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The Pontian Genocide: The continuous cycle of violence and massacres

by Dr Racho Donef ― author, historian, human rights activist. Sydney, 2015.

Posted: Friday, August 07, 2015 at 10:00 PM UT

“The cycle of violence was inaugurated in the nineteenth century in the Ottoman Empire; it continued unabated during the war, in the interregnum period under the command of the triumvirate of İttihad’s pashas against Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians and even Yezidis.”

— Dr Racho Donef

One hundred years have passed since the deportation order issued by the Ottomans, in 1915, for the Armenians.  Yet, 1915 is largely a symbolic day, for the massacres and deportations neither started nor ceased in that year.  Massacres against Christians took place in 1895 Diyarbakır and elsewhere[1] and in 1909 in Adana.[2] During the war, widespread massacres and deportations - amounting to genocide - were committed in the Ottoman Empire.

The massacres, the deportation, the genocide of the Christian peoples of the Ottoman Empire, continued after the establishment of the Republic.  The Pontus Genocide of Greeks of the Black Sea was a crime committed by the new regime of Ankara.  In 1924-25 Nestorian Assyrians were also subjected to deportation and massacres.[3]  In short, there was a process of ethnic cleansing which started in the nineteenth century and continued in the twentieth.

One of the myths of the Turkish historiography in relation to the Greeks is that the killing and deportation of the Ottoman Greeks was the result of the Greek Occupation of Izmir and Asia Minor in 1919. However, the deportation and massacres of Greek citizens have started long before.  The main perpetrator was the Special Organization (Teşkilatı Mahsusa).[4]  In Hellenic sources, there is evidence that mobs committed massacres since 1913.  These gangs mercilessly attacked the Greeks, first in Eastern Thrace and then in Western Anatolia, much earlier than any conflict with Greece.  To protest the oppressions against Greeks the Patriarchate closed down the schools and churches.[5]

U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau who was in Constantinople between 1913 to 1916, in his book “Secrets of the Bosphorus” [1918], points out that after the Balkan War of 1912 and until the beginning of the First World War, 400,000 Greeks were deported from and the Aegean coast and Anatolia. Henry Morgenthau noted that, Bedri Bey, İstanbul Chief of Police, told a secretary of the US Consulate, “The deportation of the Hellenes by the Turks was such an outstanding success; the empire must implement the same method for the other races”.[6]

René Puaux, in 1919, calculated the number of the forcible deported Greeks in the period of 1912-1918 as follows:[7]

After the Balkan War  During the War

Thrace 130.282 88.485 218.447
Asia Minor 153.890 144.559 298.449
Pontos - 257.019 257.019
  284.172 490.063 773.915

Deportation and massacres of Greeks continued in the Black Sea region, just as in Western Thrace and the Aegean regions. Between 1916 and 1923, the Greek living in the Eastern Black Sea region became victims of a systematic destruction. 

As Turkish historian Taner Akçam noted, “İttihat’s plan was to exterminate the Greeks. . . . this policy was to be carried out by both political and economic measures .”[8] A member of Meclisi Mebusan, the Lower House of the Ottoman Parliament, Emmanuil Emmanuilidis from Aydın (Αϊδίνιο), told the parliament that the state was spreading propaganda against the Greeks for economic boycott. İttihat[9] parliamentarians shouted at Emmanuilidis that there was no such event taking place.[10]

Undeterred, Emmanuilidis, on the 24 June 1914 session of the Parliament, also said that in Smyrna and Φώκαια (“Focaea”) the villages were pillaged and about 15,000 Hellenes were deported.  Şefik, Constantinople Deputy, rebuked: “are you an advocate for Greece?” Yet, the people deported were Ottoman subjects. As Emmanuilidis continued his specch, Şefik interjected: “the events that took place were not all that important.  Those who left did so of their own accord”.[11]  The falsification of history which became an art form in the Turkish Republic was already laying its foundations.

The deportation of the Greeks from the Aegean regions continued unabated between 1916 and 1918.  The second wave of deportation was carried out for military reasons but was - in the words of Taner Akçam - conducted with great barbarity.  For instance, all Greeks of 12 to 18 years of age were deported to inner Anatolia.[12]

According to Halil Menteşe, who, it should be mentioned, was a member of İttihat, the number of Greeks deported to outside Smyrna was 200,000.  In the discussions that took place in 1919 in the Meclisi Mebusan, the number of Greeks deported from Eastern Thrace was given as 300,000-500,000.[13]

In December 1916, the Metropolitan of Samsun (Σαμψούντα) Yermanos wrote that children, women and the elderly were deported from the Black Sea Region to Sıvas (Σεβάστεια). Before the deportations started a gang that arrived from Samsun, came to villages, killing men, women, the elderly and raped women. “Even 10-year-old girls, 80-year-old women, were not spared the atrocities.” [14]

Reports from Consular officers provide valuable information about the intent and conduct of İttihat.  The Austro-Hungarian in Amasya Consul Kviatkovski, in November 1916, in his report to the government, recounted that the mutassarif (governor) Rafet Bey told him on 26 November 1916: “We have to wipe out the Greeks just as we did with the Armenians.  The Hellenes would participate in the war, at the latest stage, during the peace negotiations.  This way, we will take action unimpeded.”  Two days later Rafet Bey added: “We need to finish our business with the Hellenes. I have just sent battalions to the surrounding areas, to kill Greeks.”[15]

The same Consul sent the following telegrams around the same period, regarding Samsun:

11 December 1916: 5 Greek villages were looted, and some were burned.
Their residents were deported.

12 December 1916: villages in the areas surrounding the city were burned down.

14 December 1916: All villages, schools and churches were burned down completely.[16]

The Austria-Hungarian Consul, in his report regarding Bafra on 24 December 1917, also lamented: “. . . you find the bodies of slain Greek women and children in the river.  You see everywhere the traces of oppression against the Greeks - the political and military leaders are about to conclude their plans of extermination.[17]   On 31 January 1917, Talât Pasha told an Austrian consul officer that “as with the Armenians in 1915, it is time to finish our business with the Greeks as well.”[18]

Related Information
KAISER WILLIAM II, IN THE UNIFORM OF A TURKISH FIELD MARSHAL  He remained acquiescent, refusing to intercede, while his allies, the Turks, murdered anywhere from 600,000 to 1,000,000 Armenians.  This assassination of a whole people was the worst outcome of the Prussian doctrine — that anything is justified which promotes the success of German arms.  After the massacre was over, the Kaiser decorated the Sultan, precisely as in 1898, after Abdul Hamid had just massacred 200,000 Christians, he visited that potentate and publicly embraced him.KAISER WILLIAM II, IN THE UNIFORM OF A TURKISH FIELD MARSHAL

He remained acquiescent, refusing to intercede, while his allies, the Turks, murdered anywhere from 600,000 to 1,000,000 Armenians.  This assassination of a whole people was the worst outcome of the Prussian doctrine — that anything is justified which promotes the success of German arms.  After the massacre was over, the Kaiser decorated the Sultan, precisely as in 1898, after Abdul Hamid had just massacred 200,000 Christians, he visited that potentate and publicly embraced him.”This is an official telegram sent by Henry Morgenthau Sr. on July 16, 1915 to what he describes a process of 'race extermination' in regards to what was happening to the Armenians at that time. Morgenthau served as the United States ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1913-1916 and so this work comes from the United States State Department.

 — Ambassador Henry Morgenthau Sr.
United States Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, 1913-1916
Ambassador Morgenthau's Story (PDF, 15 MB)

According to the German Consul in Constantinople, the Turks deported the Greeks in the Black Sea on the excuse that the Russians gave them arms.  The Consul stated that it was clear that this was not the case as they deported children, women and the elderly and that in any case the men were already sent to work battalions (amele taburları).[19]

Often, on the flimsiest excuses the authorities looked for opportunities to oppress the Greek population. Panateros Topalidis, who was arch presbyter in Pontus, recalled that in the coffee shop of the village Hapsi there was a lithography hung on the wall depicting an American transatlantic.    The local governor, Kaymakam and the judge (Qadi) and the president of the local branch of İttihat sent a report to the provincial governor (vali), alleging that the villagers were staging a rebellion and they hung lithography of the Greek warship Averof on their walls.  The public prosecutor who came from Trabzon with soldiers left the village once he examined the lithography and realised that it did not depict Averof at all. [20]

One of the methods used to get rid of Greeks in Pontus was to prevent them from working in their fields.  In his memoirs, Topalidis included a copy of a circular send from the headquarters if the gendarmerie, which in a very bad Turkish issues the following order:  According to this decree, the Greeks the village of Giresun Karalı are prohibited from sowing seeds in their fields.  By way of secret decrees, the Greeks’ use of their own property had become illegal.

In 1922, the Central Union of Pontian Greeks in Athens calculated that between the period of 1914 to 1922, in the Pontian Genocide, a total of 303,238 people lost their lives. 232,556 of them during the First World War, 1914-1918. After the collapse of the Greek front in August and until the spring of 1924, 50,000 more people, mostly children and women, more massacred. [21] In addition, 815 communities, 874 churches and 758 schools were destroyed. By 1925, the Christian population of Anatolia, had decreased by 84%.[22]

The official position in Turkey is that there was no Pontian or Greek Genocide and that these claims are even “ridiculous”.[23]  Official historians use a number of excuses and concoctions to justify and the crimes and exonerate the criminals of Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa gangs.  According to Balcıoğlu in 1919-1920, parallel to the Greek attacks of the Western Front there were in rebellions in various parts of Anatolia; because a regular army could not be established civil forces suppressed these rebellions”[24] and that “the Pontian rebels who transformed, their secret activities of the First World War to an open rebellion and after the truce, they intensified their activities especially in the Black Sea shores and in the hinterland.”  Balcıoğlu concludes that the number of the so-called rampageous Pontian gangs at some stage reached 25,000.” [25]

Let us look at this claim and see other sources whether this allegation can be backed up.  While Balcıoğlu, argues on the one hand that there were 25,000 Greek gangs operating, on the other hand he states that in Pontos there were 2.391.316 Turks and only 273,733 Greeks.[26] According to this calculation there were 10 people in each gang including women, children and older men.  This is improbable.  Even Mustafa Kemal in his famous Nutuk (Speech), referring to the Pontian Operation said “in the beginning the total number of Pontian bandits was 6-7.000 armed people.  Later, with additions from everywhere it reached 25.000.”[27] So Balcıoğlu, manufacturing the number, increases even Kemal’s dubious figure of 25,000 freedom fighters to 25,000 gangs.

Nevertheless, because it is difficult to deny the existence of Turkish gangs in that period, Balcıoğlu provides the following excuse: “in the areas of Samsun, Bafra, Çarşamba and Kavak, Shafiq Avni Bey Commander of the 15th Division called these units comprised of the population, Oymak Teşkilâtı.”[28] According to him, groups formed by the people could not be called ‘gangs’. “Because of the struggle, the strife to protect national existence was for honor”. According to this narrative, these bands of raiders and robbers who attacked Greeks to rape and pillage were not gangs, yet the Pontus guerrillas who were fighting for their National Existence were. Moreover, Nurettin Pasha, the commander of the Central Army (Merkez ordusu) gave the following opinion: “All the Greeks have the ideal of a state. In our opinion the Greeks in our country are snakes. The source of snake venom are women.” [29] Thus, the raping of Greek women was almost considered to be a national duty.

Undoubtedly, there were army deserters and Armed Resistance Groups in Pontus.  Bergelfeld, the German Consul in Trabzon, reported that the volume of these guerrilla groups had been that exaggerated.[30] That there were armed Greek fighters in Pontus was never a secret.  Neither can it be denied that these groups killed belligerent Turkish mobs.  But these groups did not emulate the barbarity of the Teşkilât-ı Mahsusa gangs and did not commit atrocities. Guerrilla commander Miltiadis Anastasiadis (Μιλτιάδη Αναστασιάδη), in his memoirs related to these Greek insurgents, recalls that between April 1919 and 28 December 1922 the Lakka Hellenic Republic managed to protect 5,000 families in the mountains.[31]

One of the most avid mass murderer Topal Osman (Osman the Lame) became Mustafa Kemal’s guard.

The Republic of Turkey was established on the ideological foundation of the Young Turks.  Many of İttihad’s upper echelon took up important positions in the Republican machinery and they were shown great respect in the official historiography.  One of the most avid mass murderer Topal Osman (Osman the Lame) became Mustafa Kemal’s guard.

Via a decree signed on 10 January 1922 (no. 8612) Mustafa Kemal ordered Topal Osman to go forth towards Trabzon with his gang burn Greek villages and erase any traces of the Greeks.[32]  Rıza Nur, in his memoirs (Hatıratım), recounts this conversation with Topal Osman: “‘Agha, clean up Pontus well!’ I said. ‘I am cleaning’ he said. ‘Don’t leave a stone unturned in Greek villages’,' I said. ‘I'm doing it, but I keep the churches and good buildings which we may need’ he said. ‘Destroy those too, even take the stones away and disperse them.  No matter what happens they will not be able to say that there was a church here once’, I said.”[33]

The cycle of violence was inaugurated in the nineteenth century in the Ottoman Empire; it continued unabated during the war, in the interregnum period under the command of the triumvirate of İttihad’s pashas against Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians and even Yezidis.  The violence and the ethnic cleansing continued in the years of the Republic.  The Republic adopted İttihad’s ideology, the central plank of which was the cleansing of the land of elements regarded as “foreign”, even though they were indigenous to the land, and went about riding itself of Pontian Greeks and other ethnic groups.

[1] Father Ishak Armale, Osmanernas och ung-turkarnas folkmord i norra Mesopotamien 1895 / 1914-18, Beṯ-Prasa & Beṯ-Froso Nsibin, Södärtelje, 2005, pp. 52-74.

[2] R. Donef, ‘1909: Ottoman Archives Related to the Adana Massacres’, Atour, 2008,

[3] R. Donef, The Hakkâri Massacres: An Anthology of Documents related to Massacres and Deportation of Assyrians in Northern Mesopotamia, Second Edition, Tatavla Publishing, Sydney, 2014.

[4] For further information on Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa see Donef, “The Role of Teşkilat-ı Mahsusa (Special Organization) in the Genocide of 1915” in Tessa Hofmann, Matthias Bjørnlund and Vasileios Meichanetsidis (Eds) Studies on the State Sponsored Campaign of Extermination of the Christians of Asia Minor (1912-1922) and Its Aftermath: History, Law, Memory, New York & Athens, 2011, pp. 179-194.

[5] Κώστας Φωτειάδης, “Οι Έλληνες του Πόντου ως τη Συνθήκη της Λωζάννης (1923)”, Η Πολυεθνική Τουρκία, Γόρδιος, Αθήνα, 1993, p. 202.

[6] The liberation of the Greek people in Turkey: An appeal issued by the London Committee of unredeemed Greeks, Norbury, Natzio & Co. Ltd., Manchester and London, 1919, p. 7.

[7] René Puaux, La Déportation et le Repatriement des Grecs en Turquie, Éditions du Bulletin Hellenique, 1919, p. 8.

[8] Taner Akçam, From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, Zed Books, London, 2005, p. 145.

[9] Short for İttihat ve Terakki / Union and Progress, the party of Young Turks.

[10] Εμμανουήλ Χ. Εμμανουηλίδου, Τα Τελευταία Έτη της Οθωμανικής Αυτοκρατορίας, Ελευθερουδάκης, Αθήνα, 1924, p. 345.

[11] Εμμανουηλίδου, op.cit., pp. 342, 344, 349.

[12] Akçam, op.cit., p. 146.

[13] Ibid., p.147.

[14] Φωτειάδης, op.cit., p. 211.

[15] Πολυχρόνη Κ Επεκενίδη, Οι Διωγμή των Ελλήνων του Πόντου 1908-1918, Σύλλογος Ποντίων Αργοναύται – Κομνηνοί, Αθήνα, 1962, p. 10.

[16] Ibid., p. 10.

[17] Φωτειάδης, op.cit., p. 213.

[18] Επεκενίδη, op.cit., p. 11.

[19] Φωτειάδης, op.cit., p. 209.

[20] Πανάρετος Τοπαλίδης, Ο Πόντος ανά τους αιώνας, n.p., Δράμα, 1929, p. 151.

[21] Νεοκλής Σαρρής, Οσμανική Πραγματικότητα, Εκδ. Αρσενίδη, Τομ. Α, Αθήνα, 1990, p. 92.

[22] Cem Uzun, “Yedi Düvele Karşı Mücadele”, Fikret Başkaya (ed.) Resmi Tarih Tartışmaları, 2, Özgün Üniversite Kitaplığı İstanbul, 2006,  p. 25.

[23] Cem Başar, ’19 Mayıs: Sözde soykırımı’, 18 May 2006.

[24] Mustafa Balcıoğlu, Belgelerle Millî Mücadele Sırasında Analodoluda Ayaklanmalar ve Merkez Ordusu, YÖK, Ankara, 1991. p. ix.

[25] Ibid., p. 1.

[26] Ibid., p.73, cited document, ATASE Ars., Kls.1879, Ds.9, Fhr 4.78.

[27] Alev Coşkun, ‘Atatürk “Pontus”u anlatıyor’, Cumhuriyet, 18 November 2006.

[28] Officially the organization was established to fight bandits (by which the Turkish historiography refers to resisting Christians).  In reality, Oymak Teşkilâtı, which can be translated as “Carving out Organization”, consisting of civilians, was no more than a band of murderers and bandits themselves.

[29] Balcıoğlu, op. cit., p. 62.

[30] Φωτειάδης, op.cit., s. 209.

[31] Ιωάννη Μ. Αναστασιάδη, Το Τελευταίο Κράτος των Ελλήνων του Πόντου: Μέσα από τα απομνημονεύματα του οπλαρχηγού Μιλτιάδη Αναστασιάδη, Ηρώδιος, Θεσσαλονίκη, 2002, pp. 43 and 49.

[32] Φωτειάδης, op.cit. p. 220.

[33] Rıza Nur, Hayat ve Hatıratım, 3, İşaret yayınları, İstanbul, 1992, p. 164.

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