"Right to Memory": From the Asia Minor Catastrophe to the notion of the Pontian genocide

Publication Year:
2015
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Repository URL:
http://commons.clarku.edu/chgs_papers/35
Author(s):
Sjöberg, Erik
Tags:
Greece; Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922); memory; Byzantine and Modern Greek; European History; Islamic World and Near East History
conference paper description
This paper examines the making of the Pontian Greek genocide, sometimes also referred to as the Ottoman Greek genocide, into a new collective memory in Greece. Since 1994 and 1998, the Greek Parliament recognizes the genocides of the Pontian Greeks and the Anatolian Greeks respectively, as a result of ethno-political lobbying by organizations representing descendants of refugees expelled from Anatolia in 1922-23. This is a re-interpretation of the history of the Greek Asia Minor Catastrophe that is a subject of controversy in Greece, with critics accusing it of altering and distorting an already established collective memory deemed essential to “national self-knowledge”. The notion of the Pontian Greek genocide has also been criticized within the Anatolian Greek community on the ground that it obscures the suffering of other Ottoman Greeks by exclusively highlighting the experience of Pontos during and after WW1. As a result, the notion of the Ottoman Greek genocide has emerged as an alternative concept; expanding the circle of victims and stressing commonality with other Ottoman Christian groups. An important aspect of these controversies is the process of memorialization. Why did this memory-political activity erupt in the late 20th century instead of earlier? Activists concerned with genocide recognition in Greece have often claimed that the Greek state had actively suppressed knowledge about the atrocities in Asia Minor prior to the expulsion, out of diplomatic concern. The demand for the “right to memory” was thus presented as a popular response to a double historical injustice. The basic argument of this paper departs from sociologist Jeffrey Alexander’s notion of cultural trauma, or trauma drama, which opposes the common view that collective traumas exist in and of themselves. Individuals respond to trauma constructions, in response to different political, cultural and personal needs which change over time. The paper explores how the process of memorialization changed from the aftermath of the Catastrophe in the 1920s to the emergence of Pontian Greek identity politics in the 1980s, using various press sources, literary works and activist publications as sources.