Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Pontic Greeks in the Soviet Union

On 19 May, we commemorate the killing of between 350,000-500,000 Pontic Greeks by Turkish and Kurdish barbarians during the period 1916-1923. Stavros at My Greek Odyssey has written about the genocide here.

Also worth remembering is that many of those who escaped the Turkish and Kurdish atrocities fled not to Greece, but to Russia/the Soviet Union, where long-standing Greek communities existed in the Crimea as well as in Georgia and Abkhazia.

British journalist Neal Ascherson in his book Black Sea has written about their tragic fate.

Ascherson says that for Greek communities the first few years in the nascent Soviet Union were 'tolerable, if not encouraging', but after collectivisation of farming in 1928 and Stalin's consolidation of power, Greeks, perhaps more than any other minority, felt the full force of Stalinist madness and terror. Here's what Ascherson writes:

'Everything about them [the Greeks] was now construed as counter-revolutionary: their tradition of free enterprise, their links with the 'imperialist' world outside and especially with Athens (many of them held Greek passports), their independent culture. The Greeks in south Russia and Ukraine strongly resisted the loss of their farms, and thousands were arrested. As the 'Great Purges' developed in the 1930s, their cultural and political leaders were charged with treachery or Trotskyism and murdered. The Greek schools were closed and Greek literature destroyed. In south Russia, political persecution rapidly turned into ethnic pogroms; entire Greek communities were arrested and deported. [It is] estimated that as many as 170,000 Greeks were expelled to Siberia and Central Asia after 1936.

'But this had only been a prelude. The full impact of state terror was turned against the Greeks in the aftermath of the Second World War. Like the Crimean Tartars, the Chechens and the Volga Germans, the Greeks of the Soviet Union became a condemned nationality and were banished.

'The 70,000 Crimean Greeks, almost all Pontic by descent, went first. Then came the Greeks of Kuban and south Russia. Finally, on the night of 14/15 June 1949, a single immense operation planned in secret for many months rounded up almost the entire Greek population of the Caucasus. The settlements in Abkhazia and along the Georgian coast down to the Turkish frontier were the principal target. About 100,000 people were seized. Their villages were surrounded in darkness by NKVD special troops, and they were given only a few hours to pack. Many of them perished on the sealed trains, and when they arrived at their destination – usually weeks later – they were deliberately dispersed: scattered among small Moslem communities and kolkhoz cotton farms across the Central Asian plains…'

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