One of the oldest survivors of Turkey’s Greek genocide, Xanthippe Apostolidou, passed away in Greece on May 30 at the age of 103.
Apostolidou was born in the village of Karmut (Kocap?nar) in Argyroupolis (Gümüshane), Pontos, in 1917. The news website trapezounta.gr reported on her death on May 31, referring to her as “the last ambassador of our unforgettable homeland” and “one of the last survivors of the first generation” of the genocide.
The Greek genocide in Ottoman Turkey took place between 1914 and 1923. According to the Greek Genocide Resource Center, “it included massacres, forced deportations and death marches, summary expulsions, boycotts, rape, forced conversion to Islam, conscription into labor battalions, arbitrary executions and destruction of Christian Orthodox cultural, historical and religious monuments. It is likely that the victim toll of the Greek Genocide was somewhere in the vicinity of 1-1.5 million.”
In the genocide’s concluding year, there was a forcible population exchange between Turkey and Greece where many of the survivors were forcibly driven from Turkey.
Trapezounta.gr quoted Apostolidou’s fellow villager, Panagiotis Moissiadis, as saying: “A month ago, when I visited her, she told me her childhood memories from the house of Constantinos Kapagiannides in Trebizond/Trabzon and the toys that they played with in the large yard of his house.”
Xanthippe’s father, Miltiades Apostolides, was a private tutor of the well-known Kapagiannides family from Trebizond. She spent her childhood in a famous mansion in the city built by Kapagiannides. It was later seized by Turks and is now ironically called
‘Ataturk’s Mansion.’ She left her village with her family when she was a little child and arrived in Greece during the last phase of the genocide. Like all other genocide survivors, she carried the pain of the tragedy in her heart all her life and took it to her grave.
Though most eyewitnesses to the Greek genocide have passed away, their firsthand accounts and testimonies of their family members give a human voice to these atrocities. The website of the Greek Genocide Resource Center, for instance, contains testimonies submitted by members of the public via the organization’s online questionnaire: “Although they aren’t first-hand accounts, they do offer an insight into the experience of Greeks during the Greek Genocide as told by their off-spring. It also describes the psychological impact it had on them in later life.”
The website is still open to submissions of testimonies about the genocide in English and Greek.
Turkey’s stance on the genocide, however, ranges from total denial to proud acknowledgment that the victims “deserved” what they got.
But objective historians agree that what happened during that period was genocide. The International Association of Genocide Scholars announced in 2017 that the Ottoman campaign against Christian minorities of the Empire between 1914 and 1923 constituted a genocide against Armenians, Assyrians, as well as Pontian and Anatolian Greeks. Yet, much of the international community has yet to learn about the Greek genocide.
Scholar Themistocles Kritikakos writes:
“Unlike the Armenian genocide, which is the main cultural trauma for the Armenians, there were multiple traumas that led to the forgetting of the events that transpired in the late Ottoman Empire for the Greeks and Assyrians. For the Greeks it included the traumas of the Second World War and the Greek Civil War. For the Assyrians it is their on-going plight in the Middle East as a stateless people who have faced several instances of genocide the past century.”
He continues: “Memory transcends time and place. The first generation usually didn’t speak about what happened due to the horrific events they witnessed. The second generation didn’t inquire about what happened dealing with other traumas or settling into a new country such as Australia. However, the third generation, which was more settled, started questioning. They started to connect with a neglected history.”
One of the members of the third generation of genocide survivors born in Greece who has carried out invaluable scholarly research on the Greek genocide is Dr. Vasileios Meichanetsidis, an Athens-based historian, genocide scholar, and editor of the 2011 book The Genocide of the Ottoman Greeks. Meichanetsidis’s grandparents were born in Trebizond, which they had to leave during the genocide.
“Genocide and ethnic cleansing are not uniquely European sins,” Meichanetsidis said. “The Ottoman Empire and Kemalist Turkey has its own long and shameful history of Genocide against the indigenous Christian peoples, the Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians. In many ways the Ottoman Empire and Kemalist Turkey set the precedent and the example of massive extermination of ‘undesirable peoples’ (Christians and others). Nazi Germany admired and took inspiration from the genocidal policies and practices of the Turks and hoped for the same impunity which the Turks enjoyed after 1918 and 1923, although they exterminated almost entire peoples who lived in Asia Minor for more than three millennia and certainly before the Ottoman conquest, Islamization, and Turkification of the region.”
He added that “we, as descendants of genocide survivors, feel the eternal obligation to remember the experience and to honor the memory of our ancestors who perished in the labor battalions, in the death-marches (or caravans of death), in the slave markets, in the Turkish harems, in forced conversion to Islam, in the Ottoman and Kemalist concentration and exterminations camps, in the ‘red’ and ‘white’ massacres and in the countless local holocausts of settlements. The genocide victims were tortured, raped, burned, slaughtered in cold blood; they underwent unspeakable and unimaginable sufferings in the hands of their Turkish perpetrators. The world must not forget and must not forgive, without admission of the perpetrated evil, repentance and restitution. For the world is doomed to go through similar experiences caused by impunity. Our battle for recognition is the least we can actually do for the people who perished, the civilization that was destroyed, and the memory which must not fall into oblivion. The last stage of a genocide is the genocide of the memory of the victims and of the perpetrated crimes; this is what the perpetrators seek in the first place, that is the physical extermination and the annihilation of the memory of their victims. We have an obligation to interrupt the genocidal chain and the recrudescence of the perpetrator who is ready to recommit or is recommitting similar crimes. This is our duty to our ancestors, ourselves and other peoples and the international community as a whole.”
As the last survivors and eyewitnesses of the Greek genocide are passing away, the Greek people should strive to globally raise awareness about the genocide that befell their ancestors. The Turkish propaganda machine might be powerful in terms of its reach and finances. But the truth is on the side of Greeks.
Uzay Bulut is a journalist and political analyst from Turkey. She was formerly based in Ankara.