New York Pontians Remember The Genocide

NEW YORK – The Pontian Genocide is one of the most painful moments in Hellenic history, yet for most of the past 100 years knowledge of the catastrophe has been locked up in the hearts of its victims and in dark archives, sealed away both by governments motivated by expediency and parents wishing to spare their children.
Events such as the commemoration held under the auspices of the Consulate General of Greece and organized by numerous Pontian organizations in Manhattan on May 17 have a dual purpose: to draw away the veil of ignorance and to honor the memory of its victims.
Dimitris Molohides, greeted the guests who filled the at the Greek Press Office and introduced the evening’s MC, Gus Tsilfides. The program included lectures and cultural presentations by the Pontian Youth Choir, musicians, and the dance troupes of several organizations consisting of children in impressive traditional costumes.
The Consul General of Greece, George Iliopoulos began the tribute to the 350,000 victims of successive Turkish governments between 1916 and 1923. He said it is “our duty” to honor their memories and make the truth widely known so that such a tragedy happens never again.
He thanked the Pan-Pontian Federation of USA * Canada – Molohides is its general secretary and local Pontian societies Komninoi of New York, Pontos of Norwalk, CT, and the Holy Institution of Panagia Soumela for organizing and hosting the event, and acknowledged the assistance of Nikos Papakonstantinou, the Press Counselor.
Koula Sophianou also spoke movingly of a chapter in Hellenic history that foreshadowed the suffering of the people of Cyprus that began in 1974 and continues to this day with 37 percent of her country occupied by the political and physical descendants of the Ottomans, Young Turks and Kemalists.
Nikos Michailidis, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Anthropology at Princeton University provided a historical overview titled The Hellenes in Pontos: From Historical Presence to Oblivion. Beginning with the story of first Greek colonists around 3000 B.C. and continuing with the achievements of a great people, he concluded with the tale of their extermination and ethnic cleansing.
He presented numerous photographs, one of the most devastating of which showed the refugee tents set up besides the Temple of Hephaestos in the Thision district of Athens.
After the people were removed, more was needed to finish the job of the eradification of a peoples. The Turkification of 10,000 place names continued through the 1980s.
After the Pontian Youth Choir touched the hearts of all by singing I Romania Eparthen with lead singer Alexis Parharidis, Thea Halo, the renowned author of Not Even My Name, which told the story of the suffering, survival and triumph of her mother, 103-year old Sana Halo. He presented “The role of memoir in the healing process.”
Her mother was a Pontian Greek, her father an Assyrian Christian, the nations who along with the Armenians comprised the targets of the Asia Minor holocaust that consumed more than 2 half million lives.
Thea was left in the dark by her mother to protect her from the painful memories, but the tragedy gnawed at her nevertheless. Studies have documented that the effects of genocides last for generations.
She explained that she and her sister filled the vacuum by inventing an ancient Egyptian heritage, but eventually she learned the truth, and when she fulfilled a lighthearted childhood promise to her mother to take her to her homeland, she had the powerful realization that it was also her own journey.
Halo read a harrowing passage from her book, describing Sana’s experience of the death of her sister Anastasia where she was “torn between the love for her, and the terror of holding death in her arms.”
Halo stressed, however that despite the cruelty and suffering, her mother never taught them to hate the Turks, and she believes the power of memoir will prove healing not only for the families of the victims, but for the perpetrators and their descendents as well. She noted that a favorable review of the book has been published in a major Turkish newspaper.
The event’s keynote speaker was Robert Shenk, Professor of English at New Orleans University, who spoke on The United States Navy and Pontus 1919-1923.
A theatrical performance based on Mauthausen by Mikis Theodorakis, was scheduled, and the commemoration finished with closing remarks by Molohides.