EDITOR’S NOTE (Nick Stamatakis): Our good friend George Gialtouridis, President of the Pontian Society “Panagia Soumela” of Boston, is one of the most passionate fighters for the recognition of the Hellenic Genocides the Greek American community ever had. In the following letter to the Pan-Pontian Federation Mr. Gialtouridis poses very serious questions regarding AB Elpifdophoros’ misconception of the killer Kemal Ataturk as a secular leader who promoted equal rights in modern Turkey… Yes, after Ataturk eliminated millions of Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and other ethnic groups, after he rightfully earned the title of the first truly “genocidal” leader (the term “genocide” was first coined for his actions), then he established “peace” and “equality” in a “unified by violence” Turkey… AB Elpidophoros’ approach to Kemal Ataturk is indicative of the numerous contradictions he himself embodies as a leader of our Church: He is a citizen of Turkey (which he does not miss an opportunity to pronounce), yet he proclaims to be (his own statement to Greek state TV of ERT recently) “the leader of the Greek lobby in the US”… At a time when the Turkish leadership threatens Greece daily with war…
Please let’s not hear the usual Phanariot escape that Elpidophoros could “act as a bridge” between Ankara and Athens… At a time when Erdogan threatens Hellenism in multiple ways, including by forced immigration of Muslims to Greece, we do not need any Phanariot ambiguity… We need clear guidance and staunch leadership… The minimum AB Elpidophoros could do when dealing with these issues is step aside and let our (however problematic and fragmented) secular leadership handle them. In that way he would avoid reinforcing the already widespread impression that he is more of an agent for Turkey than a supporter of Greece…
One of the main goals of our community has been the recognition of the Hellenic Genocides in Asia Minor (1915-23). Just last year we attempted a first serious step, but achieved only a minor recognition within the congressional resolution for the Armenian Genocide… Is AB Elpidophoros ready to break away form his Turkish past and join the fight? Or he is simply interested to prepare his ascent to the Patriarchal Throne in Turkey? One thing is for sure – he cannot have it both ways…
BELOW YOU CAN SEE MR. GIALTOURIDIS LETTER – PLEASE FOLLOW THE LINK TO ENJOY THE AMAZING PHOTOS BY WHITTEMORE FROM THE TIME OF THE RESTORATION OF HAGIA’S SOPHIA’S HAGIOPGRAPHIES IN 1934….
Mr. Gus Tsiflidis
Pan Pontian Federation of America & Canada
Please see in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website the July 11 interview which Archbishop Elpidophoros gave to the BBC regarding the recent change of status of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque. Please note the excerpt below and his remarks in red, pertaining to his perception of Kemal:
AE: The reason that Ataturk, who is the founder of the modern secular Turkish Republic, converted the previous church and then mosque to a museum, the reason is that he wanted to keep Hagia Sophia as the sign of the transition from a theocratic empire from a conqueror mentality, to the equal citizenship in a secular society, in a secular state. That is the significance of Hagia Sophia. Being guided by a mentality of the conqueror, and claiming conqueror’s rights, to have this place as a mosque, this changes the relationship of the state to its citizens.
The Archbishop continued:
I am a Turkish citizen myself, and I don’t want the state to have the mindset of the conqueror, because I am not a conquered minority, I want to feel in my own country as an equal citizen, no matter if I am Christian, of Greek origin or Armenian or Syrian or Jewish, we all are equal citizens. But, if the state is endorsing the mentality of the conqueror, saying it’s my conquered right to have Hagia Sophia as a mosque, then this is a dangerous path, we don’t know where it can guide us, and this is my fear.
I may have a different perception from the Archbishop regarding the current mentality of the Greek minority in Constantinople and the Christian minorities throughout Turkey in general but my conception of Asia Minor history in the 20th century leaves very little room for doubt of the atrocities committed by Kemal and the Turks in the pre- and post-Lausanne periods. I cannot fathom the idea of a murderer of over two million innocent souls to somehow be magically transformed into this egalitarian reformist and advocate for human and civil rights upon his founding of the modern Turkish Republic.
The Archbishop’s characterization of Erdogan as having an islamist ‘conqueror mentality’ but Kemal being this secularist reformist it to say the least troubling. According to the Archbishop, by changing the status of the Cathedral from a mosque to a museum Kemal wanted to keep Hagia Sophia as the sign of the transition from a theocratic empire to the equal citizenship in a secular society. That may have been the message given by Kemal at the time but it certainly was not his real intention. We all know the message given by Kemal and the Young Turks in 1908 “Hurriyet, Musavat, Uhuvvet” (Freedom, Equality, Fraternity) but just a few years later that message changed to Genocide.
It was no different in 1934 for Kemal. Yes, as an agnostic Kemal had issues with the theocratic establishments of the Ottoman era but his real intentions were the opposite of what the Archbishop perceives. The Tanzimat reforms and especially the Hatt-i Humayun firman (decree) of 1856, which gave equality to men in non-moslem minorities, allowed our grandfathers to own land and prosper. The Turks were now working for the Greeks and Armenians. For example, my great-grandmother’s brother was a τσιφλικάς in Kotyora (Ordu). This precipitated a Turkish nationalistic fervor which the Young Turks Revolution capitalized on.
Let me give you a little background on Kemal and his accomplices. One of the founders of modern Turkey was sociologist Mehmet Ziya Gökalp. Who was Gökalp? He was Kemal’s right-hand man. Kemal, Gökalp and others started the Yeni Osmanlilar or as we know it the Young Ottomans or Young Turks revolution. In the mid-19th century reformist Ottoman Sultans such as Mahmud II and Abdülmecid I introduced the Tanzimat reforms which I mentioned earlier establishing principles of equality within the empire by elevating the non-moslem population to the status of citizens. This attempt at equality culminated in 1856 with the Hatt-ı Hümayun, a promise of equality within the Empire’s administrative structure, even accompanied by a firman (decree) by Sultan Abdülmecid I.
As these reforms evolved through the turn of the century they did not sit well with Kemal, Gökalp, et al. According to Gökalp, what was needed was a return to the former meaning of ‘Ottomanism’ and an end to the illusion of Muslim-Christian equality. An embrace of Turkish nationalism was the only option. Coexistence, whether willing or unwilling, was no longer to be attempted and Turkishness was to be the basis for policy. In a 1911 article for the journal Yeni Hayat (New Life) Gökalp wrote that the Turks are actually the übermensch imagined by German philosopher Nietzsche. (Taner Akçam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006, p. 88).
Thus Gökalp set the new foundations of modern Turkey establishing the argument of the Kemalist movement under which there is no ethnic minority in Turkey (Ziya Gökalp, The Principles of Turkism, Ankara, 1920, trans. Robert Devereux, Leiden, 1968).
Such was the basis for the Yeni Osmanlilar’s principles thus setting the stage for the Genocide of the Christians of the Ottoman Empire at the group’s very outset. As the cries of dignitaries such as George Horton and Henry Morgenthau, warning the civilized world of the atrocities being committed, fell on deaf ears, just a few decades later lunatics such as Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring felt the ease to apply their own Final Solution, this time on the Jewish race, with the impression that they too will go unpunished.
Following the founding of the modern Turkish Republic (1923), Kemal had applied Gökalp’s philosophy but with a twist. Prof. Ayhan Aktar argues, “while Gökalp had mostly emphasized religion, ethics, aesthetics, and socialization as the denominators of the nation, the Kemalists turned to ethnicity as the underlying factor of Turkishness.” (Ayhan Aktar, Varlik Vergisi ve ‘Türklestirme’ Politikalari – The Wealth Tax and the ‘Turkification’ Policies, Istanbul 2006, p60-66, p103-108). Once Gökalp realized that Kemal structured the new republic on ethnicity as the underlying factor rather than religion he broke away. So in essence, the Archbishop’s comments to the BBC regarding equal citizenship in a secular society epitomize the Kemalist ideology.
As for the 1934 decree, perhaps the Archbishop should study up on the role of the American archaeologist and restoration expert Thomas Whittemore, founder of the Byzantine Institute of America. In 1931 Whittemore convinced Kemal to allow him to remove the plaster covering the Byzantine mosaics in Hagia Sophia which the Ottomans had spread on the walls and ceilings of the Holy Cathedral over the centuries and restore the precious hagiographies and for Kemal to change the status of the Cathedral from a mosque to a museum. In 1931 Whittemore wrote: “Santa Sophia was a mosque the day that I talked to him (Kemal). The next morning, when I went to the mosque, there was a sign on the door written in Ataturk’s own hand. It said: ‘The museum is closed for repairs.'”
Thus, by an Official Decree of the Turkish Council of Ministers November 24, 1934 Hagia Sophia became a museum.
Born on January 2, 1871 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Thomas Whittemore was the only child of real estate and insurance broker Joseph Whittemore and Elizabeth St. Clair Whittemore. He was named after his grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Whittemore, who had been a prominent minister and a co-founder of Tufts College in Boston (now Tufts University).
You can see pictures of the 1931-1934 restoration project here:
The Hagia Sophia Museum opened on February 1, 1935. In the following link you will see photographs taken by Whittemore and his team at the opening:
I would like to know:
- Does the Pan Pontian Federation of America & Canada plan to address the Archbishop’s misconceptions of the murderer Kemal?
- Does the Pan Pontian Federation of America & Canada plan to address the Archbishop’s misconceptions of the Kemalist regimes which followed Kemal’s death, for example the regimes of 1955 and 1974?
- Does the Pan Pontian Federation of America & Canada plan to address the Archbishop’s and Ecumenical Patriarch’s silence on the November 2019 decision by the Council of State (the highest administrative court in Turkey) for the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora (Ἐκκλησία τοῦ Ἁγίου Σωτῆρος ἐν τῇ Χώρᾳ) in Constantinople, formerly a church and subsequently a mosque and for decades serving as the Chora Museum, be returned to its status as a mosque, sparking concerns in the global Christian community that this decision could pave the way for similar changes to the status of Hagia Sophia, which it did indeed? Please see the State Department’s 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom in Turkey: https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/turkey/
- Does the Pan Pontian Federation of America & Canada plan to address the Archbishop’s perception of the current status of the Greek minority in Constantinople, Imbros and Tenedos and the Christian minorities throughout Turkey, including Pontos, and whether they should perceive themselves as ‘equal Turkish citizens,’ whatever that means, or indeed as a ‘conquered minority,’ pre- and during the Erdogan era?’
Pontian Society ‘Panagia Soumela’ Boston Inc.