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Pontian Greek man in traditional clothes.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Greece, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Armenia, Cyprus|
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Pontian Greek man in traditional clothes.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Greece, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Armenia, Cyprus|
The Pontic Greeks of the Pontians (Greek: Πόντιοι, Turkish: Pontus Rumları) are an ethnic group traditionally living in the Pontus region, the shores of Turkey's Black Sea. They consist of Greek descendants and speak the Pontic Greek dialect, a distinct form of the standard Greek language which, due to the remoteness of Pontus, has had a process of linguistic evolution different from that of the rest of the Greek world. Pontians were historically Christian Greeks who were persecuted, beginning in the 15th Century, by the Ottoman Empire.
Nowadays, due to extensive intermarriage (also with non-Pontic Greeks), the exact number of Greeks hailing from the Pontus, or people with Greek descent living there, is unknown. After 1988, Pontian Greeks in the Soviet Union started to migrate to Greece settling in and around Athens and Thessaloniki. They are known as "Russian Pontians" (Ρωσσοπόντιοι) by fellow Greeks. The largest communities of Pontian Greeks (or people of Pontian Greek descent) around the world are:
|Country / region||Official data||Estimation||Concentration||Note(s)||Article|
|Greece||over 2,000,000||Athens, Macedonia, Thrace|
|Germany||100,000||Greeks in Germany|
|Russia||97,827 (2002)||34,078 in Stavropol Krai|
26,540 in Krasnodar Krai
|Greeks in Russia|
|Ukraine||91,548 (2001)||77,516 in Donetsk Oblast||Greeks in Ukraine (Sometime referred to as Crimean Greeks)|
|Czech Republic||less than 3,500; 12,000 (1949–1974)||Greeks in the Czech Republic|
|Georgia||15,166 (2002)||7,415 in Kvemo Kartli|
3,792 in Tbilisi
2,168 in Adjara
|Greeks in Georgia|
|Kazakhstan||12,703 (2010)||2,160 in Karagandy|
1,767 in Almaty
1,637 in Zhambyl
|Greeks in Kazakhstan|
|Uzbekistan||10,453 (1989)||Greeks in Uzbekistan|
|Armenia||1,176 (2001)||2,000||655 in Lori|
308 in Yerevan
|Greeks in Armenia|
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 of what is now Turkey, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania.
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. 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 (ca. 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 secong century BC.
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 Byzantine Empire during the 6th century.
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. This empire lasted for more than 250 years until it eventually fell at the hands of Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire in 1461.
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.
In fact, the second half of the nineteenth century saw large numbers of such pro-Russian Pontic Greeks from the eastern Trebizond region resettle in the area around Kars (which together with southern Georgia already had a nucleus of Caucasus Greeks), which was ceded to the Russian Empire following the Russo-Turkish war that culminated in the 1878 Treaty of San Stefano. They had declined the expedient of conversion to Islam, abandoned their lands, and sought refuge in territory now controlled by their Christian Orthodox "protector", which used Pontic Greeks, Georgians, and southern Russians, and even non-Orthodox Armenians, Germans, and Estonians to "Christianize" this recently conquered southern Caucasus region, which it now administered as the newly created Kars Oblast (Kars Province).
On the eve of World War I, the Young Turk administration exerted a policy of assimilation and ethnic cleansing of the Orthodox Christians in the Empire, which affected Pontian Greeks too. In 1916 Trabzon itself fell to the forces of the Russian Empire, fomenting the idea of an independent Pontic state. As the Bolsheviks came to power with the October Revolution (7 November 1917), Russian forces withdrew from the region to take part in the Russian Civil War (1917–1923).
In 1917–1922, there existed an unrecognized by the name Republic of Pontus, led by Chrysanthus, Metropolitan of Trebizond. In 1917 Greece and the Entente powers considered the creation of a Hellenic autonomous state in Pontus, most likely as part of a Ponto-Armenian Federation. In 1919 on the fringes of the Paris Peace Conference Chrysanthos proposed the establishment of a fully independent Republic of Pontus, but neither Greece nor the other delegations supported it.
Once the Russians had evacuated Pontus, Greeks and Armenians in the region became the targets of irregular Turkish and Kurdish militia. Seeing the fate of Armenians, Pontian Greeks were themselves forced to take up armed resistance, leading to what became known as the Pontus resistance (αντάρτικο του Πόντου in Greek), which lasted until 1923, when the population exchange between Greece and Turkey was agreed under the terms of the Treaty of Lausanne. While most Christian Pontians were forced to leave for Greece - avoiding nearby Russia, which in the decade post-1917 was of course plunged into the chaos of revolution and civil war - those who had converted to Islam (and in accordance with historical precedent were considered to have "turned Turk") remained in Turkey and were assimilated into the Muslim population of the north and northeast, where their bi-lingual Greek- and Turkish-speaking descendents can still be found (including amongst the notoriously nationalistic Turks of present-day Trebizond).
Rumca, as the Pontian Greek language is known in Turkey, survives today, mostly among older speakers. After the exchange most Pontian Greeks settled in Macedonia and Attica. Pontian Greeks inside the Soviet Union were predominantly settled in the regions bordering the Georgian SSR and Armenian SSR. They also had notable presence in Black Sea ports like Odessa and Sukhumi. About 100,000 Pontian Greeks, including 37,000 in the Caucasus area alone, were deported to Central Asia in 1949 during Stalin's post-war deportations. Big indigenous communities exist today in former USSR states, while through immigration large numbers can be found in Germany, Australia, and the United States.
Like Armenians, Assyrians and other Ottoman Greeks, the Greeks of Trebizond and the short-lived Russian Caucasus province of Kars (which in 1916 fell back under Ottoman control) suffered widespread massacre and what is now usually termed ethnic cleansing at the beginning of the 20th century, first by the Young Turks and later by Kemalist forces. In both cases, the pretext was again that the Pontic Greeks and Armenians had collaborated or fought with the forces of their Russian co-religionists and "protectors" before the termination of hostilities between the two empires that followed the October Revolution. Death marches 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 tens of thousands of Pontic Greeks perishing during the period from 1915 to 1922. In 1923, after hundreds of years, those remaining were expelled from Turkey to Greece as part of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey defined by the Treaty of Lausanne. In his book Black Sea, author Neal Ascherson writes:
The Turkish guide-books on sale in the Taksim Meydane offer this account of the 1923 Katastrofĕ: 'After the proclamation of the Republic, the Greeks who lived in the region returned to their own country [...].' Their own country? Returned? They had lived in the Pontos for nearly three thousand years. Their Pontian dialect was not understandable to twentieth-century Athenians.
The suffering of the Pontian Greeks did not end upon their violent and forceful departure from the lands of their ancestors. Many Pontian Greek refugees perished during the voyage from Asia Minor to Greece. Notable accounts of these voyages have been included in Steve Papadopoulos’ work on Pontian culture and history. Pontian Greek immigrants to the United States from that era were quoted as saying:
Many children and elderly died during the voyage to Greece. When the crew realized they were dead, they were thrown overboard. Soon the mothers of dead children started pretending that they were still alive. After witnessing what was done to the deceased, they would hold on to them and comfort them as if they were still alive. They did this to give them a proper burial in Greece.
Some of the settlements historically inhabited by Pontian Greeks include (current official names in parenthesis):
The culture of Pontus has been strongly influenced by the topography of its different regions. In commercial cities like Trebizond, Samsunda, Kerasounda and Sinopi upper level education and arts flourished under the protection of a cosmopolitan middle class. In the inland cities such as Argyroupolis, the economy was based upon agriculture and mining, thus creating an economic and cultural gap between the developed urban ports and the rural centers which lay upon the valleys and plains extending from the base of the Pontic alps.
Pontic's linguistic lineage stems from Ionic Greek via Koine and Byzantine Greek with many archaisms and contains loanwords from Turkish and to a lesser extent, Persian and various Caucasian languages.
The rich cultural activity of Pontian Greeks is witnessed by the number of educational institutions, churches, and monasteries in the region. These include the Phrontisterion of Trapezous that operated from 1682/3 to 1921 and provided a major impetus for the rapid expansion of Greek education throughout the region. The building of this institution still remains the most impressive Pontic Greek monument in the city.
Another well known institution was the one of and Argyroupolis, built in 1682 and 1722 respectively, 38 highschools in the Sinopi region, 39 highschools in the Kerasounda region, a plethora of churches and monasteries, most notable of which are the St. Eugenios and Agia Sophia churches of Trapezeus, the monasteries of St. George and St. Ioannes Vazelonos, and arguably the most famous and highly regarded of all, the monastery of Panagia Soumela.
Pontian music retains elements of the musical traditions of Ancient Greece, Byzantium, and the Caucasus (especially from the region of Kars). Possibly there is an underlying influence from the native peoples who lived in the area before the Greeks as well, but this is not clearly established.
Musical styles, like language patterns and other cultural traits, were influenced by the topography of Pontos. The mountains and rivers of the area impeded communication between Pontian Greek communities and caused them to develop in different ways. Also significant in the shaping of Pontian music was the proximity of various non-Greek peoples on the fringes of the Pontic area. For this reason we see that musical style of the east Pontos has significant differences from the that of the west or south-west Pontos. The Pontian music of Kars, for example, shows a clear influence from the music of the Caucasus and elements from other parts of Anatolia. The music and dances of Turks from Black Sea region are very similar to Greek Pontic and some songs and melodies are common. Except for certain laments and ballads, this music is played primarily to be danced to.
An important part of Pontic music is the Acritic songs, heroic or epic poetry set to music that emerged in the Byzantine Empire, probably in the 9th century. These songs celebrated the exploits of the Akritai, the frontier guards defending the eastern borders of the Byzantine Empire.
The most popular instrument in the Pontian musical collection is the kemenche or lyra, which has origins in Byzantine times and it is related closely with the Byzantine lyra and other bowed musical instruments of the medieval West, like the Kit violin and Rebec. Also important are other instruments such as the Angion or Tulum (a type of Bagpipe), the davul, a type of drum, the Shiliavrin, and the Kaval or Ghaval (a flute-like pipe).
The zurna existed in several versions which varied from region to region, with the style from Bafra sounding differently due to its bigger size. The Violin was very popular in the Bafra region and all throughout west Pontos. The Kemane, an instrument closely related to the one of Cappadocia, was highly popular in south-west Pontos and with the Pontian Greeks who lived in Cappadocia. Finally worth mentioning are the Defi (a type of tambourine), Outi and in the region of Kars, the clarinet.
Pontian dance retains aspects of Persian and Greek dance styles. The dances called Horoi (Greek: Χοροί), singular Horos (Greek: Χορός), meaning literally "Dance" in both Ancient Pontian and Modern Greek languages, are circular in nature and each is characterized by distinct short steps. A unique aspect of Pontian dance is the tremoulo (Greek: Τρέμουλο), which is a fast shaking of the upper torso by a turning of the back on its axis. Like other Greek dances, they are danced in a line and the dancers form a circle. Pontian dances also resemble Persian and Middle Eastern dances because they are not led by a single dancer. The most renowned Pontian dances are Tik (dance), Serra, Maheria or Pyrecheios, Kotsari and Omal.