On May 14th 2010, I covered the first meeting of the “Highest Council on Greek-Turkish Cooperation” in Athens, Greece. When I was listening to the statements of the Prime Minister of Turkey, I remembered the stories my great-grandfathers – who I had the fortune to meet and live with – had told me.
At the press conference there was rhetoric about closer relations between Greece and Turkey, while the Prime Minister of Turkey also called to transform the Aegean from a sea of hostility into a sea of friendship. Also, the Prime Minister of Turkey asked us – the Greek journalists – to not “be the radar of the Greek Ministry of Defense” and, thus, not to focus on the violations of Greek airspace, which takes place many times daily. Well, as always, rhetoric and benevolent wishes are nice, but we ought to review the history of Greek-Turkish relations in order to see whether or not we could assume that the rhetoric of the Prime Minister of Turkey was sincere.
Since 1461, the Greeks of the Black Sea (pontos) region got accustomed to being forcefully removed from their homelands and to attempts made by the Ottomans and the Young Turks. The decision to systematically eradicate the pontian Greeks (like the Armenians) was taken by the Young Turks in 1911. It was applied all throughout World War I. In December 1916, the plan to eradicate the pontian Greeks was executed by Ismail Enver Pasha and Mehmet Talaat – ministers of the Young Turks government. According to their plan to “eradicate the pontian Greeks”…“immediate eradication was planned only for men who lived in the cities and who were in the ages 16-60. The men living in the villages, women, and children were forced to exile into the depths of Anatolia where they were tortured and executed”[i]. This “plan” was completed by the “Father” of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal, in the years 1919-1923. The defeat of Turkey by the Entente Alliance brought a stop to the centuries old plan of Turkey to eradicate the Greeks [temporary?]. The newly formed government of the Young Turks was forced to give permits to all pontian Greeks who survived the mass murder. The international tendency of that time was that of people’s self-determination. It was this tendency that led some distinct pontian Greeks to want to create an “Independent Pontian Democracy”. These distinct pontian Greeks wrote letters to several leaders of the Entente but there plan never was materialized since Mustafa Kemal arrived in Samsun (Amisos) on May 19, 1919. That is the date when the second (stricter) attempt to eradicate the pontian Greeks started. The only slightest resistance to this premeditated genocide was that of the pontian Greeks living in the Highlands of the Pontos region. Those were the only ones to escape the genocide. The “Black Bible” of the “Central Pontian Council” refers to the genocide as follows: The number of the killed pontian Greeks in the years 1914-1922 is as follows: 134,078 (region of Amasia); 17, 479 (region of Rodopolis); 64,582 (region of Haldeia-Kerasunta); 27, 216 (region of Neokesaria); 38, 435 (region of Trabezon); 21,448 (region of Kolonia); a total of 303,238 people”. Until the spring of 1924 some 50,000 people were added to the these martyrs; bringing the total number up to 353,000 making up over 50% of the total population of the Greeks living in the Black Sea region.
The genocide forced the pontian Greeks to leave everything they owned behind and move back to Greece, former USSR (where they were chased by Stalin in the interwar period), Iran, Syria, Australia, United States, and to other places. Returning to the visit of the Prime Minister of Turkey, I have the following questions:
1. Does the Prime Minister of Turkey want the Aegean to become a Sea of Friendship without the application of the provisions supplied by International Maritime Law?
2. Does this “heartfelt” proposal of friendship have any relation to the oil deposits that are under the Aegean?
3. Why did the Prime Minister of Turkey refuse to lay a wreath under the monument of the unknown soldier during his visit while all Greek Primr Ministers respect diplomatic protocol and lay a wreath under the statue of the father of the genocide against the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Kurds – Mustafa Kemal.
4. If Mr. Erdogan really wants peace, why does he not respect the cultural heritage of the Christians living in Turkey?
5. Why does he not reinstate the Christian Basilica of Agia Sophia to what it is: A basilica of Orthodox Christianity?
6. Why does he accept money from UNESCO to do the above when he does not do it?
7. Mr. Erdogan, how can the Greek people believe that you really want peace without asking for forgiveness for the crimes made by Turkish governments in the past and without taking some measures to restitute the crimes of the past?
[i] As shown in hundreds of documents, which were found by university Professor Kostas Fotiadis, who published a complete encyclopedia about the Genocide of the Pontian Greeks.