Honoring the 19th of May, the day of memorializing the Pontic Greeks genocide, and on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the tragic historical events, a documentary maker unfolds the lively historical tradition with its worthy successors.
A century is completed today from the beginning of the final phase of the Pontic genocide. On 19 May 1919 the darkest pages in the history of Pontian Hellenism were written. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the father of the Turkish Nation, landed in Samsun to start the last and worst stage of the Pontian Genocide.
It is estimated that from 1916 when the genocide began to the Asia Minor Disaster in 1922, of the 697,000 Greeks living in the Pontus, at least 350,000 people died.
The Young Turks pursued the Pontians in cities and villages, and sent them to exile, prison or forced labor battalions.
To be able to come closer to that dark age, documentary filmmaker Nikos Aslanidis details a series of Pontian testimonies that he recorded in his work.
His recent documentary titled “The Band” is based on the autobiography of Yannis Papadopoulos, a member of the band of the Municipality of Kerasounta. At the time of the Greek Genocide of the Pontus, this band was “recruited” and played marching music during the attacks. The Turks killed the Greeks with the musical accompaniment of the orchestra, who played under the threat of a gun. It consisted of 13 Greeks and three Turks, who were finally slaughtered. The only one who survived was Giannis Papadopoulos who narrated this story,” said Nikos Aslanidis.
His documentary will be screened in Germany and Sweden in the near future, while he notes that he will reach all of Russia, with Russian subtitles edited by the charity Ivan Savvidis.
“A century after the Genocide of the Greeks of the Pontus, we are living a second Genocide. The Genocide of … memory. The tragedy is that as long as the survivors lived (first-generation refugees) no one dared to question Genocide,” he said. After 100 years – and while the overwhelming majority of survivors are dead – the genocide deniers appeared not only in Turkey but also in… Greek territory. If these voices are heard today what will happen in the next 100 years?”
The brutality in the Priest’s family
In the village of Psilokastro, in the prefecture of Drama, was a priest. He was usually silent and never laughed. He lived poorly and his salary was spent in charity. He was born in Samsun in 1856 and had four daughters and a son.
But why was he speechless and he never laughed? Few knew the tragic fate of his family. When he was in Samsun, he experienced the brutality of the Genocide in all its grandeur. One day Topal Osman’s forces circled his home and arrested them all. They took them to the yard and stripped them. The Greek priest, his grandfather, his four daughters and his son. The children were from 14 years old to 20. They took the beard from the beard and told him to have sex with his daughters. Of course he refused and then they beat him. The children cried and shouted, but the Turkish forces continued to torture the priest. Seeing that he could not obey his orders, they first slaughtered his son. Then they raped his daughters in front of the priest. In the end, they killed everyone except the priest. The Turks did not regret it. They were laughing. They left him on purpose and did not kill him to have a tortured life.
The old man who lived with a bullet in the head
In the 1980s at the age of 70, Panagiota Alexandridou, or Panayla, as they callat her, complained of frequent headaches. They sent her for an X-ray and found to have a bullet at the point where the spine is attached to the head.
In 1920, at the age of ten, the genocide of the Greeks was in full swing. One day they learned that Topal Osman’s forces came and had to leave for the mountains to hide.
After running, she felt a loud jerk on her head. She fell down but did not lose her senses. The narrative of her story is as follows: “I got up and continued to run. I had reached my mother and she told me to hurry because the Turks came and they would cut our heads. Because of fear I did not feel anything. My left hand was running blood but I was not afraid of my fear. Sometime our guerrillas started to shoot their guns and managed to stop them. When we reached a clearing, we didn’t relax. My mother saw that I had a head trauma and one wound on my hand . She washed my wounds with water and bandaged the wounds with grass to stop the blood…”
As my grandson’s doctor explained, the grass worked as a haemostatic mechanism in the wounds and scar tissue developed. Obviously the bullets did not hit a vital organ and the little Panailla was saved.
The last survivor
I heard this story from Kiriakos Tsitsekidis, 104, in Katerini. He said the story with his wife and daughter and they all had same story, just so I coul have complete clarity. He did not know why his fatherwas murdered by the Turks a few days before his birth. At the age of six, he experienced exile.
As he told us, on November 20, 1920, the Turks gathered all the inhabitants of Epashas and Hapsamana. It was 19 Pontian villages with a total population of over 5,000. Of these, 90% died on the way to Diyarbakır and the Syrian border.
Kyriakos was lucky. His grandfather, along with other elderly people, decided to leave secretly. The dense darkness helped them and about ten families leave.
When the Turks identified the caravan, it was dissolved and he and his brother resorted to an old inn where they stayed for a long while until the Turks stopped hunting the Greeks. I asked him what happened to the rest of them who continued the process. Few escaped. They were mostly killed. It was all premeditated to destroy us. We initially started shortly before winter. Then they were taking us in the snow. The purpose was for us to get sick and die.
“I promise to continue my research and complete the book” Witnesses 100 Years After … “where I include many stories and other testimonies. That’s why I appeal to those who have other Genocide stories to include them in a new version,” said Nikos Aslanidis.
Why did they want to destroy the Greeks?
Several historical sources converge on the fact that the Russian revolution stirred up the Greeks of the Pontus to create their own state, autonomous from Turkey. The Turks did not want that to happen.
“One of the reasons we had to go through these persecutions was the enormous growth of the area since ancient times and its resources. The Greeks have been there since ancient times and part of the area became the continuation of the Greek world of Thrace. From Paphlagonia to Kolchida – the name was Pontus. Almost all settlers in the Black Sea region were Greek Ionians. Their long experience has passed from generation to generation. In architecture, art, land cultivation, beekeeping, fishing, tool making, handicraft,” historian Vassilis Chenkelidis said.
All this bothered the Turks. And, of course, Pontus was a strategic point from antiquity. It is no coincidence that Pericles from Ancient Athens had chosen this as the basis of his foreign policy.
What do the Turks say about genocide?
For the Turks, May 19th is a national holiday, Turkey’s “Liberation Struggle”.
“It is generally the line of Turkey not to accept the term genocide. They are trying to say that massacres were made as losses of war. However, there are many Turkish intellectuals who understand it and accept it,” said Vassilis Csenkelidis.
At the same time, the Turks block the screening of films and books that show the passions of the Greeks from the Pontus during the genocide.
What is the current image of the Pontus?
Vassilis Chenkelidis points out today’s picture:
The territory of the Pontus extends today between Turkey, Russia and Ukraine. In Russia, Pontians have all the rights of Russian citizens and simply maintain their own traditions, language and dances customs. They have their own national cultural autonomy as other peoples of Russia. This autonomy is led by Ivan Savvidis, who is also the president of the federation of Greek communities. At the same time, the Pontian element is intense in the Crimea, with variations over the years.
In Turkey they do not recognize any minority or cultural autonomy, even though the Pontian dialect is spoken. The Turks do not recognize them as a separate people or as another culture.
In Ukraine there are Pontians, but not so many. About 100,000 Greeks from the Pontus were transferred from Aikaterini to Mariupol and to the regions that were autonomous (Donetsk and Lugansk). Mariupoli did not experience the genocide because the region did not belong to the Turks.