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Those That Fail to Learn from History are Doomed to Repeat it: On the Centennial of the Asia Minor Catastrophe

September 27, 2022

This past September marked the centennial anniversary of the tragic Asia Minor Catastrophe, which capped off the Greek Genocide perpetrated by Turkey in Eastern Thrace, Pontus, and Anatolia. The majority of Turkish politicians act as the natural successors to those heinous criminals responsible for the multiple genocides committed against Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians through their ongoing hate speech against Greece, including threats of a new 1922.

The West, via NATO, is content to do what it did back then – look on in silence and stoke Turkish audacity through appeasement. NATO’s ‘mountza’-worthy Secretary General Stoltenberg went as far as to congratulate Turkey on the anniversary!

Likewise, Russia is also siding against Greece, as it did then, placing political expediency above the supposed bond of Orthodox Christianity shared by the two peoples. For a power that traditionally styled itself as a defender of Christianity worldwide and has hegemonic visions of becoming the ‘Third Rome’, Moscow certainly suffers from selective memory and lack of empathy.

Finally, Greece’s political parties continue the mistakes of the past, extending their rivalry to matters of national security, where there ought to be complete consensus. Just like the Smyrna expedition was manipulated by some for political gains without any concern for the fate of the Greeks of the East, so now do some unscrupulous figures slander the country internationally, collaborating with Turkish traffickers and shady NGOs profiting from the migration crisis, without the slightest concern for the day after.

Some institutions honored the memory of the millions of victims of modern Turkish barbarism. Still, due to the immense symbolism of this anniversary, more should have been done both inside Greece and across the Diaspora.

The Greek Diaspora’s role in sensitizing public opinion about the Greek Genocide is probably even more important, because this would help combat the final stage of a genocide (its denial) and inform the world about the threat that Turkey still poses for the descendants of genocide victims, as well as the plight faced by Christian populations worldwide from expanding Islamic fundamentalism. The international recognition of the genocides committed by the Young Turks and Kemalists, which served as an inspiration and model for Hitler in planning the Holocaust, would help immensely in shedding light on Turkey’s present policies and sights. Since 1922, it has relied steadily on violence, repeating its ethnic cleansing in the pogrom it orchestrated against the Greeks of Constantinople in 1955, the invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and its current policies toward Kurds and Armenians, among other things.

Here in the United States, references to the 21st anniversary of 9-11, both by the Archdiocese of America and by various Greek-American organizations, abounded (and rightfully so), while the anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe was not given the attention it deserves. This was a prime opportunity to highlight how fundamentalism and fanaticism pose an ongoing threat that has affected many nations across the globe.

The delicate position of the hierarchs of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is based in Constantinople and certainly comes under intense pressure and blackmail by the hostile Turkish establishment, is understandable. However, especially in this great and vast land that is America, things that the official exarchs of the Phanar might have difficulty saying in public could easily be said by priests and laypersons, with pretty much the same effectiveness. Besides, all public figures have people who write and say things that they oftentimes cannot. This is an essential part of good communication strategy. Moreover, those who desire the glory and power enjoyed by historic leaders of the Greek-American Community, like the late Archbishop Iakovos, must also demonstrate the necessary boldness in their public discourse and not mince their words when it comes to defending Hellenism.

Remembering the history of Hellenism in Asia Minor could prove particularly beneficial for the Greek-American Community. The Greeks of the East had great economic and social accomplishments, shaping the areas where they lived for the better and serving as the driving force of progress. They displayed an admirable cosmopolitanism allowing them to fully participate in a multicultural society on equal terms without losing a shred of their Hellenism. They expressed an ecumenical Hellenism, which did not stray into the laughability of parochialism or the ethno-nihilist complexes that lead a people to desperately adopt any and all things foreign for the sake of making shallow impressions.

Despite being multilingual, they invested in Greek schools that rivaled the finest educational institutions in the area. They were confident enough to dress in the latest fashion, while still displaying the stateliness of Greek traditions. Greek bands and theatrical companies held their own against their European counterparts, and the locals were equally comfortable enjoying both.

For the Greeks of the East, the dilemma of mutually exclusive national identities or incompatible cultural traditions did not exist. They were truly cosmopolitan, devoid of inferiority complexes, and fully aware of the noble qualities of the cultural proposal that they embodied. They were secure with the idea that they had cultural products of equal value to offer in exchange for any they would adopt.

This alone justifies the study of the Hellenes of the East a priority for the Greek-American Community. On the centennial anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe (as well as the establishment of the Archdiocese of America and AHEPA), one of the critical turning points regarding the future of Hellenism is whether Greek-America will ever be able to fully experience its Hellenic identity as a communicable noble otherness and quality of life, independent of personal wealth or per capita income.

The tragic mistakes that led to the Asia Minor Catastrophe, but also the tremendous prospects offered by the example of the Greeks of the East remain current even today. We must not overlook this seminal chapter in our history. After all, “those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Follow me on Twitter @CTripoulas

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