By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
BERLIN — During World War I it was not only the Armenians who fell victim to genocide under the Young Turk regime; other Christians, Greeks and Syrian Orthodox, Aramaeans, were targeted as well, deported, and massacred. At times, this fact is forgotten, obfuscated, or denied, perhaps in the attempt to highlight the suffering of one group. The historical record shows that, if the perpetrator was one party, the victims were from several communities.
On the weekend of May 19-21, in Berlin and Munich, members of these communities joined to pay tribute to the Pontic Greek victims of the Ottoman genocide. The ecumenical gathering on May 19 in the Bavarian capital, organized by the Association of Pontic Greeks in Munich, in cooperation with groups from other cities, opened with Krunk, (The Crane), sung by Anna Ghazaryan. Prayers followed, offered by Zaven Asa of the Armenian Apostolic Church and Nina Sargon of the Assyrian Church of the East. Archimandrite Georgios Siomos, Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Germany celebrated the service, and German political figures as well as the Greek General Consul Dr. Vassilios Gouloussis spoke.
In the state capital, on May 20-21, the “I Ipsilantides” Association of Pontic Greeks in Berlin joined with the Promotional Society for the Ecumenical Monuments for Genocide Victims of the Ottoman Empire (FÖGG) in a commemoration, which opened at the Hellenic Society and, on Sunday, continued at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Ascension, and the Ecumenical Monuments in the Luisenfriedhof cemetery. Nikolaos Xenidas, chairman of the “I Ipsilantides,” and Parthena Iordanidou, board member of the FÖGG, greeted guests, after which historian Konstantinos Samourkasidis spoke on “The Transformation of Excluded Remembrance of Refugees into Official Commemoration by the Greek State.”
Following prayers for the genocide victims, Sunday’s ceremony began with greetings by FÖGG and “I Ipsilantidis” chairmen, Amill Gorgis and Nikolaos Xenidis, respectively, as well as Greek Orthodox priest Theofilos Sofitsis, and Greek General Consul in Berlin, Ilias A. Klouvatos.
Honoring all Victims
Genocide researcher and sociologist Dr. Tessa Hofmann, in her “Brief Outline of the Genocide against the Pontic Greeks,” made clear both the specific aspects of the Greek experience and the features shared with other victim groups. The persecution of the Greek Orthodox Christians lasted a full decade, from 1912 to 1922, and even earlier, in 1909, repressive economic measures had been imposed, in an attempt to “Islamicize” the Ottoman economy, she said. The approach adopted against the Greeks was similar to that wielded against the Armenians: lists were drawn up of those to be deported, the elites were among the first victims, civilians were sent off, barefoot and ill-equipped, on what were death marches. Harsh weather conditions – freezing temperatures for the Pontic Greeks or blistering summer heat for the Armenians – were instrumental in killing off deportees.
And, as Hofmann showed, the Germans, wartime allies of the Young Turks, knew what was happening, but did not intervene. She cited several reports sent by German diplomats to document this: Josef Maria von Radowitz, Chargé d’affaires at the embassy in Constantinople, wrote in October 1916 that if the Ottoman regime proceeded to deport 38,000 Greeks whose names had been listed, and send them to the interior, that would “take a course similar to that of the Armenian raids.” As early as June 1915, Interior Minister Mehmet Talaat had in fact informed the German embassy in the capital of the intention to exploit the war situation to get rid of “internal enemies.” By the end of January 1917, Imperial Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg could write, “Everything indicates that the Turks want to eliminate the Greeks as enemy of the state, as they did earlier with the Armenians.” He compared the methods adopted, sending them on death marches, then looting the abandoned homes. “What was done to the Armenians is being repeated with the Greeks,” he concluded.
And the extent of the carnage was also comparable. Hofmann reported that the Pontic Greeks suffered 353,000 out of a total population of 500,000; more than one out of two Pontic Greeks died between 1915 and 1923. Indeed, the killing did not end with the war. In 1921, a “fateful year for the Pontic Greeks,” she said, the regime took all male Christians prisoner, then massacred them; priests were crucified, others hanged. She concluded with the somber reflection, “As the fate of the so-called Crypto-Christians shows, it has been impossible to live as a Christian Greek in the Pontos area ever since.”
Following remarks by journalist Micha Brumlik, on “The Expulsion of the Pontic Greeks—a Forgotten Genocide?” a member of the Bundestag (Parliament) from the Social Democratic Party, Takis Mehmet Ali, addressed “Remembering in the Future – Memory Culture in Times of Upheaval.” The SPD lawmaker, of Greek heritage, is engaged in an initiative on the centenary of the Lausanne Treaty, and efforts toward recognition of the Greek genocide.