“Hundreds of thousands of Greek Christians whose families had lived in western Anatolia for millennia were hounded out of their homes”

August 15, 2019

This is a detailed and informative review of the important new book, The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924 by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi. The reviewer concludes this lengthy review, however, by stating that Morris and Ze’evi “make a compelling case that Turkey carried out a gruesome genocide on its Armenian population, but are unpersuasive in arguing that it was extended to all Christians living within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire and then what became modern Turkey.” The website Greek Genocide provides extensive evidence that approximately one million Greek Orthodox Christians died during this period of persecution, and the Assyrian Genocide site documents the killing of as many as 400,000 Assyrian Christians during the same period. These figures must be added to the 1.5 million Armenian Christians who were likewise killed. If the mass murder of nearly three million Christians doesn’t not count as a genocide of Christians, then the term has lost all of its meaning.

Despite this error, however, this review is a useful and thorough summary of many of this urgently needed book’s major points.

“How Far Did the Armenian Genocide Extend? A New Book Examines that Question,” by Dov S. Zakheim, National Interest, August 8, 2019:

ON AUGUST 22, 1939, just ten days before his forces invaded Poland, Adolf Hitler instructed his generals, “our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy.” He recounted his orders “to send to death mercilessly and without compassion, men women, and children of Polish derivation and language.” He concluded with the query, “who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Modern historians, and many others, including governments, legislatures, and, of course, Armenians themselves, today do indeed speak of what is now termed “the Armenian genocide.” Numerous authors have documented Turkish atrocities during the First World War, to which the term generally refers. Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, both professors at Israel’s Ben Gurion University, go much further in The Thirty-Year Genocide: Turkey’s Destruction of Its Christian Minorities, 1894–1924.

Morris and Ze’evi offer a history of the ethnic hatred in the Middle East that continues to be replayed to this very day. The players then are much the same as today: Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Christians, Yazidis and Jews. The authors’ work is filled with tales of the most horrifying brutality, though it focuses primarily on Muslim atrocities and on the virtual erasure of any Christian presence in Turkey.

Morris and Ze’evi argue that the Ottoman government, the Young Turks that effectively overthrew it in 1908 and maintained power throughout World War I, and the Nationalist government under Mustafa Kemal (later called Atatürk) that assumed power in 1921 all pursued a consistent policy of repression, and, indeed, planned extermination, of the three major Christian denominations—Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians—who made their homes and earned their livelihoods in territories under Turkish control. While the persecution and murder of as many as 1.5 million Armenians has received considerable attention over the past half century, that is not at all the case with respect to the other two ethnic groups, and to that extent the two authors provide an important contribution to the literature of the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Middle East….

Kemal, who is considered the father of modern secular Turkey, nevertheless, like his predecessors, sought to Islamize Turkey once and for all by expelling all Christians, regardless of denomination. Armenians no longer were the only victims of Turkish iniquities, however. Greek Orthodox Christians, who in prior years generally had avoided much of the brutality meted out to the Armenians, now began to suffer a similar fate, especially when Greek forces occupied Smyrna (now Izmir), parts of the Turkish coastline, and when Greek Christians attempted to create the so-called Republic of Pontus along the southern shore of the Black Sea. The smaller Assyrian Christian community had neither Western backing, nor particularly nationalist aspirations, yet it too suffered from Turkish and Kurdish atrocities in the immediate aftermath of the Great War.

Kemal launched what Christian missionaries still living and working in Turkey called a “white massacre,” whose objective was to “impoverish and dishearten the survivors of the wartime genocide by boycotting their businesses in the towns and preventing them from farming in the countryside.” Like the Ottomans and the CUP, Kemal attempted to dismiss all claims of violence or discrimination against the Christian minorities. Yet, again like his predecessors, Kemal was not averse to the large-scale murder of the Christian minorities, especially as it was the most effective way to spur mass migration out of Turkey. That some Armenians did commit outrages of their own only encouraged Kemal, as it had his predecessors, to accelerate his efforts to rid the country of them. Similarly, massacres perpetrated by invading Greek forces, and by some Greek Christians who either joined or supported them, likewise spurred Kemal to deport them as quickly as he possibly could.

Hundreds of thousands of Greek Christians whose families had lived in western Anatolia for centuries if not millennia—well before the Turks arrived there—were hounded out of their homes and sent on forced marches inland unless they could manage to emigrate, primarily to Greece. Indeed, about a million Greek Christians found their way into Greece, especially when, in an annex to the Treaty of Lausanne, Greece and Turkey reached a population exchange agreement in 1923. By 1924, thirty years after the Ottomans had launched their first set of major massacres of Armenians, Anatolia had been emptied of its Christians.

It was not the last of what the authors term “pogroms,” however. Another took place in 1955, when the Turks expelled thousands of residents who held Greek passports. Constantinople, now dubbed Istanbul, was once a major Greek city. Now, it has but 2,000 Greek residents….