A Hundred Years Since The Pontian Genocide

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It’s been a hundred years since the Pontian Genocide, and Pontic Greeks remember May 19th as a black day each year. At the same time, it’s a date used to strengthen the bonds between these individuals all over the world.

A Hundred Years Since The Pontian Genocide

It’s been a hundred years since the Pontian Genocide, and Pontic Greeks remember May 19th as a black day each year. At the same time, it’s a date used to strengthen the bonds between these individuals all over the world.


Pontic Greeks are Diaspora people, spread all across the globe, but they’re tied together by their traditions, the associations they’ve formed in many countries and, more significantly, by their deep Orthodox faith.


A Hundred Years Since The Pontian Genocide

Descendants of the Pontic Greeks carry the Icon of the Panagia Soumela


According to Greece.greekreporter.com, the first recorded Greek colony in the region of the Black Sea (Pontus) was established in Sinope around 800 BC. It’s known that the first Pontic Greeks to colonize the area were merchants from the Ionian Greek city-state of Miletus.


Before the settlement, the Black Sea had been referred to as “Axeinos Pontos” (“Inhospitable Sea”). After that settlement, the name changed to its exact opposite, “Euxeinos Pontos” (Hospitable Sea). Soon enough, the Greek settlers established additional colonies along the entire Black Sea coastline in what are today the nations of Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Romania.


Pontus flourished greatly during the Byzantine era. It used to be the birthplace of the Komnenos dynasty, that ruled the Byzantine Empire from 1082 to 1185, a time when the empire recovered much of Anatolia from the Seljuk Turks.


In the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the “Empire of Trebizond” was established by Alexios I of Trebizond, a descendant of Alexios I Komnenos, the patriarch of the Komnenos dynasty.


A Hundred Years Since The Pontian Genocide

Pontus was the last bastion of the Byzantine Empire. Although Constantinople and the rest of the empire fell at the hands of the Ottomans, it took them 18 more years to defeat the Greek resistance in Pontus.


During that long period of resistance, many Pontic Greek nobles and aristocrats married foreign emperors and into royal dynasties, most remarkably those of medieval Russia, medieval Georgia, and the Safavid Persian dynasty. Pontians also migrated to what today is southern Russia and the Caucasus.


Like a lot of mountain people, Pontic Greeks moved a great deal, but in their case, they went in the direction of the Caucasus and Russia.


By the mid-19th century, the numbers of Greeks in Pontus had grown a great deal, and that was reflected in their economic power. In 1865, there were 265,000 Pontians; by 1880, however, the number had exploded to 330,000.


When the Russian empire extended its territory to the south, especially into the Caucasus, it pushed back the Muslim populations and attracted Christian populations to resettle the lands. The settlement of the Pontic Greeks was encouraged in the valleys of the Caucasus to the south of Tbilisi and also in the steppe region of Kars-Ardahan, on the Armenian plateau of the Anti-Caucasus.


In the early 20th century, the number had neared 700,000. In 1860, there were one hundred schools in Pontus, along with printing businesses, magazines, newspapers, clubs, and theaters. The Trebizond region had one among the highest literacy rates in the Ottoman Empire.


Pontians also displayed excellent entrepreneurial skills, making them excellent merchants. Even though most people were farmers, Pontic Greeks had a well-educated, cosmopolitan middle class.


A Hundred Years Since The Pontian Genocide

Persecution and genocide


1908 was a milestone for the peoples of the dying Ottoman Empire. It was the year of the Young Turk movement, the ultranationalist party that launched the beginning of the persecution of Christian communities and the Turkification of the region.


Using the pretext of national security, accusing the Pontians and Armenians of fighting on the side of the Russians, the Turks started to persecute the Greek population, that ultimately led to their genocide.


First, the Turks started by displacing the majority of the Greek population in Asia Minor’s inhospitable hinterland, via so-called “labor battalions.” The men that didn’t join the Turkish army were forced to work in quarries, mines, and building roads under the harshest possible conditions. Most of the men would soon start to perish from hunger and disease.


To avoid the Turks’ depredations — that had now included open murders, deportations as well as the burning of villages — the Pontic Greeks shortly took to the mountains to salvage what was left of their lives.


From 1917–1922, there was an unrecognized state by the name of “The Republic of Pontus”, Chrysanthus, the Metropolitan of Trebizond led that. At that time, Greece and the Entente powers even considered the creation of a Hellenic autonomous state in Pontus, what would be a “Ponto-Armenian Federation.”


In 1919, on the fringes of the Paris Peace Conference, Metropolitan Chrysanthus suggested the establishment of a fully independent Republic of Pontus, yet neither Greece nor the other delegations supported that.


The Turks thwarted the plan, that took advantage of this turn of events to advance to their “Final Solution” — what would ultimately mean the massacre of tens of thousands of Pontians.


On May 19th, 1919, Ataturk landed in Samsun to start the second and most brutal phase of the Pontic Genocide under the guidance of German and Soviet advisers. Thousands of Greeks would be slaughtered by the Turkish army — and just as many by irregular bands loyal to Topal Osman.


By the time of the Asia Minor Catastrophe of 1922 and including one year later, the number of Pontians that had died exceeded 200,000. It’s impossible to arrive at an exact figure, but some historians put the actual number at 350,000.


A Hundred Years Since The Pontian Genocide

Population exchange and immigration


Many ethnic Greeks that had been able to escape the Turkish sword somehow fled as refugees to southern Russia.


After the end of the 1919–1922 Greco-Turkish War, most of the Pontic Greeks who remained in the Ottoman Empire were transported to Greece under the terms of the population exchange stipulations in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne between Greece and Turkey. The number is estimated to be about 400,000.


The Pontians would settle in Macedonia and Thrace, particularly in the prefectures of Thessaloniki, Kilkis, Florina, Drama, Pella, and Serres, all regions that at the time were sparsely populated.


Most refugees settled in farming areas, with relatively few going to the city of Thessaloniki. The settlement took place once again in a mainly mountainous region in northern Greece, in a Balkan region on the border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.


These Pontic Greeks referred to as “Caucasians” by the others, found themselves again in the situation of acting as pioneers and defenders of the frontiers, in effect replacing the Slavic-speaking populations that had left for Bulgaria at the end of the Balkan Wars.


After World War II, during the 1950s and especially the 1960s, the poverty of the Pontic population in Macedonian villages spurred massive migrations to the major Greek urban centers of Athens and Thessaloniki as well as Western Europe.


Many Pontic Greeks also ended up in Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Canada, and the US Nevertheless, unlike earlier migrations, these were purely voluntary and were undertaken for economic reasons.


Shockingly, following the collapse of the USSR in 1990, families of Russian-speaking Pontic Greeks started migrating back to Greece. Many came to settle in the same Macedonian villages where the Pontic Greeks had first settled, in the hope that they may find distant relatives or compatriots who originated from the same Pontic regions.


Others migrated directly to the large urban centers where the economy was better.


A Hundred Years Since The Pontian Genocide

The rich legacy and iconography of Pontic Greeks


The diaspora Pontic Greeks in Greece, the US, Australia, and Northern Europe still remember their mountainous homeland and places of origin in the Pontus through their churches and associations. They don’t claim any territory whatsoever as to their homeland, but they are asking the Turkish State to recognize the genocide of their ancestors.


Pontians around the globe are united through cultural and religious exchanges via a national and transnational network of associations as well as ecclesiastical institutions. Hellenism and Orthodoxy are the basis of their ethnic identity.


Pontic Greeks have created a rich iconography throughout the years, which serves as a significant element that preserves their ethnic identity and transmits it to future generations. The icon of the Panagia of Soumela is the ultimate symbol of Pontic iconography and their unity. This particular holy icon is a symbol that has many facets – it represents the Byzantine Empire, as well as their roots within Pontus and Greek Orthodoxy.


An even more significant reminder of their history is the Monastery of the Panagia of Soumela, perched on Mount Mela (“Black Mountain”) in Trebizond, today’s Trabzon, in Turkey.


This sanctuary is the meeting place of a great annual gathering that takes the form of a pilgrimage. Diaspora Pontians from all across the world meet there each year to celebrate their identity, to honor their ancestors, and to make sure that their heritage will be transmitted from one generation to the next.


From the 1970s, non-religious elements were added to the Pontic iconography as well, according to Greece.greekreporter.com. The Pontic resistance fighters in their traditional costumes, armed to the teeth with daggers and pistols, dancing a war dance, have become widely recognizable figures.


The flag — with the eagle facing toward Constantinople — is another addition to Pontic iconography. Stunning black and white photos taken of Pontic Greeks before and during the genocide are also displayed in galleries, museums, and Pontic restaurants all over the world.


On the hundredth anniversary of the genocide, the purpose of all the Pontic associations across the world is for each nation to recognize the crimes against humanity committed by the Turkish State during the dark years between 1913 and 1922.

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Thinking Humanity: A Hundred Years Since The Pontian Genocide
A Hundred Years Since The Pontian Genocide
It’s been a hundred years since the Pontian Genocide, and Pontic Greeks remember May 19th as a black day each year. At the same time, it’s a date used to strengthen the bonds between these individuals all over the world.
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