Sam Topalidis


History of the Greek Language

 According to Encyclopaedia Britannica (2005), the form of Greek written and spoken today evolved in four phases; Ancient Greek,
Koine (also called Hellenistic Greek), Byzantine Greek and Modern Greek.  [Others may consider there were no breaks in the continuous
historical development of the Greek language.]  

 Encyclopaedia Britannica (2005) states Ancient Greek is divided into Mycenaean Greek (14th–13th century BC) and Archaic
and Classical Greek (8th–4th century BC), which date from the adoption of the alphabet.  The development of five letters to signify
vowel sounds was the principal innovation of the Greek alphabet.


The language of the Archaic and Classical periods consisted of a number of dialects as a result of the Dorian invasions [which
began around 1100 BC] of Greece and later of overseas Greek colonisations.  These dialects comprised a West group (including  Doric),
an  Aeolic  group, an Ionic-Attic group, and an Arcade-Cypriot group. 


Koine was spoken from the 4th century BC to the 4th century AD and it arose from the establishment of Alexander the Great's empire.  
Its main basis was the Attic dialect, with some Ionic features.  Koine unified the formerly fragmented local dialects and simplified Greek
grammar in the course of its expansion throughout the non-Greek-speaking areas of the Hellenised world.  The Atticists, who urged that
the Classical language be used for all writing, dismissed Koine as ‘impure’.  Their suggestion was adopted, and thus the written form,
known as Byzantine Greek (5th–15th century AD), stayed rooted in the Attic tradition while the spoken language continued to develop.  
A chasm between the written and spoken languages opened and gradually widened.  [Mackridge (1985), states Greek became the
official language of the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century AD.]


Modern Greek ‘could be considered’ to date from the 15th century and is of two kinds.  One includes all the local dialects.  The
other is Standard Modern Greek, which is the official written and spoken language of Greece.  Standard Modern Greek emerged from
the convergence of two historical varieties of modern Greek - Demotic, which was understood by almost everyone; and Katharevousa,
the ‘pure’, archaizing written language used in administration and other areas of public life.  In 1976, Demotic was declared the official
language of the state, replacing Katharevousa in government documents, newspapers and education.


Distribution of Pontic Greek in Asia Minor


The north-east corner of Asia Minor, which borders the Black Sea (see Map 1), is known as the Pontos.  Greeks colonised this region
from the 7th century BC and lived there until the last Christian was forcibly expelled in 1923.  These Pontic Greeks spoke a dialect called
Pontic Greek. 


Mackridge (2007) in Topalidis (2007) states that:

Pontic Greek is a dialect of the Greek language that is largely derived, like almost all the other modern Greek dialects, from the
Koine (common) Greek of Hellenistic and Roman times (4th century BC – 4th century AD).  It probably began to become markedly
distinct from the rest of the modern Greek dialects after the Seljuk invasions of Asia Minor [in the 11th century AD], which split Pontus
from the other regions of the Byzantine Empire.  However, some older features of the Greek language that disappeared from other
Greek dialects were retained in Pontic, while some innovations seem to have taken place in Pontic under the influence of other Greek
dialects even after the medieval period.  In its vocabulary, Pontic has been influenced by Persian and Caucasian languages, and in recent
centuries it has taken on a large number of loanwords from Turkish.


Mackridge (1991) states that when Pontic Greeks moved into Russian speaking areas, Pontic Greek also acquired a large number of
Russian words.  He also states that although many Pontic Greeks believe their language stems from the ancient Ionic dialect, the linguist
Hatzidakis (1892 and 1930) demonstrated that only a couple of undoubtedly Ionic words could be found in Pontic Greek. 


The Greek linguist Triandafyllidis (1981 [1938], p. 290) in Nicholas (1999) divided Pontic Greek into three groups. ‘Oinountiac in the
western, non-contiguous part of the Pontos from Inepolis to Oinoe.  Trapezuntiac on the eastern shore of the Pontos, from Kerasounta
[Giresun] to Ophis [Of], Chaldiot was spoken in the Chaldia region, south of the eastern shore, and including Gumushane and its
surrounding villages, as well as the southern mining colonies and the coastal town of Kotyora [Ordu].  Dawkins (1937) established that
the printed Pontic of Rostov on Don (see Map 1) is also Chaldiot.  Nicholas (1999) agrees with Papadopoulos (1955) who limits himself
to a two-way distinction between Oinountiac and Trapezuntiac-Chaldiot, given that Oinountiac tends to pattern more closely with mainstream
Greek.  Nicholas refers to these two variants as Western and Eastern Pontic.


Hionides (1996) believes that the Pontic dialect remained so remote from the other modern Greek idioms that to the ear of the rest of
Greece, it sounds like a foreign language. 



Map 1 The Black Sea (King 2004, p. xvii)



  Pontic Greek Dialect in Of

 Dawkins (1937) states the most archaic form of Pontic Greek survived among the Moslems of Of (east of Trabzon, see Map 1). 
Hionides (1996) states Pontic Greek is spoken by the Turkish people of the provinces of Of and Tonya [south-west of Trabzon]. 
In 1985, he counted eight villages in the province of Tonya, 21 villages in the province of Of and five villages in the province of Surmene
where the Turkish population spoke Pontic Greek.  He also mentions that many Turks in Trabzon also fluently spoke Pontic Greek. 
However, Asan (1996) states that 60 villages in the Trabzon region with 40 of these villages in the Of region speak Pontic Greek.


Mackridge (n.d.) at: www.omerasan.com/eng/home.html  accessed on 28 December 2008, describes Ömer Asan’s important 1996 work:

ever since their conversion to Islam, the Greek-speaking Pontic Muslims have not been exposed to any other kind of Greek than
their own; nor did they have much close contact even with their Christian neighbours in Pontus.  This means that their speech has
preserved many archaic features that have now almost or completely disappeared from the Pontic spoken in Greece.  (It should
be said that their speech has also lost a large number of words that have been replaced by items of Turkish origin.) 
Ömer Asan's village, like the village where I have carried out my own linguistic fieldwork, is situated in the district of Of, east of
Trebizond, which is home to the largest concentration of Greek-speakers in Pontus today.  The Of district is the easternmost area
in which Greek has been continuously spoken without interruption since ancient times.  If Pontic is a peripheral dialect of Greek, then
the sub-dialect of Of is a peripheral version of Pontic.  Like most peripheral dialects, the speech of Of preserves an exceptional
number of ancient words and grammatical features. For this reason the study of the sub-dialect of Of can throw fascinating light
on the historical development of the Greek language.


… it has been fascinating to compare the vocabulary and grammar of Çoruh, as he [Asan] records them, with the linguistic material
that I and others have collected from other villages in the Of district and from other parts of Pontus both before and after 1922. 
The variety in vocabulary and grammar between one village and another just a few miles away is extraordinary, and we would ideally
like to have such a study of every Greek-speaking village in Pontus.


Ömer Asan’s article, ‘Trabzon Greek: a language without a tongue’ at: www.omerasan.com/eng/home.html  accessed on 27 June 2009
(updated 2005), states that:

it was in the Greek language [Pontic Greek] that the inhabitants of the Solaki Valley [near Of] (apart from the late comers) were
introduced to Islam and in which the imams in question were educated. … Actually, there is no more natural and logical a way of learning
any sort of unfamiliar thought, doctrine or religion than through the mother tongue. 


… Of the various Greek dialects in existence at the present day, Trabzon Greek, the language closest to ancient Greek … has been
sacrificed to religious, national and political intrigue and impotence. Although there is no prohibition of any kind in place, Trabzon Greek,
labelled by religious bigots as a ‘giaour’ [outside the Islamic faith] language, by nationalists as an ‘enemy’ language and by bureaucrats and
politicians as a ‘separatist’ language, has the misfortune of being listed at the head of merely local, not national, languages.


Asan’s (1996) ‘courageous’ work in Turkish on the culture of a minority group has been criticised in Turkey, where the government prefers
to pasteurise its cultural past.  Asan should be congratulated, not condemned for his work.  We should all embrace and respect our cultural
diversity as an essential part of our identity.


Revithiadou and Spyropoulos (2006) have also studied Pontic Greek spoken by people from Of who had settled in the village of Nea
Trapezounta in northern Greece.  Drettas (1999) in Bortone (2009) estimated that 300,000 people in Greece speak Pontic Greek. 




Bortone (2009) states Muslim Pontic Greek spoken around the villages of Of, has no history, especially for its speakers.  They have no
written records and many of their speakers do not even know that the language is related to Greek.  Some do not know which parts of their
speech is Turkish and which is their local ‘other language’.  Many call it Romayka, but never Pondiaká or Eliniká.  Romayka is not formally
taught and has no standard of any kind.


Bortone (2009) states that many Pontic Muslims report that they did not learn Turkish until they went to school.  He also believes that
Romayka will probably ultimately disappear.  Interesting to note, from an email I received from a Trabzon local, that in 2008, five and six year
olds in a school in a village of the town of Hayrat, near Of, were observed by their teacher to speak Pontic Greek (Romayka) as their native tongue.  


Bortone (2009, p.83) states,

Greek peripheral dialects have archaic traits; but the Greek of the Of region has traits lost everywhere else.

… we would do well to emphasize the archaic nature of Romayka, if only because of the implicit irony: its archaic character is due to the
very fact that Romayka has been isolated from the Greek tradition.


Pontic Greek in the Soviet Union


Pontic Greeks had been emigrating to the Soviet Union, including Georgia, in significant numbers from the 18th century.


The first census of Imperial Russia, based solely on the criteria of language, suggested that 186,925 Greek-speaking Greeks
(105,169 in the southern Caucasus) lived within the borders of the empire in 1897 (Agtzidis (1997) in Sideri (2006)).

Dawkins (1937) states the number of Greek speakers in Russia was considerable.  Correspondence he received from Professor Semenov
of Rostov on Don (see Map 1) stated that there were 60,000 Greeks at Mariupol (south-eastern part of Ukraine, on the coastal region of
the Sea of Azov) and 100,000 at Rostov on Don (the latter all speaking Pontic Greek).  Sergievsky (1934) believes there were around 97,000
Mariupol Greeks, of whom some 82,000 spoke Greek.  Mackridge (1991) states the Greek dialect spoken by the Mariupol Greeks differs markedly
from Pontic Greek, though the two may be distantly related. 


Dawkins (1937) states the Pontic Greek dialect of the Gumushane district (south of Trabzon) agrees with the Greek of Rostov on Don.  He
believes the great mass of the Rostov population came over to Russia from this district in the Pontos.


At the time of the October Revolution in Russia, Karpozilos (1999) estimated that the Pontic population in Russia to have been more
than 350,000 concentrated in 34 urban centres and in about 287 villages.  He also states that between the two World Wars in Southern Russia
and Caucasus that it was a serious issue in which form of Greek would books and Newspapers be written.  Formal Greek (Katharevousa),
Demotic Greek or Pontic Greek.  Karpozilos (1999, p. 148) states:

to raise the Pontic dialect to the level of a language for the Greek minority posed great problems.  The dialect had never been systematically
written; it had a rather limited vocabulary that lacked the words and idioms to convey abstract and sophisticated ideas; it also lacked the
proper words for several new political and social concepts. …


In schools, it was agreed that the children should be taught demotic Greek, but for the instruction of the masses it was thought best to
use both dialects - in newspapers, pamphlets and various other publications.  This important decision was taken … on 10 May 1926. 


Joseph (2003) states, in the 1970 Soviet census, 336,869 citizens claimed Greek ethnicity but only 39%, gave Greek as their native language. 
In the 1979 census, 344,000 declared Greek as their ethnic status.  Hionides (1996) was of the view most of these 344,000 spoke Pontic Greek.




As human beings first, and nationalists a distant second, we should embrace our cultural history and revel in its diversity and not pasteurise
it for the benefit of national conformity.  With this embrace, we can also learn to respect other people's languages and cultures.


The history of Pontic Greek (and how it probably began to become markedly distinct from the other Greek dialects from 11th century AD)
and the Greek language is fascinating and should be documented and studied.


Will Pontic Greek continue to be spoken?  Bortone (2009) believes Pontic Greek spoken in the Pontos in Asia Minor today will probably
disappear.  The challenge is to keep the Pontic Greek dialect alive.  The more recent work of researchers like Emeritus Professor Peter
Mackridge, Assistant Professor Pietro Bortone, Dr Theofanis Malkidis, Ömer Asan, Dr Anthi Revithiadou and Dr Vassilios Spyropoulos
have increased our knowledge of the dialect. 


Pontic Greek is still spoken today in Asia Minor, and by the Pontic diaspora in Greece and at least in countries like Georgia, Russia,
Ukraine, Germany, Canada, Australia and the USA.  Drettas (1999) estimated 300,000 speakers exist in Greece.  Who could estimate how
many Pontic Greek speakers actually exist worldwide today?  Are you one of them?  





Agtzidis, V 1997,            Parefxinios diaspora. I Ellenikes egkatastasis stis vorioanatolikes periokhes tou Efxinou Pontou, [in Greek, Black
Sea diaspora. The Greek settlements in the northeastern Black Sea], Kiriakidis Brothers, Thessaloniki, Greece.

Asan, O 1996,                 Pontos kültürü (in Turkish), Baski Istanbul, Belge Yayinlari.

Bortone, P 2009,          ‘Greek with no models, history, or standard: Muslim Pontic Greek’, in Standard languages and language standards:
Greek, past and present, (eds) A. Georgakopoulou and M. Silk, Publication 12 of the Centre for Hellenic Studies, King’s College London,
Ashgate, Surrey UK, pp. 67-89. 

Dawkins, RM 1937,       ‘The Pontic dialect of modern Greek in Asia Minor and Russia’, Transactions of the Philological Society, pp. 15-52.

Drettas, G 1999,           ‘To ελληνο-ποντιακó διαλεκτικó σύνολο’, [in Greek] in Χριστίδης, A.-Φ. et al. (eds) Διαλεκτικοί θύλακοι της ελληνικής
γλώσσας, Athens, pp. 15-24.

Hatzidakis, GN 1892,     Einleitung in die neugriechische Grammatik, [in German] Breitkopf & Hartel, Leipzig.

Hatzidakis, 1930,           ‘Einiges über das pontische Griechisch’, [in German] Byzantinisch-Neugriechische Jahrbücher, no. 7, pp. 383-7.

Hionides, C 1996,
           The Greek Pontians of the Black Sea, Boston, Massachusetts.

Joseph, BD 2003,
           ‘Some reflections on Greek in a Slavic context, in both academia and the real world, with an overview of Greek
in the former Soviet Union’, in Balkan and Slavic Linguistics, in Honour of the 40th Anniversary of the Department of Slavic and east European
Languages and Literatures (Ohio State Working papers in Slavic Studies 2) ed. by D. Collins & A. Sims (2003), Columbus Ohio State
University, pp. 93-101.

Karpozilos, A 1999,         ‘The Greeks in Russia’, in The Greek Diaspora in the twentieth century, (ed. Clogg), St Martins Press,
New York, pp. 137-57.

King, C 2004,                  The Black Sea: a history, Oxford University Press, Oxford.  

Mackridge, P 1985,
         The modern Greek language- a descriptive analysis of standard modern Greek, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Mackridge, P 1991,
         ‘The Pontic dialect: a corrupt version of ancient Greek?’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 335-9.

Mackridge, P 2007,          Personal email.

Nicholas, N 1999,
            The story of pu: the grammaticalisation in space and time of a modern Greek complementiser, PhD thesis,
University of Melbourne, Australia.

Papadopoulos, AA 1955, Ιστορική Γραμματική της Ποντικής Διαλέκτου (in Greek, Historical Grammar of the Pontic Dialect), The Committee
for Pontic Studies, Athens, supplement 1.


Revithiadou, A and          ‘Ofitika Pontic: a report on the dialect and its people’ e-posted paper at:
Spyropoulos, V 2006,        www.revithiadou.gr/files/reports_on_dialects/Report_OP.pdf viewed June 2009.

Sergievsky, 1934,           ‘The Mariupol Greek dialects: an attempt at a brief description’, Bulletin de l’ Académie des Sciences
de l’ U.R.S.S., Classe des sciences sociales, no. 7.

Sideri, E 2006,                The Greeks of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia: memories and practices of diaspora, unpublished PhD
thesis, Department of Social Anthropology, School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London.

Topalidis, S 2007,           A Pontic Greek History, Canberra, Australia. (Available by emailing author at: sam.topalidis@bigpond.com).


Triandafyllidis, M 1981, Νεοελληνική Γραμματική: Ιστορική Εισαγωγή, (in Greek, (1938), Modern Greek Grammar: Historical Introduction),
Salonika, Aristotle University.


I warmly thank Assistant Professor Pietro Bortone for sending me an early copy of his 2009 paper.



Sam Topalidis 



Who were the crypto-Christians?

The crypto-Christians (also called cryphi, klosti, Stavriotes, Kromledes) were Christian Greeks who due to the Muslim persecution against Christians publicly declared themselves Muslims. However, in secret, they upheld their Greek language, customs and Christian religious practices.1

Crypto-Christians were not polygamists and they were married in a Christian as well as a Muslim ceremony. The Christian marriage ceremony was often conducted in a rock-hewn house or one underground. When one of them died, a Christian funeral took place as well as the usual Muslim one. Up to the mid 19th century their Christian ceremonies were conducted with great care, but by the early 1900s as long as the men registered themselves as Muslims (thus available for military service), nobody asked whether they were Christian or Muslim at heart.2

Greek authors gave some curious details of the secret Christian rites of Greeks in the Trabzon district (see Map 1). Crypto-Christians followed the Orthodox fasts. Their children were baptised, and bore both a Christian and Muslim name for secret and public use respectively. They never allowed their daughters to marry Muslims, but the men did take Muslim wives. In the latter case, the Christian marriage was conducted in secret, in one of the monasteries. If pressure was required, the bridegroom threatened to leave his bride.3 




Map 1: Map of Pontos (Bryer and Winfield 1985, p. 2)
Historical perspective

The first reference to crypto-Christians in the Trabzon region comes from an American missionary in 1833, followed by W.J. Hamilton in 1836 and two French travellers in 1840. (Between 1796 and 1832, none of the 25 western travellers, who left a record and passed through this region, mentioned crypto-Christians.)4

During the century after 1461, Trabzon became a ‘Muslim’ town; partly by influx of Muslims, partly by deportation of Christians, but largely through conversion. (There were considerable financial benefits in converting to Islam.) According to Ottoman tax registers [tahrir defters] in 1520 (59 years after the fall of Trabzon to the Ottoman Turks), Trabzon was still 86% Christian. However, by 1583, it was 54% Muslim, with still 77% Greek speaking.5

Greek historians maintain that, like Of (a village 45 km east of Trabzon) and the Greek-speaking Muslim Oflus, the Greeks of Tonya (42 km south-west of Trabzon) converted to Islam in the late 17th century. However, in the case of Tonya there is no popular explanation of why this happened. The notion is plausible, for in the late 17th century, Christian Greeks in the Pontos experienced considerable pressure on their faith. In the case of Of, we now know there was no mass conversion and the Muslims may simply have overtaken the Christians by natural increase.6

Even after conversion to Islam, some people around Trabzon, as reported in the 1890s, did not forget their Christian roots. There were whole villages on this seaboard whose inhabitants were Muslim, and would resent being called anything else; yet their Greek origin was believed both by history and by some of their traditions. For example, Surmene and Of, two considerable villages (35 km and 45 km east of Trabzon respectively), hold to certain customs, which connect them with the Christian faith. Under the stress of illness, the image of Madonna is suspended above the sickbed; the sufferer sips the forbidden wine from the old cup of the Communion, which still remains a treasured object, much as they might be puzzled to tell you why.7

A little earlier, in 1879, it was estimated that out of 10-12,000 families from Of, 8-10,000 families spoke Greek but only 192 families were Christian.8

Impact of the Tanzimat reforms and Hatt-i Humayun

The Tanzimat was a period of legislation and reform that modernised Ottoman state and society, and brought greater state participation in Ottoman society during 1839-76.9 In 1843, a new penal code was introduced, which recognised equality of Muslims and non-Muslims. One year later, the death penalty for renouncing Islam, a provision of the şeriat, [Muslim religious law] was abolished.10 This abolition was a crucial event.

On 18 February 1856, a new reform charter, the Imperial Rescript (Hatt-i Humayun), was promulgated by the Sultan. This Rescript; prepared under strong pressure from foreign powers, laid down the equality of all Ottoman subjects irrespective of religion.11 The Hatt-i Humayun allowed people to report their true religion in public without punishment. Not all crypto-Christians professed their faith after 1856. The revelation continued up to 1910.12

On 14 May 1856, Petros Sideropoulos, the first Kromniot [from the Kromni area, south of Trabzon] crypto-Christian declared his Orthodoxy in Trabzon. On 15 July 1857, the Kromni (KPOMNH at 39036′E 40034′N in Map 2) crypto-Christians presented a petition to the pasha and western consuls in Trabzon (appealing for protection) on behalf of 55,755 inhabitants of 58 settlements, of whom 52% were claimed to be open Christians, 31% [17,260] Kromniot (crypto-Christians) and 17% Muslims.4 Some crypto-Christians who declared for Orthodoxy after 1856 may have had Muslim ancestors and many were registered for military service.13

In relation to the military reforms under the Tanzimat, from 1845, conscription was officially introduced in most areas of the Ottoman Empire. Christians were now allowed to serve within the army, but as this was expected to create tensions, they were soon able to pay a special tax instead (in lieu of military service), which they largely preferred. Muslims, too, could evade conscription by payment, but this was very steep for most.14

After the Hatt-i-Humayun, in towns, districts and villages where the whole population was of the same religion, they could repair, according to their original plan, buildings of religious worship, schools, hospitals, and cemeteries. The plans of these buildings, in the case of new construction, would after approval by the Patriarchs or heads of communities, be able to be submitted to the Ottoman Government, which would decide if they could be constructed. Each sect, in localities where there were no other religious denominations was free to practice its religion in public. In towns, districts and villages where different sects were present, each community, inhabiting a distinct quarter, had equal right to repair and improve its churches, hospitals, schools, and cemeteries. Each sect was free to exercise its religion.15

Prior to the Hatt-i Humayun, old Christian churches were allowed to be repaired only in some areas, but no new churches were allowed to be built. However, after 1856, in areas where there were Ottoman Muslims, Christian celebrations were not allowed in public, nor were 


Map 2: Map of Matsouka, south of Trabzon (Zerzilidis 1959, p. 160)16
bells allowed to be rung. Bells were allowed to be rung in areas where mostly Christians lived.17 Presumably where bells were not allowed to be rung, the churches may have hung a slab of wood horizontally and the priest would hit it with a piece of wood.

Impact of the economic conditions of Gumushane on the

Gumushane, about 65 km south of Trabzon, was established in the 1590s. Its Greek name of Argyropolis appears to have been derived around 1846. The silver mining economy of old Gumushane declined in 1829 (the silver mines were abandoned in the 1850s) and the emergence of the crypto-Christians of Kromni, Stavri (at 39030’E 40036’N in Map 2) and Santa (40 km SSE of Trabzon) after 1856 are related. In the case of Chaldia (covering Kromni, Stavri and villages further south) at least, the phenomenon of crypto-Christianity arose largely from the peculiar economic and administrative context of the period 1829-56.18

Pontic crypto-Christians only entered their ‘twilight’ world after 1829 and were reluctant to re-emerge in the ‘sunlight’ after 1856. This was to do with the silver-mining and smelting economy of Gumushane. From 1654-1841 both the mining concessionaries (archimetallourgoi) and a new metropolis of Chaldia were in Greek hands, principally the dynasty of Phytianos – which was to provide miners and bishops all over Anatolia and the Caucasus, and a patriarch of Antioch.4

The mines were the property of the Sultan and under state supervision with all precious metals supposed to be sent to Constantinople. (Without doubt, much precious metal was concealed or smuggled.) However, the mines around Gumushane were effectively controlled by the archimetallourgoi, who was invariably a Greek, with the skilled labour also monopolised by Greeks. This situation, by one probably unreliable tradition goes back to the patronage of Maria of Libera (Gülbahar), Pontic Greek wife of Sultan Bayazid II (1481-1512), gave the Greeks of the area a peculiar economic position and considerable tax privileges.19

From at least the mid-seventeenth century, the Greeks of Gumushane and the surrounding villages were exempt from normal taxes in return for working in the main branches of the industry; namely mining, smelting, and charcoal burning. Gumushane drew its charcoal from an area later to be identified with crypto-Christianity. These villages were excused the haraç, tribute which Christians paid in lieu of military service, thus losing a basic legal distinction as Christians. The crypto-Christians claimed their faith in 1856 only after the mines of Gumushane were abandoned. As they had never paid the haraç before they still demanded exemption, but mining service had ended and they were given the ‘privilege’ of military service instead. The argument dragged on into the 1860s.19

After 1829, it was a question whether the silver mines of Chaldia or the charcoal for smelting from Imera (Stavri /Kromni), were exhausted first. The most intensive crypto-Christian (and fewest Muslim living) areas in the petition presented in 1857 (by Kromniot crypto-Christians mentioned previously) had been economically dependent on silver-mining and charcoal burning for smelting. Smaller crypto-Christian elements were listed near alum mines to which the archimetallourgoi of Gumushane turned after 1829, when their own silver mines declined. Neither Professor Dawkins nor Hasluck (see ref 3) asked why crypto-Christians were keeping their identity secret in places where there were so few declared Muslims.4

The Orthodox church was more reluctant that the Ottoman state to recognise the situation after 1856. By 1863, the church’s solution was to combine the monastic exarchates of Sumela (ΣOYMEΛA 39039′E 40041′N in Map 2), Vazelon (BAZEΛΟN 39030′E 40045′N in Map 2) and Peristereota (ΠEPІΣΤEΡEOTA 39043′E 40047′N in Map 2) into its last Anatolian eparchy, Rhodopolis. According to the petition of 1857, the 14,525 inhabitants of the new diocese were 53% open Christian, 37% crypto-Christian and 10% Muslim. Here if their landlord was one of the three ruling abbots, from whom were the crypto-Christians keeping their identity secret?4

Palgrave (1826-88), the British consul in Trabzon, was first to observe that Ottoman mining and smelting service in the Pontos was in lieu of military service, so Kromniots carried arms (another obvious advantage) as Muslims but did not pay poll tax as Christians. With the decline of the mines after 1829, they clung to the best of both worlds.4


1 Hionides, C 1988, The Greek Pontos: mythology geography history civilization, Boston Massachusetts, p. 99.
2 Pears, E 1911, Turkey and its people, Methuen & Co Ltd, London, pp. 266-7.
3 Triantaphyllides, P 1866, People in Pontos, or Pontica, and some speeches by the same author, (in Greek), Athens, pp. 55-92, in Hasluck, FW 1929, Christianity and Islam under the Sultans, vol. II, Clarendon Press, Oxford, pp. 472-3.
4 Bryer, A 2006, R.M. Dawkins, F.W. Hasluck and the ‘Crypto-Christians’ of Trebizond, Paper delivered to British School at Athens.
5 Lowry, H 1977, The Ottoman Tahrir Defters [tax registers] as a source for urban demographic history: the case study of Trabzon ca. 1486-1583, unpublished PhD thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, excerpts used in Bryer, A 1991, ‘The Pontic Greeks before the diaspora’, Journal of Refugee Studies, vol. 4 (4) p. 319.
6 Bryer, A & Winfield, D 1985, The Byzantine monuments and topography of the Pontos, vol. I, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library & Collection, Harvard University, Washington D.C., p. 156.
7 Lynch, HFB 1901, Armenia: travels and studies, vol. 1, reprinted in two volumes in 1967, Khayats, Beirut, pp. 11-2.
8 Parcharides, I 1879, Στατιστική τής έπαρχίας Оφεως του νομου Τραπεζουντος, Παρνασσός, iii, pp. 224-32, quoted in Bryer, A 1968, ‘Churches east of Trebizond (the Santa district), Archeion Pontou, vol. 29 (2), p. 110, in Bryer et al 2002.
9 Shaw, SJ & Shaw, EK 2002, History of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey, vol. II: reform, revolution, and republic: the rise of modern Turkey, 1808-1975, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p. 55.
10 Zurcher, EJ 2004, Turkey: a modern history, 3rd edition, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd, London, p. 61.
11 Lewis, B 2002, The emergence of modern Turkey, 3rd edition, Oxford University Press, NY, p. 116.
12 Andreadis, G 1995, The Cryptochristians: klostoi: those who returned, tenesur: those who changed, Kyriakidis Brothers, Thessaloniki, Greece, p. 84.
13 Bryer, A 1970a, ‘The Tourkokratia in the Pontos: some problems and preliminary conclusions’, Neo-Hellenika, vol. 1, p. 40.
14 Zurcher, EJ 2004, p. 57.
15 Shaw, SJ and Shaw, EK 2002, pp. 124-5.
16 Zerzilidis, G 1959, ‘Τοπωνυμικó της Άνω Ματσούκας’, (in Greek), Archeion Pontou, vol. 23, p. 160.
17 Fotiadis, K 2001, A translation of, The forced Islamization in Asia Minor and the cryptochristians of the Pontos (in Greek), Kiriakidis Bros, Thessaloniki, Greece, pp. 369-70.
18 Bryer, A 2002, ‘Introduction’, in The post-Byzantine monuments of the Pontos: a source book, (eds A. Bryer, D. Winfield, S. Balance & J Isaac) Variorum Collected Studies Series, Ashgate, Aldershot, Hampshire GB, p. xvii.
19 Bryer, 1970b, ‘Churches south of Trebizond’ in Archeion Pontou vol. 30, pp. 326-8 (in Bryer et al 2002).

I warmly thank Anthony Bryer OBE, Emeritus Professor of Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham, for sending me a copy of his 2006 paper delivered to the British School at Athens, which I have quoted here. I also thank him for his cryptic reference to me in his paper. Bryer’s work is essential reading to those studying the history of the Pontos.




“Our strength lies in our intensive attacks and our barbarity… After all, who today remembers the genocide of the Armenians?” Adolf Hitler

I defy the Liberal Senator Alan Ferguson to look Chris Mingos in the eye and tell him that his mother did not see the women of her village, one by one, through themselves into a well in a futile and tragic attempt to evade their slaughter by Turkish irregulars. I would like Ferguson to tell Chris Mingos that crimes so unspeakable that she could only cry when she would think of them, were not visited upon his mother. I would like him to look me in the face and tell me that my grandfather did not witness the slaughter of children at Akbuköy in Aydin. I dare him to look my father-in-law in the face and tell him that his father did not flee the Hakkari mountains as a result of the continuous slaughter of its native Assyrian population. I challenge him to tell me that my grandfather, Chris Mingos’ mother and the rest of the survivors of the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia is to use his own words an attempt to: “try to re-write history,” or that they form part of a larger corpus: “with the Armenians, with the Pontian Greeks and with a range of other people who currently are trying to put today's moral judgment on events that took place 100 years ago.” Note how the genocide-denying Senator refers to the Assyrian victims as “other peoples.” It is apparent that he is extremely well informed.

The denial of genocide, or attempts to minimise, make light of or in any way trivialise incidences of racial tension and/or conflict are not elements that one would expect to see in mature western democracies. In many European countries, denial of crimes of genocide is seen as a punishable offence because to doubt the slaughter of innocent people, murdered solely because of their ethnic, religious or political affiliations is seen as tantamount to condoning the crime as well.

Senator Ferguson did not have to commit genocide-denial in Federal Parliament on 18 March 2009. He was merely “moved to speak,” on “the 40th anniversary of the formal Agreement between the Government of the Common­wealth of Australia and the Government of the Repub­lic of Turkey concerning the Residence and Employ­ment of Turkish Citizens in Australia.” His stated aim was: “to celebrate and commend the achievements of the Turk­ish community here in the Commonwealth of Australia that has been created as a result of this agreement in the 40 years since its implementation.”

However, he did not. Instead, he admitted that the Turkish ambassador visited him complaining about “a speech that was made by the Hon. Michael Atkinson, the Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Minister for Multicultural Af­fairs in the Labor government in South Australia. I had not thought that I would be surprised by anything that the South Australian Attorney-General said in relation to the Turkish community, particularly as most state parliaments do not have a role in foreign affairs in the same way that the federal parliament does.” This is where Ferguson makes a mistake and betrays his primary motivation. The Hon. Michael Atkinson’s speech had nothing to do with the Turkish community. In it, he made reference to: “The nationalist Turks led by Mustafa Kemal's forces and their frenzied followers began to persecute [Pontian Greeks] through beatings, murder, forced marches and labour, theft of their properties and livelihood, rape, torture and deportations.” One can understand why the Turkish ambassador, a person who Ferguson admits to being his “personal friend,” may be enraged. Despite Ferguson’s commendation of: “the Republic of Turkey's commitment to democracy, to the rule of law, and-particularly in the region in which it lives-to secularism, which is some­thing that is quite unique in that part of the world,” the Turkish ambassador represents a country that until recently denied the existence of and persecuted its Kurdish minority, unlawfully expropriates land from Christian ecclesiastical foundations, bullies its smaller neighbours with spurious land and sea claims and threats of military intervention, invades and occupies other countries, and imprisons and threatens people who share different views about the its official version of its past and society. In 2005, in ‘secular, democratic, rule of law Turkey’, a new penal code was introduced, including an Article 301, which states: "A person who, being a Turk, explicitly insults the Republic or Turkish Grand National Assembly, shall be punishable by imprisonment of between six months to three years." Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel Prize winning author, was retroactively charged with violating this law in the interview he had given four months earlier. In October, after the prosecution had begun, Pamuk reiterated his views in a speech given during an award ceremony in Germany: "I repeat, I said loud and clear that one million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in Turkey." Altuğ Taner Akçam, a leading Turkish academic who uses Ottoman documents to prove that the Armenian genocide took place, fears for his life and is often in hiding. Furthermore, Lebanon, Israel, Cyprus, Armenia and Georgia are all states in Turkey’s immediate periphery that are even more secular and certainly more democratic. But it is far beyond us to provide Ferguson with lessons in geography.

It is arguable that Ferguson knows nothing of this. I doubt that his Turkish mate would have told him, when he appears to have incited him to use the anniversary to take a cheap swipe on behalf of Turkey at genocide victim’s expense. Instead, on the 18th, he launched into a mellifluous, histrionic and irrelevant attempt to use Gallipoli, a Greek town that was ethnically cleansed by the Ottomans in order for it to be fortified to resist an Allied attack on Constantinople, “as a guest of the Turkish government,” in order to justify his genocide denial. Ferguson in particular, expresses much emotion at the fact that the commander of the forces that mowed down the ANZAC troops, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, asked the mothers of the fallen Anzac soldiers to wipe away their tears as he would look after their son’s corpses for them. Ferguson is obviously oblivious to modern scholarship which posits that the genocide of the Christians of Anatolia was probably linked to the Gallipoli landings. Professor Robert Manne states: “The two events not only coincided in territory and in time, but there is quite a lot of evidence that the genocide was pushed on because of the Dardanelle campaign of the Anglo-French forces in which the Australians were involved. So despite the fact that the things happened at the same time and in the same place more or less, and they were even kind of connected with a causal link…when the Dardanelles were first bombed by the Anglo-French in March 1915, that was the final moment of reckoning, and that the Turkish regime, which was run by two or three Young Turks were the dominant figures, they set upon and decided on asystematic extermination of the Armenians, saying that at this moment of crisis, where Constantinople might fall, we can't afford to have a subversive minority within our country."

The causal link between the two events is further cemented when one considers that just twenty days after the Gallipoli landing, on 14 May 1914, Talaat Pasha, a member of the ruling Young Turk triumvirate ordered the forcible evacuation of all Greek settlements on the Dardenelles as far as Kyssos and the re-settlement of the region with Muslim refugees from the Balkans: “For political reasons it is urgently necessary that the Greek inhabitants of the coast of Asia Minor are forced to abandon their villages… If they refuse to move… please give oral instructions to Muslim brothers how to force the Greeks to remove themselves ‘voluntarily’ by any means possible. In that case, don’t forget to obtain confirmations from them that they are abandoning their homes of their own free will.” And what about the thousands of Greek troops and support staff who assisted and nursed Australian soldiers on the island of Lemnos and elsewhere? Apparently their contribution is too humanitarian in nature to satisfy Ferguson’s idolatry of “noble” enemies.
Ferguson in his ineptitude makes another historical blunder. He states that at the time of the genocide, Turkey was “fighting for its survival against an invasion from Greece.” Rubbish. There is enough evidence to show that the genocide was directed against ALL the native Christian peoples of Anatolia and that it commenced long before Greece was requested to police the sanjak of Smyrna by the Allies in 1919. Further the Greek army never set foot in Pontos. The defenceless Pontians were slaughtered just for interfering with the Young Turk’s and their successor’s conception of a uni-racial state.

Ferguson must be a very brave man to so blatantly and artlessly exhibit his ignorance of the period in question. He is also brave for his frank revelation of the manner in which he views the place of historical events pertaining to Australian ethnic minorities. Of Michael Atkinson’s spirited speech he states: “It was obviously made in the context of being at a Greek function where it was suitable for him to make these remarks.” The inference here appears to be obvious, is it legitimate and suitable for an Australian politician to curry favour with target ethnic minorities by pandering to their own view of history in order to gain their vote? Is this how Ferguson sees multiculturalism? And in his ridiculous, offensive and thoroughly sickening to victims and descendants of the victims, denial of the Christian genocide, is he merely adhering to what appears to be his own jaded view of the use of ethnic groups in his electorate? Further more, does his distorted and inept view of this event reflect Liberal Party policy?

Playing ethnic politics is a dirty game that threatens to shatter social harmony quite a good deal more easily than referring to or interperting historical events. The fact of the matter is that in Australia, communities of diverse backgrounds have proven that they can co-exist peacefully in fruitful collaboration and ties of friendship because of our joint commitment to multicultural Australia. No cynical, irresponsible or misguided attempt to score points or votes off the backs of any arbitrarily chosen ethnic group should ever be permitted to bear the bitter fruit of discord.

It is meet that Greek consular officials greet this clumsy attempt by the Turkish diplomatic corps and their misguided friends to taunt and humiliate genocide victims and their families with the silence of contempt that they deserve. We however, should not be so silent. We do not hate Turkey. Many thousands of members of the Greek community derive their descent from the geographical area covered by its borders. We cannot hate our place of origin though we may despise and deplore crimes about humanity and coarse, brutal, thoroughly stupid attempts to cover these up and denigration of their victims. Ferguson should, assuming that he wants to, be advised of the folly of exposing his schematic view of history and appearing to be the pawn of a culpable state.

Perhaps Ferguson, whose name and nefarious deed in Parliament on the 18th of March should never be forgotten by all those who seek justice, tolerance, social cohesion and re-conciliation, condemns himself with his own words, when he says: “…those of us to­day find it very difficult to pass judgment--we should not be passing judgment when we do not know the full facts.” To him then, these words of Gideon Hausner: “No one can demand that you be neutral toward the crime of genocide. If there is a judge in the whole world who can be neutral toward this crime, that judge is not fit to sit in judgment.” Shame….


 http://diatribe-column.blogspot.com/2009/03/banality-of-ineptitude.html - posted 30 March 2009


On 30 April 2009, the South Australian lower house did a remarkable thing; it recognised the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia during the Ottoman Empire. The full text of the motion that was passed is as follows:

“That, whereas the genocide by the Ottoman state between 1915-1923 of Armenians, Hellenes, Syrian and other minorities in Asia Minor is one of the greatest crimes against humanity, the people of South Australia and this House –

(a) join the members of the Armenian-Australian, Pontian Greek-Australian and Syrian-Australian communities in honouring the memory of the innocent men, women and children who fell victim to the first modern genocide;

(b) condemns the genocide of the Armenians, Pontian Greeks, Syrian Orthodox and other Christian minorities, and all other acts of genocide as the ultimate act of racial, religious and cultural intolerance;

(c) recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated;

(d) condemns and prevents all attempts to use the passage of time to deny or distort the historical truth of the genocide of the Armenians and other acts of genocide committed during this century;

(e) acknowledges the significant humanitarian contribution made by the people of South Australia to the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide and the Pontian Genocide; and

(f) calls on the commonwealth parliament officially to condemn the genocide."

Noting in passing that the Assyrian community has been misdescribed as ‘Syrian,’ a grave error that will hopefully be rectified, this recognition of the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia forms a historic landmark in the history of the Armenian-Australian, Assyria-Australian and Greek-Australian people. This is not a political or ethnic victory, for we are thankfully not enmeshed within the warp and the weft of the greater geo-strategic and political games played by the representatives of our mother countries. This is not a victory of diplomats, who for the most part shy away from agitating publicly on what we term to be “national issues.” Most importantly, this act of recognition is balsam applied to the unhealed wound in the souls of genocide victims and their descendants. The Australian historical narrative often tends to ignore the socio-political events that its migrant populations have experienced. Yet these events, often traumatic, inform these Australian’s world-view. The opinions and emotions forged during such times have been transplanted to this country and often, passed down the generations. Horrific international experiences such as the Holocaust or the Genocide are thus pertinent to this country because they have affected, directly or indirectly, a portion of the Australian community.

South Australian Attorney General Michael Atkinson was thus entirely correct when he stated in his speech:
“We should support the motion to recognise the Armenian, Pontian Greek, Syrian Orthodox, (sic) Nestorian and Assyrian communities who flourish in Australia today. The Republic of Turkey, having dispersed these people to the point of the globe farthest from Anatolia, can hardly complain that, in the freedom of the Antipodes, they perpetuate the memory of their ancestors and their culture. These Australians—and I remind Senator Ferguson that they are Australians with the full right of citizenship to talk about topics that Senator Ferguson considers too ancient and too controversial—came to Australia from countries, including Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, where they had settled after the genocide.”

The Leader of the South Australian Opposition, Martin Hamilton Smith also spoke upon the relevance of the empirical and personal connection: “As a man married to a Greek, with a son who is half Greek, who is Orthodox, this has very much touched me and my family. Let there be no doubt in the mind of any South Australian about my view and the view of the state Liberals of these terrible and tragic events.”

Further, through the international treaties it has signed, Australia has cast itself as a democratic, humanitarian country, that abjures all forms of totalitarian terror, it is a humanitarian victory for all Australians who still believe in the democratic process and principled politicians. As John Rau, Member for Enfield stated: “The fact that this motion is before the parliament, the fact that we are debating this matter and we are talking about this matter is at least some modest way that we as legislators in what is, after all, only a provincial parliament—I should not really say that here, should I, but that is what we are—can make some contribution to raising public awareness, both of the terrible circumstances of this particular conflict, but also of the fact that these conflicts can and do and will occur again unless people are aware of these issues and take intelligent, statesmanlike solutions to these problems to hand.” The Member for Fisher, R B Such, went further, courageously acknowledging his own battles as a child, in coming to terms with tolerance, before stating:
“We cannot afford to sit back and do nothing. We need to ensure that we are ever vigilant and that we promote tolerance and empathy, particularly amongst our children, so that we rid the world and ourselves of the evil that can be reflected in the sort of genocide and intolerance that is highlighted in this motion today.”

The debate in the SA parliament on the Genocide thus underlies just how principled its politicians are. Some of the debate centred on a few comments published in the Diatribe a few weeks ago, about Senator Ferguson’s denial of the historical authenticity of the Pontian Genocide. In particular, the Diatribe had opined:
“Playing ethnic politics is a dirty game that threatens to shatter social harmony quite a good deal more easily than referring to or interpreting historical events. The fact of the matter is that Australia's communities of diverse backgrounds have proven that they can co-exist peacefully in fruitful collaboration and ties of friendship because of our joint commitment to multicultural Australia. No cynical, irresponsible or misguided attempt to score points or votes off the back of any arbitrarily chosen ethnic group should ever be permitted to bear the bitter fruit of discord.”
It appears that this was the guiding principle of all the politicians who spoke on the motions, from both major parties, though I regret the misguided attempt in Parliament to use this quote to accuse others of ‘using’ ethnics as pawns in a broader political game. This notwithstanding, it was gratifying in the extreme to witness these politicians quote extensively from the research of Dr Panayiotis Diamandis, Thea Halo’s famous book “Not without My Name,” William Dalrymple’s “From the Holy Mountain,” and even from primary sources such as the archives of the Greek government: “The government of Ankara decided that the Greeks of the regions of Atabazar and Kaltras, first, and later the Greeks of the Pontos , would be slaughtered and eliminated. He assigned Yavur Ali to burn down a Greek village which is near Geive and to kill all of its inhabitants. The tragedy lasted two days. The village, with its 12 factories and its nice buildings became a dump site. Ninety per cent of the population were slaughtered and burnt. The few who were able to escape in order to save their lives went to the mountains. In order to preserve his Chets , Mustafa Kemal had to find an area which he could attack.”

The extensive references to the actual historical events and their effects prove that these politicians are not motivated by political expediency in the recognition of the Genocide. Indeed, they have nothing to gain politically from doing so. Instead, through their own research and critical faculties, they have become convinced that the Genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia is a historical fact that needs to be recognised at a formal level. All of them ought to be commended for this, especially in the face of vociferous protest by the Turkish consular authorities. I am informed, though I have not seen a copy of the relevant letter, that the Australian Foreign Minister has written to the Attorney General of South Australia, stating that it is not the Federal Government’s policy to recognise the Genocide. Perhaps the Australian government should take a leaf out of the enlightened South Australian parliament’s book and pass resolutions based on fact and not Realpolitik.

The president of the Federation of Pontian Organisations of Australia, Harry Tavlarides, the alternate president, Panagiotis Jasonides and many others have worked tirelessly over the years, not to politicise the issue, but to firstly raise awareness of the Genocide among the Pontian and broader Greek community, then to liaise and co-ordinate commemoration events with the Armenian and Assyrian communities (and indeed, it was this diametric move away from isolationist activities and the placing of the Pontian Genocide into the broader context of the fate of other Christian nations in the same region, that arguably allowed the issue of recognition raise itself from the quagmire of obscurity,) and finally, to present the facts to members of Parliament and have them make up their own mind.

In many ways, the whole campaign for Genocide Recognition has its inception in Federation member, Central Pontian Association “Pontiaki Estia’s” Pontian Genocide Workshops. The brainchild of Litsa Athanasiadis and George Papadopoulos, these have run for almost a decade now, having transmogrified into the cultural and theatrical annual “Seed” event at the Clocktower Centre in Moonee Ponds. Neos Kosmos has also played a prominent role in raising awareness of the Genocide and calling for its recognition through its frequent articles on the topic over the years and of this, and the fact that South Australian parliamentarians: “draw the attention of the house to an article in Neos Kosmos , described by some as Australia's leading Greek newspaper and the largest ABC audited ethnic publication,” we should all be very proud. As one member of the Pontian Federation remarked to me: “I was told a few years back by some first generation leaders of the Pontian community that there was absolutely no way that the Pontian Genocide would ever be recognised in Australia. Now look how far we have come.” We have come thus far, because of the grass roots support of a broad swathe of the Australian community, carefully informed, and despite the politicking of most of our parochial community organizations.

In a sense, I sympathise with members of the Turkish community who will feel enraged at the South Australian Parliament’s recognition. After all, they, just like us, share nationalistic myths about the destiny and character of their race. They, just like us, have been brought up to think that there race is noble, just, courteous and of great benefit to mankind. An official recognition of the genocide shatters such myths just as it calls them into question. As a corollary, why does official Greek historiography skim over the massacre of innocent Turks during the taking of Tripolitsa, or the atrocities committed by the Greek army in Asia Minor? Simply because the Greek people are also, to some extent, informed by the same nation-building myths. What the recognition teaches the Turkish community, as well as us, is that crimes against humanity are not committed by races. They are committed by human beings, and it is those human beings, not their race, creed or colour that are to be condemned. It is degrading to defend the indefensible and we should all be possessed of the conviction to uphold what is right and denounce the wrong, regardless of our kinship with its perpetrator.

The recognition of the Genocide should thus not be viewed as the ascendancy of one ‘ethnic’ lobby over another. It is justice achieved, a little victory for a people downtrodden and crushed into the dust. All that remains therefore, as we pay respect to their memory, is to echo the laudable sentiments of the Honourable Michael Ferguson: “Rest eternal, grant unto them, Oh Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon them. May they rest in peace and rise in glory.” Αμήν.


http://diatribe-column.blogspot.com/2009/05/genocide-recognition.html - posted 11 May 2009



Recently the Prime Minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, replying to questions by journalists from European Union countries called for an unbiased study of the "allegations" as he called them, that one million Armenians have been killed by Ottoman troops during World War One as the result of a planned genocide. "We want to open our archives to those persons who allege that a genocide took place. If the other countries were truly genuine they would do the same thing. Teams of historians from both sides can research the archives so that the truth can be told. We do not want successive generations to live under the shadow of continuous hatred."

At first instance, these sentiments seem laudable. It is the first time within living history that a Turkish leader has spoken publicly about the issue of genocide without issuing a blatant denial or hurling invective at those who state that it did occur. This has caused great optimism within certain circles that maintain that closer ties with the European Union are responsible for this ´spring´ and that increased ties will lead to the development of a ´mature´ Turkey, able to cast aside the fetters of nationalist myth-construction and view the past objectively.

Even more tantalising to scholars is the promise of opening up the archives. Much of the Ottoman archives have remained closed to public viewing ever since the formation of the Turkish state, a little while after an International Tribunal in the early twenties was able to examine some of these and on their basis, along with that of witnesses, to conclude that the Ottoman regime was in fact guilty of genocide. Since that time however, the archives have remained closed and western scholarship on the genocide has basically been restricted to research of the contemporary documents and dispatches used by consular authorities of Western Powers, operating in Turkey. Henry Morgenthau´s eyewitness account of the horrors of the Armenian genocide is extra-ordinarily moving and persuasive evidence while Bill Balakian´s recent book ´Burning Tigris´ is also an interesting account of how the Armenian genocide was perceived by Americans in Turkey and America and how government policy towards it has shifted since.

When one looks past the smokescreen of Erdoğan´s attestations of friendliness and abjuring of hatred, a few key words stand out. These are ´alleged genocide,´ underlying the contention that the Turkish policy of denial still remains, although if there is a shift, it is that it is now a policy of ´denial until proven guilty,´ and the proposition that if Turkey is guilty of withholding evidence about the genocide, then other countries are also complicit in this, thus shifting the onus of proof from Turkey to a broader base.

Life for Turks who decide to take an alternative to the ´official´ view of history experience great hardships in Turkey. If Erdoğan is genuine about studying the genocide then the pre-requisite step surely is to make the discussion of history free and unfettered within Turkish society, something that it currently is not. Only then will it be understood that Western countries rarely make history the cause for political strife but rather a catalyst for healing.

By Dean Kalimniou


The Turkish writer, Omar Asan was born in Trebizond, a city in Pontos where even today one can find many Greek speaking inhabitants. It is where an aging community still speaks the Pontian language.

Omer Asan, an economist turned writer, is a Greek-speaking Turk who was driven to write Pontos Kultura in 1996. He said, "I began to search for my identity because of the fact that the language my ancestors spoke was not Turkish ... At school they taught us that we were Turks ... but at home, in the village, everyone in the family spoke to each other in the language we called 'Romaiika'... By asking 'Who am I?' I plunged into the unknown. I had to find the answer ... I began, in amateur fashion, to collect Pontian words. I decided to focus my research on Erekioi, my village of Of, [in Trebizond ] and to study its living culture as an extant trace of Pontian culture."

“There are still people in Turkey today who speak and understand Pontian which is the oldest surviving Hellenic dialect. The members of this community come from Trebizond and are scattered throughout Turkey or have emigrated to other countries Pontian spoken in 60 villages in the Trebizond region, most of them in the Of area. At a conservative estimate. I would say this dialect is spoken by around 300 000 people.”

”I began to search for my identity because of the fact that the language my ancestors spoke was not Turkish. Because in the village in town, at school, they taught us that we were Turks. In the neighborhood, at school, at work we spoke Turkish . But at home, in the village, my grandfather, my grandmother, everyone in the family spoke to each other in the language we called "Romaika" (which is what is also known as “Pontiaka”). So what were we, "Romioi" or Turks? Now we speak Turkish.”

In my village the old people speak Pontiaka, but they are the last to use the language. The coming generations will not be able to bear it and learn it. Let's say that we have agreed, as far as the present is concerned: We speak Turkish, therefore we are Turkish. But who were we until now, what happened to make us become Turks? By asking "Who am I?" I plunged into the unknown. I had to find the answer to this question at any cost. And that is how this adventure began.

Originally, Asan's book was published in Turkey where it met its fate by confiscation and condemnation and its author was condemned to imprisonment of possibly between 14 months to 4 years. Asan was accused of being a 'traitor', a 'friend of Greece ' and a supporter of those who wanted Orthodox Christianity restored.

Omer Asan was acquitted in September 2003 as a result of the abolition of Article 8 of the Anti-Terror Law. His book found a new life when it was published in Greece under its new title, The Civilization of the Pontos (Ο Πολιτισμός του Πόντου). It became one of the most important books sold in Greece .

Omer Asan described the traditions of his people from the north eastern part of Turkey known as Pontos. He vividly described the customs and "forbidden language" spoken only in the home-of traces of an ancient Greek culture that Mustafa Kemal 's new "democratic" military government prefers that the world should not know about. By now, Turkey had hoped that when the survivors are no longer with us that future generations would not know Turkey was originally inhabited by Greek, Armenian and Assyrian Christians, who were either massacred or forcibly converted into Muslims. Omer Asan comes from that background. He is indeed a Pontian like us.