5 Dec 2016

Text: Corinna / Translation: Miriam & Daniel

#Mass murder of the Assyrian people and the Pontic Greeks

The mass murder of the Assyrian people and the Pontic Greeks is tied to the genocide against the Armenian people. The Young Turks’ aim was to set up a Turkish empire with one language and one religion, declaring Jihad (Holy War) on all non-Muslim minorities. In total, 5 million Christians were evicted, islamised or killed.

Assyrians Pontic GreeksPhoto: David Holt/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

#Seyfo – Genocide of the Assyrian people 1914-1918

The genocide against the Assyrian people (also Aramaeans, Christian Syrians, Chaldaeans and Nestorians) resembles the genocide against the Armenians in terms of its extent, strategy and brutality. During the First World War, nearly half of the Assyrian population were murdered or died of famine, illnesses, dehydration, forced labour and exhaustion.

The North of Mesopotamia (now in Iraq) was home to the Assyrian people for nearly 3,000 years. Assyrian kings reigned over the world’s largest empire for approximately 300 years and set up the world-famous ancient cities of Aššur and Nineveh.[1] The Assyrian people were also located in the South-East of Anatolia in the Ottoman Empire. At the beginning of the First World War, between 600,000-700,000 people remained.[2] Because of the fact that the Assyrian people were Christians, they were murdered as ruthlessly as the Armenians. At least 250,000 Assyrians are thought to have been killed during this genocide, although some scientists act on the assumption that at least 400,000 people fell victim to it.[3]

The killings began in October 1914, but were at their peak between 1915 and 1918. Soldiers of the Ottoman Empire as well as Kurdish and Persian militias massacred, tortured, deported and abducted thousands of Assyrians. Their aim was the total ethical and cultural destruction of Ottoman Christians. The brutality of the massacre showed how senseless the perpetrators’ hatred was.

The Christians were killed everywhere and in every possible way. Unarmed and captured victims were shot, stabbed, stoned, trampled, drowned, beheaded, thrown off roofs or had their throats cut. According to rumours, the perpetrators collected certain body parts and kept them as trophies.[4] The most commonly used murder weapon was the sword – leading to the Assyrians naming the genocide Seyfo (the sword).[5]

As it was for the Armenians, murder, looting, death marches, rapes, slavery and the destruction of cultural goods were all part of the Assyrians’ cruel reality. Many of them fled to Persia and Mesopotamia; but nearly 65,000 of them died on their way. Even after the First World War ended, they were ousted from their homes and expropriated. Many of them had to seek shelter in refugee camps. Even today, many of their descendants live in the same areas in the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq and Syria and still fall victim to ethnic cleansing.[6]

Assyrians and Pontic GreeksPhoto: z@doune/www.flickr.com/Creative Commons

#Mass Murder of the Pontic Greeks, 1908-1923

Pontos (Anc. Greek: sea) is the name given to the coastal region of the Black Sea where many Greeks settled in early ancient times. It was made part of the Ottoman Empire from 1461, and the Pontic Greeks were since then pressurised to convert to Islam. Over the course of many centuries, various geographic, economic and historical factors – as well as their dynamic cohesion – helped them to resist pressure and to keep their ingrained traditions, unique culture and dialect. However, during the 17th and 18th century, approximately 250,000 Pontic Greeks were forced to convert to Islam, whereupon many of them fled to Russia or the Caucasus.[7]

Just like the Armenians and the Assyrians, the Pontic Greeks were declared the enemy of the Turkish Empire due to their religion, and a cruel persecution took place between 1908 and 1923. Under the presidency of Mustafa Kemal (known as “Atatürk” from 1934 onwards), the First World War was followed by the Greco-Turkish War, initiating the most intensive phase of violence. The CUP (Committee of Union and Progress) and Mustafa Kemal used the same methods that were used against the other two ethnic groups. To destroy the Pontic Greeks, they firstly wanted to deport all those who were able to fight to the country’s interior regions and to Syria. Along the way, they either starved or died of thirst, exhaustion or illnesses. Many women and children were raped or enslaved. Cultural goods and places of worship were destroyed, people were expropriated and houses were burnt down. It is estimated that up to 350,000 Pontic Greeks died.

“The Armenians are not the only subject people in Turkey which have suffered from this policy of making Turkey exclusively the country of the Turks. The story which I have told about the Armenians I could also tell with certain modifications about the Greeks and Syrians [Assyrians]. Indeed the Greeks were the first victims of this nationalizing idea.”[8] – Henry Morgenthau, witness and then US-Ambassador to Turkey

The Greco-Turkish War ended in 1923 and with the Treaty of Lausanne a population exchange took place: all Pontic Greeks were forced to resettle in Greece – signalling the end of the ancient Greek civilisation’s long history in the Black Sea region.


# Atman, S. (2014) “Remembering the Assyrian Genocide: An Interview with Sabri Atman”, www.armenianweekly.com. Available at: http://armenianweekly.com/2014/01/08/remembering-the-assyrian-genocide-an-interview-with-sabri-atman/ (Accessed 24.03.15).

# Jones, A. (2010) Genocide – A comprehensive Introduction. 2nd Edition. London and New York: Routledge.

# Pontian Society of Chicago “Xeniteas” (2006) “A Brief History of the Pontian Greek Genocide (1914- 1923)”. Available at: http://www.stbasiltroy.org/pontos/pontoshistory.pdf (Accessed 24.03.15).

# Seyfo Center (2009) von Gaunt, D. “The Assyrian Genocide of 1915”, Available at: http://www.seyfocenter.com/ (Accessed 24.03.15).

# Travis, H. (2006) “Native Christians massacred: The Ottoman Genocide of the Assyrians during World War 1“, Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal: Vol. 1:3, Article 8. Available at: http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/gsp/vol1/iss3/8/?utm_source=scholarcommons.usf.edu%2Fgsp%2Fvol1%2Fiss3%2F8&utm_medium=PDF&utm_campaign=PDFCoverPages (Accessed 24.03.15).

[1]Travis (2006) pp. 328
[2]Seyfo Center (2009)
[3]Atman, pp. (2014)
[4]Jones (2010) pp. 161 – 162
[5]Atman, pp. (2014)
[6]Jones (2010) pp. 162
[7]Pontian Society of Chicago „Xeniteas“ (2006)
[8]Pontian Society of Chicago „Xeniteas“ (2006)

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