Pontic Greeks, Germans, and Palestinians – International selective memory

Impressed by a piece by David Aaronovitch  in the ‘Times’ (London) this morning (Opinion, 8 August 2013). He is writing about the anniversaries we are asked to remember and how these are often as much political fables as great events in history. He is writing about international selective memory.

Aaronovitch refers to the case of the Pontic or Pontian Greeks, and one of the grander examples of more recent international selective memory –  the case of Palestine. So, firstly, who were the Pontic Greeks? Quite so… who were they? They were Greeks living in the region of Pontus, on the shores of Turkey’s Black Sea and in the Pontic Alps, in north-eastern Anatolia. They suffered widespread massacre and what is now usually termed ethnic cleansing at the beginning of the 20th century, first by the ‘Young Turks’ and later by the forces of Kemal Ataturk. In both cases, the pretext was that the Greeks and Armenians (also ethnically cleansed) had collaborated with the Russians before the termination of hostilities between the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire and Russia, following the October Revolution. Death marches through Turkey’s mountainous terrain, forced labour, and slaughter by bandits resulted in tens of thousands of Pontic Greeks perishing during the period from 1915 to 1922. Additionally, in 1923, after hundreds of years, those remaining were expelled from Turkey to Greece as part of the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey as defined by the Treaty of Lausanne. According to the 1928 census of Greece, there were in total 240,695 Pontic Greek refugees in Greece. In total, 1.75 million people left their ancestral homes on the establishment of the new Turkish Republic – Moslems of Greece forced east, and Greek inhabitants uprooted and sent west.

Apart from Pontic Greek communities and European Turks, who remembers these events? Who knows about the German-speaking inhabitants of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Romania and the Balkans – some 12 million of them – expelled after 1945 ?

Everybody remembers about the Palestinians though ! Of the 700,000 Arabs who fled at the dusk of British Mandate Palestine and the dawn of the State of Israel in 1948, only around 30,000 to 50,000 are left along with some 5,000,000 descendant refugees. Their cause ? Returning to a place to which they have never been.



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