Pontus (Gr: Πόντος) is the name of an historic region situated on the Turkish Black Sea coast and was home to a large Greek population. Prior to the genocide these Greeks self-identified as Romaioi (Gr: Ῥωμαῖοι) or Rûm, in other words descendants of the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire. Today they are often referred to as Pontic Greeks or Pontians. Pontus is a region of Asia Minor.
According to the Greek Patriarchate statistics of 1912, the Greek population of Pontus was 400,586.1 The Ottoman census of 1914 recorded the Greek population at 362,000.2 In a memorandum signed in February 1919 and presented to the Paris Peace Conference, a Greek delegation calling for the self-determination of Pontus stated that the pre-genocide Greek population of Pontus was 700,000.3 However, since this figure was made by a Greek delegation making territorial claims, and since the figure differed markedly with most other accounts, a more likely pre-genocide Greek population for the Pontus region would be a figure not exceeding 500,000.
During the Greek Genocide
Like other regions within Ottoman Turkey, the Greeks of Pontus were subjected to a genocidal campaign. The Austrian Ambassador of Constantinople, Markgraf Johann Pallavicini, described the events in and around Samsun in December 1916 as follows:
"11 December 1916: Five Greek villages were pillaged and then burnt. Their inhabitants were deported. 12 December 1916: In the outskirts of the city more villages are burnt. 14 December 1916: Entire villages including schools and the churches are set on fire. 17 December 1916: In the district of Samsoun they burnt eleven villages. The pillaging continues. The village inhabitants are ill-treated. 31 December 1916: Approximately 18 villages were completely burnt down, 15 partially. Around 60 women were raped. Even churches are plundered."4
On 29 December 1918, the Archbishop of Amasya and Samsun, Germanos, wrote:
"Towards the middle of December, 1916, began the deportations from Amissos (Samsoun). First of all the army reduced to ashes all the region round about... A large number of women and children were killed, the young girls of the nation outraged, and immediately driven into the Interior... The majority of course died on the road and none of the dead at all being buried, vultures and dogs feasted on human flesh.. Believe me... that out of 160,000 people of Pontus deported, only a tenth and in some places a twentieth have survived. In a village, for example, that counted 100 inhabitants, five only will ever return; the others are dead. Rare indeed are those happy villages where a tenth of the deported population has been saved."5
According to figures compiled by the Greek Patriarchate in Constantinople, by 1918 257,019 Greeks from the Pontus region of Asia Minor had been deported to the interior.6 At the end of 1921, some Greek sources placed the Pontus death toll at 303,238.7
Death toll in the Pontus region according to ecclesiastical provinces.
Source: Central Council of Pontus, The Black Book: The Tragedy of Pontus 1914-1922. Athens 1922, p. 19.
At times, the Greeks of Pontus took up arms in acts of self defense to resist the massacres being perpetrated against them. In this respect, Pontus makes an interesting case study of the Greek Genocide much like the resistance demonstrated at Van by Armenians during the Armenian Genocide.
Only 182,169 Greeks of Pontus were ever recorded as having reached Greece.8 In 1925 George K. Valavanis wrote:
".. the total human loss of Pontians from the [beginning] of the General [Great] War until March 1924 can be estimated at three hundred and fifty three thousand [353,000] [persons], murdered, hanged and dead through punishment, illness and privations." 9
However, if one gives consideration to the various estimates for the region's pre-war population and the migration of Pontians into both Russian territory and Greece, it is clear that Pontian deaths are unlikely to have ever reached such a figure. A more reasonable estimate might be 250,000 which indicates that approximately 50% of the total population was killed.
* Note: There are no accurate statistics for the population of Greeks in the Ottoman Empire. Figures compiled by Ottoman authorities are deemed unreliable, in particular for Ottoman Greeks who tended to avoid registering with Muslim authorities to avoid military service and minimize their taxes. Likewise, Ottoman Greeks avoided registering with Greek authorities fearing the Ottoman authorities would get hold of the records and use them as evidence to increase their taxes or draft them in the army.
1. Kitromilides, M and Alexandris, A, Ethnic Survival. Nationalism and Forced Migration. Deltiou Kentrou Mikrasitikon Spoudon, Athens 1984, Volume 5, p. 27.
2. Proportions des populations musulmanes, grecques et arméniennes en Asie Mineure d'après la statistique officielle de 1914
3. Socrate Oeconomos, The National Delegation of the Euxine Pontus, Memorandum submitted to the Peace Conference. London, February 1919.
4. Wien Haus-, Hof- und Staatsarchiv, PA, Türkei XII, Liasse 467 LIV, Griechenverfolgungen in der Türkei 1916- 1918, ZI. 97/pol., Konstantinopel (19.1.1916), (2.1.1917).
5. Karavangelis, Germanos, The Turkish Atrocities in the Black Sea Territories: Copy of Letter of His Grace Germanos, Lord Archbishop of Amassia and Samsoun, Delegation of the Pan-Pontic Congress, Norbury, Natzio & Co. Ltd, 1919, pp. 3-6.
6. Mavri Vivlos, Diogmon ke Martirion tou en Turkia Ellinismou (1914-1918). Constantinople 1919, pp. 409-413.
7. Black Book: The Tragedy of Pontus, Athens 1922, p. 19.
8. Statistical Results from the Greek Census of 15-16 May 1928: The Real Population of Refugees. Ministry of Economics, Hellenic Republic, p. 411.
9. Giorgios K. Valavanis, Sinchroni Yeniki Istoria tou Pontou. Kyriakidis Brothers, Thessaloniki 1986, p. 24.