April 25, 2009

HELLENIC GENOCIDE: Was it a "Catastrophe" or a "Devastation"?

By Stella L. Jatras

There is an effort by the Greek government to remove the offending word "Genocide" and instead referring to the massacre of Greek martyrs in Asia Minor at the hands of Turkish forces during the early part of the last century as a "Catastrophe." Other reports state that the term "Genocide" would also be referred to as a "Devastation." Does the Greek government actually believe that by doing so it will incur the appreciation of the Turkish government? And which is it to be? Is it a "Catastrophe," or is it a "Devastation?" Either way, the fact that Greek Christians also bore the wrath of Muslim Turks and were slaughtered under hideous and barbaric conditions, "Catastrophe" or "Devastation" is merely a slap on the wrist and an insult to the memory of the Greek martyrs.

In her book, Not Even My Name, Thea Halo writes, "But the most dramatic change in Turkey was the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians, 750,000 Assyrians, and 353,000 Pontic Greeks, and the cruel death marches to exile of 1.5 million more Greeks from Turkey; death marches on which countless other Pontians lost their lives, all between 1915 and 1923. This genocide, euphemistically termed "ethnic cleansing", and "relocation", eliminated most, if not all, of the Christian minorities in Turkey, and brought to a tragic end the 3,000 year history of the Pontic Greeks in Asia Minor." Extermination of an entire race of people, as were the Pontic Greeks, is not a "Catastrophe," nor a "Devastation." It is a "GENOCIDE." Yet the slaughter of Greek martyrs in Asia Minor is mostly ignored even by Greek-American politicians who plead on the floor of the House of Representatives for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, but make no mention of the fact that the Greek population in Asia Minor also suffered cruelly at the hands of the Turks. Sadly, I have spoken with Armenians who didn t even know that their fellow Orthodox Christians were also being slaughtered during that horrible period in history.

On Sunday, September 7, 1997, I attended the 75th Anniversary of the Destruction of the City of Smyrna which was sponsored by the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater Baltimore-Washington Region (in cooperation with The Council of Hellenes Aborad (SAE), The American Hellenic Institute, The Greek American Monthly, Diaspora, and The Asia Minor Holocaust Memorial Society.) According to their estimates, 3.5 million Christians were martyred. Of those, 1.8 were Armenian and 1.7 were Greek. However, we may never know the true number of Christian martyrs.

In his book, Passage to Ararat, Michael Arlen writes that Turkish women were given the dagger (Hanjar) to give the final stab to dying Armenians in order to gain credit in the eyes of Allah as having killed a Christian.

Another interesting note in history is that during the Asia Minor genocide, there were ships in the Smyrna harbor from Great Britain, the United States, France, Japan and Italy, among others. To escape the massacring Turks, the Christian population swam out to these ships.

The ships' crews, however, hit the hands of those trying to board so that they would fall back into the sea or literally push them back into the sea. Their excuse? They did not want to offend the Turkish government. Only the Japanese captain took pity on the victims and allowed them on board. To confirm this tragic event, author Nicholas Gage writes in his book, Greek Fire, and gives the following account: "Foreign battleships [i.e., warships] - English, American, Italian and French - were anchored in the harbor, sent by the major powers initially in support of Greek forces but later told to maintain neutrality. They would or could do nothing for the 200,000 refugees on the quai. The pitiful throng - huddled together, sometimes screaming for help but mostly waiting in a silent panic beyond hope -- didn't budge for days. Typhoid reduced their numbers, and there as no way to dispose of the dead.

"Occasionally a person would swim from the dock to one of the anchored ships and tried to climb the ropes and chains, only to be driven off. On the American battleships the musicians onboard were ordered to play as loudly as they could to drown out the screams of the pleading swimmers. The English poured boiling water down on the unfortunates who reached their vessel. The harbor was so clogged with corpes that the officers of the foreign battleships were often late to their dinner appointments because bodies would get tangled in the propellers to their launches."

Gage also describes how a young Aristotle Onassis later "walked through the city to find his father's warehouse at Daragaz Point burned to the ground, though the office on the Grand Visier Hane still stood, despite the fires, guarded by Turkish soldiers. Mutlilated corpses were everywhere. A cluster of women's heads bound together like coconuts by their long hair floated down a river toward the harbour."

An especially moving portrait of the genocide is the account of the mutilation of Greek Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Smyrna. According to eye-witness testimony from G. Mylonas, of the academy of Athens, "the mob fell upon Chrysostomos," and committed some of the most horrendous acts of cruelty. "All the while, Chrysostomos, his pale face covered with blood, had his face turned upward, continuously praying, 'Holy Father, forgive them, for they know not that they are doing.' Every now and then, when he had the strength to do so, he would raise his right hand and bless his persecutors. A Turk realized what Chrysostomos was doing, and got so furious that he cut off the Metropolitcan's hand with his sword. Metropolitan Chrysostomos fell to the ground, and was hacked to pieces by the angry mob."

The Armenian community is to be commended for its dedication and passion in remembrance of their Armenian martyrs. It is past time for the Greek community to show the same dedication and passion. They can start by calling or writing our congressmen and senators.

The American Hellenic Media Project (AHMP) is one of many organizations circulating a petition protesting the Greek government's denial of the Hellenic genocide. AHMP (
ahmp@hri.org) writes: "Greece's current administration is planning to remove references to the word "genocide" from a parliamentary law already in existence that recognizes the genocide of Asia Minor's Greek communities by the Turkish state during the early part of the 20th century." For those of you who have the capability and wish to sign the petition, please go to: http://www.greece.org/genocide and to http://www.greece.org/genocide/petition_form.html and your vote will be electronically recorded by the Hellenic Electronic Center. For further information, you can also write them at P.O. Box 596, DE, 19703-0596, or to ask a question, you can e-mail them at action@hec.greece.org. If you prefer, you can send a brief note directly to: mailto:GreekParliment@hec.greece.org.

"A cluster of women's heads bound together like coconuts by their long hair floated down a river toward the harbour," is not exactly my idea of its being just a "Catastrophe," or a "Disaster." Indeed not.

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