PONTUS 1921-22: A Region of Death
This short article will outline the fate of the Pontian Greeks who lived
along the southern shores of the Black Sea in the period 1921-22. American
personnel of the Near East Relief based in Sivas passed information on to
the Allied High Commissioners in Constantinople of atrocities committed by
the Kemalists.There is no doubt the Kemalists pursued a systematic policy
of genocide against the Pontian Greek population.
Arnold Toynbee, the British historian and correspondent of the Manchester
Guardian newspaper in 1921, mentioned that during the months of June -
September 1921, the Kemalists arrested many Greeks in the Pontus region
believing that a Pontian revolutionary movement was to link up with the
Greek army to attack the capital of Nationalist Turkey, Angora. In order to
safeguard its military position, the Angora administration deported Pontian
Greeks into the Anatolian interior. There were four factors which possibly
influenced the decision of the Angora regime. These were - (1) they were
seeking revenge for Greek atrocities committed against Moslems in early
1921 in the Yalova-Guemlik districts of the Ismid Peninsula. An
inter-allied commission appointed by the Entente - Britain, France and
Italy- delivered a critical report of the Greek administration in Ismid;
(2) the Greek navy shelled Black Sea towns which contained Turkish
ammunition dumps. These dumps were considered legitimate targets by the
Greek navy; (3) the Turks feared a Greek military invasion along the Black
Sea coast proceeding inland, thus threatening the security of Angora. Such
a manoeuvre could have been considered by the Turks as part of the overall
Greek strategy to occupy Angora; and finally the Greek navy might drop arms
and munitions for the local Greek population or revolutionary organisation
to use against the Kemalists. It could be argued that Angora considered a
Greek military or naval assault along the Black Sea coast as posing a
serious threat to its security.
Even if a Pontian revolutionary organisation staged an insurrection
the Kemalist regime in the middle of 1921 Angora had the right to arrest
the ringleaders of this movement and charge them with treason. Such a
conspiratorial organisation, however, did not exist in Pontus at this time.
The Greek military plan to occupy Angora in August/September 1921 gave the
Kemalists the opportunity to settle the problem of Christian populations
under its authority once and for all.
Turkish regular forces and chetes (guerilla bands) burned down many
Christian villages. Some individuals were arrested on the false charge of
belonging to a secret society named "Pontos." On the other hand, the
massacres and deportations of men, women and children into the Anatolian
interior by the Kemalists could not be justified under any circumstance.
In 1921 Monsignor Nicholas, Acting Metropolitan Ecumenical Patriarch
Cesearea, tried unsuccessfully to involve the League of Nations and Great
Britain to stop the deportations and massacres in Pontus. On November
13/26, he appealed to the League of Nations requesting that it take the
necessary measures to protect the Greeks from Turkish reprisals. In his
communication, Monsignor Nicholas mentioned that massacres had taken place
in Bafra, Merzifun, Kavak, Hafza and Alatsam.
The " Tribunals of Independence" set up by the Kemalists sentenced to death
and executed prominent community members such as doctors, lawyers, profe
ssors, bank directors, prominent businessmen and clergy. This was one
method of destroying the leaders and intellectuals of a minority group.
However Monsignor Nicholas's appeal failed, as the League did not possess
the material resources to assist these people.
On October 15, Sir Horace Rumbold , the British High Commissioner in
Constantinople, met Monsignor Nicholas where the latter requested that
Britain send ships to the Black Sea to collect the Greeks from Pontus and
save them from wholesale deportation and extermination. While Britain may
have been sympathetic to such appeals, she was not interested in violating
her neutrality in the Greek-Turkish conflict or fighting the Turkish
Nationalists. Rumbold, however, warned Hamid Bey, the Angora representative
in Constantinople, that the Angora Government should adopt a policy of
moderation towards its minorities, otherwise public opinion might not be so
favorable at a time when Britain was about to release interned Turkish
prisoners held in Malta. It should also be noted that the Constantinist
regime was unpopular with politicians and the press in Entente capitals.
The deportation of Pontian Greeks continued in 1922. This information
based on reports received from American relief workers in Sivas. Dr Ward
of Near East Relief informed Rumbold that the Turks continued their "
deliberate plan to get rid of minorities" where the deportees were
assembled at Amasia from the regions between Samsoun and Trebizond. They
were then marched off to Erzeroum, Van, Bitlis and Sari kamish in Eastern
Anatolia to join the labor battalions, where many of them perished before
reaching their final destination. Rumbold passed this information on to
Lord Curzon at the Foreign Office in London. The Angora authorities
dismissed Ward's statement as a lie that was intended to portray Turkey in
a negative light.
On May 12, 1922 Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary, decided
impartial team of allied officers should be despatched to Trebizond or
Black Sea Ports to investigate the American accounts of Turkish
deportations of Greeks. The French, Italian and American Governments
agreed on May 17, 19 and June 3, respectively, to the British proposals to
appoint representatives to these commissions of enquiry. It was further
agreed that the commissions should proceed to investigate alleged outrages
in both Greek and Turkish occupied areas of Thrace and Anatolia.
Britain changed its policy of replacing the allied commissions of enquiry
with a neutral organisation out of deference for its French ally. The
French believed that Angora would not accept the allied commissions of
Warren Harding, U.S. President, and Charles E. Hughes, U.S. Secretary of
State, agreed with the British proposal that the International Red Cross
(IRC) was the best organisation to conduct such impartial enquiries.
The IRC would not undertake such a mission without the provision of
ncial assistance from the Entente and the United States. By early August,
French Premier Poincare objected to the appointment of neutral delegates to
the Red Cross Mission and raised difficulties over the French share of the
expenses. The French probably reasoned that the Red Cross might produce an
unfavorable report which could show them to be partial to the Turks and
indifferent to the plight and suffering of Christian minorities in Pontus.
After all, the French supported and supplied the Kemalists with war
material, but were also in a position to influence Angora to moderate its
harsh policy against the Christian populations.
Poincare pointed out that any French expenses would require the approval of
the French Parliament. Curzon reminded the French Premier that they had
originally accepted in May the British proposal of sending commissions to
investigate the alleged atrocities. The French employed their customary
stalling tactics to slow down and frustrate the British initiative. Such a
ploy on the part of the French could only benefit the Kemalists final
offensive against the Greeks in late August.
Finally by early September, the British, Italian, French and American
Governments had undertaken to contribute their share of the funds towards
the proposed atrocities enquiry. Eager to commence its task, the Red Cross
sought the permission of the Angora and Greek Governments' to proceed with
the enquiry. Athens replied on September 4 granting its permission,
whereas Angora failed to respond to the Red Cross request. It is clear that
Angora did not want the IRC to report of atrocities committed on Pontian
Greeks in its area of control.
The Persian delegation, acting on behalf of the Angora Government, raised
motion on September 18 and duly adopted by the League Assembly which urged
the League Council to send a commission of enquiry to investigate alleged
atrocities in Thrace and Asia Minor. As far as the Greeks were concerned,
they had nothing to hide regarding the treatment of minorities and would
have welcomed the commission of inquiry to Thrace. On September 19
Giorgios Streit, President of the Greek delegation to the Assembly, sent a
note to the Secretary-General of the League questioning the Persian action
on three grounds. In the first case, the Angora Government was not even
recognised as a state by members of the League. Next, he questioned the
admissibility of the procedure adopted by Persia to act on behalf of a
non-member state. Finally, he pointed out that the enquiry over the
alleged atrocities never took place owing to the intransigence of the
Angora Government. Streit was correct in criticising the actions of the
Persian delegation but this did not assist Greece with the problems of
coping with the influx of thousands of refugees.
In conclusion nothing could be done to assist the Pontian Greeks and
were to be included in the future compulsory exchange of populations
between Greece and Turkey. The powers did nothing to halt the deportations
and massacres of the Pontian Greeks. They simply used the commissions of
enquiry as a smokescreen to hide behind their inaction and too simply pass
the buck on to the IRC. The Entente ( Britain, France and Italy) and the
United States were not interested in becoming involved in a war with
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