The Democratic Rally of Cyprus party (DISY) yesterday called on the European Union and the international community to recognise the Pontian Greek Genocide of 1916-1923. "Historic events such as these must always remain in our memory," read a statement released by the party.
Today, May 19, is Pontic Greek Genocide Day. Pontic Greek Genocide is a controversial term used to refer to the fate of Pontic Greeks during and in the aftermath of World War I. Whether the events were a genocide or not is hotly debated between Turkey and Greece.
The term is used to refer to the persecutions, massacres, expulsions and death marches of Pontian Greek populations in the southeastern Black Sea provinces of the Ottoman Enpire, during the early 20th century by the Young Turk administration. It has been argued that killings continued during the Turkish national movement led by Mustafa Kemal Atat?rk which was organised to fight against the Greek invasion of western Anatolia.
Greece and the Republic of Cyprus officially recognise it as a genocide. The US states of South Carolina, New Jersey, Florida, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Illinois also passed resolutions recognising the events, although since states within the United States do not have foreign-policy authority those statements are not legally binding on a federal US level.
The Turkish government, on the other hand, rejects the term genocide, and the selection of the date of May 19, which is a national holiday in Turkey, is considered by some Turkish politicians to be a provocation of Turkish national feelings. Ankara also denies the Armenian genocide of 1915-1917, or the lesser known massacre of hundreds of thousands of Assyrians (Syriac Christians).
The United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the International Association of Genocide Scholars have not made any relative reference. According to the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, between 1916 and 1923 up to 350,000 Greek Pontians were killed in massacres, persecution and death marches. The events were attested to by eyewitness accounts reported in contemporary newspapers.
At the time The New York Times and its correspondents made extensive references to the events, recording massacres, deportations, individual killings, rapes, burning of entire Greek villages, destruction of Greek Orthodox churches and monasteries, drafts for "Labour Brigades", looting, terrorism and other "atrocities" for Greek, Armenian and also for British and American citizens and government officials.
The paper subsequently won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the war. According to a German military attach?, Ismail Enver, the Ottoman Turkish minister of War, had declared in October 1915 that he wanted to "solve the Greek problem during the war…in the same way he believe[d] he solved the Armenian problem." And British historian Arnold J. Toynbee noted that it was the Greek landings that created the Turkish Nationalist Movemet led by Mustafa Kemal and it is almost certain that if the Greeks had never landed at Smyrna, the consequent atrocities on the Turkish side would not have occurred.
Toynbee added: "…The Greeks of 'Pontus' and the Turks of the Greek occupied territories, were in some degree victims of Mr Venizelos' and Mr Lloyd George's original miscalculation at Paris."
In 1923, those Greek Pontians remaining were expelled from Turkey to Greece as part of the population exchange between the two countries defined by the Treaty of Lausanne. In his book Black Sea, author Neal Acheson writes: "The Turkish guide-books on sale in Turkey today offer this account of the 1923 catastrophe: 'After the proclamation of the [Turkish] Republic, the Greeks who lived in the region returned to their own country.' Their own country? Returned? Pontians had lived in that area for over 3,000 years. The Pontian dialect was not understandable to 20th century Athenians."