Friday, May 19, 2017

AECA Annual Meeting and Dinner

Book Review: The Genocide of the Pontian Greeks

The Genocide of the Pontian Greeks is not a well-known fact in the non-Hellenic world. In many respects it is considered as part of the Armenian Genocide. However, it is a different genocide, one which was done by the Ottoman towards the Greek minority within the Empire (1908-1922). Only a small bibliography of this theme exists in English, limiting the accessibility of this fact to the wider audience. Nevertheless, Konstantinos Emm. Fotiadis had his book translated into English, entitled: ‘The Genocide of the Pontian Greeks.’
It is a large book with details of the Genocide, which have not been published before, using sources from a number of countries, embassies, archives newspapers etc. The author begins this book by giving a brief history of the Black Sea Greeks. The historical narration then leads to the Genocide of the Pontian Greeks, explaining the cultural, linguistic, historical, political and religious reasons for the genocides of both the Armenians and the Greeks within Turkey.

One interesting fact which is evident in this book and through the sources used, is that the Ottomans were not alone in the genocidal acts towards the minorities of the Empire. A great ally towards the aggressors were the Germans, who gave ideas to the Turks and worked with them in order to achieve their objectives. In many ways the Genocides of the Armenians and Greeks by the Ottomans can be understood as the first holocaust of the 20th century, before the larger holocaust of the Jews by the Nazis. In both cases we have work and death camps, movement of people, mass killings, properties being seized, women being raped and general eradication of whole populations. However, Germany was not the only foreign power that supported and assisted the Ottomans during this time. As expressed in this book, ‘the Soviet Union must bear a share of guilt for the genocide of the Pontian Greeks. This is clearly indicated by hundreds of Soviet and Kemalist documents, some of which describe the desperate situation in Asia Minor.’ (p.512).
Ataturk is understood in this book as a mass killer, altering the mainstream Turkish idea of him being a hero. The author explains: ‘this murderer of entire peoples, who attempted through ethnic cleansing to transform a multi-ethnic empire into a mono-ethnic, autocratic state, has been glorified.’ (p. 362). According to French historial, E. Driault, ‘the Asia Minor tragedy was more significant and fateful than the fall of Constantinople in 1453 for any dream for the reestablishment of the Byzantine Empire was buried forever in the ruins of the civilization created by the honest, hard-working and progressive Greeks of Asia Minor.’ (p.542).
If I am permitted to be critical towards this book’s English edition, I would say that the publishers and translators will have to revisit some grammatical and linguistic mistakes, which are minimal, but yet again exist and show the fact that this is a translation.  

This is a moving account of atrocious events, whose effects are evident even today, especially for those who survived the Genocide and who had to leave their homes and move to Greece, Russia, Georgia, the Black Sea in general and the West. We can only hope that books like this will persuade governments to recognise the Pontian Greek Genocide and push Turkey to alter its belief of denouncing past atrocities it did, not only towards the Greeks, but also on other minorities, like the Armenians. Furthermore, we need to learn of these past dark pages of human history to try and prevent them from happening again.