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The hushed-up genocide: Byzantium’s massacre of Greeks

Statue of Constantinos Palaiologos in Athens

THE EU has established August 23 as the European Day of Memory for the victims of all the totalitarian and authoritarian regimes. Also known as Black Ribbon Day, it commemorates the victims of Nazism and Communism

This Day of Memory for the victims of murderous regimes brings to mind the genocide of the pagan Greeks of Byzantium who had not embraced Christianity. It is disheartening that while thousands of hours and tonnes of ink have been used to describe the cruelty of the Nazis and Communists, the holocaust of the Greeks of Byzantium was hushed up. And as it relates to the Greeks, “our ancient ancestors” as our teachers referred to them every day, this silence becomes even more unacceptable.

How can we not talk about possibly the biggest genocide in world history which relates to our ancestors? (I say ‘possibly’ because there are no official statistics about ancient genocides). It is estimated that between the 4th and 10th century at least 20 million Greeks were exterminated. We should not forget that Greeks made up the biggest population of the Roman Empire and possibly of the world. The Greek population, before this systematic extermination, numbered about 40 million living around in the geographical areas now known as Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine.

Imagine how peculiar, bizarre and hypocritical it is to remember (quite rightly) the genocide of the Greeks of Pontos by the neo-Turks, which claimed 350,000 lives over nine years (1914-1923), but have absolutely nothing to say regarding the genocide of millions of Greeks that lasted almost six centuries.

Christ must have been inspired by democratic principles and ideals when he preached that “whoever wants may follow me.” In Byzantium, though, for six centuries, if you did not embrace Christianity, you were slaughtered. To give an idea about the extermination of Greek pagans, I quote from the 17th Volume of Res Gestae Libri XXXI, which covers the 4th century AD, by the famous Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus: “The bishop of Alexandria Georgios and his gang went through the streets of Alexandria cutting up people and setting fire to everything. From the remotest areas of the Roman Empire countless Greeks of all ages and social backgrounds were dragged chained. Many of these died on the way or in the prisons of different places. Those that managed to survive ended up in Skythopolis, a remote town in Palestine, where instruments of torture and death were set up.”

The Christian historian Sozomen, in his book Ecclesiastical History, wrote that almost all Greeks were ordered to be killed, some by sword and some by fire. All the philosophers and those wearing the clothing of philosophers were also killed.

Humanity had entered the Middle Ages, also known as the dark ages. The successes of the ancient Greeks in science, history and poetry were terminated. The Olympic, Nemea, Isthmian, Pythian and Panathenian games were stopped. The joy and light of Ancient Greece, its cultural and scientific flowering was succeeded by the darkness of suppression, dogmatism and death. The renowned writer Joseph McCabe, in his book, The Testament of Christian Civilisation, wrote: “Byzantium, in its 10 centuries of existence, did not manage to produce one book that is read today by an educated person.”

Of course, none of this is taught in our schools. By some trick, history stops at the point at which the nasty Romans persecute the virtuous Christians. The history relating to the criminal Christians as persecutors of the Greeks is hushed up, just as the first death camp in world history in Skythopolis is hushed up. Nor are students ever taught that Byzantium was never Greek and that almost none of its emperors was Greek. The last emperor, the legendary Constantinos Palaiologos – the Marble King as he is called by Greek Orthodox Christians – was of Serbian origin. His real name was Constantin Dragac.

When only half the truth is told, this is not a lesson in history, but a lesson in lies. And this rotten state of affairs will continue for as long as the position of minister of education is decided by the archbishop who for obvious reasons seeks the suppression of the truth.

Such ignorance of history often leads to freakish manifestations. Outside many churches in Cyprus, the Byzantine flag flies next to the Greek flag. How can this happen when the Byzantine flag symbolises the executioner of about 20 million Greeks? It should be as freakish a picture as a flag with the swastika flying next to a flag of the Star of David outside a synagogue.

Equally freakish is the creation of the phrase “Greco-Christian ideals”, which includes a colossal contradiction: the Greek spirit stands for free thought, research, science and questioning of things while Christianity is a dogma and as such suppresses criticism, scientific scrutiny and questioning. How can there be a marriage of these two? It is like saying that Cyprus enjoys a high, low standard of living.

It is time for the intelligentsia in Cyprus and Greece challenge the establishment and demand a Day of Memory for the victims of Christian fanaticism.


George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

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