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Turkey: How the Greek presence in Cappadocia came to an end

Persecution of Christians in Turkey: what happened in Cappadocia, as detailed in this important article, is only a small portion of the large effacement of the Christian presence in Asia Minor. Over 1,000,000 Greek Orthodox Christians were massacred in the Ottoman Empire during the period covered by this book. The Ottoman government also pursued the systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians, mostly Ottoman citizens within the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, the Republic of Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly converted to Islam. To this day, the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge this atrocity as a genocide, saying that it was simply a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims. As we continue to see our own Mother Church of Constantinople suffering from religious persecution, we remember these horrifying events, note with sorrow the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere today, and pray that such inhumanity will never again be seen anywhere in the world. For previous coverage of the persecution of Christians in Turkey, see here.

“Turkey: How the Greek presence in Cappadocia came to an end,” by Uzay Bulut, Greek City Times, January 6, 2020:

…Caesarea is significant in Christian history, as well: It became a nucleus of Christianity in the 4th century when Saint Basil the Great reputedly established an ecclesiastical center there. According to Southern Europe: International Dictionary of Historic Places:

“The Cappadocians were converted to Christianity by St. Paul, and from Cappadocia the faith was disseminated throughout eastern Anatolia. King Tiridates III of Armenia, the first to establish Christianity as the official religion, was converted in 314 by St. Gregory the Illuminator, who came from Caesarea.

“Caesarea was centered on an ancient acropolis on the slopes until the fourth century A.D. A new city was built on the plains around a church and monastery built by St. Basil the Great, the bishop of Caesarea. Basil born in Caesarea in 329, was called ‘master of the holy.’ He was one of three Cappadocians (the others were St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and St. Gregory of Nyssa) whose writings were said to be second only to the scriptures in formulating the theology of the early Christian Church.”

After the inception of Islam in the 7th century, the region became a target of Muslim armies pouring out of Arabia. It was first the jihadist commanders of the Umayyad Caliphate that launched military campaigns against the Byzantine Empire. The Arab commander Maslama ibn Abd al-Malik of the Umayyad Caliphate, for instance, invaded Cappadocia and took Caesarea from the Greek Byzantines temporarily in AD 726. According to the Southern Europe: International Dictionary of Historic Places,

“When Arabs began their attacks, the ancient empires of Byzantium and Persia, spent by wars and internecine struggles, could not mount strong resistance…. Their [Arab] raids occurred almost annually and took their toll on Asia Minor. They reached Caesarea as early as 647… Caesarea was captured in 726 but in 740 emperor Leo III drove the Arabs out…

“The peace was only temporary, however, and in 797 Arabs again invaded Cappadocia. On more than one occasion, Byzantium had to pay tribute to the Arabs. The Byzantine Empire had the power to win a war with the Arabs, but they were hampered by internal intrigues and dissension and preoccupied with religious debates. Emperor Nicephorus I, who reigned from 802 to 811, refused to pay tribute but was defeated and forced to pay by a huge Arab army in 806. Internal troubles in Arabia in 809 stopped the raids until 890. The Byzantine triumph over the Arabs came under Nicephorus II Phocas.”

Yet, Islamic jihad against Christian Byzantines continued. Turks were the next group of invaders. The Seljuk Turks, originally from Central Asia, invaded and sacked Caesarea in 1067. The city then came under the control of other Muslim groups such as Danishmendids, the Anatolian Seljuk Sultanate and finally by the Ottoman Turks in 1515. The Byzantine Empire survived until the Ottoman invasion and sack of Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453. Under the Ottoman rule, Christians and Jews became “dhimmis”, distinctly subjugated, second-class non-citizens who had to pay heavy taxes (jizya) to be able to live as non-Muslims.

When the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923, the city, called Kaisariyah by the Arabs and later Kayseri by Turks, was passed down to Turkey.

Despite the severe oppression during the Ottoman era, there had been a continuous Greek presence in Cappadocia since antiquity – until the 1913-1923 Christian genocide that targeted Greeks, Armenians and Assyrians and the subsequent Greek–Turkish forcible population exchange of 1923. Professor Hannibal Travis writes that during the genocide:

“Greek men became victims of murder, torture, and starvation; Greek women suffered all this and also became slaves in Muslim households; Greek children wandered the streets as orphans ‘half-naked and begging for bread’; and millions of dollars’ worth of Greek property passed into Muslim hands:

“American diplomatic and journalistic sources confirmed Ambassador [James] Bryce’s charge of an Ottoman policy to exterminate Christians other than the Armenians. According to the American ambassador to Constantinople from 1913 to 1916, Henry I. Morgenthau, widely regarded as a principal source of information on the Armenian Genocide: ‘The story which I have told about the Armenians I could also tell with certain modifications about the Greeks and the Syrians,’ as Assyrians were often known to the West, especially those adhering to the Syrian Orthodox Church:

“Absent a governmental intention to exterminate the Christians of the empire, it would be nearly impossible to explain how the massacres, rapes, deportations, and dispossessions of the Armenian, Assyrian, and Greek Christians living in the Ottoman Empire at the time of World War I could have taken place on such a vast scale. How could such a remarkable degree of coordination and common purpose in slaughtering civilians, ravaging women, orphaning children, and stealing money and property have emerged without organization and direction from above? Indeed, it takes a little searching to uncover abundant evidence of planning for genocide.”

As the Greek population got annihilated in Anatolia from 1913 to 1923, so did their cultural and religious heritage. Innumerable Greek churches, monasteries, school buildings and other properties either “disappeared” or were converted to other uses. Many were destroyed outright. The remaining ones became the “new property” of Muslims of the country.

The Hrant Dink Foundation has long been investigating these issues and published a book entitled “Kayseri with Its Armenian and Greek Cultural Heritage” in 2016. The book also presents a list of the Armenian and Greek churches, monasteries, chapels, and schools, among others, in Kayseri that have been destroyed, are used for other purposes or left to deteriorate by neglect….

Expulsions, massacres, and genocide with the goal of achieving “Turkey for the Turks” have resulted in the complete homogenization and Islamization of Anatolia. Due to the lack of freedom of speech and academic research and the constant propaganda in the educational system and the media, the true history of the Islamization of the Turkish population and the destruction of the advanced, indigenous civilizations there remain a mystery for many Turks….

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