Motion to Call Upon the Government to Recognize the Genocide of the Pontic Greeks and Designate May 19th as a Day of RemembrancePublished on 7 February 2017 Hansard and Statements by Senator Pana Merchant (retired)
Hon. Pana Merchant:
Honourable senators, 353,000 Pontian Greeks were reported killed in systematic massacres, persecutions and death marches between 1916 and 1923. Together, the Armenian, Assyrian, and Pontian genocide constituted the first massive genocide of the 20th century.
The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913 resulted in the sudden yielding of Turkish-dominated European territories.
The Ottomans implemented a program of deliberate and systematic expulsions and forcible migrations, focusing on Greeks of the Pontian region — that is, the Constantinople, Istanbul and Black Sea area, down the coast of Asia Minor; what is today Turkey — and Anatolia, with special organization units referred to as the Young Turks.
These units attacked Greek villages and intimidated its Greek inhabitants to abandon their ancestral homeland, to be replaced by Muslims.
The Greek presence in the Pontus region has been dated to at least the time of Homer, around 800 BC.
The geographer Strabo, born in 63 BC, referred to the city of Smyrna, today’s Izmir, as the first Greek city in Asia Minor.
As a consequence of the policy of “Turkey for Turks,” 3 million Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks were murdered, or were victims of the “white death,” a term used to describe all deaths that resulted from lack of food, disease and exposure to the elements during deportations and death marches. The massive murders were followed by destruction of monuments, churches and homes, and the renaming of regions.
Before the creation of the word “genocide,” the destruction of the Greeks was known as “the Massacre,” “the Great Catastrophe” or “the Great Tragedy.”
The term “genocide,” from the Greek word genos, which means race, tribe, family, and the Latin word cida, to kill, was coined at the time of the Holocaust by Professor Raphael Lemkin of Duke University, a Polish lawyer of Jewish descent whose work became the base of the terminology the United Nations used in 1948 to make the Convention on the Prosecution and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
In his writings on genocide, Lemkin is known to have detailed the fate of the Greeks and Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire, their historic homeland, where their ancestors had lived for thousands of years before the Turkish invasions.
The New York Times of August 1946 informed:
The massacres of Greeks and Armenians by the Turks prompted diplomatic action without punishment. If Professor Lemkin has his way genocide will be established as an international crime.
Article II of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide reads:
. . . any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Not one, but every one of these acts applies to the wrongs committed against the Pontian Greeks.
The Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights at Rutgers University provides the following overview:
They began singling out all able-bodied Greek men, forcibly conscripting them into labor battalions which performed slave labor for the Turkish . . . society. Greek villages were brutally plundered and terrorized under the pretext of internal security. Indeed, as with the Armenians, the Greeks were generally accused as a disloyal and traitorous “fifth- column,” and eventually most of the population was rounded up and forcibly deported to the interior.
Honourable senators, when the First World War broke out, Asia Minor was ethnically very diverse, and large Armenian, Greek and Syrian populations settled there. This led some Turks to believe that, in order to establish a modern nation-state, the ethnic groups that could threaten the integrity of a future modern Turkish state had to be eliminated.
For their part, the Pontian Greeks had managed to resist for many centuries the overwhelming pressure to convert to Islam. They had thus been able to keep alive their traditions, which were deeply rooted in religion, as well as their distinctive culture and language.
Professor Andre Gerolymatos, from the Centre for Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University, provides the following:
During the First World War, the Ottoman government, embarked on a course of reprehensible acts that led to the genocide of the Armenian and Pontic Greek Orthodox, conducted sadistically, to instill terror in the minds of the surviving minorities in the Ottoman Empire.
The genocide included: mass rape, wonton destruction, torture for the sake of torture, regardless of gender and age; children raped, often in front of their parents, before the entire family was put to death.
IAGS, the International Association of Genocide Scholars, voted overwhelmingly in 2007 for a resolution officially recognizing the Armenian genocide and “. . . qualitatively similar genocides against other Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire,” including Pontian Greeks in the years between 1914 and 1923; and released supporting documentation detailing why they determined these actions constituted “genocide.” IAGS President Gregory Stanton stated:
This resolution is one more repudiation by the world’s leading genocide scholars of the Turkish government’s ninety year denial of the Ottoman Empire’s genocides against its Christian populations, including Assyrians, Greeks, and Armenians. The history of these genocides is clear, and there is no more excuse for the current Turkish government, which did not itself commit the crimes, to deny the facts. The current German government has forthrightly acknowledged the facts of the Holocaust. The Turkish government should learn from the German government’s exemplary acknowledgment of Germany’s past, so that Turkey can move forward to reconciliation with its neighbours.
It was a Canadian, IAGS member Adam Jones, who drafted the resolution. In a speech delivered to members of that association during their conference in Sarajevo in July 2007, Mr. Jones paid tribute to the efforts of representatives of the Greek and Assyrian communities, efforts that sought to draw public attention to the genocides inflicted on their respective populations and to call on the current Turkish government to recognize those genocides.
Mr. Jones said that although the work of activists and scholars resulted in the widespread acceptance of the Armenian genocide, qualitatively similar genocides against other Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire were given very little recognition. The per capita killing of Assyrians and Pontian Greeks was equivalent in scale to the massacre of the Armenian population of the empire and involved much the same methods, including mass executions, death marches and starvation.
According to Mr. Jones:
The overwhelming backing given to this resolution by the world’s leading genocide scholars organization will help to raise consciousness about the Assyrian and Greek genocides. It will also act as a powerful counter to those, especially in present-day Turkey, who still ignore or deny outright the genocides of the Ottoman Christian minorities.
The IAGS resolution decreed that “denial . . . is widely recognized as the final stage of genocide, enshrining impunity for the perpetrators . . . and demonstrably paving the way for future genocides.”
Diplomatic records and historical documents, such as those from German, Austrian and American consuls, the American ambassador to Turkey, the British Foreign Office, the Turkish Prime Minister, the Minister of the Interior of the Prefect of Smyrna, the Austrian Chancellor Hollweg, all unequivocally confirm and corroborate that what took place was a systematic and deliberate extermination of the Pontic Hellenic population.
Terrorism, labour battalions, exiles, forced marches, rapes, hangings, fires and murders were planned, directed and executed by Turkish authorities.
Colleagues, contemporary witness accounts of deliberate and systematic Greek deportations and murders mandate action.
George Horton, U.S. Consul General in the Near East, wrote:
. . . from the Black Sea thousands fell by the wayside from exhaustion . . . walking for the three days journey through the snow and mud of the winter weather . . . . Others came in groups of fifty, one hundred and five hundred, always under escort of Turkish gendarmes. . . . a treatment more radical than a straight massacre such as the Armenians had suffered before.
The American Ambassador to Turkey from 1913 to 1916, Henry Morganthau, who named the slaughter “murdering races” wrote:
The Armenians are not the only subject people in Turkey which have suffered from this policy of making Turkey exclusively the country of the Turks. . . . Indeed the Greeks were the first victims . . . .
A March 20, 1922, memorandum by George William Rendel of the British Foreign Office reads of “serious persecutions . . . affecting 30,000 Christians . . . but the worst atrocities undoubtedly took place in the Pontic region against the Greek population of the coastal towns.”
A quote from Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder and first President of the Republic of Turkey, in the Los Angeles Examiner of August 1, 1926, reads:
Those . . . left over from the former Young Turkish Party . . . should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven, en masse, from their homes and massacred . . . .
Honourable senators, a word that ignores the tragedies of the past is doomed to repeat them. It is important to recognize and remember this tragic chapter in our shared world history.
In reference to the Holocaust, Adolf Hitler queried: “Who, after all, speaks today of the . . . Armenians?”
The world chose to ignore the genocide of Armenians and Pontians, and as a result we had to confront the Nazi Holocaust of European Jews. We ignored Rwanda and now have to deal with small genocides implemented by ISIS.
In April 2015, on the anniversary of the Armenian genocide, the Austrian government issued a statement recognizing “the victims of violence, murder and expulsion, including tens of thousands of other Christian communities in the Ottoman Empire, including Syrians, Assyrians, Chaldeans and Pontic Greeks.”
Could I have five more minutes, please?
The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
Senator Merchant: Thank you, colleagues.
Some days later, the Vienna City Council issued a resolution recognizing the “victims of violence, slaughter and deportation, as well as the tens of thousands of Ottoman nationals of other groups of Christian peoples, including the Arameans, Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Pontic Greeks.”
The Swedish, Dutch and Armenian governments have also had the courage to acknowledge and recognize the Greek Pontian genocide. Many state governments have passed motions recognizing the killing of Pontic Greeks during this period as a genocide: Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and South Carolina; and in Australia, New South Wales and South Australia. In Canada, the cities of Ottawa and Toronto have proclaimed May 19 as Greek Pontian Genocide Remembrance Day.
In September 1922, Turkish forces entered the ancient Greek city of Smyrna, instigating a massive anti-Greek pogrom. On September 13, a fire mysteriously broke out amidst the chaos, spreading without government control over the next two weeks. The Smyrna catastrophe took the lives is somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 Greeks and marked the symbolic end of the Greek genocide.
Honourable senators, there are 600,000 Canadians of Greek ancestry living in Canada. Many, like me, are the descendants of the survivors of the Pontian Greek genocide. Governance is not personal but is typical of all the wronged.
My own father, a six-year-old living in the Smyrna region, the ancient Greek city in Asia Minor, saw his family ruthlessly up rooted in the panic of the Smyrna inferno. The family became separated. He, along with his mother and two young sisters, managed to board a vessel to become refugees. A third young daughter strayed and disappeared in the sea of human horror. She was never found.
Had she managed to escape? Had she drowned? Was she left behind?
Colleagues, remembrance matters; recognition matters. The ghosts of those who suffered and perished have the right to closure and condemnation of these wrongs. I respectfully seek your support to join other nations and legislatively recognize and acknowledge this genocide and crime against humanity.