ATHENS – Greek Education Minister Nikos Filis came under a blistering attack Nov. 3 after he said there was no Pontian genocide but an ethnic cleansing.
The terms generally are interchanged but he said they are different and came under immediate attack from critics for denying the slaughter of tens of thousands of Black Sea, or Pontic, Greeks by Turks almost a century ago was a genocide, siding with the enemy.
Appearing on a late night TV show on Star, Filis defended previous comments he had made about the killings, arguing an ethnic cleansing isn’t genocide. Greece has officially recognized it as genocide since 1994, designating May 19 an annual day of remembrance.
“This does not mean that we do not recognize the blood, the pain, everything the Pontic Greeks had to suffer due to the beastliness of the Turks,” he said. “But this is something different from genocide in the purely scientific sense.”
Many in Filis’ Radical Left SYRIZA party do believe the murder of up to around 370,000 Greeks who lived on the shores of the Black Sea between 1914 and 1923 was genocide but not him.
SYRIZA’s governing partner, the nationalist Independent Greeks party, also distanced itself from the minister’s comments. “We believe we do not have the right to nullify the planned, tragic uprooting of thousands of people who were sacrificed in a violent manner,” said the party’s spokeswoman Marina Chrysoveloni.
New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis called on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to publicly condemn Filis’s comments, which he labeled a “shameless insult to national memory.”
A group of 45 conservative MPs submitted in Parliament a demand for Tsipras to fire Filis, a former journalist.
Kathimerini said that the extremist Golden Dawn party said it would take legal action against Filis under an anti-racism law passed in September 2014, which criminalizes denial of historical acts of genocide, including that of the Black Sea Greeks, and leaves offenders facing up to three years in jail.