What the Asia Minor Site is All About

In February 2003 I posted a history of my family who were Greek refugees from Asia Minor. It became the most visited page of my web site, in part because not enough has been written in English about the historical tragedy, of which my parents were part. When it came time to add more material I decided that the original page should be left alone and create new pages. I am also inviting contributions by others about the history of their families and I am adding links to other sites on the web that deal with the same history.

Greeks had lived in Western Asia Minor since the time of the Trojan War. Alexander's conquests in the fourth century BCE caused the spread of the Greek language and culture to the rest of the population, so Greek continued to be the dominant language even after the Roman conquest. Eventually all of them converted to Orthodox Christianity, not only the pagans but also many of the Jews who lived in the area. (Conversion was not entirely voluntary as one can infer from the writings of John Chrysostom.) While the Roman empire collapsed in the West in the sixth century of the CE, the Eastern part continued for almost another 1000 years. By that time the overwhelming majority of the populations were Greek speaking Christians. The Ottoman conquest was completed in 1453 and many of the inhabitants converted to Islam and mixed with the invaders, so the original central Asian features of the invaders all but disappeared. Many of the remaining Christians also adopted Turkish, the language of the invaders. (See the background material in my family history for more details.) Unfortunately, the first quarter of the 20th century witnessed extensive "ethnic cleansing" (although the term did not come into use until the last quarter of the century). The killings of the Armenians, the Pontian Greeks, the Assyrians, and other minorities was followed by a brutal "population exchange" that was triggered by the invasion of Ottoman lands by the Greek army following WW I. (See Nobody is Blameless.)

We should also not forget the Muslim inhabitants of Greece that were expelled from the country as part of that "population exchange". While their plight was not as bad as that of the Greeks of Asia Minor, they also suffered a lot by finding themselves in a strange new country. I have described elsewhere a personal encounter with a descendant of Muslim Greeks. [BC06] is a good place to read about the suffering of all ethnic groups.

The fact is that Christians and Muslims had lived in relative peace for several centuries. Not only there are numerous books [CS80, ES92, LB04] asserting that but it is also the story I have heard from my parents. Several Christians had achieved very high positions in the Ottoman Empire so the real history is far more complex than what is described in nationalistic literature. The big puzzle is what caused the flare up of ethnic hatred in the 20th century, just as the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. If the Ottomans wanted to get rid of ethnic minorities, they would have done so easily when they were at their peak. I have speculated on the issue in the section Why the sudden persecution in my family history. The issue of "why" is not academic because this awful history seems to be repeated throughout the world today. It is also too complex to be dealt in a serious way in this site, so I am focusing on documenting the suffering of ordinary people.

Some of quoted documents in the site are quite partisan which is understandable, given the bitterness people felt. I do not endorse such sentiments and in some cases I have added comments (e.g. correction) and a section where I try to correct misconceptions about Turkey (see item C.2). I feel that long term bitterness is counter-productive. What some Turks did to the Christians living in Asia Minor was very bad but it pales compared to what the Germans did to the Jews in WW-II or what happened to the Africans who were captured and sold into slavery over the span of several centuries. If the descendents of the African slaves have come into terms with the descendents of the slave traders and slave owners and Jews have come into terms with modern Germany there is all the more reason that Greeks and Turks should focus on what unites them rather than what divides them.

Theo Pavlidis, June 2006 (revised April 2008, June 2011)

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