Bedrosyan: The Genocide of the Pontic Greeks

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

Tokat: 64,582

Trabzon: 38,434

Niksar: 27,216

Sebinkarahisar: 21,448

Macka: 17,479

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.

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Raffi Bedrosyan

Raffi Bedrosyan is a civil engineer and a concert pianist, living in Toronto. Proceeds from his concerts and CDs have been donated to the construction of school, highways, and 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. His articles explain the significance of this historic project as the first Armenian reclaim of church properties in Anatolia after 1915, as well as other Turkish-Armenian issues. He gave the first Armenian piano concert in the Surp Giragos Church since 1915, most recently at the 2015 Genocide Centenary Commemoration. He is the founder of Project Rebirth, which helps hidden Islamized Armenians reclaim their original Armenian roots, language, and culture.

17 Comments

  1. There is a wonderful biography that deals with the Pontic Genocide by author Thea Halo called “Not Even My Name.” It was published in the late 90’s and received critical acclaim. It is the story the plight of the author’s Pontic Greek mother and Assyrian father during the respective genocides, and how they managed to endure and escape the forced death marches, find refuge in Lebanon first, then come to America to rebuild their lives.

  2. YEARS AGO WHEN MY CHILDREN WERE YOUNG, I HIRED A NANNY. AT THE TIME I DID NOT KNOW SHE WAS TURKISH, AND SHE DID NOT KNOW I WAS ARMENIAN. WHEN I ASKED HER ONE DAY WHERE SHE CAME FROM SHE TOLD ME TURKEY. I NEVER TOLD HER I WAS ARMENIAN AND SHE STARTED T0 TELL ME ABOUT HER FAMILY AND ITS ROLE IN THE GENOCIDE. HER GRANDFATHE WAS A WELL KNOWN GENERAL AND I FIRED HER THAT VERY DAY. NOTHING LIKE BRAGGING ABOUT MURDER.

  3. Sireli Raffi,

    Here is primary documentation about Greeks, Armenians, and Turks in battle in front of a Greek village that is not on the Black Sea coast. Subatan is not far from Kars. My father, Misak Seferian, wrote this on the day it took place. I wonder if there are any Greek descendants living in that village now.

    For more information, buy my forthcoming book: Resistance: a Diary of the Armenian Genocide 1915-1922. You will be able to read what I have left out between the following two segments. You will also find the coordinates for Subatan on the map. And all proceeds from the book sale will go to charity in Armenia, so buy an extra copy for a Greek friend.

    “On the morning of November 2, 1920, the air was clear and there were no clouds. The empty, destroyed Armenian villages of Shirag could be seen from afar. As we came close to the railway line, we received orders to get organized and ready. We expected the enemy’s main forces to engage us in battle. Ten of our cavalry went ahead of us; the rest of them came in a row behind us and to our right. Smpad, Mourad, Pilos, and Ghorzanian were with the cavalry, and Sebouh was with the foot soldiers. We had not yet reached the railway line when a battle started in front of the Greek village of Subatan on our right. Within an hour, the battle blazed up to the edge of Alajan Mountain where Shirag’s summerhouses were. If we entered the battle and Aghbaba’s Turks then came up from behind us at the same time, we would have found ourselves trapped between two fires.
    As previously noted, Ghorzanian’s mounted forces were composed of Armenia’s trained soldiers. Pilos’s and Mourad’s cavalry were Daron’s elite soldiers. These were Armenia’s best fighters who were now standing against the armed forces of Aghbaba’s Turks.”

    Further down in this chapter, my father has written:

    “During the hours we were at battle, the Armenian forces fighting against the main Turkish forces in front of Subatan were able to communicate with our commanders. As soon as the battle ceased, they sent the information that the Armenian soldiers in front of Subatan were Yerevan’s Tenth Reserve Regiment, and they were fighting with great success. The darkness of night again brought silence.”

    • Perouz, let us know when the book is in print, and where can it be purchased (e.g. Amazon ?).

      Maybe you can ask ArmenianWeekly and/or Asbarez to put up a headsup, because a notice in your own “reader’s comment” might be missed by many.

    • I am sure that your information is very valuable, but this man needs first to be thanked for his extensive
      research,and for employing his professional career as a concert pianist to raise money for Armenia.
      Thank you a great deal, Mr. Bedrosyan.

      M.Ioannidis

  4. The above article covers the events in the Pontus region. Why does the author only mention the genocide of Greeks in this one region? Greeks from all regions of Asia Minor were targeted as well as Eastern Thrace. The Greeks of Pontus were not the only Greeks to be deported to the interior of Asia Minor. Greeks from Eastern Thrace and the western shoreline of Asia MInor were also deported with little or no food or water in freezing cold conditions. They were sent to Turkish villages and forced to convert to Islam. Greeks from throughout all other regions were massacred, had their possessions taken from them, forced to sign papers saying that they were leaving of their own free will, their women raped and their men sent to the notorious labour battalions to perish in inhumane conditions. The author’s statement that the genocide/s started in 1915 is also incorrect. The genocide of the Greeks started earlier than this. In fact Henry Morgenthau states this in a well known quote of his, where he says that the Greeks were persecuted before the persecution of the Armenians began. And for the record in 1998 the Greek parliament made September 14 a day of mourning for all the Greeks of Asia Minor thereby recognizing the genocide of all the Greeks of Asia Minor.

    • We also need to confront and remedy the fact that many of our leaders and scholars do not acknowledge or fully and respectfully acknowledge the Genocide of the Greeks and Assyrians.

      Theo Halo told me 10 years ago that she got into a screaming match with Dadrian on this point – she is Assyrian and Pontic.

      In unity there is both political strength and a fitting reflection of historic truth. The same Genocidal hatred produced a Christian Genocide. I have never seen a combined Requiem Mass or community gathering for the descendants of all three nations.

    • The persecution of Anatolia’s Greeks and Armenians by the Ottoman Turks did not start in 1914 or 1915. It began over six hundred years before that, with the birth of the Ottoman Empire in the year, 1299. From that point onward, Anatolia’s Christian population (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) came under the rule of the Ottoman Turks, and as a result, were subjected to brutal persecution.

      Although there happened to be a few massacres against the Greeks of Anatolia in 1914, there was actually no plan by the Ottoman Turks to annihilate the Greek population at that particular period of time. What they were precisely attempting to do in 1914, was to force the Ottoman Empire’s Greek population to leave Anatolia. This had nothing to do with genocide. It wasn’t until 1916 that the Ottoman Turks began to annihilate the Greek and Assyrians populations of Anatolia after having already annihilated the entire Armenian population from the Western Armenian provinces. After all, it was certainly a lot more important for the Ottoman Turks to first wipe out the Armenians from Western Armenia which would therefore eliminate the Armenian Question issue which irritated the Ottoman Turk government so enormously.

      In regard to those massacres of Greeks in 1914, it’s important to point out that the Ottoman Empire’s Armenians were actually subjected to massacres long before then, such as the Adana massacre (1909) and the Hamidian Massacres (1894-1896).

  5. “And for the record in 1998 the Greek parliament made September 14 a day of mourning for all the Greeks of Asia Minor thereby recognizing the genocide of all the Greeks of Asia Minor.”

    That means about as much as the Azeri parliament recognizing the Khojaly massacre as a ‘genocide’

    • RVDV,

      You speak to soon, and too glibly this time.

      Marking a Day of Mourning in the case of the Anatolian and Pontic Greeks is an appropriate step for the state and the nation to take. Many Peloponnese Greeks do not know the history, culture and destruction of the Anatolian and Thracian communities. The refugees were not well-treated when they arrived.

      There is also no doubt that the Turk authorities were delighted to see as many Greeks die as they could cause directly or indirectly.

      We mourn also the civilians of Khojaly, but there is of course no parallel or evidence of Genocide in that instance. Armenian soldiers routinely created safe corridors for Azeris to escape. Even if, for the sake of argument, we agree [and we do not] that Armenian soldiers on one occasion intentionally killed Azeri civilians, there is no evidence that this was policy of the ROA, of the command structure of the Freedom Fighters, or their chain of comamnd.

    • jda

      You seem to have misinterpreted my post. By “meaningful” I meant in the grand scheme of things- getting that genocide, if we’re calling it that, recognized by the international community, paving the way for reparations. Because as I understand it, and my posters and columnists have made this point- reparations are more important than recognition or apology. So Greece can recognize whatever genocide it wants, and commemorate it, that fine, but it doesn’t mean much if virtually no one else recognizes it or cares. Just like with Khojaly. Azeris can call it a genocide if they want to (if I wasn’t clear in my earlier post I do NOT think it was a genocide), but them calling it a genocide does not make it a big deal if the international community does not agree/care.

  6. {“ Why does the author only mention…”}
    (Aris // July 2, 2014 at 7:40 pm //)

    I guess because the author is not writing a book on overall Greek Genocide, just an article about Pontic Greek genocide ?
    And would it not be more appropriate to thank the Armenian author for publicizing your cause in a widely read publication, by providing important historical details about what Turks did to Pontic Greeks ?
    If someone helps you gratis, do you usually says “Thanks”, or complain they didn’t help you enough ?

    As to when Turkish atrocities against Greeks began:
    First off, we (Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians) should not ‘compete’ in this matter.
    We should reinforce each others’ efforts: the more chisels chipping away at the denialist dam, the sooner it will crack and crumble.
    Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians were subjected to genocide. We each feel our suffering was worse than the others’: it is quite natural for humans to feel that way.

    Having said that, I have to provide the following for the record:
    Sultan Hamid massacred up to 300,000 Armenians in 1894-1896.
    Armenians were again massacred in 1909 in Adana: up to 30,000.
    Seljuk Turks came from the East: the first Christians they encountered on their way to Bosphorus and then to Gates of Vienna were Armenians.

    Armenians commemorate April 24, 1915 as the symbolic start of the Armenian Genocide.
    But clearly the massacres, mass murders, ethnic cleansing, forced Islamization, forced Turkification, abductions of our children, wanton destruction, looting, theft, etc started long before that official date. Long before 1894.
    It started around 1000 AD, when Seljuk Turks first showed up at the outer edges of Armenian Highlands.
    It’s just that invading nomadic Turks embarked on the ‘Final Solution’ starting 1915, when they decided to use the cover of WW1 to once and for all exterminate every last remaining indigenous Christian from their native lands in Armenian Highlands and Asia Minor.
    Unfortunately they largely succeeded: circa 1915, there were about 4 million Christians** – Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians – in OT.
    Now there are less than 100,000 (openly) Christians left in Turkey.

    We collectively need to go about correcting that, instead of arguing who was the first victim of Turks.
    Turkey is not invincible and can be ‘arranged’ to pay for the crime: if we work together, it will be a lot easier and sooner.
    Don’t know about Greek people at large, but official Greece does not seem too interested*. Many Greek-American organizations, though, do join Armenian-Americans in fighting Denialism here in US.
    And Assyrian diaspora is weak and disorganized at this time (as I see it.)
    Like it or not, Armenians have been the spearhead.
    We’d love for Greeks and Assyrians to join us actively and in force.


    * from what I know (could be wrong), the is no official push from Greece to have GG officially recognized by many countries: Greeks seem to be happy with the way things are.

    ** I have my own estimates, but will list the ones provided by Orhan Kemal Cengiz, TZ Columnist, in his article “Will Non-Muslims Return to Turkey” (Al-Monitor 2013):
    {Before 1915, 25% of Turkey’s population consisted of non-Muslims. With the current population of 70 million citizens, we should have 17 million non-Muslims. But today, all non-Muslims (including Greeks, Jews, Armenians and Assyrians) just barely exceeds 100,000. So the current rate is well below 1%.}

    • I don’t think any Greeks are happy with Turkey: the Cypress invasion and seizure, and the massacre of 10,000 Greek Cypriots is a raw memory only 40 years old this Summer.

      However, Greece is small and economically weak, while Turkey, at least for now, is more or less solvent and . Moreover, Greece and Turkey have about 8B in trade yearly. Turkey is 7 times larger in population.

      Another factor is the memory. Most Greeks do not have Anatolian or Pontic roots. Their Mainland grandparents sometimes looked down upon the refugees, just as they looked down on Armenian refugees from the AG. They know full well what happened, but it is not as much a family memory.

    • Completely agree with you, Avery. All victims of the Ottoman Turks should work together for justice. Armenians would welcome input that demonstrates the orchestrated destruction of Ottoman Christian communities by the Ottoman Turks—which clearly started long before 1915.

  7. Though you might mean well, Aris, Avery is correct. We Greeks need to say ‘thank you’ once in awhile and stop being the ‘authorities’ on every subject in a very chauvenistic way. More than anything, Greeks should work with Armenians and Assyrians and continue to press Turkey and the USA to recognize the horrible genocide of these three groups in Turkish history. We need to press for restoration of property and religious freedom for Christians and all non-Muslims. And working together may pressure the USA to help the Cypriots be free of Turkish oppression. In sum, Greeks need to learn from the Armenians and offer to work with them. Thank you Mr. Bedrosyan for this article.

  8. The above comments were made in 2014. One of the comments suggests that the Greek Government does not seem to be interested about the genocide of the Pontus Greek population; that is true, and we are talking about the 2014 Greek Government of the coalition of Samaras/Venizelos. But, although a clear statement from the newly elected government last February, may not have been very explicit yet, the new government will unlikely submit to political pressures from outside,(EU, etc.) with regard to a position on the genocide. Time will tell.

  9. On May 19, 2017, here in Fresno California we are about to commemorate the Pontic Genocide as May 19th was the day the Greek Government declared the day of the Pontic Genocide. We will though include Armenians and Assyrians in our Remembrance day event

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