Asia Minor and Pontus: Ethnic cleansing and genocide

Conference held on November 7, 2009 at the Westin Hotel in Rosemont, Illinois


The conference focused on the Hellenic experience in Asia Minor, Pontus and Eastern Thrace during the early part of the 20th century and the events that followed the “Megali Catastrophe”.


Academic Conference 066 “The purpose of the conference,” said George Mavropoulos, President of the Society, “is to present original new research on the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Greeks of Asia Minor, Pontus, and Eastern Thrace from 1913 to 1923.” Mr. Mavropoulos added, “We want to make a significant contribution to the scant body of literature on the subject in English to help promote awareness and understanding of this most crucial period in our modern history.” He stressed the importance of last year’s and today’s conference in order to promote research, knowledge, and the culture of Hellenism in Asia Minor and Pontus.



After the Greek-Vice Consul and representatives from the various Greek organizations were invited to say a few words, Mr George Shirinian was introduced to act as a moderator. Mr. Shirinian, director of the Zoryan Institute in Toronto, Canada in his opening remarks briefly discussed the previous year’s conference, the need for more publication, more scholars, and training in the languages involved such as Greek, Armenian, and Turkish. “These efforts, he sated  “lead to constructive and powerful action.”


Shirinian added, “If the Greek community wants to bring out the history of Asia Minor Hellenism and Pontus and have it told to the world, then it must seize the opportunity and give every support possible—moral, material, and financial—to the initiative being undertaken by George Mavropoulos, the Pontian Greek Society of Chicago, and the team of scholars who are working towards the creation of a permanent, formal research center.”


The first speaker was Dr. Taner Akçam, Associate Professor of History and holder of the Robert Aram & Marianne Kaloosdian and Stephen and Marion Mugar Chair in Armenian Genocide Studies at Clark University. His paper, “The Greek Deportations and Massacres of 1913-1914, A Trial Run for the Armenian Genocide,” was particularly valuable for using previously unpublished Ottoman documents. He addressed the elements and the calculated methods of destruction of non-Turkish minorities, namely the Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians along with their respective cultures. The goal of the Ottoman government was to “free themselves of a non-Turkish elements in the Aegean by killing and annihilating them. He went on to explain the government’s dual policy –one legal, the other private. In the legal policy, they presented a face of “humanitarianism” in their manner of “moving” or “deporting” their unwanted populations, while privately, they conducted illegal and treacherous activities against productive and peaceful Christian members of their society. In his concluding remarks, Dr. Akcam explained that the Greek massacres and deportations were so successful that they became the forerunners for the Armenian Genocide.


Dr. Constantine Hatzidimitriou, Adjunct Professor History at St. John’s University, spoke on “Official and Unofficial American Reactions to the Asia Minor ‘Catastrophe’: What the Documentary Evidence Reveals.” While providing details on the destruction of Smyrna in 1922, he presented a number of unpublished documents from the U.S. National Archives and showed how the American Embassy deliberately ignored information that demonstrated Turkish culpability. He talked about the Turkification of minorities and the seizing of their properties, the ethnic cleansing and cover-ups, which continue today. Large volumes of archival sources describe the destruction of the Greeks and especially the 350,000 Pontian Greeks.


Mr. Matthias Bjørnlund, a Danish archival historian, spoke on “The Persecution of Greeks and Armenians in Smyrna, 1914-16: A Special Case in the Course of the Late Ottoman Genocides.” He discussed the destruction of Greek and Armenian communities in Smyrna and stated that the Danish Consul in Smyrna and Swedish eyewitness described the violence against these people, and the Austrian Consulate reported mass arrests of Armenians. They were witness  to efforts by the Committee for Union and Progress for the violent homogenization of the ethnic and religious make-up of Anatolia before and during WWI. He then went on to explain the official policy of the Ottoman government to rid of the minorities through expulsions and use of torture, intimidation, and violent persecution. In his concluding remarks, Bjonlund said that, in general the European countries and the U.S. try to place a lid on the Greek and Armenian genocides for economic reasons.


Dr. Alexander Kitroeff, Associate Professor of History at Haverford College, gave an extended presentation on “The Plight of the Greek Refugees after the Break-up of the Ottoman Empire.” He discussed the importance of photographic evidence, which documents the way people live, the destruction, the burning, as well as the superficial or obvious, such as symbols, flags—things we take for granted. Dr. Kitroeff discussed the resettlement of the Ottoman Greeks in Greece in the 1920’s, their adoption of a “refugee identity” based on their place of origin and the memories it generated—their common experience of violence and displacement, and their treatment by others. Using a number of photographs, he illustrated how these refugees retained a strong sense of their Anatolian homeland and identity after being forcibly relocated to Greece. For the Ottoman Greeks, it was resettlement in the 1920’s; establishment and incorporation in the 1930’s to 1950’s; and upward social mobility in the 1960’s to 1980’s. The professor concluded his presentation by saying that for political reasons, the Greek government does not want to raise the issue of the Greek Catastrophe, and so refers to it in indirect ways, such as literature.


Dr. Van Coufoudakis, Rector Emeritus at the University of Nicosia, in Cyprus and Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne, spoke on “From Lausanne (1923) to Cyprus (2009): Turkey’s Violations of International Law and the Destruction of Historic Hellenic Communities.” He described how the Pontian Greeks and the Armenians were forcibly removed from their homes—their ancestral homeland dating back 3,000 years—because of their ethnicity, religion, language, and culture. Dr. Coufoudakis illustrated the continuity of foreign and domestic policies of the Ottoman Committee for Union and Progress with those of ensuing administrations of the Republic of Turkey, providing an extensive list of violations of treaties, international law, and fundamental, universal human rights. Since 1923, international apathy, allows Turkey to continue with its violations of international laws with impunity; and the practice of “blaming of others, which is how Turkey can deny what they did.” Coufoudakis concluded his presentation by stating that American and British policies against Turkey’s violations are to overlook the actions on the basis of political expediency for economic and strategic reasons.


As the academicians took final questions from the audience, and then as Hatzidimitriou presented the closing remarks—in which he discussed “placing the events of the Anatolian Genocide in the broader context of Hellenic and world history”—I could not help but think of the final two lines of the poem, “They Thought They Were Free”: “…When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”


At the end of the conference Mr.George Shirinian, stated: today’s conference is a great success. I saw some exciting original research presented here, and its publication will make a great contribution to our knowledge and understanding of this neglected subject.”