-13). See the special section on the wars of Memory in the newspaper “Elevtherotypia” : See Vl. Agtzidis – Giorgos Kokkinos ( 4-11-13)


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