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The Greek Minority and its foundations in Istanbul, Gokceada (Imvros) and Bozcaada (Tenedos)
Greeks of Minor Asia and Pontus
The coastline of Minor Asia along with Pontus have been cradles of Hellenism since the 9th century B.C. and Greeks settled in most of the hinterland, already since the 2nd century B.C.. The Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantium as the naming has generally been accepted since the 19th century, lost gradually its sovereignty over the wider area in a time lapse of 400 years, starting from the mid 11th century. All Greek communities of Minor Asia and Pontus fell under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire in the mid 15th century.
In spite of difficult conditions faced by Greek people throughout that period, they maintained their religious and communal existence till the beginning of the World War I. In 1914, Greek schools in Minor Asia, Pontus and Eastern Thrace were 2.500 in a region where Greek population extended 2,5 million people. According to Ottoman statistics, Greek communities contributed to the country’s economy to a rate of 60% in capital and labour, as well. What followed the rise to power of the Committee of Union and Progress (İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti) in July 1908 in the Ottoman Empire defeated all expectations, despite the Committee’s declarations for a constitutional regime which would be in favour of equality for all nationalities of the Ottoman Empire.
After the period of the Balkan Wars (1912-1913), successive Turkish governments decided to “resolve the Ottoman Empire’s nationalities question” by driving the autochthonous population from their ancestral lands. Following the Ottoman Empire’s defeat in the Balkan Wars, the Committee of Union and Progress took control of the government through a coup d’état(3), under the leadership of Ismail Enver Bey, Mehmet Talaat Bey and Djemal Pasha (4). It’s goal was to achieve the turkification of the Ottoman Empire by eliminating ethnic Christian minorities, such as Armenians, Pontic Greeks and other Greek populations. By the end of 1913, the Committee of Union and Progress, starting from Eastern Thrace, put in action a plan of forced deportation and extermination of Greek populations, which was also implemented during the first months of 1914 along the western coastline of Minor Asia(5). As a consequence, nearly 650.000 Greeks became refugees. After the entry of the Ottoman Empire into World War I, on 29 October 1914, deportations headed to the hinterland, while Greeks eligible for army service (18-45 years old) were driven to Labour Battalions, suffering extremely harsh conditions there.
Already in 1915 deportations have been carried out with particular cruelty in Western Pontus, whilefrom April 1916 and on, the campaign of generalized ethnic cleansing intensified. At the end of World War I, nearly 40% of Hellenic population in the Ottoman Empire was deported and the victims numbered approximately 1 million people.
Following the Armistice of Mudros, the feeling of insecurity was still present among Greek populations. Therefore, the Entente gave permission to the Greek Government to send military troops to Smyrna in May 1919, under the particular provisions of the Treaty of Sevre. From 1919 to 1922, Greek population falling out of the protection of Greek and allied powers, suffered heavy and relentless persecutions. Especially in Pontus, persecutions were of extreme cruelty in the period 1921-1923. By 1923, some 353,000 people –half of the ethnic Greek population of Pontus– had been exterminated.
After September 1922, all Greeks who survived the genocide, out of those from Cappadocia (6) and Istanbul, were forced to flee away. Following the withdrawal of the Greek military troops in Izmir, humanity witnessed one of the greatest tragedies, namely the death of nearly 100.000 Greeks and Armenians. Greek populations who survived the genocide emigrated to Greece, Australia, the US, Russia and Canada.
These events that marked the end of one of the ancient Greek populations of Asia Minor, fall within the definition of the crime of genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948(7) and that’s due to the fact that there was a specific plan of extermination of Pontic Greeks; a separate national, racial and religious group. The same applied to the Greek populations of Asia Minor.
More specifically, Article I of the Convention states that “genocide, whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law and should be punished”. The crime of genocide is defined in Article II as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as: (a) killing members of the group, (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”. Furthermore, according to Article III, not only the act of genocide is punishable, but also conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempt to commit genocide and complicity in genocide.
The Pontic and Minor Asia Genocide has been recognized by the Hellenic Parliament with Laws No. 2193/1994 and No. 2645/1998, respectively. Pursuant to these Laws, which reflect the way Greek people perceive of these events and pay tribute to the victims of the genocide, the greek State has established the 19th of May(8) and the 14th of September(9) as Remembrance Days for the Genocide of Hellenism in Pontus and Minor Asia, respectively.
In December 2007, the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) recognized the Genocide of the Pontus and Minor Asia Greeks. Moreover, the Parliaments of Sweden (March 2010), of Armenia (March 2015), the Netherlands and Austria (April 2015), the Parliament of S. Australia (2009) have recognized the genocide in Declarations and Resolutions, as well as the legislative bodies of the American States of New Jersey (2002), New York (2002), Pennsylvania (2004), Florida (2005), S. Carolina, Georgia and Massachusetts (2006).
(3) The Ottoman coup d’état took place on January 23, 1913 and is also known as the Raid on the Sublime Porte.
(4) After the Armistice of Mudros (30 October 1918), a Turkish court-martial recognized the massacres and convicted in absentia the responsables for the genocides, Ismail Enver Bey, Mehmet Talaat Bey and Cemal Pasha to the death penalty.
(5) Indicatively, the Massacre of Phocea, city of eight thousand Greeks and about four hundred Turks, built on the sea near Izmir, in June 1914. “During the night the organized bands continued the pillage of the town. At the break of dawn there was continual très nourrie firing before the houses. […] From all directions the Christians were rushing to the quays seeking boats to get away in, but since the night there were none left. Cries of terror mingled with the soung of firing”. (George Horton, The Blight of Asia, Indianapolis, 1926)
(6) Greeks from Cappadocia were exchanged after the entry into force of the Population Exchange Treaty between Greece and Turkey (30/1/1923).
(7) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, UN Treaty Series, Vol. 78, accessible at https://treaties.un.org/doc/publication/unts/volume%2078/volume-78-i-1021-english.pdf
(8) Day of debarkation of Mustafa Kemal in Samsun that marked the intensification of crimes against Pontic Greeks
(9) Day of complete destruction of Smyrna