Showing posts with label Asia Minor refugee. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Asia Minor refugee. Show all posts

Sunday, April 21, 2013

In a Smyrna Mood

My mood is a little somber after seeing the documentary "Smyrna, Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City."
Accomplished filmmaker-director Maria Iliou tells the story of how the cosmopolitan Asia Minor city of Smyrna, now called Izmir, was destroyed by fire as the Allies watched from their ships. Many Smyrniots were murdered and more became refugees. Lost was a place where Greek Christians and Muslim Turks, Armenians, Europeans and Jews Lived together. The Turks blame the Greek Army for the fatal fires that destroyed Smyrna.
Greeks refer to the burning of Smyrna as "The Catastrophe." It was the final end to any hope that the Greeks could maintain any territory or livelihood in Turkey.
The film made excellent use of rare documentary footage. Author Giles Milton was among the narrators. He wrote "Paradise Lost, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of an Christian City in the Islamic World." His book provides witness testimony that Turkish soldiers and irregulars poured kerosene in the Christian quarters of the city before the fire. The New York Times review of "Smyrna, Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City," was on the fence about the film, saying it relied too heavily on Milton.
Also among the narrators in the film: a Turkish anthropologist who describes a firsthand account of how the Greek army burned the nearby Turkish village of Manisa, just before Smyrna burned. War is ugly. But the victors write the script: Manisa is now marketed through teas and a sweet and spicy paste thought to have health benefits. (see above)
Iliou used a piano-infused soundtrack for the film. But typically Smyrnaika and rebetika music is full of powerful words -- listen to singer Sophia Bilides about loss of homeland, about love and the randomness of fate. In particular, this fun Rebetika song about Little Dimitra, at minute 42, in a Library of Congress concert video, offers these lyrics: "Little Dimitra, go out and eat fish, drink retsina, have a night of high spirits and good health, break things with your hips."
Don't mind if I do!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Last Night in a Dream

In a very deep sleep last night, I felt a pain in my heart.
It was the kind you feel briefly when you get sudden, unexpected bad news.
In the Balakian memoir I am reading, (see below), the grandmother tells stories in allegory, and she recites and interprets dreams.
I haven't been recalling nighttime brain wanderings of late. But in a dream last night, I was missing my grandmother who I never knew. In the black-and-white world she inhabits, she looks very proud and unmovable, with a somber, wise smile and a 1920s wave in her dark hair. It's her sweet bread recipe we repeat every Christmas, every Easter.
Recently I said that I can see her, but I wish I could hear her.
And then, in my dream, she sent me a text.
She simply wrote: "I'm here."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

We Are So Fortunate

The curls and somber face on a used book have transported me each night in a rather delirious week ... with only a little bread and water, feeling ill .... over mountains, through villages, past gendarmes ... on a horse-drawn wagon full of refugees. It was 1915. This biography has gripped me because the narrator, Veron, not only looks like my grandmother and was the age of my grandmother in 1915, but lived near my grandmother in Turkey. She tells a story my grandmother never wrote down, but could have, about the refugees' escape and the futility of hate. And what motivates hate and war: money and power.
Seared in the mind of a child and written for posterity by her son, Veron speaks simply without judgement and tells of violence, starvation, lies, death and, miraculously, hope and love.
Each day we breathe, we must remember our unlikely fortune. Each of us is a survivor with a purpose.
Read "The Road Home," by David Kherdian. A Newberry Honor Book. 1979, Greenwillow Books, New York.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Never Forget

A new website,, published by a Swedish Armenian organization, explains the deaths of millions of Christians in Ottoman Turkey, and, rather progressively, acknowledges Armenians, Syriac people, Assyrians and Greeks of Anatolia and Pontos. The FAQ in English explains why April 24 is a commemoration day for Armenians.

This Sunday, April 22, Kehila Kedosha Janina, the only Greek synagogue in Manhattan, hosts a memorial service to remember the Shoah - the Jewish Holocaust - at 2 p.m., followed by a special film on the Jewish community of Salonika (Thessaloniki), Greece.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Chaos and Classicism

The rebirth of classicism in art between the world wars, exemplified by this Picasso portrait from a private collection, is the subect of a Guggenheim Museum exhibit through early January. Picasso painted this piece, "Buste de Femme, Les Bras Levees," in 1922, the year of the Greek exodus from Asia Minor. Yet there is no mention of the international castrophe in the timeline and history at the start of the exhibit, which focuses on Italy, France and Germany and includes many other artists. In the year of the Lausanne Treaty, 1923, Picasso said: "The art of the Greeks, of the Egyptians, of the great painters who lived in other times, is not an art of the past; perhaps it is more alive today than it ever was. Art does not evolve by itself, the ideas of people change, and with them their mode of expression."
* The New York Times exhibit review says, "Whether [Picasso] was celebrating classicism or mocking it is a little hard to tell."
* Also worth seeing online: Guggenheim's YouTube collaboration, YouTube Play: 100s of stylish, independent videos.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Asia Minor Rocks!

There's some really interesting animation in this short that conjures up the Triplets of Belleville, a wonderful French animated film. And the music, a song called "Nightwind" isn't all bad. But I can't  figure out why the band is called Asia Minor. I found the link on a Facebook page dedicated to Asia Minor, but a minor Asia Minor page having nothing to do with the actual place in what's now Turkey! It's amazing how a region so famous for thousands of years has disappeared and its name, co-opted. But then maybe that's tribute  - when a Google search turns up Bible quotes on Ephesus, not when it's a band in Malaysia fascinated with skulls.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

What is Genocide?

This Wall Street Journal news alert just in: "A U.S. congressional panel has approved a resolution declaring that the killing of Armenians by Ottoman Turks around the time of World War I was genocide. In Turkey, the government said it was recalling its ambassador from Washington in response. The House Foreign Affairs Committee endorsed the resolution with a 23-22 vote Thursday, even though the Obama Administration had urged Congress not to offend Turkey by approving it. The resolution now goes to the full House, where prospects for passage are uncertain."
You can read:
The history of this issue, which includes the expulsion of Greeks from Turkey leading up to the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, as told by the U.S.-based Armenian National Institute.
Today's Zaman, an English-language Turkish paper seemingly sympathetic to minorities in Turkey, on how this "Shook Turkish-American Relations." (Wish I could read and translate more from the Turkish newspapers' websites ....)
The New York Times on the Congressional effort.
The Christian Science Monitor on how declaring "genocide" hurts American interests.
The initial Wall Street Journal article.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Watch 60 Minutes 12/20!

Watch 60 Minutes Sunday for an interview in Turkey with Orthodox Christian Patriarch Bartholomew. Video Preview here.
CBS travels to Cappadocia, in far Eastern Turkey, to highlight the Christian church's expansion from Jerusalem to Constantinople 17 centuries ago. When I traveled to Jerusalem and Istanbul last January, my experience was a mixture of sadness and joy, with Islam vs Christianity and Judaism. The Patriarch says the church feels "crucified" living in Turkey; it's hard to imagine a revitalized church in my grandparents' country. (For more on their Turkish village, and my visit with the Patriarch last January, click here.)
CBS writes: "One and a half million Orthodox were expelled in 1923 and another 150,000 left after violent anti- Christian riots in Istanbul in 1955. A population once numbering near two million is now around 4,000." Bartholomew is considered global leader to the 300 million-member Orthodox Christian Church. For more on Turkey and religion, check out a World Focus piece on Islamic extremism in Turkey.
Also see and hear the story, with Web extras!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Asia Minor stories

If you descend from Asia Minor -- the region of Western Turkey that was once a more diverse place with Greeks, Armenians, Jews -- I would love to record your stories large and small. Write me or post family names, where and how they lived, what year they left and why, photos, links. It's like piecing together a puzzle, but the stories have many common threads. And not enough has been done to collect stories in English, in the United States. I review all material; please leave contact info if you want to talk offline. Αν κατεβείτε από τη Μικρά Ασία - θα ήθελα πάρα πολύ να ακούσω και να καταγράψει τις ιστορίες σας μεγάλες και μικρές. Γράψε μου με το όνομα της οικογένειάς σας, πού και πώς έζησαν, όσα χρόνια και αν μείνει και γιατί,  φωτογραφίες, καρτ-ποστάλ, σύνδεσμοι - θα ήμουν ευτυχής να σας καλέσει και συνέντευξη σας στο τηλέφωνο ή με το Skype. Εγώ αναθεώρηση όλου του υλικού, και δεν πρέπει να δημοσιεύονται στο blog. Παρακαλώ αφήστε τα στοιχεία επικοινωνίας σας.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Touch of Spice

Play this music and read on: A grandfatherly Greek spice-seller in Istanbul in the late 1950s is the focus of a sweet movie you have to rent: Politiki Kouzina, ("A Touch of Spice," or literally "Constantinople Cuisine" or "Political Kitchen.") The 2004 film doesn't concentrate on violence or politics in the final uprooting of Istanbul's Greeks to an unfamiliar "motherland," but instead uses spice and food to tell stories about life and love and tragedy that began in 1915-1922. You can watch one particularly poignant moment on YouTube. I lost it when the main characters depart Istanbul's train station with just a few bags, leaving behind, forever, an entire life. (Our family story too.) Plot problems aside, the movie is subtitled, and showing again starting April 24 at the Cinema Village in New York. See it! In the meantime, make your own judgments by reading the 1992 Human Rights Watch report called, "Denying Human Rights and Ethnic Identity: The Greeks of Turkey" a free Google pub. In the end, it's all history. In Istanbul, the massive cathedral of Aghia Sofia is a museum. Minarets and women shrouded in black characterize former Greek neighborhoods. (See January photo above.) Still, you can't but fall in love with beautiful Istanbul.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Hillary in Turkey

Here are some interesting highlights from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's March 7 mini-briefing in Ankara with Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. Clinton said, "we talked about Turkey's democracy, its multi-ethnic heritage, and in that context, I raised the importance that we place on reopening the Halki Seminary and efforts to reach out to all of Turkey's communities ... We will establish a Young Turkey - Young America initiative that will enable emerging young leaders in Turkey and the United States to develop initiatives that will positively impact not just their own lives, but the lives of our two peoples, and to help build a better future ... President Obama will be visiting Turkey within the next month or so." Read the full text of the press conference here, including two -- count 'em, two -- questions allowed from the press.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ottoman Insurance

Benefits were never claimed for property and casualty insurance sold to Ottoman subjects 100 years ago, many of them Greeks who lost businesses or their lives. The Greek American Chamber of Commerce is circulating email that heirs have until February 28, 2009 to discover long-lost relatives and make a claim. But there's no real way to notify or even find descendants -- "many persons of Greek ancestry living in the Ottoman Empire at the outbreak of World War I were displaced or perished between 1915 and 1923," says the New York Life notice. There's a list of names/eligible policies (also in Greek) and directions on making a claim by February 28. For U.S. phone info: 888-922-2973. Στην Ελλάδα: 00-800-33-311144.