The Autonomous Hellenic Republic of Pontus – A Historical Perspective

The Autonomous Hellenic Republic of Pontus – A Historical Perspective
By Georgios Gialtouridis (*)

On January 8, 1918 President Woodrow Wilson presented his ‘Fourteen Points’ to a joint session of the United States Congress. President Wilson’s ‘Fourteen Points’ was a blueprint designed to convince the Germans to cease World War I hostilities and that leniency would be assured in the subsequent peace treaties, thus bringing an end to the Great War. The decaying Ottoman Empire had sided with Germany and the Central Powers during WWI and Wilson’s Point Twelve addressed the Ottomans’ fate:

XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.

President Wilson had called for the right to self-determination and autonomy for the various ethnic groups of the Ottoman Empire, including Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians, and others. Inspired by Wilson’s Point Twelve, Pontian Greeks of the Diaspora who had already organized a Pontian Movement assembled in Marseilles, France, in February of the same year for the First World Pan-Pontian Convention. There, they promoted their vision of an Autonomous Hellenic Republic of Pontus.

In January of the following year, the Paris Peace Conference took place to ratify treaties ending World War I. Many dignitaries, including President Wilson, were present.
Stephen Bonsal, a New York Times correspondent, was President Wilson’s private translator during the Peace Conference. In his memoir “Suitors and Suppliants: The Little Nations at Versailles” (1946), Bonsal reflects on the day the Pontian-Greek delegation visited the office of President Wilson:
Page 216:
March 8, 1919
Three of the strangest-looking men wandered into my office yesterday
morning. Their dark, mysterious faces and their stealthy tread excited
the suspicions of our guardian sailors, but soon, they produced a letter
from (Eleftherios) Venizelos, which authenticated their mission. The Greek 
Premier said they were the properly accredited representatives of the 
Overseas Greeks, as yet “unredeemed,” of the Euxine Pontus (better 
known in the Western world as the Black Sea).
Bonsal continues:
But on closer inspection of the letter from the Cretan mountaineer and 
guerilla fighter who, in the last ten years, has developed into the smoothest 
of diplomats, it appeared that it was couched in more reserved terms than 
was usual in his writings.  “Down to the present,” he said, “our Council of State 
has not decided to include the colonies or settlements which these gentlemen 
so worthily represent in the picture of Greater Hellas, which we are about to
present to the Conference. Yet these, our noble kinsmen, are in great
need of supplies, indeed of even the bare necessities of life, and I am
writing in the knowledge that their unfortunate plight will excite sympathy 
in America, from where alone help can come.”
It was obvious that as late as March of 2019, Pontus was not included in Eleftherios Venizelos’ Megali Idea, his vision of a Greater Hellas.
A few hours after the three Pontian Greeks left the American delegation, Venizelos came by and thanked the Americans warmly for welcoming the three Pontians. Venizelos continued:
Page 219:
“But I have told them that I cannot claim the south shore of the Black Sea, as my hands are quite full with Thrace and Anatolia. I told them to ‘go home, make all the money you can, and send it back to the mother country. If you do that, we shall always cherish you’ and they went away well pleased.” Then, as an afterthought, the Greek Premier said: “Often it seems to me wiser, and certainly more helpful, to have commercial marts rather than political colonies beyond the seas. However, for the contributions that came from them in a steady stream, we could never have faced the financial strain of this cruel and costly war. It was our merchants in Cairo and Constantinople, in Liverpool and Norfolk, 
Virginia, who kept us afloat.”
Two months later, on May 16, 1919, at 3:00 p.m., Archbishop Chrysanthos of Trapezous and President Wilson scheduled a meeting at the Paris Peace Conference.
There, the Archbishop presented the case for an Autonomous Republic of Pontus, to which President Wilson not only did not object but also concurred. Besides, such an idea echoed his twelfth Point. But only three days later, on May 19, 1919, Mustafa Kemal landed in Sampsun and ordered Topal Osman and his militia forces to eradicate the Greek element from Pontus.
On March 10, 1920, a delegation of Pontian-Greeks headed by Chrysanthos and the wealthy merchant Konstantinos Konstantinidis presented to British Prime Minister Lloyd George at the Peace Conference a Memorandum bringing to his attention the plight of the Greeks living in Pontus and detailing their aspirations for an independent Republic on the southern shores of the Black Sea:

The two major treaties ratified as a result of the Paris Peace Conference were the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Sevres, which punished the Germans and Turks, respectively, for their hostilities during the War.

The Treaty of Sevres, signed on August 10, 1920 but never ratified, is considered a diplomatic triumph in modern Greek history. Greek Premier Eleftherios Venizelos secured Greek sovereignty over Smyrna and Eastern Thrace. But the treaty was abandoned six months later, on February 25, 1921.  Despite countless pleas from the Pontian Greeks, Pontus was not in Venizelos’ vision of the Megali Idea. As the Premier’s remarks reflected on p. 219 of Bonsal’s memoir (above) may shed some light as to his position regarding Pontus, to his credit Venizelos secured a large portion of Thrace, despite Bulgarian efforts in Versailles to take Thrace and access to the Aegean.

In addition to the Bulgarian efforts to take Thrace, there was also an Armenian effort to control Pontus. Venizelos was more inclined to support either a Ponto-Armenian federation or the territory of Pontus under Armenian jurisdiction. Pontian Greeks at the time, including members of Venizelos’ cabinet, were vehemently opposed to such an idea. Without discounting the Armenian sacrifices, which actually started with the Hamidian massacres in 1894, there was animosity between the Pontian Greeks and the Armenians both in Anatolia and in Versailles.  Below is the map that the Armenian delegation proposed in Versailles, encompassing the eastern half of Hellenic Pontus:

In addition to opposing the creation of an Autonomous Hellenic Republic of Pontus, the Armenians were actively collaborating with the Bulgarians after suffering half a million deaths at the hands of the Ottomans in the Hamidian massacres. Armenian-American academic Garabet K. Moumdjian, in his study titled Rebels with a Cause: Armenian-Macedonian (sic) Relations and Their Bulgarian Connection, 1895-1913, Dr. Moumdjian analyzes the collaboration’s conception in Bulgaria, where sizable Armenian communities existed in Sofia, Varna, and Philippoupolis. The Bulgarians, using a pseudo-Macedonian identity, were trying to take over the Macedonian territory from the Ottomans while the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) advocated a reformist agenda in the eastern provinces of the empire.

From a geostrategic perspective, Pontus was just as important to Greece as Thrace, if not more important, and Venizelos’ reluctance to include Pontus in his Greater Hellas proved catastrophic within just a couple of years. If Pontus were either included within Greece’s sovereignty or if the Autonomous Hellenic Republic of Pontus were created, there would have been a land barrier between Turkey and Russia, the Black Sea would have been patrolled by Greek ships as the Hellenic Republic of Pontus, and by extension mainland Greece would have had access through the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, and Kemal would not have been supplied by the Bolsheviks with the arms that the Young Turks used not only to conduct Genocide against the Pontian Greeks, but Kemal would not have had the ammunition to fight the Greek armed forces in Anatolia in 1921-1922. History would have been very different in the eastern Mediterranean. 
According to S. Kuznetsova, “During 1921 in the disposition of the Turkish government, there were sent 6,5 million golden rubbles, 33,275 riffles, 57 986 cartridges, 327 machine guns, 54 artillery guns, 129,479 shells, 1,500 swords, 20 thousand gas masks and a huge amount of other military equipment.”  According to a 1958 interview with Gen. Ali Fuat Cebesoy, aid for the Turks from the Bolsheviks was as follows: ten million golden rubles, 30,000 Russian rifles with 1,000 rounds of ammunition for each rifle, 30,000 bayonets, from 250 to 300 machine guns with 10,000 cartridges for each gun, some cavalry swords, from 20 to 25 mountain cannons and a large number of hand grenades. According to Gen. Cebesoy, these were enough to equip three Turkish divisions. The Soviet government deposited one million Russian rubles in Berlin to the credit of the Turks, who were thereby enabled to secure replacements for German weapons obtained before and during the First World War. This significant support was considered to have had a crucial role in the success of the war against the Greeks in their Asia Minor campaign.  In December 1921, the arrival of Gen. Mihail Frunze in Ankara, commander-in-chief of the Soviet Forces in Ukraine, and later the appointment of the Soviet envoy to Turkey, Semyon Aralov, on 26 January 1922, strengthened the trust in Russia’s moral and material support in the final period of the Greco-Turkish War, also called the Turkish War of Independence which is celebrated in Turkey.
In his book Soviet Russia and Asia, 1917-1927: A Study of Soviet Policy towards Turkey, Iran, and AfghanistanHarish Kapur gives further details on the military aid given to a desperate Kemal by the Soviets:
Page 114:
The Soviet envoy in Ankara, Semyon Aralov, realizing the general situation, sent an urgent message to his government on 19 April 1922, recommending material assistance.  He wrote:
“The Turkish Government’s financial situation is desperate. All its hopes are pinned on Russian assistance. We must consider that the Entente is aware of Turkish difficulties and is exerting intense political and economic pressure. The Turkish government’s reply largely depends on us. In the absence of our material and moral assistance, it may not be able to resist and may retreat.”
The developments of all these events probably removed all the hesitations that Moscow may have had in regard to the delicate and risky question of military assistance to Turkey. Thus on 29 April, 1922 the Soviet authorities handed over to the Turkish consul in Novorossiisk, a port city on the Black Sea in southern Russia, important quantities of arms and ammunition. Four days later (3 May), the Soviet envoy gave the Turkish Government 3,500,000 gold rubles – the balance of the credit of the aforementioned ten million gold rubles.
As a result, Kemal began to advance rapidly during the summer of 1922. As each victory became known, Moscow sent a congratulatory telegram.
Please allow me a few paragraphs to connect three vital Greek issues: The Macedonian Question, the Pontus Question, and the Cyprus Question. These three crucial issues are intertwined.
Let’s examine two significant events that occurred in the Balkan peninsula, one in 1870 and the other in 1878.

In the 19th century, the entire region of Macedonia was still under Ottoman occupation. Numerous demographic studies, covering the entire Macedonian region and beyond, had been conducted in the vilayets of Monastir and Thessaloniki as late as the 19th century by both Ottoman authorities and European institutions. Not even one of these ethnic surveys references the existence of a Macedonian ethnicity.

Through the Firman (decree) of 1870, Sultan Abdulaziz allowed the Bulgarian Exarchate to separate from the ecclesiastical authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. From a Turkish point of view, the decree was designed to divide the Christian populations of the decaying Ottoman Empire and define ethnicity in the Balkans by church affiliation. From a much more well-conceived Bulgarian perspective, the new autocephalous status of the Church would encourage Bulgarian nationalism.
The Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878 ended with the Treaty of San Stefano signed on March 3, 1878. Russian forces had halted their advance at San Stefano (now Yesilkoy), a village on the Sea of Marmara seven miles west of Constantinople. The Treaty of San Stefano forced Ottoman Turkey to cede most of the region of Macedonia to Bulgaria and created a ‘Greater Bulgaria,’ a Bulgaria spanning from the Romanian border to the north all the way to the foothills of Mt. Olympus to the south, including the port city of Kavala to the east. This allowed Russia to have a Slav satellite in the Balkans where her influence could extend down to the Aegean Sea.
The European Great Powers, fearing this increased Russian influence in southeastern Europe and a possible threat to the trade-congested Bosporus and Dardanelles Straits, objected to the terms of the Treaty. Four months following San Stefano, after lengthy negotiations at the Berlin Conference mediated by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck of Germany and de facto mediator Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli of Great Britain, the Treaty of Berlin revised the terms, giving the Macedonian region back to the Ottomans and allowing for a smaller Bulgaria.
One significant side note here: Shortly before the Berlin Conference, a secret agreement to be disclosed later as the Cyprus Convention was reached between the British and Ottomans whereby control of Cyprus was granted to Great Britain in exchange for their support of the Ottomans in Berlin.
The Germans also conducted bazaars with the Ottomans for their own support. In exchange, the Germans would now co-exploit the natural wealth of Anatolia. This Turco-German agreement later expanded to military cooperation as German General Otto Liman von Sanders headed the Turkish armed forces in World War I, and he was the architect of the Genocide of the Christians of the Ottoman Empire.
A treaty involving Macedonian territory secretly gave the British control of Cyprus and, at the same time, allowed Germany to set foot in the Ottoman Empire. Subsequently, German General Otto Liman von Sanders orchestrated the first Final Solution of the 20th century.

Just as the Treaty of Versailles infuriated a young Adolf Hitler as he perceived the terms of the Treaty unjust, so did the Treaty of Sevres infuriate Mustafa Kemal Pasha and his nationalist movement. Despite valiant efforts from the heroic Pontian Resistance fighters, an ethno-catharsis perpetuated years earlier was now spreading all over Asia Minor and Thrace with such unimaginable savagery and brutal force it could only be described by one word – Genocide: slaughter, deportations, slave labor, death marches. Death chambers disguised as work battalions.  Humanity is in a wasteland of inhumanity.Kemal managed something that Hitler could not: to overturn his respective Treaty. The subsequent Treaty of Lausanne signed, sealed, and delivered modern Turkey’s birth certificate, and at the same time, the treaty’s population exchange clause clinched the demise of three thousand years of Greek presence in Anatolia.

One of the original visionaries of the Autonomous Hellenic Republic of Pontus was Philon Ktenidis.

He wrote what was then considered the Pontian Greek Hymn to Liberty. It was presented to the National Delegation of the Euxinus Pontus in 1918, which recognized it as the anthem of the future Hellenic Republic of Pontus.
Greek lyrics:
Ήρθ΄η μέρα, ήρθ’ η ώρα
που προσμέναμε με χρόνια
στα δεσμά, στην καταφρόνια
και στην τούρκικη σκλαβιά.
Εις του Πόντου τ’ακροβούνια
καριοφίλια μαυρισμένα
φέρουν το Εικοσιένα
ύμνουν την Ελευθεριά.
Της Ανάστασης σημαίνει
η καμπάνα η μεγάλη
Και ο καθένας μας ας βάλει
την λαμπρότερη στολή.
Και μπροστά εις την εικόνα
της Πατρίδας την Αγία
ας προσφέρει για θυσία,
νιάτα, πλούτη και ζωή.
Εις του Πόντου μας το χώμα
άνοιξε σε κάθε βήμα
των μαρτύρων ένα μνήμα
του τυράννου η μαχαιριά.
Μας καλούν εκδικητάδες
ζωντανοί και πεθαμένοι,
η Πατρίδα, ερημωμένη
μας καλεί εμπρός παιδιά.
English translation:
The day and hour have come
that we waited for years
in bondage, in contempt
and in Turkish slavery
In the Pontus mountain peaks
blackened rifles
bring the age of ’21
hymn of Lyberty.
The Resurrection sounds
the big bell
let each one of us
put on our brightest uniforms.
And in front of the icon
of our holy Homeland
offer the sacrifice
of youth, riches and life.
In the soil of our Pontus
at every step a martyr’s
Tomb was opened
By the tyrant’s knife.
They are calling us avengers
alive and dead
our Homeland, deserted
is calling on us.

H Σημαία του Πόντου – The Flag of Pontus

Georgios Gialtouridis

(*) President (2018-2023)
Pontian Society Panagia Soumela of Boston
ΠΗΓΗ: Helleniscope

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