The annihilation of the non-Turk/non-Muslim peoples from Anatolia started on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of 250 Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul. Within a few months, 1.5 million Armenians had been wiped out from their historic homeland of 4,000 years in what is now eastern Turkey, as well as from the northern, southern, central, and western parts of Turkey. About 250,000 Assyrians were also massacred in southeastern Turkey during the same period. Then, it was the Pontic Greeks’ turn to be eliminated from northern Turkey on the Black Sea coast, sporadically from 1916 onward. The ethnic cleansing of the Pontic Greeks got interrupted when the Ottomans ended up on the losing side of World War I, but their real destruction resumed in a well-organized manner on May 19, 1919. This article will summarize the tragic end of the Pontic Greek civilization in northern Turkey—a series of events less researched and documented than the Armenian Genocide, but equally denied and covered up by the Turkish state.
Pontic Greeks continuously inhabited the southern coast of the Black Sea in northern Anatolia since pre-Byzantine times. The ethnic cleansing of the Pontic Greeks followed the same pattern as the Armenian deportations and massacres: Citing security threats and suspicions of possible cooperation with the Russians, in the spring of 1916 the Ottoman government ordered that all Pontic Greeks be removed from the Black Sea coastal towns to 50 kilometers inland. Of course, in the case of the Armenians, the deportation orders were not only in the eastern war zone, but applied to every region in Turkey. The Pontic Greek deportations were carried out by the Special Organization (Teskilat-i Mahsusa), the same governmental organization that carried out the Armenian massacres, manned by convicted killers released from prisons. Documents show that the longer the prison term, the higher the rank given by the government for these criminals in carrying out their destructive tasks. Naturally, the Greek deportations soon transformed from relocation to robbery to mass murders. But because the Pontic Greeks had observed the fate of the Armenians a year ago, they got their defenses organized and resisted the deportations by taking to the mountains wherever they could. As a result, the deportations and massacres in this “First Phase Massacre” resulted only in 150,000 deaths, eliminating a third of the Pontic population until the end of the war.
The “Second and Real Phase of Massacre” that saw the organized destruction of the Pontic Greeks started in earnest with the arrival of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Samsun on May 19, 1919. He met with the well-known mass murderers of the Armenians of the Black Sea region, such as Topal (Lame) Osman and Ipsiz Recep, and secured their cooperation in starting a terror campaign to get rid of the Pontic Greeks from northern Turkey. These two murderers, originally smugglers of illegal goods, had gained notoriety in 1915 when they rounded up Armenian men, women, and children in large boats, took them out to sea, and dumped them overboard to drown, then boasted that the “smelt season will be bountiful this year with lots of food for them.” As the Pontic Greek men had taken to the mountains, these two murderers went after the Greek women and children who had remained in the villages. Various methods of mass murder were implemented. It was common to take the entire population of villages to caves nearby, seal the entrance of the cave, and burn them alive, or use gas to suffocate them inside. Any male Greeks caught were thrown, alive, into the coal furnaces of steamships through the funnels. Churches became incinerators to burn alive as many Greeks as could be stuffed into the building. The extent of the tortures and massacres the Greeks endured even disturbed the local Muslim population, who petitioned the Ankara government to remove these murderers from the region. Eventually Ataturk brought them to Ankara, where Osman became his personal bodyguard. Yet, when Osman shot a member of parliament for criticizing Ataturk, and then threatened Ataturk himself, he was executed.
There were also the so-called “Liberation Courts” (Istiklal Mahkemeleri) set up in cities across the Black Sea region to try Greek rebels. These courts passed arbitrary decisions that almost invariably resulted in death sentences, with no defense or appeals allowed, and hangings carried out immediately. Among the victims of these courts were hundreds of Greek teachers in the American and Greek schools of the region, prominent community leaders, clergymen, and, tragically, entire members of the Merzifon Greek high school football team, only because the team was named Pontus Club, which was deemed sufficient reason to label them a rebel terrorist organization.
Ataturk then appointed Nurettin Pasha as commander of the Central Army to mop up any resisting Greeks from the entire Black Sea region. This man, also known for his sadistic tendencies, destroyed thousands of defenseless Greek villages. Among his “accomplishments” was the arrest of a Turkish opposition journalist who had criticized Ataturk; Nurettin Pasha then had his soldiers tear the journalist alive limb by limb. He was also at the head of the army units that entered Izmir (Smyrna) in 1922, where he arranged for the lynching of the Greek head of the clergy in the same manner, and then began the Great Fire that destroyed the entire city.
Between May 19, 1919, and the end of 1922, the Pontic Greek population was decimated by 353,000 in the following cities:
Amasya, Giresun, Samsun: 134,078
There was also a violent campaign to Islamize the Greeks; quite a number of them converted to Islam under threats and torture, followed by Turkification. With the 1924 Lausanne Treaty, the few remaining Pontic Greeks were included in the 1,250,000 Anatolian Greeks “exchanged” for Muslims in Greece, thereby completely emptying the Black Sea region from its historic Greek civilization. All the names of the Greek villages and towns were changed into new Turkish names. Turkish language was forced upon all the converted Greeks, Hamshen Armenians, Laz, and Georgian minorities.
And thus began a century-long brainwashing campaign of single-state, single-nation, single language, single-language policy. The May 19, 1919 date of Ataturk’s arrival in Samsun as a national holiday celebrating Youth and Sports Day was adopted in 1937, copying the German Nazis’ superior race policies, to demonstrate the athleticism and beauty of the Turkish race. The extent of racism was evident in the statement of then-Justice Minister Mahmut Esat Bozkurt, who said, “Turks are the masters in this country. The remaining peoples have only one right in this country, to be the maids and slaves of the real Turks.”
As recently as in 2008, then-Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul echoed the same racist sentiments in Turkey: “If the Greeks had been allowed to exist in the Aegean and Black Sea regions, and the Armenians all over Anatolia, would we be able to have a powerful national state today?” The chief murderer of the Pontic Greeks, Topal (Lame) Osman, is still regarded as a hero by nationalist Turks. His statue was recently erected in Giresun by one of the Eregenekon deep-state leaders, retired general Veli Kucuk, himself responsible for the “mysterious disappearance” of dozens of Kurds, and the assumed mastermind behind the organized assassination of Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. Kucuk was arrested and sentenced to life in prison for plotting the overthrow of the Erdogan government as part of the deep-state trials, but was recently released from prison by Erdogan (following the falling out between Erdogan and the religious leader Fethullah Gulen, whose followers were among the prosecutor team and police forces who had arrested Kucuk).
It has now become clear that the Turkish state’s policy to create a single nationalist state with a single religion and language has failed miserably. Within Turkey, Kurds could not be assimilated, and the grandchildren of the hidden Islamized Armenians and Pontic Greeks are starting to “come out” to find their roots. Outside Turkey, the Armenians continue to demand justice and restitution for the 1915 genocide. Assyrians have also started to get organized in various European states to demand their rights. In 1994, the Greek Parliament recognized the Pontic Greek Genocide on the 75th anniversary of the 1919 events. There is now a vast body of common knowledge regarding the true facts of the genocidal events that took place in Turkey from 1915 to 1923, and they can no longer be covered up by the denialist policies of the Turkish state.
About the author: Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer as well as a concert pianist, living in Toronto, Canada. For the past several years, proceeds from his concerts and two CDs have been donated to the construction of school, highway, water, and gas distribution projects in Armenia and Karabagh—projects in which he has also participated as a voluntary engineer. Bedrosyan was involved in organizing the Surp Giragos Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd Church reconstruction project, and in promoting the significance of this historic project worldwide as the first Armenian reclaim of church properties in Anatolia after 1915. In September 2012, he gave the first Armenian piano concert in the Surp Giragos Church since 1915.