Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Greek Genocide 100 years later - Is history repeating itself?

Greeks of Pontus: Maintaining Identity

Growing up in America with any ethnic background allows many of us to relate across cultures – simply by the similar ways in which our families share and preserve the keynotes of each of our cultures.  For ethnicities in America today - Greeks, Italians, Arabs etc. it’s the ethnicity that comes first when describing their background, and citizenship that comes second.  Greek-American, Italian-American, and Arab-American – to say ‘American-Greek’ sounds strange to us. Perhaps that speaks to the immigrant nature of the United States and the people who left their homelands to be here – and continue to do so to this day.  Coming to America meant having the freedom to have pride in your culture and ethnicity and being free to practice your religion, so it may seem only natural to boast that part of one’s identity first.  Although in the past - like today - this was not always an easy journey.

Growing up ethnic in America is one thing, growing up Greek-American is another, but growing up
Map of Pontus and Asia Minor - source pontian.info
Pontian-Greek brings with it a different side of cultural pride – one that has been hard fought, and remains hard fought to keep the culture alive.

The region of Asia Minor once known as Pontus is located on the South coast of the Black Sea in modern day Turkey.  Pontian Greeks (like all Greeks) hail themselves as the ‘Greekest’ of the Greeks –language and land, traced back beyond Alexander. In fact, one of the unique aspects of Pontic Greek dialect is that it maintains archaic Greek elements of the Ionian dialect, which was first introduced during the Hellenic colonization of the Pontic region around 800 B.C.  Not only that, but Pontic dialect includes many aspects of Turkish vocabulary.

Yet, by today’s national boundaries we (Pontians) are essentially ethnically Turkish and culturally Greek – though you would be hard pressed to find many Pontians today to admit to that Turkish part.  The people descended from Pontus are dark haired, almond eyed and dark skinned Orthodox Christian Greeks.  And like many of the Christians living in parts of the Arab world who face ISIS and its affiliates today, they were told to convert or die.

In 1914 the Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians of Asia Minor faced extermination or forced conversion by Kemal Ataturk’s troops. 100 years later, the world watches as the people of Iraq and Syria fight to survive against a similar fate.  And much like a century ago – Turkey is playing a major role. A major world power, and a member of NATO – Turkey has turned a blind eye to the efforts of ISIS and has made little attempt to thwart the effects of their cause.  And as Turkey’s President Erdogan tightens rights and restrictions on women, increasingly showing his Islamist tendencies, it appears that history is slated to repeat itself again. It has even been suggested that Erdogan is the new Ataturk.

100 Years Later: Today’s tools

My childhood and adulthood were sprinkled with the not so subtle reminders of who our people were.  Where we originally come from.  Greece and Turkey were rarely referred to as ‘Greece’ or ‘Turkey’ – it was simply “the old country” when referring to Pontus.  Because the old country, wasn’t the country it is today.

This photo was taken at an unknown date between 1914-1923.
The young girl to the left is my Great - Grandmother, to her
left is her mother and younger brother while they were in a
refugee camp after being forced from their homes in Pontus
during the Greek genocide. 
The Greeks of Asia Minor faced the horrors of ethnic cleansing at the hands of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk during World War I. And though history has forgotten the millions of lives extinguished by these events – the community has not forgotten, and the war is not far from the memories of those still alive today.  The imprint that ethnic cleansing can make on a culture is like a birthmark – it is passed from parents to children for generations.

The past century has seen tens of millions lost to genocide. So often throughout history we have said ‘never again’ – and yet again comes, and we do nothing, or remain silent.  One incredible asset that technology has afforded the global community is the ability to generate a collective voice to say ‘no more.’ It has also provided an opportunity for those members of cultures without a country to come together and form a collective community.  Pages such as the Greek Genocide: 1914-1923 Facebook page use this technology and in doing so inform a new generation of what has happened in our past – the parts that the history books leave out. 

These technological tools also give us an opportunity to stand up to history repeating itself.  The Facebook Page Operation Antioch continually shares the battles faced by Christians and other minorities in the Middle East today and how they are struggling to maintain identity while fighting terrorist groups seeking to eliminate them from history.

These pages and others like them have allowed survivors and their descendants to develop a community to support the sufferers of genocide across the world.  What is unique is that the very religious and ethnic boundaries that were the dividing platforms seem to be erased when one people can sympathize with the suffering of another.
Syrian Refugee family in Bekaa Valley.
Credit: No Strings International

Today, all of those - Christian, Jewish, and Muslim alike – in the Middle East under the rule of ISIS and its affiliates who do not adhere to their extreme interpretation of Islam, are facing the same decimation that mine and so many others’ ancestors have faced.

Today, we have the tools to speak out about these atrocities at the click of a button, or the swipe of a thumb. And though it may seem like the odds are insurmountable – we can help.  Today, there are volunteer groups risking their lives to keep their people alive.  The people of Syria have been facing waves of cleansing campaigns – whether political cleansing by Assad or ethnic cleansing by ISIS – yet there are still brave and selfless volunteers who stay behind, not fleeing the turmoil. And you can help.

To help the White Helmets – Syria’s volunteer emergency medics – donate HERE.

To help preserve the cultures of Asia Minor you can help the Asia Minor and Pontos Hellenic Research Center – donate HERE.

You can also read more about the history of the Greek Genocide at greek-genocide.net

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