The Pontus Independence Movement and the Greek Genocide

THE PONTUS INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT

AND THE GREEK GENOCIDE

Sait Çetinoğlu

 

1) Introduction

The growth of nationalism in the 19th century directly affected the Christian populations of the Ottoman Empire. The ideology of the Orthodox Greeks scattered throughout the Balkans and in Anatolia was linked to the Hellenic state, and under the influence of a bourgeoisie leadership it began to spread. However the Greeks living in the distant Black Sea shores of Anatolia had little contact with the free Hellenic state which gained its independence in 1821.

The process of identity crisis in the 19th and 20th centuries played a part in the formation of modern Hellenism. The main reasons for this are the prevailing new political and international conditions in the region, the end result being the transformation of cultural identity into a political identity.

2) The Black Sea and the Revolutionary Movement

The Pontus issue is directly related to the international revolutionary movement. Lenin, as a leader of the Communist movement, was proposing the liberation of nations on one hand, while on the other he was saying:

"I and the Bolsheviks are the Young Turks of the Soviet Revolution".

In fact one can easily see a contradiction in these two statements. Contrary to this, Rosa Luxemburg while being captive in a Berlin prison, called for full support to the Christian communities of the Ottoman Empire by saying:

"A country has no hope of progress if it remains under Turkish domination. Concerning the Eastern issue, it is our duty to accept the fragmentation of Turkey and show unconditional solidarity to the Christian people".

Rosa Luxemburg1 in her work:" The activities of German imperialism in Turkey" wrote about the supreme economic and military interests of Germans in Turkey. The Ottoman lands were the main aims of the German imperialists. On this issue an important role was played by German banks. Along this line many propaganda instruments were devised such as the organization on November 8, 1898 of a ceremony in Damascus by the German Kaiser and his delegation, declaring that they were walking on the footsteps of Salahettin Eyubbi under the green flag of the Prophet to defend the Muslim community and gave an oath to this. As Rosa Luxemburg said, the role undertaken by Germans to resurrect the Ottoman Empire was nothing more than to paint a dead man with make-up. The disclosure by Rosa Luxemburg that the construction of the Baghdad railway line during the First World War was based on the massacre of masses of people is an important statement to be emphasized. The role of Deutsche Bank has been crucial. The German officials had made great efforts to fanaticize the Muslims and Turks against the non-Muslim communities of the Empire after the Balkan Wars. The testimony of Dido Sotiriou2 on the role of the Deutsche Palestinian Bank is significant. This Bank printed brochures in Turkish saying that:

"If we Turks are poor and suffering, the causes of this are the infidels (gavurs) who grasped the wealth from our hands. How long will we afford this? Do not buy their products and do not have any dealings with them. What do you expect from a friendship with them? Why are you offering them so much love and brotherhood".

On this matter, German Field Marshal Liman von Sanders in 1916 ordered the deportation of Greeks from the coastal areas of Anatolia. After realizing that despite all the exiles, the Greeks of Ayvalik were remaining in their homes, on Easter day of 1917 von Sanders ordered their deportation by saying:

"Have you not yet expelled these infidels!"

German imperialism wanted Anatolia to be cleared of its Christian element. The same could also be said of the other western powers. If one studies the behavior of England, France, USA and Italy during World War I and beyond, it would not be wrong in saying that these countries were indifferent to the annihilation of the ancient peoples of Anatolia.

 

 

Liman von Sander (left) with Mustapha Kemal (right)

 

3) The Political Organization in Pontus.

All the state influenced Turkish publications on the Pontus issue are almost identical because they use the same source as a reference. All these publications are based on a propaganda piece printed in 1922 by the Information and Printing Establishment (Matbuat ve İstihbarat Matbaası) under the title "The Pontus Affair" (Pontos Meselesi). In all the mentioned publications the same arguments are stated. In the propaganda publication of 1922, it mentions that the Greeks of the Black Sea shoreline were aiming to establish an independent Republic of the Pontus with its capital city being Trabzon or Samsun and its territories to extend from Batumi all the way to Sinope. This is far from what really happened in Pontus. Mustapha Kemal used the same arguments in his Speech (Nutuk).

At the commencement of the First World War, the Greeks of Pontus which until that time had served in the Ottoman Army merely as hard laborers, like the other people of the Empire wanted to enlist in the Ottoman armed forces. It is a historical fact that during the course of World War I, many peasants deserted the army and returned to areas near their home villages with or without their weapons to resume their lives in their rural areas. In this way they began to set up armed irregular guerrilla groups in the various parts of mountainous regions of Anatolia as in the Black Sea zone.

 

 

A group of armed resistance fighters

 

The efforts of the Ottoman government to settle Muslim refugees from Balkan lands into the Greek villages of the Black Sea region was the cause of the second phase of unrest leading to ethnic clashes. The decision of the Pontic Greeks to refuse entry of these refugees into their villages was the beginning of the resistance against the state authorities. Faced with this situation, the Government in Autumn of 1915 started military operations against the villages Okse, Tsichman and Tefkeris. These places were the focus of resistance against the establishment of Balkan refugees. Villages began being burned, populations dispersed and fighters such as Vasilis Anthopoulos (Vasil Usta) emerged and armed resistance groups were formed. Many armed groups were concentrated in the Nebian town of the Bafra region.

Up until the Balkan Wars, the prevailing view among Pontic Greek scholars was that it would be possible to create a Turkish-Pontic Union in peace and cooperation with the Turks in the wider region of the Black Sea. The role of the Bishop of Trabzon Chrysanthos in the dissemination of this view and his role through the "Eastern Party" is of paramount importance.

After the Balkan wars and before the First World War the Young Turks began the implementation of a "solution plan" of ethnic problems by the extermination of other ethnicities as decided in 1911 at a Conference held in Thessaloniki. The extermination operations started in the beginning of the War by the process of deportations. The establishment of an independent Republic of Pontus therefore gained support as a result of these actions by the Young Turks.

During this period, throughout the entire Black Sea shore region, the development of self defense groups was aimed at defending the political rights of the Greeks of Pontus which had started to gain momentum. On February 4, 1918 Konstantinos Konstantinidis, the son of the former Mayor of Giresun Captain George, having been influenced by the proclamation of the Soviets on the right of "self determination of peoples" by the Bolsheviks, organized a conference in Marseille with the participation of Pontic Greek representatives from various European countries including the USA and elsewhere. The Conference members sought the support of the Soviets and sent a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Leon Trotsky. The letter stated that it would be a big mistake to return the city and the region of Trabzon to Turkish rule. Support was also asked from the Soviets to achieve the establishment of an independent Pontic Republic.

 

A printed card depicting the proposed Republic of Pontus

 

4) East and West Pontus

After the occupation of the Eastern Black-Sea shore by the Russian Army in the Summer of 1916, the Pontus region was divided into two parts and as a result, the course of events changed in the two regions. When the Russian Army halted its advance at Gemoura, the fall of Trebizond to the Russians was inevitable. The Turkish administration seeing the inevitability of the fall of Trebizond, called Bishop Chrysanthos and other Greek notables to hand the city over to them and asked them for the protection of the civilian Muslim population. After a short ceremony, Governor Azmi speaking to Chrysanthos said:

"We took this country from the Greeks and now we give it back to the Greeks".

On August 16, 1916 the Russians entered Trebizond and found a Greek administration in control of the city. The reception of the Pontic Greeks to the Russians was warm. Chrysanthos established a Council of Christian and Muslim members which under his leadership ruled the region until the return of the Turkish Army. Bishop Chrysanthos protected the families of Muslims whose men had fled because of the fear of Russians. He also tried to introduce a new spirit of equality among nations. The independent administration of Trebizond also met with Soviet representatives during 1917.

The situation in western Pontus was very different. The armed rebels who had fled to the mountains and consisted of independent non-coordinated guerilla groups, started accepting more men in their ranks towards the end of 1916 when deportations of the Greek population by the Turkish forces began. On July 3, 1916 Vasil Anthopoulos formed an armed resistance group in Sivas, with the hope that when the Russian forces moved to the west of Pontus it would start a general revolution. But the halt of the Russian advance changed Anthopoulos' plans. Believing the Russians were playing games with him, Anthopoulos decided to create new conditions in the region. Then, with his armed group of 80 irregulars, he attacked Turkish villages, killed and burned homes of those he thought had harmed Christians. In Ordu (Kotyora) he clashed with Turkish military forces and after losing the battle took refuge in Trabzon where he lived until the end of the war. The reaction of the Turks concerning these two events was twofold: (a) counter attacks on Greek guerillas, and (b) exiles of the Greeks in western Pontus (Black Sea shore) towards the inner regions of Anatolia.

The first reaction seems to have been more of a local type response. Both Christians and Muslims were army deserters while the Muslim deserters were ready to implement the nationalist policies of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). The most active irregular guerilla group was that of Topal Osman Agha from Giresun. He and his followers were army deserters and fugitives which were acting freely without any control. Topal Osman was the source of indescribable terror and horror. Even the local Muslim population was asking for his removal from the region.

Among the Pontic Greek armed rebels, the most notable guerilla leader was Anton Pasha. While defending Pontic Greek villages with his wife Pelagia, he became the main source of fear to the Turkish administration and the Muslim irregular forces. He was killed in 1917 while his wife Pelagia continued the struggle until 1923. In the same area, among the Muslim armed groups, there were also Circassians.

5) The Exiles

In a document prepared to be sent by the Austrian Foreign Ministry to Berlin, the following was stated:

"The Turkish policy has the nature of a complete expulsion of the Greeks in the region, aiming at their total extinction by using the excuse that the Greeks of the region are posing a risk against the State, an argument used in the past against the Armenians. The Turks do not discern any difference among the population, leaving no chances to their survival under the pretext of moving all the Greeks to other regions as deportations of the population from the shores towards the interior, leaving them in appalling, inhumane conditions so that the hunger will lead them to death. Their homes after being occupied by the Muslim irregular forces (tsettes) are looted, burned and demolished. Similar measures used against the Armenians are also being used in the region of Pontos".3

The Pontic Greek guerilla forces, although not being able to prevent the deportation of the Greek population, established "liberated zones" in mountainous areas where refuge was provided to the Greeks escaping their destroyed villages. The appearance of new Pontian rebel groups and the inability of the Turkish Army to destroy them leads to a regional compromise with the Turkish village population who provided food and supplies to the Pontian guerilla groups.

After the defeat of the Ottoman State in the First World War, British forces (Indian soldiers with British officers) were placed in the Black Sea shore regions of Anatolia. In order for Britain to ensure its future interests it required the Pontic Greek guerilla forces to surrender their weapons to the Turkish Army. The guerillas didn't fall for this trap and refused to hand in their weapons. The Pontic Greeks embraced the establishment of a Pontic Republic. Meanwhile about 100.000 Pontic Greeks returned home from Russia.

The Pontus movement had reached such a critical stage that it began to concern the Ottoman State, which led the Istanbul based Ottoman government to send Mustapha Kemal Pasha to the Black Sea region. Mustafa Kemal began his efforts to quell the Pontus movement at the request of Britain and the moral and material support of Sultan Mehmet Vahdetin. Mustapha Kemal arrived in Samsun and met with Britain's Major Hurst and invited representatives of the various communities to the local command garrison. The leader of the local Greeks, Bishop Germanos did not respond to this invitation. The report sent by Mustapha Kemal to the Sultan Government said that Pontus guerrilla forces led by Bishop Germanos didn't come to the invitation. Meanwhile Mustapha Kemal on his arrival in Samsun on May 19, 1919 immediately began organizing Turkish irregular groups to act against the Pontic Greek guerrillas who were seeking independence. It is mentioned that Topal Osman was one of the first leaders of the irregulars (tsettes) Mustapha Kemal met. As shown in public records, Mustapha Kemal put more importance to the Pontian guerrilla movement than on the Hellenic State armed forces which had landed forces in western Anatolia.

6) The End of the Movement and Ethnic Cleansing

After the initial successes of the Pontian guerillas and despite their efforts to unite their forces, it led to a decline in their strength due to an absence of any coordinated center. The decline of morale among the Pontian rebels was fast. The Turkish Army with the significant help of the Bolsheviks was being reorganized and support by the Italian and the French also strengthened its position. These developments discouraged the intentions of the Pontic Greek guerilla forces in forming a common command centre and they started becoming completely independent. There were even clashes between various guerilla groups. The end was tragic. Despite the sheepish attitude of the Greece towards the Pontus movement, the Greeks of Pontus always showed a trend of identifying themselves with the Hellenic State.

In order to compete with the actions of the Greek guerillas in the region the government in Ankara began deporting and exiling the Greek population that was providing support to the guerillas. Ankara was determined to enlist in its Army every Pontic Greek that had the ability to endanger the stability in the region. All non-Muslims were sent to labor battalions. Although some Pontic Greeks did not obey, a significant number were sent to the work battalions, known as Amele Taburlari, and through this measure those men were inactivated.

After this, a mandatory collection of arms was initiated in the region starting with the non-Muslims. Resistance was raised against the army units coming to collect the arms in the region of Samsun and in other areas. The most severe clashes took place in areas such as Tokat, Carshamba and in Nebian of Bafra. This effort which began in April 6, 1921 by the Turkish Army, and despite the implementation of extensive violence by the Army units, did not give any result. The Turkish army units were strengthened with the Giresun Divison after having failed in their objectives at Carshamba and Nebian-Bafra. The Ankara government then declared the region of the Black Sea a war zone and decided on June 21, 1921 to exile all the Greeks of Pontus. Furthermore, most of the rural regions had been cleared of Greeks and the Greek villages burned down.

Because of the fear of the Hellenic Navy landing in Samsun, the Executive Government Committee in Ankara after its decision on June 16, 1921, decided on the deportation of all the Greek men in the region between the ages of 16 to 50 years. Arrests of Greeks then started in the areas of Samsun and Bafra (in the Alatsam region). On the following day, the first group of deportees departed southward and while passing near the town of Kavak, it went under fire from either Turkish or Greek guerillas (depending on the information source, Greek or Turkish). Several guards accompanying the exiled Greeks were also killed. Similar events occurred during the deportation marches during the month of June 1921. The attacks were caused by irregular Turkish forces (tsettes) with the cooperation of the guards escorting the exiled Greeks. In these attacks an important role was played by the irregular armed groups of Topal Osman Agha and Saki Ali from Tokat. The reactions to the events according to a letter sent by the Ministry of Interior on June 25, 1921 indicates that the displacement of the Greeks was being carried out due to military reasons, which were not an act of deportation, while it was mentioned that the livelihood of the exiled Greeks should be protected and also the lives, fortune and honor of the Greek women and children remaining in their home should be protected. In this order, severe punishments were sought to those state officials who attacked women and children as well as the exiled men.

We learn from the Minister of Health at the time Riza Nur that in practice things didn't exactly happen this way. Riza Nur4 who later became the chief negotiator at the Lausanne negotiations, wrote in his memoires about conversations he had with Topal Osman:

"I told him, Aga clear the Black Sea well. Do not leave a stone in the Greek villages of the Black Sea".

He replied to me:

"I will do exactly that, but I will protect and will not destroy their churches and buildings because they might be useful in the future".

I told him:

"Demolish the buildings and churches as well and scatter their stones away. You never know what will happen in the future. Nobody should be able to come here in the future and say ‘there was a church here'".

The answer given by Topal Osman was:

"I will do it that way, I wasn't thinking correctly".

Riza Nur also writes that Topal Osman was the new Kioroglu, making reference to the legendary Turkish public hero who revolted against the Sultan centuries ago.

When the government in Ankara forced troops from the region of the Black Sea to the western front, it reduced the number of exiles. However after the failure of the Hellenic Army at Sakarya, the exiles resumed on a massive scale in the Black Sea region. During this period, the cleansing operations against the Greek guerillas in the mountains was intensified and the exiles continued to increase. On the order of Nurettin Pasha, women were also deported despite the initial orders not to include them. There had not been any reaction to this by his superiors in Ankara. According to Nurettin Pasha:

"Greeks are snakes and their women are their poison. These women support their men who are fascinated with the dream of Pontus both physically, morally and materially".

In addition to this, in the notorious Independence Courts (Istiklal Mahkemeleri) in Amasya, women were also tried, being accused of spying, fomenting crimes and helping criminals to hide.

During these operations in the Black Sea, after discussions held in the Parliament at Ankara, the Commander of the Central Army Nurettin Pasha was dismissed on November 8, 1921 on the grounds of his illegal activities and incompetence, while on February 8, 1922 the administration of the Central Army was abolished. The responsibility of the operations against the Greeks of Pontus was then assigned to the 10th Brigade operating under the orders of the Ministry of Interior. Cemil Cahit Bey was appointed as commander of this Brigade. The Turkish armed forces increased its recruiting and also its arms, and ended the Pontus issue in February 1923, an issue that had been running for many years.


7) Conclusion

Despite all this, the beginning of the end for the Black Sea Greeks really began in December of 1920 after the wholesale defeat of the Armenians by the Kemalist Army, who then established relations with the Bolsheviks. The Soviet support flowed to the Kemalists while agreements were then signed between the Soviets and Britain, the Soviets and the Turkish Ankara administration, and Britain with the Minister of Exterior Affairs of the Ankara administration Bekir Sami on March 16, 1921. On this day, Britain effectively declared their neutrality. The Hellenic state left the Greeks of Pontus to their fate. Britain supported Turkey thinking that it would serve as a buffer or as an intermediary with the Soviet Union. The realpolitik at the time was the reason that determined the end of the Pontus movement. After the signing of the Lausanne Treaty the guerilla forces that remained in the Black Sea region escaped from the shores of the Black Sea by boats on their way to Greece or fled to nearby Russia.

 

References

1. R Luxemburg, Ausgeıvahlte Reden und Schriften, Berlin 1951, pages.. 294, 297.
2. See the book authored by Dido Sotiriou "The Blooded Landed".
3. P.K.Enepekidis, The Genocide of Anatolian Hellenism, 7-14 July 1985, Conference in Thessaloniki. .
4. Rıza Nur, Hayat ve Hatıratım (My Life and memoirs),Publisher İşaret, year 1992 , page 164.

 

Biography of the Author

Sait Çetinoglu was born in Trabzon. He is an activist on human rights and a member of the Free University An¬kara Independent Initiative. He has not been a member of any political organization since the military takeover of 1980 while he has been pursuing is work as an independent political researcher. His work on human rights issues has been carried out under the Free University, Human Rights Association (IHD) of Turkey, Amnesty International and Ankara Freedom to Throughout Initiative. He has been a member of the Administrative Board of the IHD and among the first members of the Amnesty International in Turkey serving also as a coordinator.

He has been editor of the Human Rights Publications and Humanite Journal. He also worked as editor in the publications of the Free University, Belge and Peri publishing houses in Turkey concerning the publications on "minority issues".


He authored the book on "Varlik Vergisi 1942-1944- Ekonomik ve Kültürel Jenocid (Capital Tax 1942-1944- an Economic and Cultural Genocide)" based on his research and published by Belge International Publishing House. He also coauthored with Fikret Bashkaya the research books : "İttihatçılıktan Kemalizme (From Unionists to Kemalists) and Türkiye'de "Azınlıklar" (The "Minorities" in Turkey) both published by Free University. He authored the publications: "The ‘turkification' of the Capital" and the Secret Agenda of the Union and Progress (İttihat ve Terakki'nin Gizli Ajandası) published in the series "Discussions on the Official History" and also authored lemmas in the Concepts Dictionary and Official Ideology on the topics official ideology/official history, genocide, issues related to Turkish economic history, etc.


His worked on "The 20 years Conscription to Work Battalions"- A Terror Act against the Minorities, The Assassination of Justice in 1909 at Cilicia and on various other topics which will be published by Belge International Publishing House in the series Myths of Official History- Sayings and Truth.

Presently he is working on the research topic of the Development of Turkish-Muslim wealth after the looting of Greek and Armenian fortunes to be published in a book entitled "The Turkish Bourgoise and the Dark side of the Turkish Economy". He has published articles on the Committee Union and Progress, Kemalism, The Nature of the Kemalist Regime, Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Genocides, The Turkish Economic History and "Minorites" at various newspapers in Turkey as well as in the journals Yevrobatsi, Collectifvan, Le monde, Nouvelles d'Armenie Magazine, Keghart, Pontos World, Deutsch-Armenische Gesellschaft (DAG), Agos, Marmara, Zartong, Özgür Üniversite, Birikim, Yaba, Atılım, Devrimci Demokrasi, Devrimci Halkın Günlüğü, Newroz, Gündem, Birgün, Evrensel ve Radikal... including newspapers and internet sites.

See also: The Greek Genocide

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