ATHENS – Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced Friday the need for international recognition of the Ottoman-era genocide of Greek Christians in Asia Minor, and slammed Turkey for its bellicosity in its maritime foreign policy in Mediterranean.
Mitsotakis delivered his talk at the International Conference on the Crime of Genocide, declaring that the “Ottoman Empire carried out the genocide of Pontian [Greeks]” and “how we shall learn from it, how we shall prevent the reliving of similar tragedies in our own lives, anywhere in the world.”
The prime minister blasted Ankara for its current foreign policy that, he said, is ignoring international law on the high seas.
“Turkey has engaged in aggressiveness” and is “creating new maps that make the Islands of Greece disappear,” said Mitsotakis.
He said he met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of a NATO event in London last week, adding that the United States, Russia, Europe, Egypt and Israel have all condemned the memorandum of understanding signed between Turkey and Libya. The controversial deal changes the maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean.
The Greek government expelled the Libyan ambassador on Friday over the heated boundary dispute. The November agreement reached between Turkey and Libya permits Ankara to gain access to a zone across the Mediterranean, rejecting the complaints of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, which are situated between Turkey and Libya.
The public row is part of a larger diplomatic battle, with tensions running high because of Turkish drilling off Cyprus, and the EU has prepared sanctions against Turkey in response.
The first appearance of a Greek prime minister at an event organized by the Pan-Pontian Federation of Greece electrified the attendees.
The Pontian Greeks lived in the region of Pontus, on coast of the Black Sea and in the Pontic Mountains of northern Anatolia in Turkey. The Ottomans and the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, launched a campaign of genocide against the Pontian during World War I until the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The racist and anti-Christian ideology of “Turkey for the Turks” animated the genocide. The murder toll between 1914 and 1922 may be as high as 1.5 million Greek Christians.
Hami Aksoy, a Turkish foreign ministry spokesman, termed the conference a “propaganda event” on Saturday: “We reject the statements of the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis delivered at the ‘International Conference on the Crime of Genocide’ held in Athens on 6 December 2019. His statements concerning our past and present are devoid of any base and its hostile tone is laden with lies and slander.”
Mitsotakis said he wants to stand by the Greeks of Pontian descent and “internationalize the commitment” to the organization’s goals. The exposure of the genocide of Greek Christians must lead to “results that will arm the modern world to avoid experiencing such brutality again. This will be a heritage for all of humanity, not just Pontian Hellenism.”
The conference featured prominent Israeli speakers, including the historians Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi who discussed their book, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894-1924.
The Israeli psychoanalyst and expert on genocide, Israel Charny, was slated to speak on Sunday with a talk titled, “A worldwide campaign for life: Respect, protect life.”
In a panel on “A direct consequence of unaccounted genocide: The culture in the Turkish political system,” Turkish academic Cengiz Aktar spoke about his experience in Turkey in the early 1970s and the lack of intellectual works on the Armenian genocide. He said he would only later learn about the Armenian genocide in France.
Georgios Varythimiadis, the president of the Pan-Pontian Federation of Greece, said “for Greece, the cradle of civilization and democracy, there can be no hesitation and doubt. The descendants of the ones that survived the Genocide crime in a unified front: Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians, we give the good fight for the international recognition of the genocide against the Christian populations of Asia Minor by the Ottomans and Neo-Turks.”
“Our fight is not just about historical experience,” he added. “Whoever believes that we deal with stories of the far past is wrong. Recent events confirm the need of empowering our fight. Only through the recognition of the Christian populations’ genocide by the Ottoman Empire we can achieve peace in the tormented East Mediterranean. When the perpetrator remains unpunished and pursues the oblivion and silence of his genocidal past, he indirectly states his will to repeat the crime.”