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To early Greek writers, Pontus vaguely denoted any coastland of the "Inhospitable Sea" beyond the Bosporus. To Herodotus it meant the southern littoral of the Euxine (Black Sea), which was often called simply Pantos (the Main) by the Greeks, and to Xenophon the south-eastern. It had not a definite geographical meaning till the founding of the kingdom of Pontus by Mithridates in the troubled period which followed the death of Alexander the Great.

Under the last king, Mithradates Eupator, commonly called the Great, the realm of Pontus included not only Pontic Cappadocia but also the seaboard from the Bithynian frontier to Colchis, part of inland Paphlagonia, and Lesser Armenia (see under MithraDates). With the destruction of this kingdom by Pompey in 64 B.C., the meaning of the name Pontus underwent a change. Part of the kingdom was now annexed to the Roman Empire, being united with Bithynia in a double province called " Pontus and Bithynia": this part included (possibly from the first, but certainly from about 40 B.C. onwards) only the seaboard between Heracleia (Eregli) and Amisus (Samsun), the ora Pontica. Hereafter the simple name Pontus without qualification was regularly employed to denote the half of this dual province, especially by Romans and people speaking from the Roman point of view; it is so used almost always in the New Testament.

This region is regarded by the geographer Strabo (AD 10-20), himself a native of the country, as Pontus in the strict sense of the term. Its native population was of the same stock as that of Cappadocia, of which it had formed a part, an Oriental race often called by the Greeks Leucosyri or White Syrians, as distinguished from the southern Syrians, who were of a darker complexion, but, their precise ethnological relations are uncertain. Geographically it is a table-land, forming the north-east corner of the great plateau of Asia Minor, edged on the north by a lofty mountain rim, along the foot of which runs a fringe of coast-land. The table-land consists of a series of fertile plains, of varying size and elevation separated from each other by upland tracts or mountains,

The first cities of Pontus to receive Christianity were doubtless those of the seaboard, from which it must have rapidly spread inland. Pliny the Younger was sent to administer Pontus and Bithynia in AD 111, and his correspondence with Trajan gives a clear idea of the changes already being wrought by the new religion-in his view a "superstitio grava immodica" - not only in the great towns but in remote country places. His reference to renegades who professed to have renounced their Christian faith as much as twentyfive years previously indicates that some parts of the province had been evangelized some time before AD 87 or 88.

These inaccessible slopes were inhabited even in Strabo's time by wild, half-barbarous tribes, of whose ethnical relations we are ignorant-the Chalybes (identified by the Greeks with Homer's Chalybes), Tibareni, Mosynoeci and Macrones, on whose manners and condition some light is thrown by Xenophon. But the fringe of coast-land from Trebizond westward is one of the mpst beautiful parts of Asia Minor and is justly extolled by Strabo for its wonderful productiveness.

The sea-coast, like the rest of the south shore of the Euxine, was studded with Greek colonies founded from the 6th century onwards. The Empire of Trebizond was established in 1204 by the Royal family of the Comnenus in Pontus as one of the successor states of the fallen Byzantine Empire. The new state enjoyed significant military and economic support from Georgia. Its population consisted predominantly of Pontic Greeks, Georgians, Georgian-related Laz people, as well as Armenians, Jews , etc. Protected by the high mountains and strong fortresses, the empire of Trebizond outlived the restored Byzantine Empire and managed to survive the expansion of the Ottoman Turks until the year 1462 when it surrendered to the Ottomans without fight.

By the 19th Century the term Pontic Greeks included all those Greeks who lived in the hill country bordering the southern shore of the Black Sea. They were generally agriculturists, and in many instances had preserved their language as well as their religion. The sympathies of these Pontic Greeks were entirely Russian, and every year a few families emigrate, not always to their own profit, to Russian soil. Far more ignorant, and far less cultivated in every way than the Cappadocian Greeks, they had often the sturdiness and independence of mountaineers, and had been known to meet in open fight and hold their own against the dreaded Circassians. The mountain Greeks were exceedingly superstitious, and entirely under the influence of their priests, who were little more advanced than themselves. In some of the wilder districts the men presented a rather uncouth appearance, with their long unkempt hair, and eager, excitable manner; but they were, when their fear or caution was overcome, extremely hospitable to strangers; and any one who wished to observe primitive Greek habits, and gather up the old Greek folk-lore before it had passed away, could not do better than spend a couple of months with them in their lovely mountain homes.

Pontus Pontus Pontus

Pontus - The Greek Version

Pontus was the last region of the Byzantine Empire to succumb to the Ottomans, after the fall of Constantinople. Despite attempts to forcibly Islamise the region's inhabitants over the course of five centuries, the plethora of churches, monasteries and schools built by the Pontus Greeks between 1471 and 1914 attests to the failure of efforts to expunge the Greek character of the region.

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 700,000 Greeks in the Ottoman Empire's Pontus region. Until 1922, there were six Metropolitan Churches of the Ecumenical Patriarchate (Amasya, Gumushane/Haldea, Niksar/Neokesaria, Makca/Rodopolis, Trabzon/Trapezous and Sebinkarahisar/Kolonia) in the area. After the Ottoman Empires defeat in the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), the Young Turks regime (1913-1918), and subsequently the government under Kemal Ataturk (1919-1923), decided to resolve the Ottoman Empires nationalities problem by driving the autochthonous population from their ancestral lands.

The beginning of the First World War saw the first violent attacks against Pontus Greeks. In 1916, there were widespread ethnic cleansing operations against them in Samsun and Bafra (Pafra). By 1923, some 353,000 people - half the ethnic Greek population of Pontus - had been wiped out. Moreover, the 1,134 churches and 960 schools of the region were razed to the ground. These operations continued even after 1923, with a view to eradicating the last remaining Pontus Greeks, who were either hidden or trapped in the mountains. Those who survived the genocide emigrated to Greece, Australia, the United States of America and Canada.

The genocide of the Black Sea Greeks was recognised by the Hellenic Parliament by Law 2193/94 (Government Gazette 78/A/1994), which establishes 19th May as a Day of Remembrance of the Genocide. On this day, public and private bodies organise commemorative events throughout Greece. The genocide of the Black Sea Greeks has also been recognised in Declarations and Resolutions by the legislative bodies of the American States of New Jersey (2002), New York (2002), Pennsylvania (2004), New York (2005), Florida (2005) and Massachusetts (2006).

Pontus - The Turkish Version

Greece claims that between 1916-1923 the Greek Orthodox population then living in the eastern Black Sea region of Turkey became the victim of a systematic policy of extermination by the Turkish authorities of the day and that those who were able to escape did so by taking refuge in Greece. On 24 February 1994, the Greek Parliament adopted "19 May" as a "Day for Commemorating the Turkish genocide against the Pontus Greeks". But history and the facts are at odds with Greek claims and point unmistakably in another direction.

The term "Pontus" evolves from "Pont-Euxin", which in ancient Greek denotes the Black Sea. The emergence of Hellenic influence in the Black Sea region can be traced back to the Ionnians who established Greek type city-states in Sinop and Trabzon in the VI. century B.C.. The Macedonian King of Philippe and his son, Alexander the Great, drove the Persians out of the South-East Black Sea Coasts and consolidated their influence in the region. Following the takeover of Istanbul by Catholic/Latin Europeans, the Byzantines living in Istanbul emigrated to the Eastern Black Sea region and founded the Kingdom of Pontus. Despite the fact that it was unable to maintain full and effective control over the region, the Pontus Kingdom managed to survive for some 250 years and later came under the domination of the Ottoman Empire in 1461 following the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmet.

Though formerly an element of simple folklore, the term "Pontus" was after the events in Cyprus in 1974, loaded with ideological content with the aim of fuelling hostile feelings towards Turkey. It was contemplated by Greek policy-makers that the exploitation of the "Pontus" idea would help in their efforts to undermine the political and cultural principles on which the modern Turkish state stands and would also provide a pretext for forcing out members of the Turkish Minority from Western Thrace.

Indeed, in the effort to change the demographical composition of the intensely Turkish populated Western Thrace, the Greek government settled in Western Thrace 120,000 "Pontian Greeks" that emigrated from the territories of the former Soviet Union. In line with the Greek plan of forcing the Turks out of the region, these immigrants, who did not even know Greek language, were injected and saturated with a forced "Pontus consciousness" so that they would acquiesce in their being settled in Western Thrace.

In the first part of the twentieth century when the Ottoman Empire was fast collapsing, ethnic Greek irregulars, armed and encouraged by Greece, operated in the Turkish Black Sea coast regions. The Ottoman authorities had considerable difficulty in controlling them. Banditry by these groups often deteriorated into slaughter of Turkish villagers. Over 40 ethnic Greek bandit groups plundered Turkish villagers and murdered at least 2,000 Turks, including elderly, women, and children. After the 1918 Armistice Agreement, Greece and the Greek community in Anatolia tried to take advantage of the weakness of the Ottoman Sultan in maintaining effective control in the region and the Greek irregulars attempted to create an ethnic Greek state on the Black Sea coast modeled on the ancient state of Pontus.

Many foreign observers who at the time visited the region comment on the turmoil which these Greek irregulars had created. The American High Commissioner, Mark Bristol, in a report he wrote after a journey along the Black Sea coast, drew attention to the anarchy which the Greeks were fomenting.

During his visit to Zile in February 1920, even a Greek lieutenant was bewildered by the menacing actions of Bishop Eftimious against the public authorities. Lieutenant Karaiskos reported that Eftimios threatened to send his 5,000 armed irregulars to the city, if the prefect of Samsun failed to release the imprisoned chief of one of his bands. On July 7 1920, the Athens Pontus Committee, in a memorandum delivered to the Greek government, proposed that 20,000 well-equipped men from Pontus should be sent to inland districts of Anatolia to support the invading Greek forces. The very fact that the armed irregulars of the ethnic Greeks in the Pontus numbered 20,000 reveals the magnitude of the threat they posed to the Turkish civilian population in the region.

While public disorder persisted in the eastern Black Sea region, the authorities of the Allied occupation forces in Turkey deliberately misrepresented the precautionary measures taken by the Turkish security forces as "genocide." They did so with the expectation that turmoil in the region would give them a pretext for occupying it under the Armistice Agreement.

On May 19, 1919, Mustafa Kemal landed at Samsun mandated by the Ottoman Government to inspect the situation. Contrary to claims being made in Greece, Mustafa Kemal did no more than prepare reports about the situation and dispatch them to the Ottoman Government. Mustafa Kemal's only intervention was in late 1920, when he instructed local Turkish authorities to be more attentive to the needs of the ethnic Greek population. (These instructions are registered in the official minutes of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey.)

According to Turkish accounts, Greek claims that there were "700,000" Greeks in the eastern Turkish Black Sea region and that 350,000 of these were slaughtered is a blatant distortion of history.

Even a cursory examination of foreign and local sources about the population of Greeks in the region would immediately establish that Greek suggestion of "700,000" is fictitious. The King Krane Commission, authorised by the American government, reported on 28 August 1919 that the estimated number of Greek residents in the eastern Black Sea region was 200,000. "Documents Diplomatiques" issued by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that, according to the Ottoman census held between 1893 and 1897, the Greek population was 193,000 in Trabzon and 76,068 in Sivas Provinces. This means that the total Greek population at that time was 269,068. In 1923 at the Lausanne Conference, Elefterios Venizelos, the Prime Minister of Greece, relied on exaggerated numbers given by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul and claimed that the population of Greeks living in the Black Sea region was 447,828. This figure is excessive, but even if one accepts it, it is still far below the current Greek claim of 700,000.

Nor is there any evidence in historical documents supporting Greek allegations that there existed 350,000 ethnic Greeks in the Canik Sanjak of Trabzon. Leon Maccas, in a book entitled "L' Héllenisme de L'Asie Mineure" noted that there were 136,087 Greek inhabitants in the area. The 1906 Yearbook of the Province of Trabzon contradicts Maccas by specifying that the province had only 75,062 ethnic Greek inhabitants in Canik Sanjak. The Patriarchate records in Istanbul put the ethnic Greeks of the sanjak at 193,000. Although these figures differ from one another, they are all well below the present day Greek claim of 350,000. Only around 100,000 ethnic Greeks emigrated to Greece from Canik at the time of the population exchange, which again makes it very difficult to assert, as the Greeks do, that 350,000 people were annihilated.

In 1923, with the conclusion of the "Agreement on the Exchange of Turkish and Greek Populations" between Turkey and Greece, 322,500 Greek residents of the region emigrated peacefully to Greece. Given the fact that 322,500 Greeks emigrated to Greece and the above estimates about the population of Greeks in the region, the allegation of a genocide involving 350,000 Greeks stands as a malicious lie.

History thus points to Greece as the party that should apologise for the war crimes it committed during its invasion of Anatolia, and the atrocities committed by Greek bands in the Black Sea region, instead of being the party that can shamelessly level unfounded allegations about the so-called Pontus genocide. Article 59 of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne refers to the war crimes committed by Greece in Anatolia. It will be recalled that crimes committed in wartime against civilians are among the most serious forms of human rights breaches. Today, Greece is continuing to violate the human rights of the Turkish Minority in Western Thrace despite her commitments and obligations stemming from international treaties. The world community, as documented in numerous reports by human rights watch groups, is aware of the fact that the Turkish Minority in Western Thrace is subject to policies of systematic exclusion and discrimination. Greece cannot cover up its own past record and its present day policies aimed at suppression of the Turkish Minority.

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Page last modified: 07-08-2012 13:20:32 ZULU