Greece’s president did not back down from remarks she made earlier this week referring to the killings of Pontic Greeks in Anatolia a century ago as a genocide, Greek newspaper Kathimerini reported on Sunday.
President Katerina Sakellaropoulou told the newspaper that Greece would continue to remember the killings as a genocide as a way to honor the survivors and their contributions to the modern Greek state.
She went on to say Greece will continue to seek harmonious relations with Turkey, but declared there can be “no retreat in the face of unacceptable claims and aggressive acts [from Turkey].”
“Safeguarding historical memory is not just about looking at the past. It holds an important symbolic function for the present and it teaches us. It imparts to us the morality of truth and responsibility. It reminds us of the power of forgiveness and of the value of finding an accord,” Sakellaropoulou said.
“The silences of the past give birth to the disputes of the future. Knowledge and acceptance of history is a brave and self-aware act,” she added.
On January 11, Sakelleropoulou announced plans to create the Hall for the Global Pontian Greeks of Sourmena, a $9 billion project to commemorate the centennial of the arrival of Pontic Greece refugees from Turkey after the 1922 Greco-Turkish War, a major theater of what Turkey calls the War of Independence.
In her remarks, Sakelleropoulou described the fate of the Pontic Greeks in Anatolia, today’s Turkey, as a “tragic end” following a campaign of “systematic genocide with persecutions, massacres, attempts at violent Islamization and unspeakable barbarism” that drove them from their homeland.
The Pontic Greeks once inhabited the northeastern part of Turkey along the Pontus Mountain Range where they resided for thousands of years. Speaking a distinctive form of Greek known as Romeyka, thousands of members of this community were killed in a period between 1913 and 1922. Millions were later deported to Greece under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1922 that resulted in massive population exchanges between Greece and the newly formed Turkish republic.
Turkey, for its part, rejects any characterisation of these killings as a genocide. The country’s foreign ministry condemned Sakelleropoulou’s remarks this week.