The meaning of May 19
Ananias Tsirambides – Professor Emeritus of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, President of the HARH
The extraordinary circumstances we are living in, due to the pandemic, have created great changes and difficulties in the operation of our Archive. However, we all commemorate this year’s 19th of May mentally and pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.
There are numerous accounts of the persecutions, displacements and massacres of hundreds of thousands of Greeks from Asia Minor and Thrace. What happened during the period 1914-1923 is a dark page in the history of humanity. The extermination of the Greeks is one of the unprecedented crimes in human history. After 27 centuries of life, a people uprooted from its land, leaving behind ancestral homes, houses, churches, graves of ancestors.
The issue of genocide can only be perceived if we understand the nationalist ideology of the Young Turks and Kemalists on which the modern Turkish state was built. After all, the birth and development of official Turkish historiography has been based on collective lies, trying to prove, among other things, that the various ethnicities living there are of Turkish origin, that Turks are indigenous to the region, or ultimately that genocide was committed by the Armenians and the Greeks, not the Turks.
Savvas Kantartzis in his book “Victory without a sword: Damascus in the 20th century” (1973) records the destruction of the village of Beyalan, in the Kotyora district, by the Topal Osman’s tsetes. Beyalan was one of the hundreds of Greek villages destroyed by the Turkish gangs:
“At dawn on February 16, 1922, the tsetes, more than 150, entered the village shouting and shooting. With shouts and curses, banging on the doors and windows with their submachine guns, they called on everyone to come out of the houses and gather in the square. Then they ordered them all to enter two two-story houses, which they had chosen to accomplish their criminal purpose. Like rabid beasts, they pounced on the women, babies and old men, and with fists and kicks they cornered them in the two houses. Their number approached 300 persons. And when they were sure that no one was left outside, they bolted the doors, while the heart-rending cries, the desperate weeping, and the pleas for mercy and help, formed a tragic musical concert, which tore the sky and echoed through the surrounding mountains and forests.
All it took was an armful of dry grass and some cardboard to light the fire. And in a little while, the two houses became a firework and were consumed by tongues of fire and black and red smoke. What followed at that hour cannot be described. The mothers clutched their babies in their arms, who cried and screamed “Mama, mama!” The girls and other women with the old parents, children and the sick, cried out and hugged each other as if to get and give courage and help, as their hair and clothes caught fire and the flames began to lick their bodies. Cries and wild screams of people, hits on the chests and on the walls, havoc of people.
It did not last many minutes, this heartbreaking tumult. Soon the tone began to fall, until all at once the shouting and crying ceased. And there was only the sound of the wood, creaking from the fire, and the burnt walls and beams, falling with a thud on the bodies, now lying in heaps of coals and ashes down on the floor, in the two haunted houses of Beyalan”.
It is very important that the crimes of the Kemalists of this period were admitted by certain members of the highest Ottoman society who were directly involved in this matter. Concerned and opposed to the harsh measures taken by the Kemalist government against the Greeks were even some Kemalist deputies, especially from the Pontus region, who were accused by their fellow members.
There is no end to the reports of the unpublished archives of the Foreign Ministries and other state and private archives on the drama of the Pontic Hellenism. In total, by the time of the compulsory population exchange, more than 353,000 Greeks of Pontus, a percentage approaching 50% of the total population, had died a miserable death in towns and villages, in the ravines and mountains, in exile and prisons, in labor battalions. 1134 churches, 960 schools and 815 communities were looted and destroyed.
In addition to the historical documentation, which has been carried out to a large extent through the systematic work of Professor Fotiadis, there must be both recognition of the crime and punishment of the guilty. The issue of recognition of the genocide is complex and touches on serious geopolitical interests. While we know in detail what happened and, above all, that there was a central organization and a specific aim to exterminate the Christian peoples, we do not obtain easy the recognition of the crime by other countries. In other words, neither the Ottoman documents themselves revealing the genocide, nor the diplomatic records of the Germans and Austrians, close allies of the Turks, neither the diplomatic documents of the other great powers or the testimonies of missionaries and charitable organizations are sufficient.
19 May is a day of remembrance for the Pontic Genocide and for the unforgotten homelands of Pontus. Promoting its international recognition is a duty of honor for all of us.
This year, the pandemic of the coronavirus did not allow our Archive to play a more active role in the commemorative and honorable events that were held every year on this day, but unfortunately have been cancelled. We hope to return to normality quickly and we promise to deal with this issue and many others related to refugee Hellenism as a whole more dynamically.
Message of the Municipality of Kalamaria on the Pontic Genocide
19 May 1919-19 May 2020
The Municipality of Kalamaria commemorates, in a climate of devotion and respect, the Day of Remembrance of the Pontic Genocide, with symbolic “images” without drumbeat but, as it should be, in a climate of devotion, without mass events and interaction, following the protective measures to limit the pandemic.
The symbolism of the mourning of the genocide is intended not to allow time to fade the pages of history but to keep the bloody drama of the Pontians alive in the hearts of all.
In the morning the Mayor Mr. Dardamanelis submitted the Greek flag at half-mast at the Town Hall.
Today, on the eve of the black anniversary, from 9 p.m. until midnight on May 19, the building of the Town Hall in the square of refugee Hellenism will remain illuminated in red, symbolizing the blood of the innocent victims of the Genocide and the timeless mourning, which will bring to memory the deep traumas and wounds of the refugees of Pontus.
On the day of the great tragedy, lamentations of the Pontian people and excerpts from testimonies will resound in the center of Kalamaria from the morning, capturing the cries, pain and bitterness of the refugees.
During the day, a pair of Pontians (members of Kalamaria’s Pontian associations will stand high on the balcony of the Town Hall, alternating between them) in authentic Pontian costumes, paying tribute and marking the day. The couple will be framed by the banners of the Kromnaion Brotherhood, the Association of Caucasians “Prometheus”, the Union of Pontians of Kalamaria and the Pontian Association “The Mithrioi”.
As it gets darker and always amidst the sounds of the bagpipes, the Kalamaria Town Hall will be “painted” in the red of the day.
In the evening, from the same balcony, the voices of little Pontian children will sound, reciting and recounting the loss and pain of their ancestors, while “songs” of live music will praise the sacrifice.
The bells of the Holy Metropolis of Kalamaria will ring in mourning, inviting all of us from our homes and balconies to observe a minute of silence.
The day of remembrance at the “bloodstained” Kalamaria Town Hall will close with a dirge and engraved in everyone’s mind:
“Romania, though it has passed, flourishes and bears another….”.
We urge our citizens to avoid synchronicity, observing the safety measures, so that next year we can all gather together in good health to commemorate the Memorial Day.
We stay safe, we stay victorious, we stay with memory alive, we stay Greeks.
Ivan Savvidis’ message on the Genocide of the Pontians
In his message, Ivan Savvidis refers also this year to the Day of Remembrance of the Genocide of the Greeks of Pontus.
“Dear brothers and sisters, compatriots!
Every year on the day of the tragic date for the Greeks of Pontus, May 19, our hearts are clenched with pain and our thoughts and souls are carried to the native lands of Pontus, to our ancestors.
Every year I ask myself – are we heading in the right direction? Have we done enough so that the world does not repeat mistakes such as the crimes against the Christian peoples of Asia Minor? Where should our efforts be directed so that the invisible thread that unites all of us, the descendants of the Greeks of Pontus, scattered throughout the world today, is not cut? And I find the answers in each of us, in our behavior and in our actions.
The Centre for Pontic Studies was established at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, the Chair is functioning, which means that we did not allow this page of the history of the Greek people to close.
The series “The Red River” is being broadcast, which means that the echoes of the Pontic tragedy will resonate in the souls of so many people around the world.
Premieres of serious documentaries made by our brothers and sisters from Greece, the USA and Australia were held. Our youth conducted a series of activities dedicated to the study of the Pontic catastrophe and are engaged in raising the issue at the UN.
All this shows that we Pontians do not give up even in the most difficult times.
Yes, today, we will not gather together to honor the victims of the Genocide of the Greeks of Pontus. We will not walk the streets of our cities, unfurling banners with Pontic flags. But I feel that our people are more united than ever. Social networks are filled with personal stories of families who experienced the tragedy, memories of the lost homeland, children’s drawings, songs and poems recited by young people, the Pontic lyre resounds through the screens of televisions and the internet. This means that we are alive, alive as a people.
On this sad day for us – a day of meditation – let us pray for all the unfortunate victims of the Genocide of the Greeks of Pontus, for their relatives and friends, for the peoples who suffered a fate similar to ours. May the Lord rest their souls and help us to overcome adequately the difficulties and trials that He has sent us.
I am sure that emergency situations first of all unite people, awaken in man healthy forces, open new ways of cooperation, interaction and help.
Our common task is not to stop for a moment our work, which is aimed at bringing inspiration to our people for further creative activity. And let our ancestors be an example of unsubmissive spirit and inner strength.
Our common task is not to stop our work for a minute, which aims to inspire our people to further creative activity. Even if our ancestors are an example of insubordinate spirit and inner strength.
God bless us!
Eternal remembrance to all the unfortunate
With deep appreciation and love,
President of the Federation of Greek Communities of Russia”.