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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 18 April 2015
18 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 18 APRIL 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM The ethnic cleansing of Greeks There were 32,000 Greeks living on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915. By 1919 there were none. Historian John Williams explains how the Turks sanctioned the genocide of thousands The facts are that in a period which began after the last of the Balkan Wars and extended throughout the First World War almost half a million Greeks were among the upwards of two million human beings who lost their lives in a state-sponsored campaign of ethnic ‘purification’. The Gallipoli peninsula, where Greeks made up about half of the population, was not isolated from this ‘cleansing’. Quite the reverse. After April 1915, it was the site of a battlefield and this ensured that its ‘purification’ would be total. There were 32,000 Greeks living on the Gallipoli peninsula in 1915. By 1919 there were none, and the vast majority of the former inhabitants were dead. However ‘genocide’ is defined - in particular, however the distinction is drawn with ‘ethnic cleansing’ - what happened on Gallipoli is surely an instance. However, while the Gallipoli genocide was executed by Turkish gendarmes and auxiliaries, it was by no means a purely Turkish affair. It was called an ‘evacuation’ and was just one of a number ordered and organised by Germans. It coincided with the fighting because it was, in fact, ordered for reasons of military necessity. But it went further than such reasons warranted and its excesses were perpetrated under cover of those reasons. That cover has proven effective to this day. A dispatch on July 7 1913 reported that Ottoman troops treated Gallipoli's Greeks "with marked depravity" as they "destroyed, looted, and burned all the Greek villages near Gallipoli": Kourtzali was sacked and destroyed completely, as was also Pashakioi. Mavra itself the Turkish soldiers and fugitives burned, killing sixteen Greeks. The cause of this savagery of the Turks is their fear that if Thrace is declared autonomous the Greek population may be found numerically superior to the Mussulmans. The 1913 massacres were spontaneous acts of savagery, based on long-standing hatreds inflamed by the recent deportations and massacres of Turkish Muslims from Greece and other Balkan lands. (Arnold Toynbee recorded a total of 413,992 Muslims of former Turkish territory either massacred or expelled during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13.) Suspicion, fuelled by fear, was also part of the mix. With a Greek army expected to invade the peninsula at any moment, Gallipoli's Greeks were regarded - not without grounds - as a fifth column. Despite this, there was no attempt at that stage to deport or systematically annihilate them, even though just that kind of anti-Greek action had begun in parts of Thrace and Anatolia. Gallipoli escaped systematic ‘cleansing’ even during the critical months of May and June 1914, when between 100,000 and 150,000 Greeks were forcibly deported to Greece from elsewhere in the Turkish homelands. So ‘successful’ was this operation - that is, both efficient and free from interference from European powers - that it was used as the model for the Armenian genocide. According to Toynbee, "entire Greek communities were driven from their homes by terrorism, their houses and land and often their moveable property were seized, and individuals were killed in the process". These persecutions bore all the signs "of being systematic". The terror attacked one district after another, and was carried on by 'chette' bands, enrolled from the Rumeli refugees as well as from the local population, nominally attached as reinforcements to the regular Ottoman gendarmerie. Persecution of this kind was still to come to Gallipoli. After Fahri's troops left in July 1913, the Greeks there had been left to rebuild shattered lives as best they could - until April 1915. On Turkey's entry into the war, the government policy of persecuting and deporting Greeks was suspended, a fact which has muddied the waters about what happened next. The change in policy arose in early 1915 out of a promise to Germany by Greek Prime Minister Venizelos that Greece would stay neutral provided that the Turks ceased persecuting Ottoman Greeks. The Turkish government attempted to oblige their German ally - or at least to appear to be doing so - though it had, in fact, little success in restraining the murderous activity it had unleashed. And once it became clear that the Allies intended to invade Turkey, deportations of a different kind began, justified by the more acceptable reasons of military necessity. But this rationale concealed an even darker reality. Now it was the Greeks of the coastal regions vulnerable to Allied attack who were deported, not to Greece, but to Turkey's interior where they were at the mercy of hostile Turks. A deportee from the island of Marmora described just what deportation to Turkey's interior involved; how the deportees were A dispatch on July 7, 1913, reported that Ottoman troops treated Gallipoli’s Greeks ‘with marked depravity’ as they ‘destroyed, looted, and burned all the Greek villages near Gallipoli’.
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