Although Turks think of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk fondly as the founder of the modern Turkish Republic, Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians remember him as one of the main perpetrators of genocide against Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire, that led to the systematic extermination of around 3.5 million people.
With about a million Greeks exterminated on policies made by Atatürk and his predecessors, more than 1.2 million Greeks were forcibly removed from Turkey in 1923-1924 as a result of the the Treaty of Lausanne, decimating thousands of years of Greek life in Asia Minor, Pontus and Eastern Thrace.
Atatürk (Father Turk) was an Albanian Jew born in Thessaloniki in 1881. His father died when he was young and his mother worked in a brothel. He rose through the Ottoman military ranks, coming to prominence during World War I and the Greco-Turkish War that followed.
In the midst of the Greco-Turkish war, endless accounts by foreign diplomats, Christian missionaries, survivor testimonies, journalists and many others chronicled the massacres perpetrated by Atatürk’s followers, known as the Kemalists, against the Christian minority in a mad drive to create a “Turkey for the Turks.”
One such account was by Mark Hopkins Ward, an American physician working at the American Hospital in Western Armenia, today’s Eastern Turkey, in the town of Kharpert (Խարբերդ). Ward wrote that “The Kemalists pursued with vigor their considered and systematic campaign for the extermination of the Greek minority in Asia Minor, which was attended with the same incredible brutality as marked the Turkish massacre of 1,000,000 Armenians in the early part of the Great War [World War I].”
Dr. Ernst von Kwiatkowski, an Austro-Hungarian consul in Pontus, informed the Austrian Foreign Minister István Burián on November 30, 1916 that an Ottoman administrator told him “We must now finish with the Greeks. I sent today battalions to the outskirts to kill every Greek they meet on the road” and that “We must at last do with the Greeks as we did with the Armenians.”
Alfred E. Brady of Texas and a member of the American Smyrna Disaster Committee, stated in 1922 “Although the majority of Greek and Armenian civilian men in Asia Minor have been deported into Angora, into what is tantamount to slavery, and the majority of women and children exiled, the Turks’ campaign of massacre and terror continues, as the last surviving Christian communities are wiped out one by one.”
These are just some of the many quotes describing the Greek Genocide perpetrated by Ottoman and Kemalist forces. A full catalogue can be read here.
On August 13, 1923 in the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara, Atatürk declared: “At last we’ve uprooted the Greeks.”
There is little doubt that a genocide took place, with Atatürk at the helm, and there is a full academic consensus that these events occurred, despite what a tiny minority of so-called scholars have claimed.
Later in life, Atatürk attempted to distance himself from the genocide and in 1926 during an interview with Swiss journalist Emile Hilderbrand, said that he is now punishing the perpetrators of the genocide.
“These left-overs from the former Young Turkey Party, who should have been made to account for the lives of millions of our Christian subjects who were ruthlessly driven en masse, from their homes and massacred, have been restive under the Republican rule,” he said in the Los Angeles Examiner under the title “Kemal Promises More Hangings of Political Antagonists in Turkey.”
Rather, Atatürk was executing his political rivals that emerged and used the genocide as a reason for their killings, without a sense of irony that the genocide took place under his orders and command.
In a speech at the European Parliament in Brussels on November 13, 2008 Dr. Ronald Münch from the University of Bremen said that if Atatürk were alive today, he would have to stand trial for war crimes.
Yet, despite his crimes of killing nearly a million Greeks and wiping out Hellenic life that existed in many regions of today’s Turkey for thousands of years, his birth house in Thessaloniki is not only preserved, but is a part of the Turkish Consulate Complex.
At a time when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is relentlessly and unapologetically pushing forward with turning the famous Hagia Sophia into a mosque, the heart of Orthodox Christianity that is today a museum, Atatürk’s house needs to be converted into a museum in memory of the near 1 million Greeks exterminated by his regime.
This of course should not be in reaction to Erdoğan’s ambition of converting the museum into a mosque, that has received widespread from not only Greece but also the US, the EU and UNESCO, but should be a moral imperative that should have occurred many decades ago.
The only thing Turkey’s mad drive to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque has done, is provide the legitimacy for Greece to turn Atatürk’s birthplace into a Genocide Museum without any condemnation from Turkey.
Erdoğan says that Turkey’s sovereign right to turn the Greek-built Hagia Sophia into a mosque is being interfered with.
President #Erdogan responded today mounting criticisms from the US, Russia and others on his gov't plans to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, said he considered these as interference into #Turkey's sovereignty. pic.twitter.com/NX93QLnCkE
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) July 3, 2020
Turkish Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gül also said that the issue of converting Hagia Sophia “is a matter of sovereignty for Turkey. Of course, it is a common wish for all of us to see that its chains broken and opened for [Islamic] prayer.”
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) June 16, 2020
Erdoğan in another interview also said that “Greece is now saying [to Turkey] that Hagia Sophia must never be converted into a mosque. Are you the one who governs Turkey or is it us that govern it? Turkey will never bother seeking permission from you to make this happen. There has been a burning sensation [to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque] within the dynamics of this country.”
— Abdullah Bozkurt (@abdbozkurt) June 8, 2020
Erdoğan and his administration have made it more than clear that Greece has no say in the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque, as it undermines Turkish sovereignty.
He has set the rules, and the house of Atatürk, unlike Hagia Sophia, is not a UNESCO heritage listed site. There is no legal bounds to maintain Atatürk’s house and rather it should be changed into a historical accurate dedication to him – a genocidal mass murderer.
It it time that the Greek government makes the brave step of vacating the Turkish consulate from Atatürk’s house and dedicate it to the memory of the Greek Genocide. Just as Erdoğan has emphasised that Greece cannot influence or comment on Turkey’s internal decision making regarding Hagia Sophia, neither can Turkey in Greece.