Greek Operation Victims Remembrance Day Date in the current year: December 15, 2024

Greek Operation Victims Remembrance Day Greek Operation Victims Remembrance Day is observed by the Greek diaspora all over the world on December 15. It honors the memory of the Soviet Greeks who were persecuted, imprisoned, and killed during the Great Purge of 1936–1938.

The Great Purge, also known as the Great Terror, was a campaign of political repression in the Soviet Union initiated by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and carried out by Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the NKVD (Soviet secret police). The victims of the purge included the Communist party and government officials, Red Army officers, intelligentsia, ex-kulaks (wealthy landlords), and national minorities.

Specific nationalities were targeted because of their alleged ties to foreign intelligence agencies. The first nation to be labeled as “agents” were Poles. Other nationalities that fell victim to the Great Purge were Latvians, Estonians, Germans, Finns, Iranians, Chinese, Greeks, and others.

Greeks used to be one of the most numerous ethnic minorities in the Soviet Union. According to the 1926 census, there were over 213,000 Greeks living in the USSR. Their number increased to 286,000 by 1939. Most of them were Turkish Greeks who fled to the Soviet Union to escape the Greek genocide in the Ottoman Empire, although some arrived from Greece after the restoration of monarchy and establishment of the Metaxas Regime. The majority of the Soviet Greeks lived in southern and eastern Ukraine, the Crimea, Krasnodar Krai, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.

On December 11, 1937, Nikolai Yezhov ordered mass persecution of the Soviet Greeks under the guise of liquidating Greek espionage groups working for British, German, and Japanese intelligence. The text of the order was practically identical to that of the previous NKVD orders targeting specific ethnic groups.

The mass persecution of the Soviet Greeks began on December 15, 1937. Among the arrested was Konstantin Chelpan, a prominent engineer awarded the Order of Lenin for designing the T-34 tank engine. About 8,000 Greeks were arrested during the first wave of pogroms that lasted for ten days. The repressions against Greeks continued for 13 years, Depending on the sources, the number of victims is estimated between 20,000 and 50,000.

About 85% of the Greeks arrested in December 1937 were executed by shooting, most of the rest were sent to the Gulag penal camps. About 150 people died in prisons waiting for the sentence, about 100–150 people were set free, and several dozen Greek citizens were deported back to Greece. About 40,000 Soviet Greeks ask for asylum in their home country, but only 10,000 were actually granted it.

Unlike many other repressed ethnic groups, the Soviet Greeks were never officially rehabilitated as a nation by the Soviet government. They were rehabilitated by Russian Federation in 2015. On December 15, Greeks around the world honor the memory of the victims of the Greek Operation of the NKVD. Although its not an official memorial day in Greece, the date is important for many Greeks, especially those whose relatives were killed during the purge.

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