|©2009 Pontian Association of Montreal, "Efxinos Pontos" - Σύλλογος Ποντίων Μοντρεάλ, "Έυξεινος Πόντος".
©1999-2009 Lefter. All Rights Reserved.
|The Pontian Question as of 2008
By Theoharis Kekis
|When a people, a nation, ignores or fails to respect its history, then history avenges itself on it. And upon us, the Pontians,
our history has avenged itself.
Michalis Charalambidis, The Pontian Question in the United Nations, p. 73
In Athens, half the mind is Kemalist and the other half is European; it is national mind that does not exist.
Michalis Charalambidis, The Pontian Question in the United Nations, p. 169
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Following a brief history of the Pontian Question will be some information on its current status, taking into account some relatively recent events
along with some personal experiences from my trip earlier this year (2008) to Turkey including the Pontos region, and finally, some suggestions
for further improvement of the situation.
The Pontians are an ancient Greek people who can be traced back to the mid-eighth century B.C. Xenophon mentions their initial settlements
between Trapezous and Sinope, before the emergence of the Mithridatid Dynasty and Pontian Kingdom controlling the North coast of Asia Minor.
Philosophers and historians such as Diogenes, Diodorus, and Strabon make part of the past of this region. The influence of this power in the
region and over the Euxinos Pontos, its contribution to the trade, culture, and civilization during the Hellenistic and Roman (“Byzantine”) periods
are well attested. The Ottoman conquest of the mid-fifteenth century threatened their influence, unity, and living conditions. They were subjected to
forceful islamization in the 17th century, during which many became crypto-Christians.
The first mass exoduses of the Pontians coincide with the Ottoman-Russian wars of 1828-29, 1853-56, 1877-78. Thousands of refugees fled
to North Caucasus and Georgia. The number of Pontians in the beginning of the twentieth century may be estimated at about 750,000. From 1916
to 1923, approximately 50 per cent, or 350,000 Pontians, were liquidated during the Pontian Genocide by the crypto-Jewish Young Turk
movement. The population which survived was again driven into exodus. Thousands sought refuge in countries such as France and USA.
190,000 of the survivors arrived in Greece before 1923. The 1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey did not include the Pontians
still alive in the region, most of whom had been forcibly converted to Islam. About 200,000 fled from 1916 to 1923 to the Caucasus, mostly to
Georgia and Russia. During the Stalin period, in 1937 mass displacements to Siberia took place; later from 1945 to 1949 most of the Pontians
were displaced to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Siberia. In 1990-96, about 180,000 Pontians, mostly descendants of
those who fled from their homeland, could leave Russia, Kazakhstan, and Georgia, and arrived as refugees to Greece. Today, an estimated 1
million Pontians live on the northern and eastern shores of Euxinos Pontos, Crimea, Azofic Sea, Caucasus, and Georgia; 800-900 thousand in
Europe, the USA, and Australia; and 1.5 million in Greece. A great number of isalmized Pontians live in the historic Pontos, in Constantinople,
and in other metropolitan areas; 1 million of these speak the Pontian dialect.
Even though the islamized Pontians were for decades deprived of the right to communicate with the Pontians of Greece and of the countries of
the ex-Soviet Union, and even though they suffered for decades systematic policies of disarticulation of their communities, they continue to insist
on their particular Pontian identity, the sense of which has been increasing in the last decades and is being coupled with intellectual and cultural
enhancing. However, even careful attempts of the new Pontian intellectuals to express the history or cultural identity of this people, are facing
harsh measures by the Turkish authorities. Many of them are threatened, even with death. This repression is accompanied by pseudo-scientific
attempts by Turkish propagandists and so-called professors to distort the 3000 year old rich history of this people and of this area. The official
discourse claims that this historic people is of Turkish descent. Also, Pontians who keep contacts with Pontians in Greece are threatened, and
Pontian travelers from Greece during their visits to Pontos are subjected to strict control and surveillance by the Turkish authorities.
Many Pontian communities have preserved intact their Pontian language, which is known to be the closest to Ancient Greek. This language is
illegal today in Pontos and Turkey. There is no school where Pontians can learn their language; it is learned and passed on within the family.
Pontian children are forced to learn Turkish in school. It is reported that in elementary schools there exists a network of student-informers who
denounce to their teachers Pontian pupils speaking between themselves in their own language. In high schools, the task of terrorization is
devoted to racist and fascist groups such as the “Grey Wolves”. Pontian students are excluded from university and higher studies. Pontians who
try to express their Pontian conscience and culture through periodicals run a risk of being sentenced to jail.
Two relatively recent examples of this repression of freedom of expression involve two Turkish Pontians, namely Ömer Asan and Vahit Tursun.
In 2002 Ömer Asan, originally from Trapezous, was persecuted by the Turkish authorities for writing the book Pontos Kültürü or Pontian Culture
(http://www.omerasan.com/eng/home.html). Vahit Tursun now lives in Greece and is unable to return to Turkey because he has been accused by
the state for the crime of painfully and carefully supporting and preserving the Pontian language of his town of Ocena, near Trapezous (http://www.
Initially the Greek state denied the Pontians the right to their historical memory by seeking systematically and intentionally to conceal the events
of the Pontian Genocide and to minimize the culpability of all parties involved. Thus the only expressions of its existence became limited to dance,
song, music, and laography, which alone could not ensure continuation of Pontian existence and identity. Some reasons for the lack of reaction to
the genocide by Greece and the international community are as follows: the theory of misinterpreted version of history regarding the exchange of
populations in which the arrival of Pontian refugees to Greece is viewed as “repatriation”; the unethical pact of 1921 between the Bolsheviks and
the Kemalists based on which Kemalism was considered a liberation movement, which has in the past and still influences the Greek left; Greece’
s membership in NATO in 1952 and the domination of the NATO doctrine on the integrity of Turkey; the victims themselves, namely the Pontian
Greeks, have confronted the issue by trying to find a cultural and folkloristic answer to their problem rather than a political one; the Pontian
Genocide was overshadowed by the larger Armenian Genocide; there was no reference or mention to the genocide in the Treaty of Lausanne,
which sealed the end of the Asia Minor Catastrophe; the Greco-Turkish treaty of friendship of 1930 supposedly settled all open issues between
Greece and Turkey; the Second World War, the Civil War, the political turmoil in Greece that followed forced Greece to focus on its survival and
other problems rather than seek recognition of the genocide.
Fortunately the situation has now somewhat changed. Through the hard work of activists, authors, some politicians, historians, etc., recognition
of the genocide is gaining ground. In 1994, thanks to an initiative centered largely around PASOK deputy Michalis Charalambidis, Greece and
Cyprus officially acknowledged the Pontian Genocide, designating 19 May as the day of commemoration. In 1998 Greece recognized the
genocide of Asia Minor Greeks as a whole and designated 14 September as the day of commemoration. Several states within the USA have
officially recognized the Pontian Genocide, such as New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida (see resolutions here:
http://www.notevenmyname.com/8.html), Massachusetts, and Illinois. Armenia has referred to the “Greek Genocide” in a report to the council of
Europe, and in 2004 held an event commemorating the Pontian Genocide. In Australia in 2006 the issue has been raised in the Parliament of
Victoria by Minister of Justice Jenny Mikakos. In 2006 Stephen Pound, a member of the British house of Commons, recognized the Greek,
Armenian, and Assyrian genocides. In Serbia in 1998 an event commemorating the Pontian Greek victims of the Greek Genocide was held in the
Chapel of the Belgrade Theology School. In Germany, organizations such as Verein der Völkermordgegner e.V (i.e. "Union against Genocide") or
the initiative Mit einer Stimme sprechen (i.e. "Speaking with One Voice") aim at the official recognition of the genocide of Christian minorities in the
late Ottoman Empire. On 19 May 2007, the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) issued a press release stating that the organization
"joins with Pontian Greeks - and all Hellenes around the world - in commemorating 19 May, the international day of remembrance for the
genocide initiated by the Ottoman Empire and continued by Kemalist Turkey against the historic Greek population of Pontus" and reaffirms its
"determination to work together with all the victims of Turkey's atrocities to secure full recognition and justice for these crimes". In 2007 the
International Organization of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) passed a resolution affirming the Pontian, Armenian, and Assyrian genocides (http:
2008 Trip to Turkey and Pontos
I arrived in Constantinople in August and proceeded to the holy sites for veneration. As is well known, the Church of Agia Sophia has been
blasphemed by the Ottomans by its conversion into a mosque, and by the crypto-Jew Kemal Ataturk (http://www.atajew.com/) by its conversion
into a museum. The Free Agia Sophia movement aims at restoring Agia Sophia into a Genuine Orthodox Church: http://www.freeagiasophia.org/.
Other blasphemies which exist within Agia Sophia are the defacement of most of the Orthodox symbols, which have been replaced by Moslem
ones (Figures 1 and 2), at least one portrait of the Hitler to the Pontians, Kemal, located in the narthex (and in practically every building in Turkey),
and last but not least, the presence of the tomb of Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice, who sacked Constantinople during the 4th crusade (Figure 3).
Live Mondays on
9pm Montreal time
|Figure 1. Partial
defacement of Cross;
replaced with circular
|Figure 2. Partial
defacement of icon of
Panagia, Christ, and
Figure 3. Tomb of Enrico Dandolo, Doge of Venice, who sacked
the city of Constantinople in the 4th crusade in 1204; located on
the second level of the southern section of the Church
Unfortunately I was ripped off on a bus ticket to Trapezous by a tourist office agent in the airport. Whether this is a common occurrence or because I
am Greek I do not know. Anyhow, the Bulgarian Turk who ripped me off got in a car accident on the way to the bus terminal. In Trapezous I witnessed
another blasphemy against the Agia Sophia Church there, which has also been turned into a museum, and many of whose icons have been
sacrilegiously violated (Figure 4). Next I went to a mountainous village in Matsouka called Livera. This region was certainly inhabited by crypto-
Christians. I passed a gate with symbols of the Cross along its periphery (Figure 5). Outside the mayor’s office was a small shrine which contained
a candle and Cross (Figure 6). Inside the mayor’s office there were many books in Turkish, as well as an entire bookcase of books in Greek (Figure
7), with topics ranging from the lives of Pontian saints (Figure 8) to Pontian history including the genocide to the Pontian dialect among others.
Another bookcase contained a small flag of Greece, a Bible, and last but not least, a Holy Panagia Soumeliotissa icon (Figure 9). However, evidently
out of fear of persecution by the terrorist Turkish state, these obviously Pontian crypto-Christians claimed to be “Turkish” and did not come out and
say they were Christians. As I was leaving, a villager pointed to a mosque (Figure 10) and exclaimed “that used to be St. George’s Church”. Over the
years, the Turks have either destroyed churches or converted them into mosques (and now even “museums”). Christians have not been allowed to
build new churches, except upon the ruins of older churches (I question whether even this policy is currently in effect). Next I visited the famous
Panagia Soumela Monastery (Figure 11). This monastery, which once housed the Panagia Soumeliotissa icon which was painted by Apostle Luke
himself, is high up in the mountains in the midst of clouds. It is regularly frequented by crypto-Christians, especially in August for the Dormition feast.
It was a
functioning monastery as late as the early 20th century, but was finally abandoned during Kemalist times. Now it serves as nothing more than a
In August two festivals are held in Turkey. The first is held in Chaykara on 19 August commemorating the Transfiguration of the Lord according to the
Julian (“Old”) Calendar. The second is held in the Panagia Soumela Monastery on 28 August commemorating the Dormition of the Theotokos, also
according to the Julian Calendar. It’s interesting to note that the persecuted crypto-Christians have managed to retain the canonical Julian calendar,
while most “free”, “Orthodox” Greeks of Greece and the diaspora have apostasized from tradition and currently use the condemned Papist Gregorian
Back in Trapezous I had dinner at a restaurant owned by – of all people – a “Turkish” Pontian who fluently spoke the Pontian dialect. Unfortunately,
he was also a victim of the repressive nature in Turkey and insisted that he was “Turkish” and that his parents merely spoke Pontian and he learned
it from them. Next I went to Caesaria in Cappadocia to venerate the ancient cave churches (Figure 12). Many Orthodox luminaries such as St. Basil
the Great hailed from this area. Its Orthodox activity dates back to the dawn of Christianity. Of course now it is nothing more than a tourist attraction.
But it was a very edifying experience to see the ancient iconography, and to witness a Turkish Christian singing a Christian song in the altar of a cave
church (Figure 13). Not so edifying was hearing a Turkish tour guide lying to his patrons by telling them that various Orthodox saints depicted on the
walls were “Turkish”. Fortunately they were smart enough to see through his lies and told him so.
Next I went to Mersin and met up with an islamized Pontian kemenche (lyra) player. He knew all of the melodies of the traditional Pontian songs. I
accompanied him to his cousin’s circumcision party (Figure 14), during which I witnessed various Turkish music and dancing (Figure 15), which
bore a striking resemblance to that of the Pontian. Instruments used were the kemenche, daouli, and zourna (Figures 16 and 17). It appears that the
Turks are allowed to maintain the Pontian music and dance, but not the Pontian language. I was not able to find in any stores Pontian music with
Pontian lyrics, but rather only with Turkish lyrics. I was told that a young Pontian musician recently got in trouble with the authorities for releasing a cd
with Pontian lyrics.
In the above account, we see the recurring themes of repression of the Pontian language, culture, and Orthodox faith, and the desecration of
Orthodox churches, monasteries, and holy sites. Seeing that the Pontians could not be obliterated by physical genocide, the Turks have now
resorted to the more sinister cultural genocide. And since language and faith are two of the chief characteristics that define a people, it makes sense
that these are their main targets. But, as history has proven, thanks to the resilience of this ancient Pontian people, bearers of the Greek language
which God has deigned to have much of the New Testament written in, and bearers, albeit secretly, of the Genuine Orthodox faith, the only true faith
revealed by God to man, and bearers of the apothegm Η Ρωμανία κι’ αν επέρασεν, ανθεί και φέρει κι’ άλλο (Though ΡΩΜΑΝΙΑ has passed, it blooms
and brings forth more), and by God’s grace, this people shall never die.
Figure 4. Agia Sophia
Church in Trapezous; has
been blasphemed by
having been converted into
a museum and having had
many of its icons defaced
Figure 5. Gate with symbol
of the Cross along
Figure 6. Shrine with
candle and Cross
|Figure 7. Bookcase
of Greek books
|Figure 8. 12 volume lives
of Pontian Saints
|Figure 9. Bookcase with
Bible, and Panagia
|10. Mosque in Livera,
Church of St. George
Figure 11. Panagia Soumela Monastery; wall paintings in
main cathedral have been defaced
|Figure 12. Ancient cave
churches of Caesaria
Figure 13. Turkish Christian
singing Christian song in altar
Suggestions for Future Action
• More information must be obtained on the situation and on the conditions of life of the Pontians in the CIS
countries (countries of the former Soviet Union), and in the likely event of these Pontians wishing to emigrate, they
should have the opportunity to choose their destination. Were the conditions give, i.e. normal conditions of cultural,
social, and economic life, the Pontians never having resigned their rights on their property, nor their right to return to
their homelands in historic Pontos, and Asia Minor being a territory of Greek character, the Pontians should be able
to return to their Pontian homeland in present Turkey.
• Interventions towards the alleviation of the lack of freedom of expression of the Pontians in Turkey must be taken.
• Efforts must be continued to internationalize the Pontian issue and gain recognition of the genocide.
• Memorials commemorating the Pontian holocaust must be erected in all places where Pontian life continues.
• Turkish society must shatter, once and for all, those psychological, ideological, and cultural norms and symbols
that allow the recurrence of cycles of violence and pogroms, such as the statue of Topal Osman – butcher of
Hellenism, symbol of violence and hatred – in Kerasous, and the statue of Kemal Ataturk – the Stalin to the
Pontians – in Trapezous. These statues must be replaced with monuments dedicated to the Pontian holocaust.
• The criminal media must end its censorship and broadcast the truth about the Turkish, Kemalist gulags and all
perpetrators must be brought to justice under an international court.
• Cultural capitals of the world such as Smyrna and Constantinople must be reestablished.
• The Greek government is obliged to introduce the Pontian Genocide to international organs such as the European
Union and the United Nations. Greece has to include the Pontian Genocide in considering its foreign relations with
Turkey. In all official meetings, the government is obliged to put this issue on the agenda. The culpable Turkish
state’s recognition of the genocide and the subsequent restitution to all of its victims for all of the pain and suffering
caused must be a leading factor for its acceptance into the European community.
The Pontian Question in the United Nations by Michalis Charalambidis
Article and photo source:
Figure 17. Kemenche player
Figure 16. Daouli and
|Figure 15. Turkish dancers