By Professor Anastasios M. Tamis*
Undoubtedly, the decade 1912-1922 was the most important period of the modern history of Hellenism. During this decade, the territorial sovereignty of Greece has more than doubled, its armed forces have been modernised, the ideology of historical Hellenism and its borders has been revised. Greece (Greek territory and the Greek Diaspora) waged defensive and expansionist wars, found itself fighting within the boundaries where Hellenism had been active for thousands of years, but also abroad, up to Ukraine in 1919, registered proud victories and suffered defeats that shrunk its sovereignty and led to the uprooting of Asia Minor Hellenism (Ionic and Pontian).
The Exchange of Population that followed the defeat of the Greek military forces in Asia Minor in August 1922, was the best that could be done for Hellenism, under the circumstances, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of modern Turkey ( October 29, 1923) (Turkiye> means the state of the Turks], as the remaining state-portion of an empire once covering three continents.
I mentioned that it was “the best for Hellenism” and I must explain myself. The political and social developments that followed with the establishment and operation of the new state of the Turks, clearly showed that the intransigent nationalism and radical chauvinism that characterized successive governments of Turkey (with the exception of the one of the period 1946-1960, in which the Democratic Party came to power, founded by the kind-minded Gelal Bayar and its president Adnan Menderes), would not allow minorities to operate within Turkey.
The old principle of the Ottoman Empire for harmonic cohabitation and socio-economic co-ordination of minorities, as far as possible, was completely overthrown. Successive governments in Turkey, systematically and in a coordinated manner, have designed and established programmes for the Turkification of minorities, imposed policies of forced assimilation or eradication of minorities.
Since October 1923, when the islands of Imbros and Tenedos (the largest islands of Turkey today), were returned to Turkey by Greece, successive Turkish regimes systematically imposed against the Greek Orthodox inhabitants of the islands brutal campaigns of Turkification and savage programs of de-Hellenization. In particular, they violated all the rules of the Treaty of Lausanne.
They installed an army in Imvros and prisons of convicts to force the Greeks to leave their island, either with their immigration to Lemnos, Lesvos and the Greek Diaspora; they confiscated or expropriated with degrading compensation their fields; they encroached on houses and properties. Moreover, they forbade the Greeks to fish, they closed their schools, they confiscated school buildings, they flattened the chapels of Imbros and Tenedos, they deserted the churches and sold precious monuments and icons in Turkey and abroad.
Every time there was tension in Cyprus and in Greek-Turkish relations (1962-1964, 1974 onwards), Turkish intransigence broke out against the Constantinopolitan Greeks and those in Imbros and Tenedos, inexorably, and harshly. In 1923, when Imbros was handed over to the Turks from Greece, the island was demographically the most Greecian of the Archipelago, of the entire Aegean, with 8,000 Greeks and only four Turkish families. Imbros was the only island in the Archipelago, the Aegean, that had no Turkish inhabitants. In 2022, the number of Greek Christians does not exceed 300 people.
I am now convinced that the same fate experience by the Greeks in Imbros and Tenedos would have been suffered by the Hellenism of Pontus and the rest of Asia Minor, from Ionia to Cappadocia. It would have been forced to evoke its national and ethnic identity, or expelled or forced into savage deportations, exiles, and relocations by the radical Turkish regimes of the nationalists.
I analyzed this situation in my recent book, entitled Imbros and Tenedos: The Pendulum of an Interracial Tragedy. At least the uprooted Hellenism of Ionia, Cappadocia, and Pontus, which had been settled in Greece, united, and consolidated into the social and cultural fabric of the rest of Hellenism, rekindled the entire Hellenism, brought progress in trade and in the arts, it grafted the Greek culture of the East with the Greek one, and led modern Greece to years of prosperity, stability and optimism.
If Hellenism had stayed in Asia Minor, in 2022, Turkey would have held hostage all the Greeks who would have remained there, to apply pressure on Greece, while at the same time it would have disintegrated it culturally, linguistically, and socially.
You can imagine what sort of life Hellenism there could have experienced today if they had lived in Turkey. Can you envisage, the size and degree of coercion and intimidation that the Greeks would have experienced if they were citizens of Turkey in 2022, under the authoritarian rule of a megalomaniac leader, who would dream to reconstitute the Ottoman Empire, from Libya and the Middle East to, at least, the Aegean islands and Western Thrace and Eastern Rumelia?
Can you imagine, like the Russian Ukrainian recent tragedy, once again to experience a Greco-Turkish war conflict, inspired by the megalomaniac Sultan of our time, claiming under the pretext of revisionism, that Greece was once part of an Ottoman Empire, so he could claim not only rocky islets, but entire Greek territories?
Finally, can you imagine a Greece, without having the Asia Minor Hellenism in the Peloponnese, Crete, Macedonia, and Thrace? One can easily assess what the current situation would have been in Greece, without these refugees from Asia Minor.
These refugees were who brought to contemporary Greece the light of a vast civilization of the East, a civilization which carries on it the core values of the Church Fathers and the Cappadocian hierarchs, the light of Kontoglou, the voice of the Pontian hierarch of Chrysanthos, the greatness of Onassis and Konialidis, Botosakis and other eminent voices of Hellenism.
Therefore, our national calamity would have been greater, if Hellenism of Asia Minor had been destroyed and eradicated, remaining in the Ionian land, in Cappadocia of the Saints and the Hierarchs and the heroic Pontus, rather than to be uprooted and implanted into the heart of Mother Greece.
The historical memory of a people cannot be conquered. The oppressors of revisionism cannot flatten the memory of the homelands of a nation. Surely, the borders of a state are the result of political negotiations and the outcome of wars, they are the result of the decision of the strongest of the states, the mighty of the earth. However, the memory of the homelands and the culture of our people in Asia Minor, remains an ineffable light and voice of our Nation, which keeps us cohesive and enshrines us historically as a nation.