May 18 2019

Thousands in northern Turkey continue to speak Pontic Greek - Greek Reporter

The language of Pontian Greeks, forced out of their homeland one hundred years ago, remains alive today in communities near Turkey’s Black Sea coast, the Greek Reporter said on Saturday.

The Pontic Greek-speaking Muslims in the Turkey’s Black Sea region, who were assimilated by Turkey in the 20th century, continue to speak a Greek dialect close to the extinct language of the earliest years of ancient Greece, it said. 

Most of the community now lives in cluster of villages near the contemporary Turkish city of Trabzon, the Greek Reported said, highlighting that linguists have found that their dialect, referred to as  “Romeyka,” a variety of Pontic Greek, has structural similarities to ancient Greek.

At least 5,000 people currently speak this particular dialect, the article quoted Dr. Ioanna Sitaridou, Director of Studies in Linguistics at Cambridge University, as saying.

“With as few as 5,000 speakers left in the area, before long, Romeyka could be more of a heritage language than a living vernacular. With its demise would go an unparalleled opportunity to unlock how the Greek language has evolved,” Sitaridou said.

Romeyka speakers, who happened to be devout Muslims, were exempt from the large-scale population exchange between Greece and Turkey following the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, which used religion as the defining criterion to re-settle Christians in Greece and Muslims in Turkey.

Thus, Greek-speaking Christians were forced to leave Pontus, leaving small, isolated enclaves of Greek-speaking Muslims within Turkey, the article explained.

Up to 300,000 people still speak Pontic Greek, according to Turkish researcher Ömer Asan, who penned the book,“Culture of Pontus” (Pontos Kültürü).

Asan, a native of Of, Trabzon, which happens to have a strong Islamic tradition and a substantial Greek-speaking population, was charged with violating Turkey’s “Anti-Terrorism Law” by “propagandizing separatism,” before he was acquitted in 2003, the article noted.

“At a conservative estimate, I would say this dialect is spoken by around 300,000 people,” Asan maintains.

Pontic Greek, an endangered Indo-European language spoken by about 778,000 people worldwide, has only 200,000–300,000 individuals are considered active speakers of the tongue, the Greek reporter underlined.

Northern Greece, Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan are also home to Pontic Greek-speaking communities.