Greeks-Americans are the second most educated ethnic group living in the United States. Through hard work, determination and a desire to sacrifice for the next generation, Greeks have successfully assimilated to American life. But at what price?
Today's young Greek-American has but a vague knowledge of Greek history, with perhaps the most glaring oversight being the Greek Catastrophe and the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.
"Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?" Adolf Hitler spoke those words before he began the extermination of six million Jews during the Holocaust. Only a few years earlier, Mustafa Kemal, a/k/a Ataturk, was responsible for one of the largest purges of humanity known to man - the extinction of 3.5 million Greek and Armenian Orthodox Christians who occupied Asia Minor or Anatolia. It also resulted in the near extinction of another Christian ethnicity, the Assyrians, who occupied Asia Minor for thousands of years. Here is the definition in Websters Dictionary for Assyrian: "a member of an ancient Semitic race forming the Assyrian nation and based in Asia Minor.." The Assyrians weren't an ancient race in 1910, yet they were almost completely eradicated by the Kemal's forces. This eradication of all Christian populations culminated with the destruction of Smyrna, a largely Greek City in Asia Minor on September 9, 1922. Almost 300,000 Smyrnan-Greeks were murdered or displaced during the course of the battle for the city. The real tragedy is while the city burned and Greeks were being butchered, a fleet of American, British and French warships were stationed in Smyrna's vast harbor. They stood idly by and let the carnage happen.
Until about the late 14th century, almost all of Asia Minor was inhabited by Greeks. The weakening of the Byzantine Empire and insurgence of marauding Mongols, Ottomans and other nomadic peoples from the East eventually led to the downfall of the Byzantine Empire and formation of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1821, parts of mainland Greece achieved independence from the Ottomans and began a slow, but steady reclamation of Greek land. The hope was that one day, a Greek nation with Constantinople as it's capital would emerge - this idea was known throughout Greece as the "Great Idea." World War I gave Greeks the perfect opportunity to cash in on these goals. Led by Venizelos, who set up a rebel government to combat the "neutral" government of King Constantine of Greece, Greece joined the fight against Germany and it's ally, the Ottoman Empire. By the end of the War, Greece had gained a remarkable foothold into Asia Minor (which still had hundreds of predominately Greek cities and towns) and it seemed Constantinople would be Greek once again.
However, Ataturk led a disenfranchised group of Turks and revolted against the Ottoman Empire (known as the Young Turk Revolution), starting the Republic of Turkey and promising western reforms. This also sealed the Greeks fate. Until this time, Greece was being aided primarily by England.
Now that England had someone else (namely the new Turkish nation) it felt could represent their interests in Asia Minor, they cut off all support to the Greeks. The Greeks were pushed all the way down Asia Minor into Smyrna. As they were pushed through each city, the Greek and Armenian homes were burned and their inhabitants murdered. It culminated with the destruction of Smyrna.
How has it happened that the death of 3.5 million Orthodox-Christians is not remembered and honored as, say the Jewish Holocaust. The answer is that Turkey has used every measure it can to block recognition of the Greek Catastrophe/Armenian Genocide. Turkey has consistently denied a genocide ever occurred, despite historical record to the contrary. Their efforts to conceal the genocide are extraordinary:
Throughout the Cold War, Turkey used American Air Force bases in Turkey as black-mail, preventing the U.S. from publicly recognizing the genocide;
In the 1970's and 80's, Turkey was successful in excluding mention of the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the genocide from United Nations Reports;
Turkey influenced both the Reagan and Bush administrations to kill Congressional resolutions recognizing April 24 as a national day of remembrance for the millions of Orthodox Christians killed;
Turkey lavished giant grants on American Universities (including $1.5 million to Princeton and Georgetown University, where, incredibly, the professors who chair the departments started with these funds have denied a genocide ever occurred) in an attempt to revise history;
When a Conference on Genocides, that would report on the Greek Catastrophe and Armenian Genocide was planned for Tel Aviv, Israel in 1982, Turkey threatened repercussions against Jews living in Turkey if the Conference went forward. This might seem laughable if not for the fact that the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington received similar threats when it planned an exhibition on the matter.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
There have been numerous resolutions passed and/or brought before the House of Representatives that would have honored the memory of the millions of Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians who perished. It also included a provision that would have blocked certain economic aid to Turkey until it recognized it's actions. Unfortunately, the resolution never made it to the President for signature. We must keep pushing our elected officials to put pressure on Turkey to recognize this and other injustices Turkey is guilty of (e.g., Cyprus). As young Greek-Americans, it is our duty to our ancestors, our children and ourselves to continue this fight and, most important of all, to never forget our history. For more information, I urge you to read Thea Halo's wonderful book, Not Even My Name, which gives a first-person account of many of the horrors described above and describes in great historical detail how the Pontic Greeks, original settlers of Asia Minor, were evicted from their homes and sent on long death marches.
By John Halkias