I want to thank the members of the Pan-Pontian Federation of Greece for giving me the opportunity to speak here today. It is an honor to be a part of this event and to support the important work this organization does to make sure the story of the Pontic Greek people is never forgotten.
As a State Representative and then a State Senator in Rhode Island, I had the opportunity to offer resolutions in the State House recognizing the injustice of what happened 92 years ago to the Pontian Hellenes. I did this because I truly believe that if we fail to respect and understand our past, we will not grow together as a community of people and nations. As the great American writer William Faulkner once said, “The past isn’t dead. In fact, it’s not even past.” As a Southerner, much of Faulkner’s fiction dealt with the burdens of the past in the present. His was a world where the tragic legacy of slavery continued to have an immediate impact on the lives of many Americans well into Faulkner’s adult life in the nineteen-twenties, the thirties, the forties, and the fifties.
The simple fact is that the past cannot be denied because it is woven into our present lives and the lives of those yet to come. It is not the stuff of dusty history books or grainy old photographs. It is a part of who we are and what we hope to be and what we want for our children.
When we seek to ignore past sins for the sake of political expediency… when we turn a blind eye to past injustices in order to avoid disrupting the status quo…we do a disservice to not only to history, but to ourselves and our future. Because when we fail to deal honestly with the past, we corrupt that future.
Shining the light of truth on past events may be painful. But in places like South Africa and the re-unified Germany, we have seen that when there is a systematic effort to address past injustices…to open up doors that were closed and to bring down barriers which divided people for decades, only then can true healing begin.
To deny the past is to deny the opportunity for honest assessments of what has gone on before us and how it has touched our lives today and will continue to impact others tomorrow. It delays the opportunity for understanding among peoples to ensure that past tragedies are not repeated. And it diminishes the opportunity for true partnerships and respect between nations which seek to be part of the world community.
The stories of Pontian Greek families who lived through a reign of terror need to be told so that future generations understand their legacy. This organization understands that essential principle and has dedicated itself to giving voice to those who suffered atrocities and their descendents who seek recognition of what they already know—that injustices were done and should never be forgotten.
One of those stories, one of those voices, was that of Sano Halo, whose epic tale of survival, transformation and determination was told by her daughter Thea in “Not Even My Name”. In writing one woman’s story, Thea Halo has put a human face to what was previously a largely unknown tragedy in much of the world. Her work helped others remember, encouraged people to understand how the tragedy of the Pontian Greeks touched their lives.
The process of telling such stories and the process of seeking recognition of these events is not a mere exercise in muckraking. It is not the work of trouble-makers or finger-pointers seeking delayed gratification for assigning blame.
Instead, it is a process that is fundamental to understanding who we are, how we have gotten to where we are, and how we can make sure that in the years to come no combination of forces can ever be allowed to come together in a manner which justifies the destruction of an entire community of people.
The Ottoman Turks sought to eradicate the Pontian Greek community and that is a tragedy. But the Pontian people and their rich culture survived and that is a triumph. It is a triumph for the Pontian community and all those with the courage to stand up and tell their story.
I come from across the Atlantic to tell you that the Pontian Greeks are close to my heart and close to the hearts of many of my fellow citizens.
I come here to commemorate the injustice of 92 years ago and to stand with you in saying that such tragedies can never be allowed to happen again.
And I come here to send a strong message to the world community that when the Pontian Greeks or any minority groups are targeted for death or deportation because of who they are or how they look that we must denounce this behavior and call this what it is—an affront to our humanity.
We must never shy away from shining the light of truth on our past because it is the only way to avoid repeating the worst crimes and the worst kinds of human behavior from becoming an acceptable tool of any nation’s policies.