Republic of Pontus

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The area claimed for the Republic of Pontus after World War I, based on the extent of the six local Greek Orthodox bishoprics.

The Republic of Pontus (Greek: Δημοκρατία του Πόντου, Dimokratía tou Póntou) was a proposed Pontic Greek state on the southern coast of the Black Sea, whose territory would have encompassed much of historical Pontos and which is today contained within Turkey's Black Sea Region. The proposed state 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 it was included instead in the larger proposed state of Wilsonian Armenia. Neither state came into existence and the Pontic Greek population was expelled from Turkey after 1922 and resettled in the Soviet Union or Greek Macedonia. This state of events was later formally recognized as part of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.


Proportion of nationalities in the vilayets of Ottoman Asia Minor according to the Ottoman census of 1914.

The first recorded Greek colony, established on the northern shores of ancient Anatolia, was Sinop, circa 800 BC. The settlers of Sinop were merchants from the Ionian Greek city state of Miletus. After the colonization of the shores of the Black Sea, known until then to the Greek world as Pontos Axeinos (Inhospitable Sea), the name changed to Pontos Euxeinos (Hospitable Sea). In time, as the numbers of Greeks settling in the region grew significantly, more colonies were established along the whole Black Sea coastline.

The region of Trapezus, later called Trebizond, now Trabzon, was mentioned by Xenophon in his famous work Anabasis, describing how he and other 10,000 Greek mercenaries fought their way to the Euxine Sea after the failure of the rebellion of Cyrus the Younger whom they fought for, against his older brother Artaxerxes II of Persia. Xenophon mentions that when at the sight of sea they shouted "Thalatta! Thalatta!" – "The sea! The sea!", the local people understood them. They were Greeks too and, according to Xenophon, they had been there for over 300 years.[1] A whole range of trade flourished among the various Greek colonies, but also with the indigenous tribes who inhabited the Pontus inland. Soon Trebizond established a leading stature among the other colonies and the region nearby become the heart of the Pontian Greek culture and civilization. A notable inhabitant of the region was Philetaerus (c. 343 BC–263 BC) who was born to a Greek father in the small town of Tieion which was situated on the Black Sea coast of the Pontus Euxinus, he founded the Attalid dynasty and the Anatolian city of Pergamon in the second century BC.

Roman Diocese of Pontus, 400 AD.

This region was organized circa 281 BC as a kingdom by Mithridates I of Pontus, whose ancestry line dated back to Ariobarzanes I, a ruler of the Greek town of Cius. The most prominent descendant of Mithridates I was Mithridates VI of Pontus, who between 90 and 65 BC fought the Mithridatic Wars, three bitter wars against the Roman Republic, before eventually being defeated. Mithridates VI the Great, as he was left in memory, claiming to be the protector of the Greek world against the barbarian Romans, expanded his kingdom to Bithynia, Crimea and Propontis (in present day Ukraine and Turkey) before his downfall after the Third Mithridatic War.

Nevertheless, the kingdom survived as a Roman vassal state, now named Bosporan Kingdom and based in Crimea, until the 4th century AD, when it succumbed to the Huns. The rest of the Pontus became part of the Roman Empire, while the mountainous interior (Chaldia) was fully incorporated into the Greek speaking Eastern Roman Empire during the 6th century.

Pontus was the birthplace of the Komnenos dynasty, which ruled the Byzantine Empire from 1082 to 1185, a time in which the empire resurged to recover much of Anatolia from the Seljuk Turks.

In the aftermath of the fall of Constantinople to the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade in 1204, the Empire of Trebizond was established by Alexios I of Trebizond, a descendant of Alexios I Komnenos, the patriarch of the Komnenos dynasty. The Empire was ruled by this new branch of the Komenos dynasty which bore the name Megas Komnenos Axouch (or Axouchos or Afouxechos) as early rulers intermarried with the family of Axouch, a Byzantine noble house of Turkic origin which included famed politicians such as John Axouch

This empire lasted for more than 250 years until it eventually fell at the hands of Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire in 1461. However it took the Ottomans 18 more years to finally defeat the Greek resistance in Pontus. During this long period of resistance many Pontic Greeks nobles and aristocrats married foreign emperors and dynasties, most notably the Safavid Persian dynasty, and to a lesser extent the Kara Koyunlu rulers, in order to gain their protection and aid against the Ottoman threat.

During the Ottoman period a number of Pontian Greeks converted to Islam and adopted the Turkish language. This could be willingly, for example so to avoid paying the higher rate of taxation imposed on Orthodox Christians or in order to make themselves more eligible for higher level government and regular military employment opportunities within the empire (at least in the later period following the abolition of the infamous Greek and Balkan Christian child levy or 'devshirme', on which the elite Janissary corps had in the early Ottoman period depended for its recruits). But conversion could also occur in response to pressures from central government and local Muslim militia (e.g.) following any one of the Russo-Turkish wars in which ethnic Greeks from the Ottoman Empire's northern border regions were known to have collaborated, fought alongside, and sometimes even led invading Russian forces, such as was the case in the Greek governed, semi-autonomous Romanian Principalities, Trebizond, and the area that was briefly to become part of the Russian Caucasus in the far northeast.

Republic of Pontus[edit]

In 1904 a secret society, the Pontus Society, was founded in Merzifon whose main purpose was achieving an independent republic of Pontus.[2] 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.[3] The Pontic Greeks in the area had few connections to the Greek state, primarily religious, and so joining with Greece was never strongly considered.[4] 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.[5] During this period, Leonidas Iasonidis became a primary leader in the movement for the establishment of a Republic of Pontus.[5]

Like Armenians, Assyrians and other Ottoman Greeks, the Greeks of Trebizond suffered a genocide at the beginning of the 20th century, first by the Young Turks and later by Kemalist forces. In both cases, the reason why, was the fear of the turks on losing the territory sooner or later to the local indigenous populations of Greeks Assyrians and Armenians and the policy of turkification. Death marches[6] through Turkey's mountainous terrain, forced labour in the infamous "Amele Taburu" in Anatolia and slaughter by the irregular bands of Topal Osman resulted in hundred of thousands of Pontic Greeks perishing during the period from 1915 to 1922.

Pontic Greeks that escaped the death marches went on to the mountains, with women and kids and started self-defense groups that were protecting the Greek and Armenian population, until the population agreement exchange in 1923. The self-defense groups believed to have saved the lives of more than 60 thousands Pontic Greeks and Amrenians[7] [8]

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.[3] 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.[5]

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.

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.[9] 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.[9] 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.[5]

In 1921 large part of the Orthodox Christian males of Pontus were deported and sent to labour battalions at Erzerum. During this time an "Ad hoc Court of Turkish Independence" in Amasya, which was controlled by the Turkish nationalists of Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk), sentenced several notable figures to death by hanging. Among them was the former member of the Ottoman parliament, Matthaios Kofidis. They were charged of supporting the Independence movement of Pontus[10]


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.[9] 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Who are the Pontians?. Retrieved on 2011-02-12.
  2. ^ a b Shaw, Stanford J.; Ezel Kural Shaw (1977). History of the Ottoman Empire and Modern Turkey. London, England: Cambridge University Press. 
  3. ^ a b c Erimtan, Can (2008). "Hittites, Ottomans and Turks: Ağaoğlu Ahmed Bey and the Kemalist Construction of Turkish Nationhood in Anatolia". Anatolian Studies 58: 141–171. 
  4. ^ Hionidou, Violetta (2012). ""Abroad I was Greek and in Greece I am a Foreigner": Pontic Greeks from Former Soviet Union in Greece". Journal of Modern Greek Studies 30 (1). 
  5. ^ a b c d Voutira, Eftitia (2011). The 'Right to Return' and the Meaning of Home. Berlin: Lit Verlag. 
  6. ^ Library Journal Review of Not Even My Name by Thea Halo.
  7. ^ people.>
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b c Freely, John (2010). Children of Achilles: the Greeks in Asia Minor Since the Days of Troy. London: I.B. Taurus. 
  10. ^ Clark, Bruce (2006). Twice a Stranger: The Mass Expulsion that Forged Modern Greece and Turkey. Cambridge (Massachusetts): Harvard University Press. pp. 112–114. ISBN 9780674023680.