Republic of Pontus
The Republic of Pontus (Greek: Δημοκρατία του Πόντου, Dimokratía tou Póntou) was a proposed Pontic Greek state in the north-eastern part of modern Turkey. The proposal was discussed at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, but the Greek government of Eleftherios Venizelos feared the precarious position of such a state and so did not back the proposal. The Republic of Pontus did not come into existence and large members of the Pontic Greek community resettled after 1922 to the Soviet Union or Greece as part of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey.
In 1904 a secret society, the Pontus Society, was founded in Merzifon whose main purpose was achieving an independent republic of Pontus. The movement gained significant support and during the 1910s and 1920s, the Metropolitan of Trabzon Chrysanthos Filippides, who would later become the Archbishop of Athens, became a major leader in pushing for an independent Republic of Pontus. The Pontic Greeks in the area had few connections to the Greek state, primarily religious, and so joining with Greece was never strongly considered. At the same time, many Pontic Greeks migrated to Russia, Georgia, and other countries. International societies of Pontic Greeks became connected with the Pontus Society in Merzifon and began significant lobbying efforts to push for an independent Pontic Greek state: most prominently in Russia and the United States. During this period, Leonidas Iasonidis became a primary leader in the movement for the establishment of a Republic of Pontus. Ethnic violence between Pontic Greeks and the Turkish population occurred at many points in the early decades of the 20th century.
On January 8, 1918, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson enunciated his Fourteen Points towards a post-war order. Point Twelve specified that the non-Turkish nationalities "which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development." This declaration led to significant activity to organize on the part of non-Turkish populations throughout Anatolia, including the Pontus region. The name Pontus, a name Erimtan claims was used exclusively by Greek Orthodox activists, was adopted in reference to the Kingdom of Pontus which had risen to power in the Black Sea region in the second century BC. In 1918-1919, Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos began a process of financial payment for repatriation of Pontic Greeks who had resettled in Russia during the violence before and during World War I.
Following the Armistice of Mudros which ended World War I hostilities between the Allied powers and the Ottoman Empire, British troops landed in Samsun and occupied much of the region. With the arrival of the British in March 1919, small groups of Pontic Greeks began revolting and killing Turkish residents in the region only to be stopped with great difficulty by the Ottoman police and British troops. Turkish organized militias began organizing themselves, under Topal Osman, in the region and violence increased significantly.
At about the same time, with the beginning of the negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 to decide territorial issues in the Ottoman Empire, Chrysanthos arrived at negotiations to push for an independent Pontus on April 29, 1919. While there he presented an 18-page memorandum of support for the establishment of a Republic of Pontus. The proposed Republic of Pontus was to include the districts of Trabzon, Samsun, Sinop, Amasya and Karahisar and cover much of the northeast Black Sea region of modern Turkey. The memorandum includes what some scholars believe to be exaggerated numbers about the size of the Pontic Greek population in the area at the time.
At the Conference, Venizelos believed that an independent Republic of Pontus would be too remote for military assistance from Greece and too weak to defend itself against any Turkish attack. For this reason he opposed the creation of a Republic of Pontus and the discussion was largely ended. Later, it was suggested that the district of Trabzon become part of the newly created Armenian state by Venizelos, but this idea did not gain traction with the Allied Powers and violence in the area as a result of the Turkish–Armenian War, the Turkish War of Independence, and the Bolshevik takeover of Armenia soon muted the discussion. In May 1919, the head of the Greek Red Cross for the Pontus region wrote a report indicating that security for the population was very precarious and assistance was necessary.
On January 1, 1920, the Pontus Society launched numerous armed attacks throughout the region aiming to bring about the Republic of Pontus. The Pontic army, which was supported by the Greek Army, numbered 25,000. The Turkish Army committed 10,000 men to fight off the Pontus rebels. During the fighting, the Pontic Greek community was the target of widespread violence and many males were forcibly turned into migrants. Professor R.J. Rummel estimates that 5,000 Pontic Greek Militia were killed by Turkish forces during the fighting in the Black Sea Region.
A large amount of the Pontic Greek community resettled during the fighting and after the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and as part of the Greek and Turkish population exchange. Records find that 182,169 Pontic Greeks were displaced as part of population exchange. Many of the Pontic Greeks left for the Soviet Union, which had been the site of earlier Pontic migrations and thus had family connections. Much of the rest migrated to Greece where they were given full citizenship rights (Pontic Greeks who migrate from Russia today receive similar privileges). In Greece the Pontic migrants were called Póndioi, a name they themselves do not use to self-describe and were met with some discrimination.
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