Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Izmir Revisited By a Descendent Of The Asia Minor Catastrophe

ESKİ İZMİR Uploaded by teksin49. - Classic TV and last night's shows, online. Erer | MySpace Video

By Catherine Tsounis, Hellenic News of America, Nov 13 2008

It is now 86 years after the Asia Minor Catastrophe of Smyrna. The Greeks in Chios have still not gotten over the loss of Tseme (Cesme). Macedonians still talk about their ancestral homes. These families are third and 4th generation born Greeks. The loss of a way of life remains.
My grandfather, Christos Dimitrios Pappas (Papantonakis) was born in Kato Panagia, in Tseme. Smyrna is a state in Turkey that encompasses the province of Tseme (Cesme).The municipality of Tseme had komopoli (small cities) such as Kato Panagia.
He knew he had an ancestor who was a priest because of his surname, Papantonakis. He was probably of Cretan background."My mother was from Tseme, of a Cretan family from Sfagia, tracing back to 1776," according to John Basil, of Long Island. "Many Cretan families found refuge in Smyrna's shores during its tumultuous freedom struggle that lasted until 1912."
After the 1774 naval battle of Tseme in the Russo-Turkish War, the Greek population increased. The first immigration wave was from Crete, Peloponnese, Evia, Chios and Psara. Eighty percent of the population of Tseme after 1774 was Greek. They did not have any written records, because of the Asia Minor Catastrophe. A family's history was from oral tradition and by analyzing the roots of names.
Christos Papantonakis' father (my great-grandfather) fell in love with a girl from a Maltese family in the neighborhood of Kordelio. They married with the condition that they would raise their children in the Greek Orthodox faith. A true romance that can be summed up in Glykeria's Greek traditional song "Ti se meli senane, apo pou ime ego (What does it matter where I am from)...I come from Kordelio to Athens to marry you." Christos was a giant of a man for his time: 6 ft. 1 inch, a blonde, before premature baldness, with hazel eyes, born in approximately 1888. His childhood recollections included going secretly to worship at a Catholic Church that infuriated his father. His Mother died young, leaving him an orphan in the care of his older sisters, Cleopatra and Athena, who were Greek Orthodox nuns and a brother who immigrated to Alexandria, Egypt.
Christos was educated to chant religious hymns. According to family tradition, he chanted in the Cathedral of Smyrna and two local churches before becoming a cook in the Merchant Marine prior to W.W. I. Our grandfather obtained his American citizenship papers before 1915. At that time the requirements included having an employment sponsor, a certain amount of years in the USA, passing an American test written in English and having literacy skills. Christos Papantonakis was a focused person who set a goal of American citizenship through knowledge.
In 1915, he went to Chios to marry. He met Despina Gagas, a vivacious, brunette teenager with light blue eyes, from his hometown of Kato Panagia. Christos married her without a dowry on August 15, 1915 in the Metropolitan of Chios. It was a love match as was his parents.
Old photos show he wore European, cosmopolitan attire. No evzone dress! He often said he was from Smyrna that was the Paris of the Middle East. I knew how to swim because I lived by the sea. He was a champion swimmer who saved a drowning man at Rockaway Beach of the 1930's. Our childhood in 19's Astoria, New York was marked with an emphasis on Greek language, St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church that was built by patrioti, Archimandrite Polizoides, rebetika and remembering our Asia Minor roots.
I recently decided to go back to Smyrna to see the truth. Argyro, of Sunrise Tours in Chios, arranged a tour with several teachers from Kardamyla for a two day tour of Tseme (Cesme), Smyrna (Izmir) and Ephesus. I wanted to understand the Greek perspective, traveling in a Greek speaking group. Our guide, Ali Papazoglou, was a Greek-Moslem from the island of Kos, who lived in Kordello, Izmir. We took a ferry boat from Chios City to Modern Day Cesme. Because I had an American passport, I was allowed through Turkish customs quickly. Our bus trip through the state of Izmir showed a rich, fertile land that looked like the islands of Limnos and Kos. Extreme police security was present in a mall we stopped at, with very expensive prices. I could not understand why persons from Athens would shop in Turkey. They have better products and prices in Athens.
Along the road, guide Ali showed us the Cathedral of Tseme province, known as Agios Charalambos, the town of Alatsata, Karaburum and other Greek places of one hundred years ago. Ali gave us the Greek perspective by mentioning the names and history of areas that now had Turkish names. The entire tourist group from Athens was emotionally moved. One of our Greek tourists crossed himself when the ruins of a particular Greek Church was shown. Others would become enthusiastic looking at a Turkish Mosque, at the site of a former Greek Orthodox Church. All I saw was what it is today: a Turkish landscape devoid of anything Hellenic. Meanwhile, I was totally astounded by what was taking place before my eyes. No mingling in the streets. We stayed on the bus, moving along a modern, high speed throughway. Travel in Greece is one hundred percent more enjoyable, because of freedom and intermingling with the citizens who all know English.
When we reached Izmir, Ali said "Kordelio is still a cosmopolitan community as it was under the Greeks. There are still some aristocratic homes standing. The Greeks had a philosophy: live for today and do not worry about the past or future." Finally we reached the harbor where the massacre took place. Ali said "this is it." A pin could have dropped and all would have heard it in this tourist bus. The two day tour with Sunrise Tours of Chios was memorable because of this unique Greek guide who tried to help us envision an Asia Minor before 1914 and 1922.
When I returned to Chios City, Argyro of Sunset Tours purchased the books Mika Asia Explorer and Stefanides, Chios and Smyrni travel guide. In these Modern Greek books, I pieced together the rich history of Kordelio. The suburb is at the northern tip of the gulf of Smyrna. Its Greek name was Peraia that means to cross over to the other coast. Kordelio received its name from the twelfth century monastery of "Moni Kordoleontos". The suburb laid in the municipality of Karsiyaka.
The community of Kordelio in 1888 had five thousand inhabitants. Half were Greeks from Mytilene, Chios, Samos, Ikaria, Mani. The other fifty percent were Armenians, Catholics, Protestants and Cretan Turks. In 1921, The Greek Command of Smyrna counted seven thousand, five hundred Greeks, three hundred Turks, 200 Armenians, one hundred and fifty Israelites, eight hundred and fifty Levantines (Franco-Catholics), Serbs and other nationalities.
Most of the residents of Kordelio had their businesses in Smyrna. There were many farmers, gardeners, cattle stock farmers, fishermen and grocers. There were three Greek Orthodox churches. In the center were Agia Anna, St. John Prodromos and Agia Marina. They belonged to the Metropolitan of Ephesus. Kordelio became the second headquarters of the Metropolitan.
They had a boy's and girl's school, two kindergartens, theaters, cafenia, movie houses, clubs and athletic organizations. The enchantment of Kordelio is legendary in Greek culture and is in folk songs. The refugees from Kordelio have a settlement outside Thessaloniki. "My great uncle was Chrystosomos Hatgistavrou, the Metropolitan of Ephesus" said Demetrios Hatgistavrou, of East Hampton, Long island. " His eyewitness account entitled, 'A Report prepared For the Patriarch of Constantinople by Metropolitan of Ephesus Chrystosomos Hatgistavrou' shows the massacre of every Christian in Ionia (Western Asia Minor)."
Christos Demetrios Papantonakis of Kato Panagia, with roots in Kordelio and Kato Panagia, Smyrna, was a Nabisco factory worker in New York City during this turbulent era. . "He was a quiet, low key person who enjoyed reading all about his Hellenic culture," according to his cousin, Daisy Lainis. The tall, quiet spoken man was considered a hero for saving his wife's family by helping them immigrate to the United States from their refugee quarters at the Frourio (Fortress) in Chios during the 1914 persecution and cataclysmic 1922 catastrophe. The simplest persons in a time of tragedy accomplish acts that determine the future of generations. Catherine Tsounis is an Adjunct Professor of Modern Greek in the Languages and Literature Department of St. John's University in New York. Her past professional teaching experience incudes a position as Adjunct Instructor in the Department of Computer Science at SUNY in Long Island, as well as posts teaching secondary-level social studies, science, English, and Greek in New York. I found this article interesting and powerful although I would disagree with her observations on Modern Izmir. A two day tour for Greek coming to Turkey is undoubtedly going to supply them with just enough information to confirm what they already believed. But, seriously, no mingling in the streets? I get "mingled out" when I go out of the house. I wonder where the tour bus took her. (Was it in the dead of summer when everybody has gone to their summer homes, I wonder?) Perhaps she saw little socializing because she stayed on the highways (as she herself has written.) As Garrison Keillor says of his hometown, you don't check for signs of life by looking at the feet.
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  1. I have many friends in Greece whose parents came from Turkey during that time. Every one of them who has worked up the courage to return to an ancestral village or town in Turkey has been greeted warmly on arrival, often by older men at the kafeneion who greet them by their family name, having recognized the facial resemblance to childhood friends. These old men are frequently able to remember and tell the story of how the Greek families had to leave and how sad their neighbors and friends were. The men were sometimes even able to point out the very houses where the visitor's ancestors had lived. The Greeks have felt extremely welcome and were very glad they went.

  2. İzmir.. My beloved hometown..
    Hi,new follower from Ankara.. Hope you stop by too! ;)


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