May 19 Is the April 24 of Pontic Greeks

By Raffi Bedrosyan

The annihilation of non-Turk/non-Muslim peoples from Anatolia started on April 24, 1915 with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals in Istanbul. Within a few months, 1.5 million Armenians were wiped from their historic homeland of 4,000 years in what is now eastern Turkey, as well as from northern, southern, central and western Turkey.

About 250,000 Assyrian were also massacred in southeastern Turkey during the same period.

Then, the turn came for the Pontic Greeks 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 from pre-Byzantine times. The ethnic cleansing of the Pontic Greeks followed the same pattern as in the Armenian deportations and massacres. Citing security threats and suspicion of possible cooperation with the Russians, in the spring of 1916 the Ottoman government ordered all Pontic Greeks to be removed from Black Sea coastal towns to 50 kilometers inland. Of course, in the case of 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 in 150,000 deaths, eliminating a third of the Pontic population until the end of the war.

The “Second and Real Phase of Massacre,” the organized destruction of Pontic Greeks, started in earnest with the arrival of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Samsun on May 19, 1919. He met with well-known mass murderers of 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 all Pontic Greeks from northern Turkey. These two murderers, originally smugglers of illegal goods, had gained fame in 1915 in rounding up Armenian men, women and children in large boats, taking them out to sea and dumping them overboard to drown, and then boasting that “smelt season will be bountiful this year with lots of food for them.”

As the Pontic Greek men had taken to mountains, these two murderers went after the Greek women and children left behind in the villages. Various methods of mass murder were implemented. It was common to take 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 tortures and massacres of Greeks even disturbed the local Moslem 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, but when Osman shot a member of parliament for criticizing Ataturk, and then threatened Ataturk himself, he was executed.

There were also so-called “Liberation courts” (Istiklal Mahkemeleri), set up in the cities across the Black Sea region to try arrested Greek rebels. These courts passed arbitrary decisions almost invariably resulting in death sentences, no defense or appeals allowed, with hangings carried out immediately. Among the victims of these courts were hundreds of Greek teachers in 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 as a rebel terroristic 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’, he arrested a Turkish opposition journalist criticizing Ataturk and had his soldiers tear him 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 clergymen in the same manner, and then started the Great Fire which destroyed the entire city.

Between May 19, 1919 and end of 1922, The Pontic Greek population was decimated by 353,000 in the following cities:

134,078 Amasya, Giresun, Samsun

64,582 Tokat

38,434 Trabzon

27,216 Niksar

21,448 Sebinkarahisar

17,479 Macka

There was also a violent campaign to Islamicize the Greeks and quite a number of them first converted to Islam under threats and torture, followed by Turkification. With the 1924 Lausanne Treaty,  any few remaining Pontic Greeks were included in the 1,250,000 Anatolian Greeks ‘exchanged’ with Moslems in Greece, thereby totally emptying the Black Sea region from its historic Greek civilization. All the names of 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-religion 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 from the German Nazis’ superior race policies, demonstrating the athleticism and beauty of the Turkish race. The extent of racism is 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 were 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 Pontic Greeks, Topal (Lame) Osman is still regarded as a hero by racist nationalist Turks. His statue was erected in Giresun recently by one of the Eregenekon leaders, retired general Veli Kucuk, himself responsible for the “mysterious disappearance”of dozens of Kurds, and the assumed mastermind behind the organized assassination of Hrant Dink. He was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting the overthrow of the Erdogan government as part of the “deep state” trials, but released from prison recently by Erdogan, after the falling out between Erdogan and the religious leader Fethullah Gulen, whose followers were among the prosecutor team and police forces which had arrested Kucuk.

It has now become obvious that the Turkish state 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 Islamicized Armenians and Pontic Greeks are starting to ‘come out’ to find their roots. Outside Turkey, the Armenians continue demanding justice and restitution for the 1915 Genocide. Assyrians have  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, which can no longer be covered up by the denialist policies of the Turkish state.

(Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer and concert pianist, living in Toronto, Canada. He has donated concert and CD proceedings to infrastructure projects in Armenia and Karabagh, in which he has also participated as an engineer. He helped organize the reconstruction of the Surp Giragos Diyarbakir/Dikranagerd Church and the first Armenian reclaim of church properties in Anatolia after 1915. He gave the first piano concert in the Surp Giragos Church since 1915.)