The Pontic Greeks were set in Ottoman Empire in the midst of the Armenian Genocide.
It was the Spring of 1914. The Turks began ordering Greeks from Eastern Thrace as well as Western Anatolia to boycott every business run by a Greek. In the midst of this, hundreds of thousands Greek inhabitants from those regions were deported. Every Ottoman Greek man with an age between 21 and 45 were sent to concentration camps. These men endured pain-staking labor lacking any food or water. Sadly, most victims of such conditions lost their lives. Furthermore, these concentration camps had more than one purpose. Aside from forced labor, the camps were used as a method for separating the Greek communities. By 1915, the German military officially ordered that the Greeks who lived in the Gallipolli and Dardanelles regions would be deported immediately. They were forbidden to accompany themselves with any of their personal items and any shops were sold by the Ottoman authorities. Greek communities in the western coast of Asia Minor were taken into Muslim villages. They were then faced with a decision: convert to Islam or die brutally where they stand. Any neighboring communities burned or seized every village that once contained Greek families. The authorities made every attempt to make the deportation of Greeks as difficult and inhumane as possible. For example, they forced some Greeks to sign declarations “saying they were leaving of their own free will”. Furthermore, the Ottoman police took any valuables from the abandoned communities before burning churches and schools. They would also purposefully begin the deportation process in the middle of the winter in order for the death toll to inevitably increase. It was also documented that the Greeks were victims to lethal injections, being dumped into the ocean, and mass killings in some of the churches. With 150,000 deaths and a third of the Pontic Greek population gone, this was phase one.
Phase two began on May 19, 1919. Under the organization of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the participating murderers of the Armenian Genocide, they composed a campaign to decimate the Greeks who lived in northern Turkey. Once the men in the Greek households left for their jobs in the mountains, two of the experienced mass-murderers sought after the women and children in the villages. There were many different tactics used for the mass murder of villages. One of which involved trapping every victim in a cave and either suffocate them with a gas or burn them alive. The Greek males, on the other hand, would be tossed into coal furnaces of the steamships; alive. Churches were used as a way to burn a large group of people at one time. Eventually, nearby Muslim communities were made aware of the massacres and they went to the Ankara government to petition the removal of the murderers.
How did such an atrocious event arise? One of the main initiators for the crude massacres was the fear of the Turks that the Greek population would help the enemies of the Ottoman Empire. Nationalist Turks strongly believed that the only way to “form a modern nation state” was to eliminate the population who “threatened the integrity of a modern Turkish nation”; in this case it was the Pontic Greeks. Germans aided the Turkish regime in constructing labor battalions that ordered every Greek not entered into the army would work in mines while enduring horrible conditions. The population of the Pontic Greeks was feared by the Ottoman regime for a couple reasons. Firstly, the population quickly grew to 700,000 people by the beginning of the 20th century. Secondly, the rapid economic and cultural growth was astounding, and the Ottomans feared overpowerment by the minorities.
By the end of the year 1922, 7 Pontic Greek cities were destroyed and over 353,000 lives were taken. The legacy of witness Chrisa Kapesi was recorded describing the horrible conditions and the effects this event had in her life. She revealed that it was actually the men who were forced to undergo the worst conditions and labor. They were the most lacking in food and water, shelter, and any medical supplies necessary for survival. The treatment of the Greek victims by the Turks describe the pentacle of dehumanization. Their homes were suddenly taken from them and all their goods were burned. Families were separated and brutally murdered in mass groups. In Chrisa Kapesi’s testimony, it revealed that her daughter, and many victims alike, were not able to receive a genuine Christian Orthodox burial. There were no priests or prayers present, and all the victims were left on the streets covered by a tarp. The Turks constantly threatened the Greek to convert to Islam in return for their survival and several actually took the offer. Every Greek town and village was changed to have a Turkish name and they forced the Turkish language onto every converted member of the minorities.
The reasoning as to why the genocide of the Pontic Greeks was never brought to light is as follows: the “single-state, single-nation, single language, single-language policy”. Essentially, the Turks were viewed as “the masters in this country” and everyone else were to serve as maids and be enslaved by the Turks. They believed that they would not have their nation state as powerful as it was if Greeks were permitted to exist. Topal Osman, who was the main contributor in the Pontic Greek Genocide, was considered a true hero to the nationalist Turks. Outside of Turkey, some Armenians, as well as the Assyrians, insisted on gaining justice for this genocide. Similar to the Armenian Genocide, the Turkish government refused to do anything but deny the occurrence of the genocide of the Pontic Greeks.