Thrace’s Black Easter 1914
That year, Easter Sunday was 6 April. The organised pogroms against the indigenous Hellenic population of Thrace by the Turkish state reached the point that the Oecumenical Patriarchate, the sole defender of Hellenism in that region, was obliged in May 1914 to close churches and schools in protest, to declare a period of mourning and to declare that the Church was under persecution.
The genocidal behaviour of the Turks in Thrace was the result of an orchestrated plan of the Turkish state. World War One began in August 1914, eight months after the first anti-Hellenic pogroms in Thrace.
The Genocide of the Hellenes is not the result of war: war gave the Turkish state the opportunity to make its plans a reality. As recorded by The Times (of London), the Congress of the Young Turk Party in Thessalonike in October 1910 determined that:
Musulmans generally should retain their arms, and where they are in a minority arms should be distributed to them by the authorities. … Emigration from the Caucasus and Turkestan must be encouraged, land provided for the immigrants, and the Christians prevented from purchasing property. … Turkey was essentially a Moslem country, and Moslem ideas and influence must preponderate. All other religious propaganda must be suppressed, as no reliance could be placed on Christians, who were always working for the downfall of the new regime. … Sooner or later the complete Ottomanization of all Turkish subjects must be effected, but it was becoming clear that this could never be achieved by persuasion, and recourse must be had to force of arms. (‘The Salonika Congress; The Young Turks and their Programme’ The Times (London) 3 October 1911, σελίδα 3)
Beginning with the boycott of commerce and heavy taxation, continuing with the looting of property, terror attacks and murders, with conscription and compulsory labour, rape, massacres, deportations the plan was to drive the indigenous Hellenes of Thrace to out of their ancestral homes.
In his book Deutschland über Allah! Germany, Gallipoli and The Great War, Australian historian John Williams documented how the Turkish state systematically destroyed the indigenous population of the Thracian Chersonese, known to most Australians and New Zealanders as Kallipole, Gallipoli.
Once the peninsula ceased to be a war zone, Turks could return. But not Greeks. Some reached Greece but most died; either way, a thriving Greek community of 32,000, dating back 2000 years, had its population obliterated and was expunged from history.
From the winter of 1913-1914 until the entry of the Hellenic Kingdom into World War One on 2 July 1917, the Young Turks forced 232,000 Hellenes of Thrace out of their homes, while another 96,000 were driven to labour battalions in Asia Minor.
More than half of them died due to disease, malnutrition and physical abuse. They have remained in history as the first victims of the storm which engulfed – in turn – Ionia, Pontos, Kappadokia, all of Anatolia.
The zenith was the holocaust of Smyrne in September 1922 and the subsequent so-called ‘Exchange of Populations’.
6 April was established as a commemorative day by the 7th World Congress of Thracians in Didymoteicho in June 2006. The Congress decided to propose to the Hellenic state that it be declared the Day of Remembrance of the Genocide of the Hellenes of Thrace.
This Easter Sunday, light a candle for the victims of the first phase of the Genocide of the Hellenes. Shed the light of memory and remind broader Australian society that the Hellenes are the indigenous people of Gallipoli and all Thrace, and that it was for the liberation of Thrace’s largest metropolis that the Anzacs fell in battle.
As then Colonel John Monash wrote on Lemnos in 1915, the liberation of Constantinople would be a victory which «would stir the whole world.»
Panayiotis Diamadis is a genocide scholar specialising in the Genocides of the Hellenes, Armenians and Assyrians. Born in Sydney, Australia, he holds four qualifications from The University of Sydney: a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD), a Master of Arts, a Graduate Diploma in Education (Secondary) and a Bachelor of Arts. A student of genocide scholar Colin Tatz, he has followed his mentor into the field of comparative genocide studies. Since 2000, he has served as a Vice-President of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, including teaching Genocide Studies at the University of Technology, Sydney between 1999 and 2015