The Ottoman genocide against Greek Orthodox Christians (1912-1922) in comparative perspective
During the last decade of Ottoman rule in 1912-1922, under two nationalist regimes - the so-called Young Turks (Ittihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti), since 1919 the Kemalists - at least three million indigenous Christians (Greek Orthodox, Armenians and Syrians of different denominations) were murdered by forced labor, massacres and death marches.
In my pptx-supported lecture I explain the demographic peculiarities of the Ottoman Empire and the historical-political background in the period between the Balkan Wars of 1912/3 and the capture of Smyrna (Sept. 1922) before I trace the course of the genocide of the Greek Orthodox population and ask about the peculiarities in comparison with the fate of the Armenians. My thesis is that these sp e- cifics consisted above all in the regionalization as well as in the long duration of this genocide, which was committed before, during and after the First World War.
It will also be necessary to ask about the role of protective powers for Ottoman Christians: Unlike the Ottoman Armenians, of whom one and a half million were destroyed in just 19 months, the Greek Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire had, at least temporarily, a protective state in Greece. Thus the initial neutrality of Greece in the WW1 initially caused a deceleration of the annihilation policy.
Finally, the applicability of the term genocide as defined by international law to events in the late Ottoman Empire must be justified.
Demographic specifics of the Ottoman Empire
The Memalik-ı Osmaniye or the Grand Sultanate of the Ottomans, as the Ottoman Empire officially called itself, covered almost 4 million square kilometers. In the 16th century, during its greatest expansion, it included the entire Balkan Peninsula as far as Budapest, the north- ern Black Sea coast, parts of Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Tunisia and Algeria. The empire had arisen through successive conquests and subjugations and was named after its ruling dynasty. For over 600 years, from 1299 to 1922, the Ottomans provided the heads of state and between 1517 and 1924 also the spiritual head of the Sunni Muslims, the Caliph.
At the beginning of the 20th century, more than 38 million people settled in this multi - religious and multi-ethnic feudal state. The majority - over 21 million - lived in Asia Minor. More than a third of these - up to six million - were indigenous Christians: Armenians, Greek Orthodox and various denominations of Syriacs, including the Syriac Orthodox Church ("Ja c-obites") and the Catholic Union of this church, the Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East (vulgo Nestorians) and the Catholics descending from this church ("Chaldeans").
In order to better understand the problems of the Ottoman Empire, we must remember that today's understanding of ethnicities and nations cannot be transferred to the conditions in the Ottoman Empire or its predecessor state. Until 1400 the Byzantines referred exclusively to themselves as Romans (Rhōmaîoi, contemporary pronunciation: Romäi), then increasingly as Hellenes (Έλληνες, Éllines). But until the 20th century the Greek terms Romios - Roman - and the plural Romyi prevailed. In Turkish, Greek Orthodox Christians from and in Turkey are still today referred to as rumlar - "Romans". Not only did the Byzantines see themselves as successors of the Roman Empire, but they were the Roman Empire par excellence. For a long time, this term included all Orthodox Christians of Byzantine adherence, including Orthodox Bulgarians and Albanians. With an estimated overall population of up to 2.7 million the Romyi were the largest denomination of indigenous Ottoman Christians.
On the Byzantine throne sat also rulers of Syro-Aramaic and Armenian descent, as far as they confessed to the orthodoxy of Byzantine coinage. This dominance of the religiously defined collective identity continued in Ottoman times. When a French-style state census was intro- duced in 1876, it only covered religious affiliations: on the one hand the non -Muslims, on the other the Muslims, whose Ottoman self-perception the American historian Bernard Lew- is expressed as follows: "In the Imperial society of the Ottomans the ethnic term Turk was little used, and then chiefly in a rather derogatory sense, to designate the Turcoman nomads or, later, the ignorant and uncouth Turkish-speaking peasants of the Anatolian villages."1 In
the words of a British observer of the early 20th century: "The surest way to insult an Otto-
man gentleman is to call him a 'Turk'. His face will straightway wear the expression a Lon- doner's assumes, when he hears himself frankly styled a Cockney. He is no Turk, no savage, he will assure you, but an Ottoman subject of the Sultan, by no means to be confounded with certain barbarians styled Turcomans, and from whom indeed, on the male side, he may possibly be descended." 2
1 Lewis, Bernard: The Emergence of Modern Turkey. Oxford: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1968, p. 1
2 Davey, Richard: The Sultan and his Subjects. London 1907, p. 209
Only the non-Muslims were statistically divided into Jews, Armenian Apostolic Christians and Greek Orthodox Christians. According to Islamic traditional law, these denominations were regarded as millet, i.e. as faith or church nations. At the insistence of France and Great Brit- ain, a katolik and a protestant millet were added in the 19th century. The Chief Rabbi and the Christian patriarchs resident in Constantinople were the official representatives of their communities vis-à-vis the Ottoman state, which took the right to confirm the heads of the religious nations in their office or not.
Under Ottoman-Muslim rule, the descendants of the Byzantines and all other non-Muslims were regarded as "herds under protection", i.e. as Rayah or "dhimmi". These non-Muslim protectees were legally subordinated to the Muslims. Before Islamic courts their statements had no probative force. Non-Muslims were not allowed to possess and carry weapons or to ride a horse. Only Muslims were admitted to the civil service, which is why 66 of 76 heads of government or grand viziers were converted in the period 1453-1640. From 1566 to 1856 non-Muslims paid a poll tax (Arabic "jizya"), which was subsequently paid as a tax for exemp- tion from military service (bedel-i askerî). Since the loyalty of non-Muslims was doubted, they were excluded from military service until 1908.
If non-Muslims resisted their oppression by force of arms or fought for their independence, Ottoman rulers made use of their alleged right of punishment. Even in the 19th century, this still included jihadist traditions. This meant that adult men were massacred, women and children enslaved. When the Ionian island of Chios joined the Greek fight for independence, the Sultan sent a punitive expedition in 1822, slaughtering a total of 23,000 people and sell- ing 47,000 Chiotes at the slave markets of Smyrna and Cairo. Chios was the court supplier for mastic, from which the popular chewing gums for the court's needs were made. This may partly explain the fierce reaction to the Chiotes' uprising. Chios' rebellion against Ottoman rule was as unacceptable as Greek uprisings on Crete, where in 1866 residents who had fled to the monastery of Arkadiou for asylum were blown up.
Several factors determined the Ottoman road to state crimes against the indigenous Chris- tians of Armenia, Asia Minor and Mesopotamia:
Military defeat and the successful struggle for independence in South Europe caused con-
siderable territorial losses in Europe and Africa.
The Russian-Ottoman antagonism: Since 1578, the Ottoman Empire led war against Rus- sia during four centuries. With the exception of the Crimea War, they were defeated in all eleven wars. The victorious Russians were also perceived as the protectors of the Orthodox Christians.
Until the 19th century, non-Muslims were discriminated in legal and civic aspects. Never-
theless, economically they were leading. Crafts, commerce and industries were in the hands of Jews, Armenians and in particular of the Romyi; they could occupy these areas since the Muslim faithful were prohibited to take interest rates. The subsequent imbalance of political and economic power resembled the relation of medieval Christian rulers in Europe toward their Jewish creditors. With the adaption of European nationalist concepts, Ottoman Mus- lims found that this state of affairs had to be changed. Under the slogan of Islamization of the Ottoman economy organized boycotts and discrimination against Christians were co n- ducted that hit not only Greek and Armenian traders and entrepreneurs, but also farmers.
Change of the ethno-religious composition of the Ottoman population: Starting with the
late 18th century, the statistic relation between Muslims and non-Muslims in the Ottoman Empire changed drastically. While in the 1820s two thirds of the overall Ottoman population was non-Muslims, the percentage of Muslims at the end of the 19th century increased to
47.5 percent. This near-to-balance situation seemed to have provoked a demographic policy that finally changed the quantitative relationship between Muslims and non -Muslims in fa- vor of Muslims.
3 Kemal H. Karpat, Ottoman Population, 1830-1914: Demographic and Social Characteristics (Madison: Univer- sity of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 72, cited in Ergun Özbudun, “Turkey—Plural Society and Monolithic State,” in: Democracy, Islam, and Secularism in Turkey, ed. Ahmet T. Kuru and Alfred Stepan (New York: Columbia UP,
2012), 61–94, p. 65
It is estimated that five to seven million Muslims immigrated into the Ottoman Empire; most fled as refugees from the advancing Russian Empire, followed by those who arrived from the Balkans. And most were highly traumatized by violence due to ethno-religious hate and re- acted correspondingly with hate. The percentage of Muslims from the Ottoman borderlands or refugees from the North Caucasus was particularly high among the genocide perpetrators of WW1. The demographic politics and subsequent measures such as dispersion of coherent ethno-religious agglomerations by massacres and deportation have been rightly paraphrased by scholar Fuat Dündar as a ‘crime of numbers’.
The genocide against the Ottoman Greeks
After the chauvinist Committee for Union and Progress, also called Ittihadists had over- thrown in 1908 the reactionary Sultan Abdülhamit II by a military coup d’etat the new rulers developed the idea to stabilize the collapsing and dissolving empire by homogenization, or as it was paraphrased at the time, by Islamization. This catchword related also to commerce and entrepreneurship which were predominantly exerted by Non-Muslims, while, as already mentioned, Muslims were traditionally prohibited from interest rate business. The Ittihadist or CUP leaders, however, expanded Muslim predominance to the Ottoman economy. The first and main victims of the boycotts and economic repressions that were intended to drive Non-Muslim traders and industrialists into bankruptcy, suicide or exile were the Greek O r- thodox Christians. Subsequently, the rumlar were also the first to experience deportation, death marches and dispersion among Muslim majority populaces.
Deportations were first implemented during the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 in Eastern Thrace, where the regime experimented with two types of expulsions: While cross-border expulsions into adjacent Greece resulted in the return of Ottoman Greeks after the war), deportations into central Anatolia with death rates of near to 50% proved as a more ‘effe c- tive’ mean of destruction and were subsequently largely applied in following years. Until
summer 1914, about 350,000 Greeks were expelled or massacred en lieu in Eastern Thrace alone; of these, 119,000 were deported to central Anatolia, where 46,000 died from diseases or during forced labor.
The Balkan Wars definitively turned the attitude of Ottoman statesmen. Their perception of Christians and in particular of Greek Orthodox Ottomans was now determined by revenge and mistrust into the Christians’ loyalty. In private correspondence and public speech of the year 1913 Ismail Enver, the future War Minister swore vengeance to the Greeks; revealing is his speech on the occasion of the loss of Rumelia. In his speech, Enver addressed to Greeks, Bulgarians and Montenegrins as slaves of the Turks, who had cheekily dispossessed the rul- ers of their Balkan possessions; it did not occur to the young Minister that the people in question considered these areas their homeland.
In her memoirs, published in 1926, the Turkish writer and women's rights activist Halide Edip (Adıvar, 1884-1964) described how the nationalist Ottoman elite had been gripped by the feeling "that the Turks had to exterminate others" in order to prevent being exterminated themselves.4 Preventive destruction of designated target groups is a general feature of the genocidal mind and psyche; it occurred likewise in the apologetic speech and writings of Mehmet Talat and Adolf Hitler. Preventive elimination had been envisioned in the rhetoric of the Young Turks as early as 1910, but since the Balkan Wars it expressed itself increasingly in criminal acts.
The persecutions in Eastern Thrace during and after the Balkan Wars went beyond the tradi- tional massacres of Christians. During death marches, which were whitewashed as reloca- tions, thousands of Greeks were for the first time systematically expelled from their villages and towns. They were deliberately surrendered to starvation and exhaustion. Even in 1914, months before the Ottoman entry into the First World War, the expulsion continued in East- ern Thrace.
The expulsion of the Greeks from Western Anatolia began as early as 1913, but the final d e- cision on the ethnic cleansing fell only after the end of the Balkan War and after Ismail Enver in January 1914 was appointed as War Minister. The Greek-Ottoman coastal population was
now regarded as a high security risk. On May 14, 1914, the Unionist Minister of the Interior,
4 Adivar Edib, Halidé: Memoirs of Halidé Edib, London 1926; Reprint Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2005, p. 333
Mehmet Talaat, ordered all the Greek settlements between the Dardanelles and Çesme (Greek Cyssos) to be cleansed by terror and settled with Turks from within the interior or with Muslim refugees from the Balkans.
Already two months later, in mid-July 1914, Said Halim, the Ottoman head of government, informed the German Ambassador about the ‘total removal of the Greek population fro m the littoral of Asia Minor.’5 At this stage the Ottoman Greeks were considered to be internal enemies, in dehumanizing speech called “internal tumors”. The second Dragoman, or inter- preter of the German Embassy, Dr. Herbert Schwörbel, who in summer 1915 travelled twice in official mission to Western Anatolia, found Greek women, children and old people under precarious conditions in concentration camps along the Soma-Pandarma railways. They were deportees from the Marmara coast, entirely left to themselves without food and accommo- dation; Schwörbel concluded: „With the exception of Aivali and Smyrna with its environs the entire Greek civilization, which flourished until recently at the west coast of Asia Minor is d e- stroyed. The reason lies in the Islamist movement in Asia Minor, initiated in the beginning of May last year by the recently immigrated refugees from Macedonia and Mytilene and stirred up by the general governor of Smyrna, Rahmi Bey, with the aim to expel the Christian popula- tions from Asia Minor and to replace them with Muslims.“6
The deportations of rumlars continued throughout the ‘Great War’, accompanied by massa- cres, mass rapes, compulsory labor, confiscation and plunder of properties. The focus was now on the Black Sea, or Pontos area and adjacent regions; the Russian military occupation of the East Pontos only temporarily interrupted the genocidal procedure . In the other areas of Pontos, Greeks were given only four hours’ notice, before being deported. The German vice-consul M. Kuckhoff telegraphed on July 16, 1916 from Samsun:
„ (…) In Turkish the terms deportation and destruction have the same meaning, for in most
cases those who are not killed fall victim to deceases or starvation. Probably these deporta- tions; T.H. are fanatic activities of the vali of Castamuni sic! Kastamonu, who uses the
5 Deutsche Botschaft Konstantinopel [German Embassy to Constantinople], 16. Juli, 1914. – PA/AA [Political
Archives of the German Foreign Ministry], R1913, A14975, quoted from Gust, Wolfgang: op. cit., p. 19
6 Political Archives of the German Foreign Office (PA/AA), Berlin, Akte Türkei [File Turkey] No. 168, Bd. 14 f., No.
552, A. 26689, quoted from: Fotiadis, Konstantinos Emm. (Ed.): The Genocide against the Greeks of Pontos, ibid., S. 96-97
flight of Greek conscripts over the sea and the prevention of espionage as a pretext to ann i-
hilate the entire people.”7
In a special cable the New York Times of August 21, 1916 reported that Turkish authorities in the Black Sea regions
“…are rounding up civilians in a considerable number of villages and sending them off in batches to concentration camps in the interior. This means practically a sentence to death, for in large numbers they are forced to go afoot, absolutely without food. En route these piti- ful caravans are attacked by Turks, who rob them of whatever they have in their possession, unhappy mothers being deprived of their children. The deportations are on a considerable scale.”8
In a letter of 1918 Germanos [Stylianos Karavaggelis; 1866-1953], the Greek-Orthodox Met- ropolitan of Amaseia (Amasya) and Samsun9 described the systematic destruction of Pontos Greek agriculture, emphasising the calculated climate factor for killing the female popula- tion:
"First, the army reduced to ashes the entire surrounding region. Nearly all the villages, rich in tobacco plantations, (…) were pillaged and then set on fire. A large number of women and children were killed, the young girls outraged and immediately afterwards driven into the interior. Where? Into the vilayet of Angora, to Tchoroum, to Soungourlou, and still fur- ther. The winter was of the most severe kind; these girls had to march thirty or forty days across snow-covered mountains and sleep by night in the open. For several days they were without food, for they were not even allowed to use money to buy bread; they were continu- ally beaten by the gendarmes and stripped of any money they might have on them, and when they got to the towns they were brutally pushed into the hot public baths, on the pre-
text of hygiene and cleanliness, and just as quickly dragged out. Thus, an easy prey to the
7 Fotiadis, op. cit., p. 114
8 Turks deporting Greeks: Civilian concentration camps victims attacked and despoiled . “The New York Times”,
August 21, 1916, p. 2. - http://www.greek-genocide.org/press/21081916.html
9 Germanos of Amaseia had been a key-figure in the struggle to assert Greek national claims in the Ottoman
province of Macedonia in the early 20th century. At the behest of the Ottoman authorities, the Holy Synod
removed him from Kastoria in 1907 and named him metropolitan of Amaseia (Pontos) in 1908, where he de- fended the rights of the local Greek and Armenian population against increasing Turkish nationalism. Under penalty of death, he had to flee Turkey in 1923. – See Domenico, Roy Palmer; Hanley, Mark Y. (Ed.s): Encyclo- paedia of Modern Christian Politics. Vol. 1, Westport, 2006, p. 298
rigors of the cold, they were driven on further. The majority, of course, died on the road, and none of the dead being buried at all, vultures and hogs feasted on human flesh.”10
The total figure of Ottoman Greeks, deported during WW1 from Thrace and Asia Minor into the Ottoman interior or to Greece varies by the factor three. While the Ecumenical Patria r- chate and various US-based relief organizations estimated that about half a million Ottoman Greeks had been deported, the Hellenic Foreign Office gave an estimate of 1.5 million depo r- tees.11 According to a cable message of early June 1918 from Athens to the Hellenic Legation at Washington, half of these deportees perished “from torture and illness”.12 Metropolitan Germanos estimated the Pontos Greek casualties even as high as 80 or 90 percent: “Believe
me that out of 160,000 people of Pontus deported, only a tenth and in some places a twenti- eth have survived. In a village, for example, that counted 100 inhabitants, five only will ever return; the others are dead. Rare, indeed are those happy villages where a tenth of the de- ported population has been saved.”13
The rumlars were also the first Christian denomination under Ottoman rule to suffer from forced labour. Already in July and August 1914 Greek-Orthodox men in the age groups of 18 to 48 years had been drafted into the notorious amele tabular-ı or labour battalions of the Ottoman army. Many of them did not survive the hardships of compulsory labour, malnutri- tion and poor accommodation or the lack of it altogether. In a German cable of May 12,
1918 to the Foreign office in Berlin, the statements of Ottoman prisoners of war were quo t- ed, who spoke of a ‘methodical annihilation of the Greeks’, due to the general mobilisation, the confiscation of property and the deportations. These captives mentioned a number of more than 200,000 Greek draftees until the end of 1917, of which many had been slaugh- tered or committed suicide in order to escape the hardships, ill-treatment, diseases, starva- tion and cold weather. The confiscated property of Greeks was of a value of more than 5 million Turkish gold pounds. The Turkish officers had met previous Greek millionaires from Ayvalık, or Kydonies in Greek, deported to the provinces of Mosul or Konya, now in rags, begging or being occupied with roadwork. A daily rate of 40 to 50 Greek deportees would
die from diseases.14 In its public announcement of June 8, 1918, based on the above men-
10 Turkish Cruelty Bared by Greeks. “The New York Times”, June 16, 1918, p. 42
12 Atrocities: Turks slaughter Greeks, sell women to slavery. “Los Angeles Times”, June 9, 1918, p. 11
13 Turkish cruelty bared by Greeks, op. cit.
14 Fotiadis, op. cit., pp. 185-186
tioned reports by Ottoman POWs at Saloniki, the American Committee of Armenian and Syr- ian relief added: “The streets in the larger cities are full of Greek orphans, half-naked and begging for bread because the Turkish authorities have torn them from the bosom of their parents.”15
Immediately after the Ottoman capitulation, the issue of the Ottoman Christian labour co n- scripts was raised during a parliamentary debate by Emmanuil Emmanuilidis, member of the Ottoman Parliament, who on November 4, 1918 set before his colleagues eight issues, of which the seventh had to do with the labour battalions:
“On the occasion of the conscription there were created the labour battalions. They
state authorities destroyed through starvation and through general deprivations 250,000 from the men thus… We ask: ‘What does the new government know of the perpetrators? What does it think on this matter? And, when will it initiate the measures that it is able to undertake?”16
After its capitulation of 30 October 1918 the Ottoman Empire was at least formally under the military control of the victorious Entente states. Three of them – Russia, France and Great Britain – had in a joint note of 24 May 1915 urged the Ottoman war regime to end its persecution of the Armenian population, announcing at the same time that after the war they would hold the members of the Ottoman government responsible for their “crime against humanity and civilization”.17 After the war, but in the same spirit of punitive justice, the British High Commission at Constantinople appointed at the first meeting of its Armen i- an-Greek Section the following five work sub-divisions:
- “Turkish offenders
- Land and property (repatriation and restitution of property)
- Islamized Christians and Christians in Turkish hands
15 Atrocities: Turks slaughter Greeks…, op.cit.
16 Vryonis, Speros: Greek Labor Battalions in Asia Minor. In: Hovannisian, Richard (Ed.): The Armenian genocide:
Cultural and Ethnical Legacies. New Brunswick; London, 2007, p. 286
17 For the full text see http://www.armenian-
- Greeks, Armenians etc. in Turkish prisons”.18
To say the least, none of these missions could be fully accomplished during the period of
1919 to 1922. First of all, the Ottoman Empire at that time was a failing state, whose civilian authorities were either no longer functional, or “venal and corrupt”, as an Allied commission found in 192119; if administrative bodies still existed, they were far from being impartial. Most sided with the Kemalists.
The Ottoman government only half-heartedly collaborated with the Allies in the legal prose- cution of those, who were considered politically responsible for the extermination of the Ottoman Armenians and Greeks. But when it became obvious after the Treaty of Sèvres of
10 August 1920 that the Allies intended the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire instead of
preserving its territorial integrity in the borders of 1914, the Ottoman willingness for colla b- oration dwindled rapidly. Second, there was an open antagonism between the Sultan’s go v- ernment at Constantinople and the rebellious nationalist government at Ankara that emerged in May 1919 under its charismatic and successful leader Mustafa Kemal, who soon started to openly fight both the ancien régime of the Sultan and the Allied occupiers in the name of liberty and anti-imperialism. In this situation the Allies failed not only to bring the genocide perpetrators of WWI to justice, but also to prevent or at least punish subsequent genocidal crimes.
Since May 1919, killings, massacres and even deportations were committed under the pre- text of the Kemalist ‘liberation war’, with the clear aim of preventing the repatriation and resettlement of surviving Armenian and other Christian deportees and to achieve the exte r- mination or expulsion of the remaining Greek residents. Public insecurity remained an ar- dent issue, for likewise politically and criminally motivated highwaymen and bandits conti n-
ued to threaten, rob and kill primarily the Christian population. The Allied High Commission-
18 British Reports on the Ethnic Cleansing in Anatolia, 1919-1922: The Armenian-Greek Section. Compiled by
Vartkes Yeghiayan. Glendake, CA: Center for Armenian Remembrance, 2007,, p. 2
19 Quoted from the Report of the Inter-Allied Yalova Commission (1921) that relates to the Ottoman authorities
at Izmit that obviously collaborated with the Hellenic forces. However, this characteristic contradicts the Com- mission’s assessment that “Turkish civilian administration is non-existent throughout this region [i.e. the dis- tricts of Yalova and Gemlik and the ‘Ismid Peninsula’; TH]. It has not been replaced by any other organization.” - Cf. British Reports, op. cit., p. 9 and 3
er at Constantinople and British Admiral of the Fleet John de Robeck characterized the situa- tion in a report of November 11, 1919:
“(…) the Christians are now bewildered and terrified… Every district has its band of brigands now posing as patriots and even in the vicinity of Constantinople robbery under arms is of daily occurrence, the principal victims being naturally the unprotected Christian villagers. Behind all these elements of disorder stands Mustapha Kemal… The government cannot and will not move a finger to help the Christians.”20
The events on the densely populated, multi-ethnic Yalova, or Izmit Peninsula give an idea about the situation during spring 1920 and 1921. Hellenic forces, to which the Allies had en- trusted the protection of the indigenous Christians of Asia Minor, arrived in Bithynia not be- fore September 192021. At that time, the Bithynian districts of Bursa, Iznik [Nicaea in Greek] and the peninsula and town of Izmit were terrorised by Kemalist paramilitaries, or çeteler under the command of a certain officer Cemal Bey, who was also responsible for massacres in mid-August 1920, in Iznik, an ancient town, where the First and the Seventh Ecumenical Councils had taken place. In his extensive report to the Ecumenical Patriarchate at Constan- tinople, the arch-bishop of the Diocese of Nicaea, Vasilios, gave the details:
“We visited the famous church [Cathedral of the Holy Virgin] and we found it in ruins. The altar was brought down. The famous altar marble slab was broken to pieces. The church mo- saics, except those too high for the profane to reach, were destroyed. Several of the many and ancient icons were broken and their valuable dedicative jewels robbed. (…)
The Turks, not satisfied with the destruction of the historical Christian Cathedral, preceded to the annihilation of the Greek inhabitants of Nicaea. By midnight of August 13th, men, women and children were forced out of their houses and led through the gate of Leuke [Levke; TH] to their place of martyrdom. On the way, some of them could not go on, especially the children,
and the monsters killed them on the spot and threw some of them in wells nearby, while oth-
20 Quoted from: Memorandum by Mr. Rendel on Turkish Massacres and Persecutions of Minorities since the
Armistice", March 20, 1922, British Foreign Office Archives, FO 371/7876, p. 1
21 However, the Inter-Allied Commission mentioned a Hellenic occupation of the Yalova Peninsula since July
1920. Cf. Inter-Allied Commission of Enquiry into Atrocities in Yalova and Guemlek: Reports on Atrocities in the Districts of Yalova and Guemlik and in the Ismid Peninsula, presented to Parliament on command of his Maje s- ty. London: HMSO (1921), p. 10.
ers were covered up with a little earth. Their bodies could be seen for quite a long time a f- terwards. Three wells by the roadside were filled with half dead. Later on they were covered with earth, to stop the odour coming out of them. The remaining victims were led to their place of execution, which was outside a large and deep cave and near a smaller one, a little farther away. They were killed outside these caves and then thrown in them, one upon a n- other. Several bodies were found horribly mutilated, those of the women, whose breasts were cut off and their bellies cut open. A young girl was found crucified on a tree; she was afterwards buried by some Greeks of a village nearby.
While the above tragedy was taking place and the two caves were being filled with the dead mutilated bodies of Greeks, a horrible scene was happening in the city and within the court of the church. Some women escaping the persecutions took refuge inside the church, where Nicaea's only Priest, named Jordan, was present. The women were all slaughtered and their bodies were thrown in the well of the church court, where blood marks can still be seen. The Priest, with a bridle in his mouth, was forced to go about the town on all four, carrying a Turkish boy astride on his back. He then was led to the large cave outside the city, where he was killed, like the rest of his congregation.”22
During 1920 and 1921, the Izmit sancak saw the massive victimization of indigenous Chris- tians. The Smyrna born Greek war correspondent in Asia Minor, Konstantinos Faltaits pub- lished several survivor testimonies very event close in 1921. Survivor Eleni Vafiadis of the Lefkes villages gave the following example for sexualized torture of Greek women:
„The women would beg:
‚Don’t kill us by torturing us…kill us quickly’.
22 Quoted from: Ecumenical Patriarchate: The Black Book of the Sufferings of the Greek People in Turkey from the Armistice to the end of 1920. Constantinople: Press of the Patriarchate, 1920, p.78 f. - http://pontosworld.com/index.php/genocide/books/1254-the-black-book-ecumenical- patriarchatehttp://pontosworld.com/index.php/genocide/books/1254-the-black-book-ecumenical-patriarchate
But the Turks toyed with the women, raping them. They would cut out the nipples of their breasts passing them around and playing with them like a komboloi (worry beads), and then would kill the women by torturing them horribly.”23
In its conclusive report of 1921, the Inter-Allied Yalova Commission stated that “there is no doubt that there have been a large number of atrocities in the Ismid peninsula, and it ap- pears that those on the part of the Turks have been more considerable and ferocious than those on the part of the Greeks".24 Overall, the commission tended to rather dismiss the Turkish accusations of massacres, committed by local Greeks or the Hellenic Forces as exa g- gerated or baseless, while at the same time admitting that
“Attacks on Christians (…) increased in numbers and ferocity — more particularly with regard to the Greeks — in March 1920, and even more so in June and July 1920 (when preparations were being made for Greek offensives).
Turkish bands of a more or less Kemalist persuasion are scouring the entire sanjak of Ismid as far as the environs of Scutari (Pashakeui [Paşaköy], 20 kilom. east of Scutari). As often as not, these bands are assisted by the Turkish inhabitants of neighboring villages. A large number of villages have thus been looted or burnt and their decimated population has been obliged to flee. (…) The Greek authorities have submitted a list of thirty-two villages looted or burnt, with more than 12,000 persons massacred, 2,500 missing, and the remainder of the popula- tion (more than 15,000) living as refugees at Ismid. In view of the numerous witnesses exam- ined by it, the commission is of the opinion that these facts should be accepted as fundame n- tally true, notwithstanding a certain amount of exaggeration in the figures.”25
The following photograph reveals that in summer 1920 atrocities occurred also in other re- gions, in this case in the Ionian town Nazili. Survivors, who managed to escape from their burnt and plundered villages, frequently sought refuge in forests and on mountainsid es, if they could not make it to areas under the control of the Hellenic forces. Persecuted by the Kemalist irregulars, these hiding refugees often had to secure their survival by suffocating or
poisoning with opium their infants.
23 Faltaits, Kostas: The Genocide of the Greeks in Turkey: Survivor Testimonies From The Nicomedia (Ozmit) Massacres of 1920-1921. Translated and edited by Ellene S. Phufas-Jousma and Aris Tsilfidis. River Vale, NJ: Cosmos Publishing, 2016, p. 86
24 Inter-Allied Commission of Enquiry into Atrocities in Yalova and Guemlek, op. cit., p. 9
25 Inter-Allied Commission of Enquiry into Atrocities in Yalova and Guemlek, op. cit., p. 10
The defeat and withdrawal of the Hellenic forces in the late summer of 1922 and the subse- quent seizure of the entirely undefended port city of Smyrna on 9th September 1922 by Ke- malist regular and irregular forces mark the end of the final and most destructive phase. Smyrna, the ‘Little Paris of the Near East’ and previously seat of the Hellenic administration in Ionia, was a predominantly Christian city of approx. 300,000 residents and at that time refuge for many Christians from adjacent and even distant provinces. The Kemalists waited until the night of 13th of September, until the wind blew from a favourable for them direc- tion, before they set fire on the Armenian quarter, which soon spread over the adjacent Greek quarter. As planned by the arsonists, many Christians died in their burning houses, were killed by collapsing walls or drowned in the harbour, when trying to escape to the A l- lied navy of 27 battle ships. It added to the horrors that the Allies watched, more or less i n- differently, how their Christian co-religionists were burnt, slaughtered, raped, shot down by
machine guns or drowned, when repulsed by the Allied crews. Three days later the Kemalist commander Nureddin ordered that all Greek and Armenian men of 18 until 45 years of age to be treated as prisoners of war26, while the remaining Christian Smyrniotes and refugees had to leave the country with a notice of only 14 days. Men and women were then separa t- ed, the men, perhaps 300,000 from Smyrna and adjacent areas, being led away and shot in groups27 outside Smyrna or other Greek towns of Western Anatolia. The remainder was kept in a state of slavery28 and treated with genocidal intent.
Dr Esther Lovejoy of the American Red Cross was eye-witness to the fate of the remaining Christian women: “I was the first American Red Cross woman in France, but what I saw there during the Great War seems a love feast beside the horrors of Smyrna. When I arrived at Smyrna there was massed on the quays 250,000 people – wretched, suffering and screaming
-- with women beaten and with their clothes torn off them, families separated and everybody robbed. Knowing their lives depended on escape before Sept. 30, the crowds remained packed along the water front -- so massed that there was no room to lie down. The sanitary
conditions were unspeakable.
26 Angelomatis, Ch.: Chronikon Megalis Tragodias, Athens, Bookshop of Estia, n.d., p. 262. - Compare an English translation of the proclamation. http://www2.fhw.gr/chronos/13/en/foreign_policy/sources/14.html
27 Housepian, Marjorie: The Smyrna Affair: The first comprehensive account of the burning of the city and the
expulsion of the Christians from Turkey in 1922. New York, 1971, p. 172-173
28 Venezis, Ilias: The Number 31328 (Το Νούμερο 31328). Athens: Hestia, 1956, 1995, p. 161
Three-quarters of the crowd were women and children, and never have I seen so many wo m- en carry children. It seemed that every other woman was an expectant mother. The flight and the conditions brought on many premature births, and on the quay with scarcely room to lie down and without aid most of the children were born. In the five days I was there more than 200 such confinements occurred.
Even more heartrending were the cries of children who had lost their mothers or mothers who had lost their children. They were herded along through the great guarded enclosure, and there was no turning back for lost ones. Mothers in the strength of madness climbed the steel fences fifteen feet high and in the face of blows from the butts of guns sought the chil- dren, who ran about screaming like animals.
(…) On Sept. 28 the Turks drove the crowds from the quays, where the searchlights of the allied warships played on them, into the side streets. All that night the screams of women and girls were heard, and it was declared next day that many were taken for slaves. "The Smyrna horror is beyond the conception of the imagination and the power of words. It is a crime for which the whole world is responsible in not having through the civilized ages bui lt up some means to prevent such orders as that of the evacuation of a city and the means with which it was carried out. It is a crime for the world to stand by through a sense of neutrality and permit this outrage against 200,000 women."29
For the deported Ionian Greeks, the chances to survive the forced labor battalions were small. As the author and survivor Elias Venezis (born Mellos, 1904-1973) reported in his event close recollections, less than one percent of the about three thousand forced laborers in his battalion survived. Although it was already very cold in the nights of early October
1922, these Greeks had to undress and were driven by their guards half-naked to Manisa
(Greek: Magnesia), where their first task consisted in the discreet and hasty disposal of the rotting corpses of 40,000 murdered Christians from Manisa, and Smyrna, so that they would
29 Woman pictures Smyrna horrors: Dr. Esther Lovejoy, an eyewitness, tells of terrible scenes on the Quay; she assails neutrality; declares it a crime for the world to lack the means to prevent such outrages. – “The New York Times”, October 9, 1922, p. 3
not be seen by the Spanish representative of the League of Nations, who visited the area at that time.
Summary and conclusion
“What is genocide?” Scholars of genocide and history delivered diverse answers, but geno- cide, first of all, is a crime – the ultimate crime. Therefore we have to consider the one and only internationally binding legal definition, as given by Raphael Lemkin, who became the initiator of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.30
For Lemkin, the decisive element of genocide is not physical destruction or massive killings, but rather “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups them- selves. (…) Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions i n- volved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the
30 Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948; ratified by Turkey, 1950) reads: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
31 Lemkin, Raphael: Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation - Analysis of Government - Proposals for
Redress. (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), p. 79
Lemkin’s definition bases largely on the examples of genocides committed during the World Wars of the 20th century: the Ottoman genocide against indigenous Christians and the Nazi destruction of European Jewry during the Second World War. Against a background of ma s- sive flight and migration, of war and civic war it is difficult to offer loadable figures.
In recent research the total of Greek Orthodox victims killed during the last decade of Otto- man rule is estimated to be as high as 900,000 or even more than one million, considering the many casualties that occurred during the expulsion or the first months after their arrival in destitute Greece, where many of the mikrasiates succumbed to hardships, diseases and despair.
With their bilateral treaty, Greece and Turkey sealed the mutual forced expatriation and eviction of their religious minorities in January 1923. As the Swiss historian and scholar of Turkish studies, Hans-Lukas Kieser concluded, with the multilateral Lausanne Peace Treaty of July 1923 the victorious allies sanctified the "expulsion and liquidation of millions of people" in favor of a “breakneck national renewal", which a dominant elite had conducted at the expense of the Non-Muslim Ottomans: "There was no more talk of returning Armenian refu- gees and the creation of justice. In addition, the treaty provided for the first time for a Greek- Turkish population transfer in the large dimension, which legalized an ‘ethnic cleansing’ that had already taken place for the most part. Referring to talks about Kurdish, Armenian and Greek minorities in his country, Riza Nur, general secretary of the Turkish conference deleg a- tion, noted that 'these foreign elements are a plague and microbes' and that the Kurds must
be cleansed of foreign language and race through 'assimilation program'.32 (…)" 33
Compared with the genocide against the Ottoman Armenians as the other large in numbers Christian ethnicity that was destroyed by Turkish nationalists, we find more commonalities than differences; all key-elements of the Armenian case such as elitocide, forced labor, mas- sacres, deportations and the transfer of children took place in the Greek case as well, often prior to the Armenian genocide. The differences exist rather in temporal dimensions than in the applied methods: The destruction of 1.5 million Armenians took only 19 months, while the destruction of the Ottoman Greeks occurred, regionally and cumulatively over the span of a decade. This long duration explains perhaps by the fact that the Hellenic neutrality dur- ing WW1 – until 1917 – prevented nation-wide deportations of Ottoman Greeks. Together
with its cumulative nature, the regionalization of genocidal events is a characteristic feature
32 Rıza Nur: Hayat ve Hatiratim, Vol. 2, Istanbul, 1992, p. 260
33 Kieser, Hans-Lukas: Armeniermord und Diplomatie: Von der Lästigkeit vertuschter Geschichte. „Traverse:
Zeitschrift für Geschichte“, 2002-2, p. 135
of the genocide against the Ottoman Greeks before and during the World War. As soon as Greece entered the war, the fate of the romyi depended on the Hellenic success or failures during the world war and after. Most scholars of genocide today agree that the massacres, deportations and slave labor of the Ottoman Greeks correspond with Raphael Lemkin’s and the United Nations’ definition of genocide.
The International Association of Genocide Scholars as the largest academic union issued on December 15th, 2007 a resolution that evaluated the destruction of the Ottoman Greeks as genocide.34 In the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, deportation is enlisted among the eleven crimes against humanity, together with murder, extermination, enslave- ment, imprisonment, rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution and persecution against an identifiable collectivity on religious, national and ethnic grounds, as given in article 7 of the
Statute; all these crimes were event close documented in the case of the Ottoman Greeks.
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