Pontus (in Greek, Πόντος) is a historic region on the Turkish Black Sea coast that was home to a large Greek population, known as Pontic Greeks or Pontians, before the Greek Genocide took place. Pontus is a region of Asia Minor.
At the start of the Twentieth Century the Greek population of Pontus numbered several hundred thousand. Many Greeks lived in the coastal towns, such as Trebizond, Samsoun, Ordou and Kerassund, while others lived inland. American sources place the 1914 pre-genocide population at 457,000 while the 1912 Greek Patriarchate statistics record a population of at most 453,000. Ottoman Turkish statistics record the population as 363,000. Other sources, such as those of the Central Council of Pontus, claim there were as many as 700,000 Greeks in Pontus. In a February 1919 memorandum calling for their self-determination, the National League of the Euxine Pontus described the Pontus Greek population as follows:
"According to the most recent information received from the different dioceses, the orthodox Greek population can be evaluated at about 700,000 souls, without counting the 350,000 who, fleeing from Turkish persecution, took refugee several years ago in foreign countries, there are about 250,000 in the Caucasia and the remainder are in other countries."
However, as the League was making territorial claims in the region these figures cannot be judged reliable especially given how they conflict with most other accounts. Thus, the pre-genocide Greek population of the Pontus region of Asia Minor can be estimated as not exceeding 500,000.
Pontus during the Greek Genocide
As with all Greek-inhabited regions of Ottoman Turkey, the Greeks of Pontus were subject to a genocidal campaign. The Austrian Ambassador of Constantinople, Markgraf Johann Pallavicini, described the events in and around Samsoun in December 1916:
“11 December 1916. Five Greek villages were pillaged and then burnt. Their inhabitants were deported. 12 December 1916. In the outskirts of the city more villages are burnt. 14 December 1916. Entire villages including schools and the churches are set on fire. 17 December 1916. In the district of Samsoun they burnt eleven villages. The pillaging continues. The village inhabitants are ill-treated. 31 December 1916. Approximately 18 villages were completely burnt down, 15 partially. Around 60 women were raped. Even churches are plundered.”
On 29 December 1918, the Archbishop of Amassia and Samsoun, Germanos, wrote:
"Towards the middle of December, 1916, began the deportations from Amissos (Samsoun). First of all the army reduced to ashes all the region round about. ... A large number of women and children were killed, the young girls of the nation outraged, and immediately driven into the Interior. ... The majority of course died on the road and none of the dead at all being buried, vultures and dogs feasted on human flesh. ... Believe me ... that out of 160,000 people of Pontus deported, only a tenth and in some places a twentieth have survived. In a village, for example, that counted 100 inhabitants, five only will ever return; the others are dead. Rare indeed are those happy villages where a tenth of the deported population has been saved."
"Since the year 1914 the Ottoman Government, on the lines of a plan organised and premeditated has caused more than 1,500,000 Greeks and Armenians of Asia Minor to be massacred by its local agents. The infortunate Greek populations of Pontus have been decimated by murder and privation, have witnessed their churches profaned, their daughters violated, their wives dishonoured, babies snatched from the arms of their mothers and hurled against the walls, old men and children burned within the churches and priests massacred under the portals."
Statistics on Pontus, Central Council of Pontus, 1922
There were times when the Greeks of Pontus took up arms in an act of self defense to resist the massacres being perpetrated against them. In this respect Pontus makes an interesting case study of the Greek Genocide, much like the resistance demonstrated at Van by Armenians during the Armenian Genocide.
Only 182,169 Greeks of Pontus were ever recorded as having reached Greece. In 1925 George K. Balabanis wrote: "... the total human loss of Pontians from the [beginning] of the General [Great] War until March 1924 can be estimated at three hundred and fifty three thousand [353,000] [persons], murdered, hanged and dead through punishment, illness and privations." However, if one gives careful consideration to the various estimates for the region's pre-war population and the migration of Pontians into both Russian territory and Greece, it is clear that Pontian deaths are unlikely to have ever reached such a figure. A more reasonable estimate might be 250,000 which indicates that approximately 50% of the total population was killed.
Black Book: The Tragedy of Pontus 1914-1922, Edition of the Central Council of Pontus, Athens, 1922.
The Turkish Atrocities in the Black Sea Territories: Copy of Letter of His Grace Germanos, Lord Archbishop of Amassia and Samsoun, Delegation of the Pan-Pontic Congress, Norbury, Natzio & Co. Ltd, 1919.
Γεώργιος Κ. Βαλαβάνης, Σύγχρονος γενική ιστορία του Πόντου, Αθήνα, 1925.
Αντώνιος Γαβριηλίδης, Η Μαύρη Εθνική συμφορά του Πόντου 1914-1922, Αθήνα, 1924