Reasons to Remember the Asia Minor Catastrophe

St. Charalambos Church Cesme (Tseme)
St. Charalambos Church Cesme (Tseme)

“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat,” George Santayana (1863-1952). We are celebrating the 92nd Anniversary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe at the time of a counter terror operation in Syria and Iraq against ISIS in September 2014. Why remember?

“Even today, Greeks call it ‘The Catastrophe,’ referring to the eradication of the Greek presence in Asia Minor at the hands of the Turks,” said Christos Papoutsy in his groundbreaking masterpiece ‘Ships of Mercy,’ chapter 2, p. 15. “This wholesale ‘cleansing,’ which also removed Armenians, took place in the fall of 1922 as Turkish forces swept across the land, driving mass numbers of Greek Christians and the remaining Armenians before them. The horde wound up with their backs to the sea at Smyrna.”

The Bay of Smyrna (Izmir).
The Bay of Smyrna (Izmir)
Christos and Mary Papoutsy
Christos and Mary Papoutsy

Papoutsy reminds the reader that “for thousands of years, Greek settlements had thrived along the coast of Asia Minor, but this heritage was wiped out in a period of roughly one month-  September 1922. During these last days of the Greco-Turkish conflict, hundreds of thousands of people were killed, imprisoned or driven out as part of a nationalistic fanaticism that proclaimed ‘Turkey for the Turks.’ Mustafa Kemal, leader of the Turkish army and father of the Nationalist movement, trained his troops well. They would leave no Greek, Armenian or Christian behind.”

Every family has stories that have been handed down from 1914, the First Expulsion and 1922. One hundred years later, literary books are making their appearance in Greece, showing there was harmony between the communities. The Greek flag was flying in Tseme. Andreas Mpoutsikas, in his book “Thimises ke Nostalgia apo ti Smyrni: O Adelfos mou o Ismael” (Memories and Nostalgia from Smyrna: My brother Ismael), wrote “Greek Turks, Armenians, Jews and Europeans lived in peace. They pursued their occupations in an affluent city comparable to European cities….they did not believe WWI would reach their shores,” pp. 15-16. The story is about two Turkish orphans, Ismael and Aise, who were unofficially adopted by the Leonidas Chrysopoulos family, merchant magnates of Smyrna. The book is in the Greek section of the East Flushing library at 196th and Northern Blvd., next to St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

Elias Venezis from Aivali, who was a refugee in Mytilini, wrote about his experiences in the article “Elias Venezis: Sti Galini tis Aiolikis Gis” (Elias Venezis: In The Serenity of the Aiolian Land), Greek News, September 10, 2012, p. 31. Stratis Mirivilis, a literary giant, urged Venezis to write about his experiences. The result was the book “Noumero” (Number). “The refugees attempted to settle in Attiki (Athens area) and the natives did not want them. Leave! said the leader of native Greeks. The Phocaians from Phocaia replied ‘We will not leave. We were given this land. We will remain here, even if we die! The reply from the Elder of the Greek shepherds was “Stay! …We will destroy your labor…and vanquish you.” An unforgettable welcome.

Christos Papoutsy
Christos Papoutsy

“George Seferis: Ta Spitia pou iha mou ta piran” (George Seferis: My houses were seized), Greek News, September 10, 2012, p. 30, wrote a scathing condemnation of the Greek government in a letter,  upon hearing Smyrna was destroyed and possibly his mother and sister lost, as a student in Paris, France. “Write to me about the conditions of Greece, the liar, who showed no heroism…without complaining in the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of its children,” Noble Prize winner Seferis said on September 17, 1922. Visit the archives of Greeknewsonline.com to read the articles in the Greek language.

Mary Papoutsy greeted by Mary Vasilakou, educator/philanthropist.
Mary Papoutsy greeted by Mary Vasilakou, educator/philanthropist.

 

Captain Stelios Tatsis, a businessman and journalist, emailed to many a bilingual English/Greek account of Ernest Hemingway’s article “On the Quai at Smyrna”. Hemingway wrote “The worst, he said, were the women with dead babies. You couldn’t get the women to give up their dead babies. They’d have babies dead for six days. Wouldn’t give them up. Nothing you could do about it. Had to take them away finally.”

Theo Kalaitzis described his ancestral home next to the Cathedral of St. Charalambos. “My grandfather in the Frourio neighborhood of Chora, in Chios island, would tell me about our church of St. Charalambos. I have an actual photo taken about 100 years ago,” he explained.

St. Charalambos, the metropolitan cathedral, was used as horse stables after the 1922 Catastrophe. Today, it is a civic center used for holidays and theatrical productions. St. Charalambos Cathedral was the place of worship of 10,000 Greeks prior to the first expulsion of 1914. The cathedral was constructed to hold three thousand parishioners under a sultan’s decree. A St. Charalambos Church was erected in Varvasi, Chios.

Official documents uncovered by Papoutsy reveal that Asa Jennings, a former Methodist pastor for ten years, was the real hero. In 1922, he was secretary for boy’s work at the YMCA in Smyrna. According to the 1923 Saturday Post, Jennings was “an average person risen to extraordinary heights by circumstance.” Papoutsy believes “Jennings knew he was facing the greatest challenge of his life. Could he, one man, work a miracle and save hundreds of thousands of innocent people?”

Jennings began the coordination of removing Smyrna refugees from the quay, by paying an Italian Captain to land them in Mytilene. The Greek government commissioned Jennings as an Admiral. They placed all the ships in the Aegean at his disposal. He even evacuated refugees from Aivali and Tseme. “It was the greatest rescue in the history of mankind,” said Roger Jennings, his grandson. “He believed that indoor to do good in the world and be effective, you have to get others on board. He was quite the community organizer,” (http://www.helleniccomserve.com/contents.html, Posting date 18 September 2012. Source: “Man with ties to Oswego County helped save Greeks, Armenians, Assyrians after World War I,” by Debra J. Groom, in the Cleveland [NY] Post-Standar, 15 September 2012.)

Admiral James G. Stavridis
Admiral James G. Stavridis
Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN, former Commander USEUCOM and SACEUR, with family and the Chian Federation.
Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN, former Commander USEUCOM and SACEUR, with family and the Chian Federation.

Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN, former Commander U.S. European Command, (USEUCOM) and NATOʼs Supreme Allied Commander Europe, (SACEUR) was the 2012 recipient of the 33rd Homeric Award of the Chian Federation. ” Wherever Greek-Americans go, they have pride, because of their many centuries of civilization,” he explained. “Freedom to worship came from ancient Greece. My father fought in WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam, instilling in me love for one’s country and patriotism. What defines a true leader? Every day and every moment, you must inspire your command, serve them. All you accomplish in life is by helping persons accomplish their goals, acting as a leader and a servant.” (http://www.qgazette.com/news/2012-10-31/Front_Page/The_33rd_Homeric_Award_Honors_Admiral_James_G_Stav.html).

“His paternal grandparents were Pontic Greeks, born and raised in northeastern Anatolia, that is modern Turkey, who emigrated to the United States,” according to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_G._Stavridis.

His 2008 book, Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command, goes into more detail about his Greek refugee origins. He wrote, ‘In the early 1920’s, my grandfather, a short, stocky Greek schoolteacher named Dimitrios Stavridis, was expelled from Turkey as part of ‘ethnic cleansing‘ (read pogrom) directed against Greeks living in the remains of the Ottoman Empire. He barely escaped with his life in a small boat crossing the Aegean Sea to Athens and thence to Ellis Island. His brother was not so lucky and was killed by the Turks as part of the violence directed at the Greek minority. A NATO exercise off the coast of modern Turkey was the ‘most amazing historical irony [he] could imagine,’ and prompted Stavridis to write of his grandfather: ‘His grandson, who speaks barely a few words of Greek, returns in command of a billion-dollar destroyer to the very city – Smyrna, now called İzmir – from which he sailed in a refugee craft all those years ago.'”[13] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_G._Stavridis).

According to Dimitrios Hatzistavrou, president of the Parish Council of the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Church in Southampton, New York, his great uncle was Chrysostomos Hatzistavrou, the Metropolitan of Ephesus. His eyewitness account describes the massacre of every Christian in Ionia (Western Asia Minor). According to a report prepared for the Patriarch of Constantinople by Metropolitan of Ephesus Chrystosomos Hatzistavrou, the churchman says “While from afar one could hear the firing of Greek cannons at Tseme, protecting the fleet sailing out of Smyrna Bay with its cargo of exhausted and demoralized remnants of our heroic Greek troops. These laurel-crowned heroes were led to defeat, dishonor and betrayal by inept and cowardly leadership.” This is the view held by many descendants. http://umdearborn.edu/dept/armenian/bts/voices/Appendix.pdf. His Eminence later became the Archbishop of Athens and all of Greece between 1962-1967, a peacemaker.

Mrs. Argyro Linaris and her daughter, Georgia, a soloist of Archdiocesan Metropolitan Choir, explained their Western Anatolian history in an interview at a university social, November 10th, 2012. “Sister Marianthi and Abbot Paraskevi of Sts. Constantine and Helen Monastery in Cambos, Chios, knew my grandmother, explained Mrs. Linaris. They treated us as their own.”

Georgia Linaris explained “She gave us a handmade komposkini, a religious bracelet, each knot is made with nine crosses, with a total of 40 crosses. This is my mother’s favorite monastery. My mother’s grandmother, Kalomira (my great-grandmother) took my mother’s mother, Paraskevi (our grandmother), to the monastery as a child.” The fifth generation remembers the comfort given to ancestors by the nuns. Watching ancestral homes, with lights from the coast of Chios, keeps the loss alive.

Argyro said “Our Family started to live in Varvasi, Chios, and then the Frourio (Fortress) in Chora. My grandmother Kalomira said ‘every family from Asia Minor has a story. In 1922 were the final expulsions. They were rich. They had livestock, flocks in Kato Panagia and had a summer home as well. My grandmother’s name was Kalomira. My mother’s name was Paraskevi Bitados. My grandmother Kalomira’s parents had five children. In 1922, the Turks in Kato Panagia took grandmother Kalomira’s father and shot him in front of his wife and children. Kalomira’s mother begged them not to kill her husband. With a rifle, a Turk broke her spine. She died 40 days later, leaving 5 children as orphans. My grandmother Kalomira, was one of these orphans. They were raised by aunts and uncles along the coast of Chios. Paraskevi Bitados’ grandparents left in 1913 during the first expulsion. They escaped to Chios with their gold. They went back in 1919 with the Greek Army during their conquest of Asia Minor. The first time they left with money. The second time they were killed.”

Argyro continued saying “In their summer home, they dug a hole and buried gold liras. Paraskevi’s grandfather told them to go back and get it. They had no deeds and no papers 99 years ago. Their claim will expire now, in 2 or 3 years. To prove the land is theirs, they must have deeds and living relatives. Aunt Katina still lives in the Frourio.” Katina was a popular name among Asia Minor families. Everyone had an Aunt Katina. Varvarsi is a center for Asia Minor food.

“My father, Constantine Kazanas, was sailing to the United States in 1916, during World War I,” said Mrs. Daisy Lainis, in the article “Where Did We Come From?,” Orthodox Church of the Hamptons, January/February, 2011, p. 8. “On the way, the ship was captured by a German ship. A bit later, the Germans were captured by the British, and the Greek ship, after spending some time in London, was allowed to continue the voyage to the United States. Constantine Kazanas, 14 years old, therefore arrived in New York. He had lied about his age and had been hired to work on the railroad out West, where his father, Demosthenes Kazanas, was also working.”

She continues saying “as a matter of fact, many Greeks worked there together. Many of them lived in one room and shared living conditions. In 1921, conditions were very strained in their homeland, in Asia Minor. Demosthenes decided to return to his family and return to his own veterinary business. Constantine begged his father not to go, but me!’ In 1922, the Turks invaded Asia Minor and their town Kato Panagia (lower Saint Mary’s) was completely destroyed. There was time for them to put their families in boats and send them away, but every man and boy over 14 years ago was sent on a death march from which no one ever returned.”

It is 92 years since then. The memory remains. The pain is transmitted from one generation to the next. Although they were unwelcomed by the local population, the Western Anatolian refugees were aggressive, educated or achieved education. They transformed the areas they settled into the affluent communities they left behind.  History is repeating itself in 2014. We need leaders, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, to provide leadership with the right focus and conscience.

Links:
Site of Hellenic scholarship

Music

Music

Book on Jennings rescue

St. Charalambos Church

Scholar Errikos Skouloudis


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