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Greek Genocide and the Importance of Remembrance Days

Greek genocide
Greek Genocide: The aftermath of the Phocaea, when Ottoman forces began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Greeks. Credit: Public domain

by Alexis Georgoulis

The Greek Parliament has designated May 19th as a day of remembrance for the Genocide of the Greeks of Pontus, the region at the North of Asia Minor. Entire villages and cities were devastated, while thousands were forced to flee to neighboring countries.

This year’s anniversary coincides with the US President’s recent recognition of the Armenian Genocide. A decision that adds a country with great global influence to the list of countries which contest the official Turkish narrative of what happened in 1915 and the years that followed, which deny the justification presented for the massacre of civilians — the alleged need to secure the Ottoman borders during World War I — which consider the Turks’ plan to exterminate the Armenians a crime with no justification.

We might wonder why we need memorial days like today or like the one chosen for the Armenians’ Genocide or the Jews’ Holocaust.

Remembering genocides honors victims, provokes reflection

First of all, on these days we honor our fellow human beings who were so unjustly lost and, secondly, we denounce their loss. But at the same time, we are called to reflect on the causes of such tragedies. So much blood has been shed because of blind, extreme nationalisms, the nationalisms that acquire racist characteristics.

I am not talking about patriotism, about the love for one’s place of birth that leads to one’s desire and will to defend it against anyone who attacks it.

I am talking about the belief that one’s nation has every right to eliminate another nation and that it is legitimized to use any means that help achieve this goal, no matter how inhuman these means are. Memorial days are not just about the past. We must use them for the present and the future: to remember the unforgivable mistakes that humanity has committed in order that we do not repeat them.

A prerequisite for this, of course, is to have the power that is needed to acknowledge our mistakes. The Turkish state should follow the example of post-war Germany, which clearly condemned the horrific crimes of the Nazi regime, and which is teaching its pupils how abominable the actions of their Nazi ancestors were.

It is not a shame to acknowledge the fact that your ancestors made mistakes. It is a shame to try to cover them up or to justify them.

Alexis Georgoulis is a member of the European Parliament as a representative of the European Left

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