In 1922, Turkey and Greece were in the middle of a war, during which scores of thousands of people were killed. Now, two Greek siblings, Dr. Stergeos Arvanitides of Baldwinsville and Anna Bantuvaris of Ithaca, say they are alive thanks to Asa K. Jennings, an Upstate Methodist minister who saved many Greeks lives during the war.
Historians estimate Jennings’ actions when he was serving with the YMCA in Smyrna 90 years ago saved more than 300,000 people- mostly Greeks – who likely would have perished at the hands of the Turks. Among them were also two relatives of Arvanitides and Bantuvaris’, their mother and grandfather. Dr. Arvanitides told syracuse.com of Jennings that, “He helped all those people by contributing in getting the ships to Smyrna, Turkey.”
The story of the heroic Jennings will be told at the Cleveland Village Cemetery, where he is buried, during a special program at the Cleveland United Methodist Church. The main speaker of the event is Jennings’ grandson, Roger, of Queensbury, who said of the evacuation of Smyrna: “It was the greatest rescue in the history of mankind.”
According to syracuse.com, Arvanitides and Bantuvanis’ mother and grandfather – Fani Arvanitides, then 28, and George Pappas, then 74 – headed toward the sea and in pursuit of a safer harbor to leave Turkey. At the same time, the Turkish army and Turkish citizens were killing Greeks and other ethnic groups living in Asia Minor, including Armenians and the Assyrians.
“When the Turkish government began being hostile towards non-Turks, Asa Jennings made a deal with leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to move the Greeks and others out of the country. He then found ships to transport the refugees,” explained his grandson. Bantuvanis, a retired math teacher, said, “If not for Mr. Jennings acquiring the ships that saved over 300,000 people, our mother and grandfather may not have survived.”