On December 15, we commemorate Greek Operation Victims Remembrance Day in memory of the thousands of our compatriots persecuted by Soviet authorities.
On this day we honour the memory of Soviet Greeks who were persecuted, imprisoned, and killed during the Great Purge of 1936–1938.
The Great Purge, also known as the Great Terror, was a campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union initiated by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and carried out by Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the NKVD (Soviet secret police).
The victims of the purge included Communist Party members and government officials, Red Army officers, intelligentsia, ex-kulaks (wealthy landlords), and national minorities.
On December 11, 1937, Nikolai Yezhov ordered mass persecution of the Soviet Greeks under the guise of liquidating espionage groups working for British, German and Japanese intelligence.
The text of the order was practically identical to that of the previous NKVD orders targeting specific ethnic groups.
Of about the 300,000 Greeks living in the Soviet Union according to the 1937 census, 40,000 asked for asylum to Greece, but the Soviets only granted this to 10,000 of them.
The mass persecution against them began on December 15, 1937.
Among the arrested was Konstantin Chelpan, a prominent engineer awarded the Order of Lenin for designing the T-34 tank engine.
Thousands were either executed on the spot or transferred to gulags in Siberia to work in forced labour camps, where they would work until death.
Most of these Greeks were themselves already survivors, who had only years earlier fled persecution to the Soviet Union as a result of the Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing by the Turks (assisted by the Soviets) between 1914 and 1923.
In 1950, estimates put the Greek death toll between 20,000 and 50,000.