Education Minister Nikos Filis found himself isolated and under attack Tuesday after becoming entangled in the issue of the slaughter of tens of thousands of Black Sea, or Pontic, Greeks by Turks almost a century ago and arguing that it was a case of ethnic cleansing rather than genocide.
Appearing on a late night TV show on Star on Monday, Filis defended previous comments he had made about the killings, arguing that he still believed they were a case of ethnic cleansing even though Greece has officially recognized it as genocide since 1994, designating May 19 an annual day of remembrance.
“This does not mean that we do not recognize the blood, the pain, everything the Pontic Greeks had to suffer due to the beastliness of the Turks,” he said. “But this is something different from genocide in the purely scientific sense.”
Filis made it clear that he was expressing a personal opinion, although one he says is supported by the work of a number of historians.
Many in SYRIZA openly recognize the murder of up to around 370,000 Greeks who lived on the shores of the Black Sea between 1914 and 1923 as genocide. Government sources stressed Tuesday that Filis was speaking on his own behalf and not for the coalition.
SYRIZA’s governing partner, the Independent Greeks party, also distanced itself from the minister’s comments. “We believe we do not have the right to nullify the planned, tragic uprooting of thousands of people who were sacrificed in a violent manner,” said the nationalist party’s spokeswoman Marina Chrysoveloni.
New Democracy leader Evangelos Meimarakis called on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to publicly condemn Filis’s comments, which he labeled a “shameless insult to national memory.”
A group of 45 conservative MPs submitted in Parliament a question to Tsipras in which they call for the premier to fire Filis.
The other opposition parties also criticized the minister’s comments, with Golden Dawn claiming it will take legal action against Filis under an anti-racism law passed in September 2014, which criminalizes denial of historical acts of genocide, including that of the Black Sea Greeks, and leaves offenders facing up to three years in jail.