Thea Halo, author of "Not Even My Name"
The Turkish Government reacted sharply to the recent dedication of the Pontic Hellenism Genocide monument which was opened recently in Thessaloniki to mark the genocide's anniversary. Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesperson Namik Tan said that " so-called Pontic genocide" lacks historical and scientific evidence. “We suggest that Greek authorities and scholars evaluate the historical events objectively instead of using such expressions that can damage relations between our two countries,” said Tan. “We want to again reiterate that this step, which became a fodder for feeble arguments, isn’t in line with the spirit of the cooperation and dialogue we’re trying to develop.”
May 19th marked the 87th anniversary of the Pontian genocide that occurred in present day Turkey. Between 1916 and 1923 over 300,000 Pontic Greeks living in along the Black Sea coast and Asia Minor were systematically exiled or killed along with one and a half million Armenians and 700,000 Assyrians Christians. The Pontic people lived in Turkey from ancient times for over 3000 years and are descendants of Greek colonists who arrived there long before the ancestors of present day Turks. The Turks, under the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, pursued a deliberate policy of "Turkey for the Turks." It was adopted against the backdrop of the Greek occupation of parts of Asia Minor as spelled out in the Treaty of Versailles. Its purpose was to rid Turkey of its Greek, Armenian and Assyrian Christians. The resulting Greek-Turkish War of 1919-1922 and the defeat of the Greek Army sounded the death knell for Christian minorities in Turkey. The process began with Christian owned businesses being boycotted, leading to bankruptcies and confiscation of property. Eventually intellectuals and community leaders were rounded up and executed. One of the methods used in the elimination of the Greek population was the "labor battalions." In them, mostly young and stronger people were captured and forced to do exhausting slave labor by the Turkish State, in order to reconstruct areas destroyed during the war. Some were sent to concentration camps and amongst the survivors was the well known writer, Elias Venezis, who later described his experiences in his book "Number 31328." Thousands died of exhaustion, starvation and dehydration on forced marches. This effective method was used by the Turks to force the weaker population, including women and children, to walk for hundreds of kilometers until they died. This was known as the "Light Death."
These tragic events were recorded by American, as well as the German and Austrian diplomats of the time. Unlike Germany which has taken responsibility for its sins committed in World War II, Turkey still refuses to even admit that these events occurred, let alone apologize for the genocide and ethnic cleansing it inflicted on a helpless population. Not only were the people expunged from Turkey, so too were any traces of their existence. Admitting guilt would entail casting a shadow on Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk is revered and represents the heart and soul of the modern Turkish ethos of who they are as a nation. The present Turkish government has gone to extraordinary lengths to quash any attempt to publicize these events throughout the world, including keeping their own people ignorant of their history. To do so would require a reexamination of the very foundation on which the modern Turkish State is built. As a Friend of mine was fond of saying: "Folks it ain't gonna happen." Interestingly, the Kurds, fellow Muslims were active participants and abetted this genocide but now find themselves in a reversal of roles. They have become the target of draconian assimilationist policies designed to suppress their identity and language.
If you would like to learn more, read Thea Halo's book: "Not Even My Name" about her mother's own odyssey and survival during the Pontic genocide. It is a powerful reminder of a history that cannot and should not be erased from human memory. The following are excerpts from a recent interview. Her words say it much better than I can:
"The sad thing is that they lost so much, because the Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians had so much culture there. They brought so much vibrancy to the country that was lost. They were wonderful artisans, intellectuals, teachers, musicians. At the time, there were Europeans who were saying "What in the world will Turkey do without the Christians?" After all, it was the Christians who were the intellectuals and business people, who had the education to help Turkey progress into the 20th century. When Turkey got rid of the Christian populations, they set themselves back, way-way back. The general Turkish population was not well educated at that time, because the Turkish government didn't bother to educate them the way the Christian
missionaries educated the Christian populations. For the most part, the government wouldn't allow Muslims to attend the Christian schools, for fear of conversion, so most Turks of the time remained peasants and farmers. Consequently, the Turks did themselves a great disservice, because the removal of the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians left a great vacuum in Turkey...... Almost every ancient culture has this attachment to the land. What else is there without a place to call home? When I stood on that land, for the first time in my life I could actually feel my ancestors, my grandparents. They became real to me for the first time. They were as much a
part of that land as the trees, the rocks, the grasses. Their blood and sweat is mingled with the earth for thousands of years. How can one walk away from that without feeling that a part of oneself is somehow left behind, somehow missing, like an amputated leg or arm that continues sending out sensations to the brain, even though it's gone? Just the other day my mother said to me, "you know, when you are born in a country, there is a part of you that always feels that that country is your true home."
Read the entire interview.
The Pontic plight, just like the Asia Minor Catastrophe and the Greek-Turkish War of 1919-1922, are periods of modern Greek History that speak to who we are as Greeks, no matter where we live. Those that do not know what history teaches us are doomed to repeat it
Lest we forget.