Mitsotakis Marks Anniversary of Pontic Greek Slaughter by Turks

FILE - Kiriakos Mitsotakis speaking at the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) conference on "Greece's Digital Strategy: The Road to Growth" held at the Athens Concert Hall, May 12, 2017. Photo: Eurokinissi/Giannis Panagopoulos

ATHENS – Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis on May 19 commemorated the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Black Sea, or Pontic, Greeks by Turks almost a century ago, describing the incident as a “painful chapter in our collective memory.”

“We all have a duty to keep historical memory alive,” Mitsotakis said in a statement.

Greece has officially recognized the murder of up to around 370,000 Greeks who lived on the shores of the Black Sea between 1914 and 1923 as genocide since 1994, designating May 19 an annual day of remembrance.

In 2015, Education Minister Nikos Filis from the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA party denied there was a genocide in the slaughter of the Pontic Greeks and said instead it was what he called “ethnic cleansing,” a term many associate with genocide.

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.

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.”

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,” but the Premier did nothing.