April 6 is a painful day for every Greek as it marks the beginning of the Thracian Greek genocide by the Ottoman Empire. It was Monday after Easter in 1914, now known as “Black Easter,” when the systematic extermination of the Greeks and their expulsion from the region of Eastern Thrace, which is now a part of Turkey, began.
At the beginning of the 20th century, Greeks in Eastern Thrace accounted for approximately 250,000 people. However, when the Ottoman Turks unleashed their genocide, many Greeks from Eastern Thrace were exiled to Greece and 100,000 transferred to Anatolia. About only half of those transferred to the interior of the Ottoman Empire was eventually transported to Greece, and the rest were either killed or Turkified.
As recorded by the Greek Genocide Resource Center, Aspasia Constantinides an eye-witness to the deportation recounted:
After a two hour march, we reached a deep and narrow ravine where we found Corporal Ismail with a number of immigrants, apparently waiting for us. As soon as he saw us, he ordered our drivers to stop, and dragging the women out of the carts and beat them savagely. They snatched the earrings the women wore and in so doing cut their ears; they forced them to undress in order to get at the necklaces they wore, and often tore them off their necks with such violence that in one instance a woman’s throat was cut, causing the blood to flow in torrents.
A report by the Consular Agent in Kirklareli on April 23, 1914, stated that the hodjas (Muslim schoolmasters) in local mosques were inciting hatred of Christians and Greeks, and officials were arming local Turks with army rifles to commit crimes.
The slaughter ended on October 11, 1922, when the Greeks of Eastern Thrace who refused to be Turkified were given 15 days to leave their ancestral homes of thousands of years following the signing of the armistice at Mudanya at the end of the Greco-Turkish War.
In speaking with Greek City Times, historian Marios Mathios-Josefidis explained how Eastern Thrace came into Turkish hands.
“One less known fact about Eastern Thrace is that Turkey annexed it without even one shot fired. The Greek government and Eleftherios Venizelos following the Asia Minor Catastrophe had to repel claims from Turkey that demanded Greece to pay war reparations,” Mathios-Josefidis explained.
“Facing a big financial problem because of the arrival of the Greek refugees from Minor Asia and a society that was tired after 10 years of conflict – The Balkan Wars, First World War and the Asia Minor Campaign – Greece stepped back and decided to offer Eastern Thrace to the Turks as war reparation,” he continued.
The historian then explains that the mass slaughter of Greeks in Eastern Thrace could have taken a very different course of events.
“Was it a necessary move?” he questions. “As a historian, I do not have the right to make conclusions of ‘what if,’ but having knowledge of the situations during this period, sure I can tell that it was a hurried decision. The Greek Army in Thrace Army was very strong and capable of repelling any attack from the Turks. But the most important factor was that the Turks had to travel by sea [to reach Thrace] as Constantinople was under British control. The problem for the Turks was that they did not have a Navy to do this,” Mathios-Josefidis said.
“On the other hand, the Greek Royal Navy was strong and experienced. Somebody can claim that the Great Powers forced us to give this historical province to the Turks. History has proven to us many times that nations that want to be pressed, are finally pressed because of other powers, and I mean this, especially for leadership. Unfortunately, our leadership at this time was not as decided as it had to be,” concluded the historian.