By Aris Tsilfidis
Up until now, Greeks worldwide have had a tendency to use 3 terms when naming the Genocide of their ancestors who lived in the former Ottoman Empire (now Turkey). Namely as Thracian Genocide (Θρακική Γενοκτονία), Pontian Genocide (Ποντιακή Γενοκτονία) and Asia Minor Catastrophe (Μικρασιατική Καταστροφή). More recently, however, a growing awareness that all 3 of these groups were victims of the same extermination campaign, has changed public opinion as to the namings.
Therefore, today, some use the term Hellenic Genocide to describe the event while others use the term Greek Genocide. But which is correct?
I decided to contact a number of intellectuals to find the answer. People who I considered to be most informed and qualified to give an accurate and candid response.
The first person I contacted was Thea Halo, independent researcher, and author of Not Even my Name. Her contribution by way of a biography of her mother's struggle during the Genocide is invaluable for the Greeks, and thus her popularity amongst refugee Greeks worldwide is enormous.
My questions to those listed below were:
Which term do you prefer, Greek or Hellenic Genocide? And why?
Ms. Halo replied:
..I have argued for the use of Greek rather than Hellenic. Not only
does Hellenic refer to Greece, even if it also refers to the Greeks of Asia Minor,
there should be a distinction so as not to confuse the issue. To say a
Hellenic Genocide implies even the Greeks of Greece were affected. Of course,
they were not. It is important to make the distinction between the Greeks of
Greece and the Greeks of Asia Minor and the affected Islands. And yes, the
Pontians were not the only Greeks of Asia Minor who were victims of genocide.
I try to make that clear in all my talks.
The next person I contacted was Dr. Tessa Hoffman. Dr. Hoffman is a scholar who has devoted herself extensively to genocide research and the genocide of all the Christian minorities of the former Ottoman Empire. Again, I asked which term does she prefer.
Dr. Hoffman offered:
My principle in choosing ethnonyms is to accept the contemporary self-
definitions. Most Mikrasiates (Greeks of Asia Minor) of the early 20th Century
would not have described themselves as Hellenes, although political Hellenism
was certainly popular in Asia Minor. But most of the people concerned saw
themselves as Greeks, or to be more precise, as "Romiosini" (Turkish: Rumlar).
And indeed they were the heirs of the cultural, political and religious concept
of the "Imperium Romanum" and Christianity as one of the constituents.
Furthermore, there was a Hellenic state at the time of the Greek Genocide, and
speaking about a "Hellenic Genocide" leads necessarily to confusion, because
only few nationals of that Hellenic state were victimized. In my terminology,
Hellenes ("Ellines") are the nationals of the Hellenic state, not of the Ottoman
Empire. But most nationals of the Hellenic states were and are ethnic Greeks.
Using a strictly ethnic name ("Greeks") in the context of the Ottoman Genocide
makes matters more precise, or so I hope.
Next, I contacted Dr. Theofanis Malkidis who is a lecturer at the Democritus University of Thrace. Dr. Malkidis is a member of the International Association of Genocide Scholars [IAGS]. He has written extensively about the Genocide of the Greeks of the former Ottoman Empire.
Dr. Malkidis defined the 2 words Greek and Hellenic before giving his response:
The word Ellines or Hellenes (Greek: Έλληνες) is what Greeks call
themselves when speaking in Greek. On the other hand the word Greek derives
from the word Graekoi (Greek: Γρακοί), a term which Greeks rarely use when
describing themselves. Today in all government documents the Greek state is
called the Hellenic Republic. In the Ottoman state the term Romios or Rum
existed, while 200,000,000 Turks and Arabs worldwide today refer to Greeks as
Yunan and their country as Yunanistan, a name which doesn't exist in Greece
On an international level, it is more preferable to use the term Greek Genocide
since the whole world identifies with the word Greek and Greece, as opposed
to Hellenic which is a term that is limited and almost non-existent.
I then contacted Sofia Kontogeorge Kostos. As poet, she has written many poems about Genocides. Thirteen of her poems are included in the Forgotten Genocides of the 20th Century: A Compilation of Poetry. As researcher and writer, coming soon will be her book: Before The Silence: Archival news reports of the Christian Holocaust that begs to be remembered.
Mrs. Kostos exhorts:
Although Hellenic is correct, I prefer "Greek" because most of the general
public understands the word Greek. Out of the more than 200 of the archival
news reports that I researched for my book, "Greek" was the word used. It's
imperative that we keep the lines of communication open and not to baffle
people with our use of different words for the many regions of Asia Minor, that
is now Turkey. When we do that, we blur the message! Furthermore, I will
rejoice the day when WE ALL write Genocides with a capital "G" and with the
plural "s" to define the deliberate and systematic twenty-eight year long plan
to exterminate the Christians of Asia Minor who were not only Greeks, but were
Armenians, and Assyrians as well. It's about time that we capitalize the word
Genocide(s). Before the internet opened the gates to the archival news
reports, I researched and transcribed hundreds of reports and sent them
worldwide to awaken our people of the extermination of our own race. There
were times that I could not read the page because of my tear-filled eyes. Let's
not forget the untold numbers of Christians, known as the Crypto-Christians.
They were forced to renounce their Christian faith and were forced to become
Moslems, or be slaughtered! Most abhorred and looked down upon by the Turks
were the Greek Christians, because they had the misfortune of having been
enslaved by the brutal Turks for more than 4 Centuries. From this day
forward, please let us ALL make this a historical moment by identifying the
Genocides of our people as: The Greek Genocide, or The Genocides of the
Armenians, Assyrians, and Greeks.
Then I asked Dr. Dennis Papazian, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Michigan, Dearborn. He is historian, author, lecturer, commentator and public intellectual. He was Founder and Director of the Armenian Research Center of the University of Michigan in Dearborn.
Dr Papazian states:
Scholars and writers are using the term "Greek Genocide" in English to make
sure they communicate clearly to each other and to the public. Therefore
according to that, this is what I believe that the term should be. The term
Hellenic Genocide is more appropriate since it did not take place in present-day
Greece but in the wider Hellenic World. The Greeks in the Ottoman Empire
were not killed because they were Greek citizens he says, but because they
were Hellenic, Greek speaking and enjoying a historic Hellenic culture.
However, because one must follow the general usage, so "Greek Genocide" it
In conclusion, the majority of the respondents in this survey agree that the term Greek Genocide gives the most accurate description of the events of 1914-1923 in which Ottoman Greeks were victim to genocide. Despite this, a small number of people continue to use the term Hellenic Genocide thus creating un-needed confusion. It is also worth noting that a Google search returns 32,000,000 entries for the search term Greek Genocide whereas the term Hellenic Genocide returns only 900,000.