Βy the beginning of the 20th century, the Ottoman government seriously feared losing its power over Pontus, as it had already happened with Greece, Serbia, and Bulgaria. This was aggravated by the fact that a substantial percentage of the Pontian population in Turkey consisted of highly educated intellectuals and successful businessmen, who occupied a prominent position in society and exerted considerable influence upon the Ottoman economy. Therefore "drastic measures" of extermination of the Greek element had been planned by the Turkish government long ago – and were put into practice after 1908, when the party of "Young Turks" came into power and advanced the slogan of "Turkey for the Turks". In September 1911, the participants of the Young Turks conference in Thessalonica openly discussed the issue of extermination of the ethnic minorities (especially Christians) in Turkey, the most important of which were Greeks and Armenians.
"The Turks have decided upon a war of extermination against their Christian subjects."
German Ambassador Wangenheim to German Chancellor von Bulow, quoting Turkish Prime Minister Sefker Pasha, July 24, 1909.
The martyrdom of the Pontian people began in 1914, when Turkey entered the World War I as an ally of Germany. Under the pretext of being "politically unreliable", a great number of Pontian men from 18 to 50 years old were convoyed to the so-called "labour battalions" ("amele taburu") far inland. These 'battalions" were in fact concentration camps, where people were forced to work under inhuman conditions, almost without food, water or medical care. For a slightest fault, any worker could be shot dead by the guards. The "amele taburu" became a common grave for thousands of Pontians, as well as men of other Christian minorities.
But, contrary to the expectations of the Young Turks, the repressions did not break the spirit of the Pontians – on the contrary, they prompted the Pontian patriots to drastic actions. Many men of Pontus left their homes and formed guerilla troops in the mountains, while among the Pontian intellectuals of the Caucasus (which at that time belonged almost entirely to Russia) the decision to establish an independent Pontian Republic finally matured. The chief inspirers of this idea were Constantine Constantinides from Marseille, Vassilios Ioannides and Theophylaktos Theophylaktou from Batumi, Ioannis Pasalides from Sukhumi, Leonidas Iasonides and Philon Ktenides from Ekaterinodar (modern Krasnodar), as well as Bishop Chrysanthos Philippides of Trebizond and Bishop Germanos Karavangelis of Amaseia.
Besides the guerilla troops, Pontians also hoped to get help from the Russian Empire, which was engaged into operations against Turkey as a German ally.
In 1916, Russian army entered Trebizond. A few days earlier, the Turkish governor Mehmet Djemal Azmi officially handed the city over to Bishop Chrysanthos, with the following words: "Once we took Trebizond from the Greeks, and now we are giving it back". When Russian troops approached the city, they were welcomed by the Bishop himself and other inhabitants of Trebizond, who carried flowers. Everyone thought that the centuries-old Pontian dreams of freedom were finally coming true.
But the extremely difficult situation at the Austrian-German front hindered the Russians from advancing inland, while the Greek guerillas did not yet possess enough forces and weapons for independent struggle. Therefore, while the Russian troops lied in the Trebizond region, the Young Turks government cruelly dealt with the inhabitants of the Pontian territories that still remained under the Turkish control: the Pontians were now officially declared "traitors" and "Russian accomplices". According to the government plan, all the urban male population of Pontus should be put to death, and the rest should be deported inland. This plan was put into practice immediately. Here is just a little example of the vast documentary evidence of that time:
"...the entire Greek population of Sinope and the coastal region of the county of Kastanome has been exiled. Exile and extermination in Turkish are the same, for whoever is not murdered, will die from hunger or illness."
"On 26 November, Rafet Bey told me: 'We must finish off the Greeks as we did with the Armenians'...On 28 November, Rafet Bey told me: 'Today, I sent squads to the interior to kill every Greek on sight.' I fear for the elimination of the entire Greek population and a repeat of what occurred last year." (referring to the Armenian Genocide)
"Consuls Bergfeld in Samsun and Schede in Kerasun report of displacement of local population and murders. Prisoners are not kept. Villages reduced to ashes. Greek refugee families consisting mostly of women and children being marched from the coasts to Sebasteia. The need is great."
Pontian Greeks – women, children, and elderly people – were evicted from their houses in 24 hours, not being allowed to take with them almost anything of their property, and in long columns, under armed convoy, were marched far inland. The deserted villages were plundered and burnt – often before the very eyes of the evicted. On the deportation march, people were treated with utmost cruelty: they did not receive almost any food, were forced to march forward for hours and days on end without rest over the wilderness, under the rain and the snow, so that many of them, unable to endure the hardships, dropped dead from exhaustion and illnesses. The convoy men raped women and young girls, shot people for a slightest reason, and sometimes without a reason at all. Most of the deported died on the way; but even those who survived the deportation march, found themselves in a no better situation – the places of destination turned out to be real "white death" camps. In one of such places, the village of Pirk, the deported inhabitants of the city of Tripoli were kept. According to the reports of the survivals, out of 13.000 Pontians who had been sent to Pirk, only 800 survived.
In 1917, the October revolution took place in Russia, and power was seized by the Bolsheviks. Immediately after the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Russian troops left Trebizond, abandoning its people to the mercy of fate. The Turkish army and the "chet" (criminal gangs, unofficially encouraged by the Turkish government) poured into the city and the surrounding villages, robbing and killing. To escape death, many Pontian families of eastern Pontus fled to the Caucasus.
But the struggle for independence, once started, could not be stopped. On the Russian territory, in the city of Rostov, the local Pontian activists formed the Central Pontian Committee; people were donating money and weapons for the struggle, while Constantine Constantinides was sending proclamations from Marseille to the inhabitants of Pontus and the leaders of the European states.
In the meantime, the guerrilla resistance movement in the mountains of Pontus gathered force. The regions of Pafra, Sanda, and Ordu became the main centres of the struggle; soon guerrilla troops appeared in Trebizond and Kars, too. The Pontian palikare (warriors) of the Resistance fought bravely: they deeds became legends. The success of the movement was also favoured by the fact that the troops were headed by leaders of great experience and talent, such as Vassil-aga (Vassilios Anthopoulos), Anton Chaushides, Stylianos Kosmides, Euclid Kurtides, Pandel-aga (Panteleimon Anastasiades), and many others. In the past, some of them had served as officers in the Russian Caucasian army, and had taken part in many battles; for example, Vassil-aga had received a gilded sword from Tsar Nicholas II for his courage. As a leader of Pontian guerrilla troops, Vassil-aga became so famous for his valour and military talent, that often his name alone was enough to put a Turkish detachment to flight.
In 1919, only a year after the end of the World War I, the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922 began. The Greek advance in Asia Minor gave rise to the next stage of extermination of the Pontians– de facto all of them were outlawed. All the fury of the Turks fell upon those who could not put up a resistance: the civilian population of Pontian cities and villages. Unprecedented atrocities – robberies, murders, rapes – started throughout Pontus.
Whole Greek families were shut in churches and schools and burnt alive – for example, in the city of Pafra 6.000 (six thousand) people, mostly women and children, were destroyed in this way. Out of those inhabitants of Pafra who escaped the death in fire, about 90% (22.000) were slaughtered; all women and even little girls were raped by Turkish soldiers before being killed, while babies were disposed of by crushing their heads against walls. In the city of Amaseia and the neighbouring villages, 134.000 Pontians out of 180.000 were slaughtered; in the city of Mertzifunda, all the inhabitants were killed to a man; in Tripoli, Kerasounda, Ordu and many other places almost the entire male population was destroyed... And these facts are but a small part of what was happening throughout Pontus at that time.
The mass deportations continued now on a larger scale and with greater cruelty. Here is, for example, the testimony of Maria Katsidou-Simeonidou, one of the few survivals of those terrible times:
"I was born in Mourasoul village, Sevasteia/Sivas district, on August 15 1914. I remember the deportations well. In 1918, I was about four years old, when one day I saw my father in the village square. I ran to him and asked him for the pie he brought me every day from the family-owned mill. He replied: "O my child. The Turks are going to kill me and you will not see me again." He told me to tell my mother to prepare his clothes and some food for him. That was the last time we saw him. They killed him along with another ten men.
I remember another time when a Turk warned our village, saying that all the young men should leave. This because the next day, Topal Osman would be coming. Indeed, those that left, were saved. They still killed fifteen men, including the teacher, the village president and the priest. Topal Osman had caught three hundred and fifty men from neighbouring villages. He had them bound, murdered and thrown into the river that ran through our village. I still remember the echo of the shots. They were hauling the bodies by ox-cart for nine days to bury them. Most of them were unrecognizable, as their heads had been cut off.
In 1920, around Easter, the Turkish Army came and told us to take with us everything we could. We loaded up the animals, but the saddle-bags tore open and most of us were left without food. On the deportation march, the Turkish guards would rape the women; one of whom fell pregnant. In the Teloukta area, about half our group was lost in a snow storm. From there, they took us to a place without water, Sous-Yiazousou; many died of thirst. Soon afterwards, as we passed a river, all of us threw ourselves at the water; people fell over each other in the rush; many drowned. We reached Phiratrima, which was a Kurdish area and they left us at a village near a bridge. It was here that the pregnant girl gave birth, to twins. The Turks cut the newborns in two and tossed them in the river. On the riverbank, they killed many more of the group..."
The Pontians of the Caucasus, who had access to the means of communication, were calling to the leaders of the European states for help. But Greece was preoccupied by political wrangles, as well as by the failures on the Anatolian front; Great Britain occupied a "neutral" (de facto anti-Greek) position, while the rest of the "great powers" openly opposed the interests of the Pontian people. The only hope of the civilian population of Pontus was now the guerilla Resistance. The guerillas were still fighting heroically, but even they, having been left completely without support and lacking even the possibility to supply weapons (while the Turkish army of Kemal constantly received money and weapons from the Bolsheviks), could not change the course of the war. It was practically impossible to defend the independence of Pontus at the time when its inhabitants were facing the danger of total extermination. The chief goal of the guerillas was now to save their people from death: they fought against the Turkish army for the life of Pontian Christians and conveyed the refugees outside Pontus. Over 135.00 Pontians who found refuge in Caucasus and over 400.000 evacuated to Greece owe their lives to this heroic resistance of the guerillas.
On 24 July 1923, a year after the defeat of Greece in the war, a peace treaty was signed between Turkey and Greece, which included the convention for the exchange of populations. In accordance with this convention, the remaining Greek population of Pontus was deported to Greece.
This eviction from their homeland did not affect only the Muslim Greeks of Oflu, who were considered "co-religionists" by the Turks and therefore escaped persecutions, as well as those few families who managed to pass themselves off as "Turks" (in those times, Turkey did not yet have a developed system of personal identification, as in Europe, and therefore such things were sometimes possible) – but these people had to lead a double existence of "Crypto-Greeks" ever since, finding themselves in an even more difficult position than other Crypto-Christians. On the whole, according to the estimations of contemporary official sources and modern historians, about 350.000 Pontians were slaughtered by the Turks between 1914 and 1923. The survivals were expelled from their homeland and live in exile to this day.
Nowadays, compact groups of Pontians live at the Caucasus (Southern Russia, Georgia, Armenia) and northern Greece (the provinces of Macedonia and Western Thrace). A considerably large Pontian diaspora exists in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Germany, Australia, Canada, and USA; Pontian communities can be found in many other countries around the world.
In Pontus itself, according to Turkish sources, about 300.00 Muslim Greeks live today; approximately 75.000 of them still retain Pontian language and customs (as had been mentioned above, many of these people are Crypto-Christians). One can say with certainty that "Crypto-Greeks" also exist in Turkey, although their numbers, for evident reasons, cannot be estimated. Thus, the total number of indigenous population of Pontus still living on the territory of Turkey approaches several hundreds of thousands of people.
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