In 1914, at the beginning of World War I, the leaders of the Ottoman Empire set into motion one of the darkest pages in human history – the genocide of its Greek, Armenian, and Christian minorities.
1. The Genocide is a Historical Fact
Beginning in 1914, the Young Turks leading the Ottoman Empire decided to implement a policy of “Turkification.” In a prelude to the heinous acts committed by the Nazi regime in Germany, the Turks began systematically targeting their Christian minorities.
At the outbreak of WW I, the Turks began rounding up young men and sending them to “labor battalions.” These camps, however, were “battalions of death,” where forced labor, hunger, and exposure to severe weather conditions killed most. After eliminating a significant portion of the male population, they turned to the women, children, and the elderly. They rounded up entire villages and systematically deported them into Turkey’s interior. In some cases they simply summarily shot their victims outside their villages.
Very few survived these horrendous marches, where most perished as a result of hunger, illness, extreme weather, and brutal murders. A number of Greeks on the Aegean coast were able to escape to Greek islands, while some Greeks on the Black Sea coast escaped to the mountains or Russia.
The nightmare only came to an end with the forced exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1923. By 1923, more than 700,000 out of approximately 2 million Greeks living in Asia Minor at the beginning of World War I perished as a result of Turkey’s policy of “Turkification.” Overall, more than 2.5 million Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians were killed as a result of centrally planned and systematically executed deportations and murder. As a result of these actions, today Christians account for less than .1% of Turkey’s population.
The final act of Turkey’s genocide took place in September, 1922, where the Greek presence in Asia Minor was wiped out in the Great Fire of Smyrna. Mustapha Kemal’s army swept through the city, massacring its Christian inhabitants, and setting fire to the Greek and Armenian quarters thus erasing anything that would remind future generations of their presence.
Those who survived the death marches, the Turkish brutalities, and the fires of Smyrna landed on Greece’s shores as refugees, rebuilding the world they lost in the shantytowns of Piraeus and Thessaloniki. Many also made the journey across the Atlantic to the major cities of the United States.
2. The US must recognize the Genocide
Until the word genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin, this cataclysmic event in Hellenic history was simply referred to by Greeks as “The Massacre”, “The Great Catastrophe”, or “The Great Tragedy”.
Today, despite the overwhelming evidence, the fight for recognition continues. Turkey continues to deny its responsibility, attempting to rewrite history and lay the blame on its victims. It threatens countries that decide to recognize the genocide of Turkey’s Christian minorities and employs pseudo-scholars to hide the truth. For decades, it has employed a host of lobbyists to prevent the US from recognizing the first great crime of the 20th century.
Fortunately the facts about the first genocide of the 20th century are abundant and easily accessible to the public. The Armenian, Greek and Assyrian Genocide is documented by thousands of official records, eyewitness accounts, testimonies of survivors, reporters, and decades of historical scholarship. It is indisputable.
Recognizing the Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian genocide of the early 20th century not just about historical truth. Turkey’s policy of “Turkification” did not end in 1923. Since then Turkey has engaged in a number of acts aimed at its Christian minorities marked by several milestones: the September 1955 Istanbul Pogrom that targeted the Greek Orthodox population of the city, the seizure of Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Assyrian church properties, the destruction Christian sites in occupied Cyprus, and the closure of the Halki Theological Seminary.
It is time the world stood up for the truth.