On May 19, Pontian Greeks around the world commemorate the 91st anniversary of the Genocide in the Pontus region of modern day Turkey. This was the date in 1919 when Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal landed in the port city of Samsun on the Black Sea. This afternoon, we will have the special opportunity to listen to a distinguished scholar, Dr. Richard Hovannisian, address a very dark page in the history of the Christian populations of Asia Minor.
In the educational material that our organization has distributed to schools and in our letters to public officials, we have long promoted the decision taken by the International Association of Genocide Scholars in December 2007 to recognize the genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians, Pontian and Anatolian Greeks. The recent vote taken by the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee to recognize the Armenian Genocide, should make us all realize the importance of seizing the opportunity to work together. In addition, the March 2010 recognition by the Swedish Parliament of the Genocides of the Christian minorities in Asia Minor should strengthen our resolve in achieving the same objective in the United States.
While the Armenian tragedy is widely documented and better known, it is our organization’s conviction that our future goals will be better served by joining together to inform our fellow citizens about the similar crimes against humanity suffered by the Greeks and Assyrians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.
Only through recognition of these crimes will we be able to bring to light the shameful denial of these events by the Turkish government and achieve a future free of their reoccurrence around the world.
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Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing: The Fate of the Christian Populations of the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey
Presented by Dr. Richard Hovannisian, May 15, 2010, Chicago, Illinois
(Note: Dr. Hovannisian spoke extemporaneously without a prepared text)
In springtime, Christians take joy in Easter and the Resurrection, but they also mourn the Crucifixion. It was in April of 1915 that the annihilation of the Assyrian and Armenian peoples in the Ottoman Empire began, and it was in May of 1919 that the victimization of the Hellenic population of Pontus and Asia Minor entered a new, accelerated phase. When Mustafa Kemal landed in Samsun on 19 May 1919, his Turkish Nationalist movement furthered the destruction process of centuries of Hellenism and Armenianism in that great highland and crossroad of the world.
It is sometimes asked, even by ourselves, “Why dwell on the past when there is so much to be concerned about today?” Greece is in great financial crisis. Armenia has been in political turmoil and fell into financial and economic decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union. And the Assyrian population is endangered in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. Perhaps it would be better just to let the past remain in the past and forget about it all.
This may afford an attractive escape for some, but memory is part of individual, group, and national identity. Our memory and our history are our identity, our present, and our future. One cannot rightfully bargain with memory for any purpose, even if it is for improved or so-called “normal” relations with a powerful neighboring government. It is essential to commemorate and remember if there is to be real self-respect along with a clear objective.
Now, on this May afternoon, we remember three related peoples – each separate, each with its own history and crucifixion — yet all linked. We speak of the Assyrians, the Armenians, and the Hellenes of Asia Minor and Pontos.