Sunday, February 13, 2011

The movement towards an independent Republic of Pontus

The struggle of the Greeks of Pontus (1917-1922) towards the formation of a Pontic state constitutes the most important chapter in the contemporary history of Pontic Hellenism. The Pontian question was inseparable to the Eastern question, its main goal being the formation of an independent Pontic state. It was the end result of an economic social and political boom by the eastern Orthodox inhabitants of Pontus which began from the middle of the 19th century.
In the past Pontus experienced 2 long standing and important periods of autonomy. The Hellenic Kingdom of Pontus through the dynasty of Mithradates (363-63 BC), and the middle age Empire of Trebizond (1204-1461) with the dynasty of the Mega Comnenos family. These 2 periods of state formation as well as the brief periods of local autonomy around the 11th and 12th centuries through the Gabrades dukes could be considered as the historical precedent towards the formation of an independent Pontus.

The Pontic question was officially recognized during the First World War by both the Turkish and the Russian sides as well as the Entente (Allies).
On the eve of the annexation of Trebizond by the Russians on the 3/16th of April 1916 the Turkish vali of the town Mehmed Jemal Asmi Bey and the representative of the Neo Turks in Pontus Ali Riza Bey left the town and passed the administration over to a temporary government led by the Metropolitan of Trebizond Chrysanthos, members of the government, head of the Police, the Governor of the Gendarmerie, G Fostiropoulos, P Grammatikopoulos and G Kongalidis. ‘From the Greeks we took this land' said the vali Jemal Asmi Bey, ‘and to the Greeks we are returning it
The flag of the Pontic Republic

Metropolitan Chrysanthos pleading to Russian Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolayevitch to protect the Greeks of Pontus (July 30, 1916)

The temporary government of Trebizond continued for 2 years and gained an ever increasing character of autonomy. Konstantinos Theofylaktos was appointed the first Greek Governor of Trebizond and was silently recognised by the Russians who entered the town on the 5/18th of April 1916. The Entente powers were also reliant on this local authority on matters which involved the vilayet of Trebizond.

Following the Russian revolution of March 1917 Metropolitan Chrysanthos participated at the meetings of Soviet Trebizond. The success of the Bolsheviks in the revolution of October 1917 and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (signed March 3,1918) resulted in the complete abandonment by the Russians of all rights in the north-eastern regions of the Ottoman Empire. Metropolitan Chrysanthos accepted the return of his region to Ottoman authority and in February 1918 the Turkish forces officially reclaimed Trebizond.
On November of 1918 the Armistice of Mudros is signed thus ending the First World War. The High Command of the Allied forces which had its base in Constantinople appointed special commissioners protected by military units to oversee the correct enforcement of all the terms of the Armistice by the Turks and to protect the Christian population of Asia Minor. Allied ships arrived at Black Sea ports and small contingents of English forces disembarked at Batumi, Trebizond and Amisos (Samsun).

Following the defeat of Ottoman Turkey in WW1 the hopes of the Pontus Greeks for salvation from the barbaric Turkish regime is heightened and a number of Pontian organisations and individuals began intervening, demanding an independent Pontus. George K. Valavanis in his book titled ‘The Contemporary General History of Pontus' (1925), wrote the following:
‘Immediately following the agreement of the Armistice of Mudros and its acceptance by Turkey, Pontic Greeks of the diaspora began forming organisations and bodies with the objective of brining about the emancipation of Pontus. It must be noted that the Athens based committee which was made up of eminent and fellow Pontic Greeks and under the leadership of radiologist/doctor C. Kalantidis was in many ways involved at that time with the relief efforts for the expelled Pontus Greeks who were arriving in Greece, as well as the redemption of Pontus itself.'
The Marseille organization however which was formed in the Autumn of 1917 was the first organization to recruit Pontic Greeks in a concerted attempt towards the freedom of Pontus.
By the end of the 2nd decade of the 20th century many politically focussed organizations dedicated to the defence of the rights of the Greeks of Pontus formed. Unable to operate in Turkey itself these organizations and their staff established themselves in the major European centres and developed the support of the Pontic Greeks of the diaspora. The Central National Committee of Pontic Greeks of Southern Russia and the Upper Caucasus was formed at Ekaterinodar in October 1917. One of its aims was the freedom and independence of Pontus. Pontic organizations also formed in the USA, Britain, France and Switzerland.
On the 4th of February 1918, representatives from Europe and America organizaed the first Pontic Congress in Marseille. The congress sent a telegram to Leon Trotsky, Commissioner of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union expressing its opposition to the return of the vilayet of Trebizond to Turkey and asking for support for the formation of a Pontic state which would stretch from the Russian border to as far as Sinope.

Another congress took place in Baku in July 1918 attended by representatives of Pontic Greeks of Southern Russia and the Upper Caucasus calling for the independence of Pontus and the desire to have the majority of exiled Pontus Greeks return to their homes.

The strictest Pontic organization was that of Marseille which called for the formation of an independent Pontic Greek state with its capital Trebizond. The president of that organization Konstantinos G. Konstantinidis was proactive in promoting the idea of a Pontic Greek state. He raised the funds to print a map which depicted the independent Pontic state for circulation. The map was sent by mail to all the countries of Europe and to America and had the following revolutionary message written on it: ‘Citizens of Euxinus Pontus rise! Remind our fellow free countries of your rights in life and independence'.

On the 17th of November 1918 the Paris Peace Conference decided to organize the Greeks living in the region of the Black Sea and southern Russia. It also sent a memorandum to the Allied governments asking for the independence of the country that comprised the former Empire of the Comnenes, a land of 170,000 sq kms, 1.5 million Orthodox Christians and 500,000 Greek speaking Muslims.
A Pontic Greek body in the US decided on the 1st of December 1918 to call on US president Woodrow Wilson who was in favour of the freedom and self rule of the people of Asia Minor, ‘to free the Greeks of Pontus from the Turkish yoke and to facilitate a system of self government that would be in accordance with American principles and democratic values.‘
Around the end of 1918 the Metropolitan of Amaseia Germanos Karavangelis who at the time was in Constantinople, wrote a letter to G. Konstantinidis in Marseilles and asked him to plead with the illustrious Pontians of the diaspora to make known to the whole world the heinous crimes that the Turks were committing, and to also make it known that it would be impossible for the Greeks of Pontus to be governed by the Muslims ever again. The letter wrote as follows:
‘The Allies have an imperative duty to punish this (Turkish) race and to assist us in our national dream. And even if our merger with the Hellenic state isn't possible they have an obligation to create a new Pontic state with a democratic form of government. And although the Greek population was decimated and many of their surviving relatives took refuge in the Russian Caucasus we will try to bring them back even by force in order to repopulate the desolate land of our homelands.'