May 19th: Commemorating the Pontic genocide

May 19th marks the commemoration of the Pontic genocide, one of the darkest pages in recent European history. The Burning of Smyrna in 1922 signaled the — temporary, hopefully — termination of more than 30 centuries of Greek population presence in Asia Minor (with the exception of Constantinople, where the Greek presence was practically terminated in the 1950s after events such as the 1955 Istanbul pogrom).

Pontos basically is the southern coast of the Black Sea, an area where cities like Sinope and Trebizond has been cultural and economic hubs for several centuries. It is worth noting that the Pontic dialect, still spoken in Greece by the descendants of Greeks from Pontos, is the closest spoken language to ancient Greek. According to the most conservative calculations, the number of deaths during the events related to this genocide between 1913 and 1922 surpass the number of 350,000.

The purpose of this message is absolutely not to re-ignite hatred between Greece and Turkey. Quite the contrary actually, my purpose is to contribute in building a long-term, strategic partnership between our two nations, hopefully with Turkey becoming a full member of the European Federal Union, once the latter is created.

Such a partnership, however, can only be built on a foundation of truth and respect. The regime established by Mustafa Kemal Pasha in modern Turkey, was unfortunately no different than the ones established by Franco in Spain, Metaxas in Greece and Mussolini in Italy: Pure fascism. It comes, then, as no surprise that such a fascist regime championed ethnic cleansing which gradually scaled dramatically, to the point of becoming a genocide. One should be very careful to avoid accusing a whole nation for the terrible actions of a dictatorial regime, like the one of Kemal.

Exactly, then, like Spain does with Franco, Italy with Mussolini and Greece with Metaxas, it would only be good for modern Turkey to courageously look at the daemons of recent history, to acknowledge the undoubted pertinent events and to create a frank and solid relationship with its neighbors.

Happening to know personally many descendants of Greeks of Pontos, who still have a very fond memory of their motherland and dream of being able to return there one day in the future, my thoughts today are with the memory of these — more than 350,000 — human beings who were tragically lost in the beginning of the 20th century. Let their memory be eternal and let the pain of these losses be transformed to knowledge and consciousness, letting the peoples of this region to live and prosper together.

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