Friday, May 5, 2017

"----- Kilimi with a traditional design of the Greeks in the region of Nigde woven by the hands of my maternal great grandmother Despina. My mother's both grandmothers, both from Limna /Golcuk of Nigde, died in 1924 while on quarantine in the island of Agios Georgios, Salamina, due to the Population Exchange" Despina Vitouni

The Above is an image (and the text associated with it) I saw on Facebook the other day. The pattern and the colors were a shock of recognition somehow. Despina is one of nearly 5000 Facebook friends, a surprising number of whom I run into as I lecture here and there across North America--and beyond. A few people I've met on FB (Alys Chambray, Derry Watkins, Liberto Dario) have become friends--quite good friends--who've invited me across the ocean and hosted me and widened my horizons enormously. Bob Beer doesn't count, although we're good FB chums, we first met on his Blog, and since have traveled in Turkey together and met time and again in the US: it's chic to ridicule Social Media--but if you can avoid the pitfalls and the numerous potholes on the Information Highway (games, sleaze, politics) you too might find some real gems as I have.

I've not had the good fortune to meet Despina Vitouni personally (yet!): but every time she posts I am riveted by her stories. Many of her antecedents are from Cappadocia--a region near the very heart of Anatolia (yes, Turkey) which was largely Greek-speaking and Orthodox up to the 20th Century. Not many people realize that a thousand years ago, virtually all of Asia Minor was Greek speaking (yes, I know there were lots of Kurds running around even back then, and probably dozens of other ethnicities that were subsequently absorbed by Turk or Greek)...

Despina regularly publishes images from various parts of Anatolia, showing the dwindling vestiges of Rum (which is what the Byzantines called their Kingdom). Those living in Rum were often Greek-speaking, and Orthodox. They may have known they were Hellenes, but would never have called themselves that, let alone "Greek" (A Latin word Greeks eschew). They would cave called themselves Rumioi--"Romans" for the Byzantine Empire saw itself as the continuation of Rome...

I have no illusions: I know the Byzantines were pretty fierce, and not exactly tolerant towards other religions. The Ottomans were probably much better during their long and strange Empire: if you've ever read Edmondo De Amici's absolutely charming (if perhaps somewhat fantastic) Constantinople written in the twilight of the Ottoman empire (1877) you would see a remarkable City (and Empire) that practically exemplified that most elusive of phenomena--namely Diversity. The City (as the Greeks called it) encompassed dozens of cultures, languages, religions and ethnicities with remarkable harmony considering the brutal age... De Amici's Constantinople is much more like London is nowadays, or New York than the Istanbul of Erdogan, who is wreaking a reign of terror on non-Muslims (and more precisely, non-HIS-brand-of Muslims) and wiping out what little diversity is left in that once imperial city. The ultimate ethnic joke is that if Edogan did that little DNA test that's so popular, I'm sure he's more Byzantine than Kazak.

I have long fantasized what it might have been like for me in the 19th Century, were I to have explored the hinterlands of Anatolia. Most every town would have a Greek-speaking quarter--whole villages would have been composed of Greeks. There would have been (and still are) areas where Greek is spoken and the population is Muslim. There would be Karamanlis, who were Orthodox Christians but spoke only Turkish. Turkey is every bit as beautiful today as it would have been back then--but today the minorities (except for the Kurds) are pretty much gone. Or in hiding. I have many Turkish friends I am very fond of--I don't begrudge them their country. Just wish they'd left a few more bits here and there, and a few other threads of color in the Kilim.

And this is what the Fundamentalists would like to wreak upon America: a homogenous bland uniformity.

Thanks you, Despina, for rescuing the Kilimi and the memory of your ancestry from that mythic past. According to our family mythology, the first Kelaidis escaped The City after its fall, and sailed to Crete. He loved to sing, and was dubbed "Singer" ("Kelaidi: he sings like a bird")...

His original title was "Archon" or Counsellor--and he presumably served in the Byzantine court in some capacity. And I have no doubt that our family ultimately traces far back into Anatolia as well. So Facebook has inadvertently reconnected me perhaps with my ancestral home, and a distant and delightful cousin!  Γεια σου Δέσποινα, και ευχαριστώ! [Greetings, Despina! And thanks].

After I posted this, I provided a link to Despina and asked her if she had comments or corrections: she added these two very useful responses to what I had published above I'd like to share (with her permission):

Despina Vitouni's scholia:
1st Correction: Cappadocia was largely Turkish speaking due to a process of turcification of their Cappadocian Greek language. This Cappadocian Greek was the evolution of Byzantine Greek and due to its isolation it acquired its own special characteristics. For example there are many Greek archaisms in the Farasa dialect which I am studying as much as I can, plus Persian words via Turkish of the time but with Greek and ancient Greek suffixes. There were some 34 Greek speaking villages, all cities were Turcophone, and the Greek speaking villages were mostly unmixed, I suspect this and the isolated position of some such as Varasos or Farasa was what helped in the continuance of their language and avoidance of changing into Turcophony. As happened with most of Greek settlements and as was documented by linguist R. M. Dawkins, who in 1911 found villages known as speaking the Cappadocian Greek dialect 50 years ago now speaking entirely Turkish, with the exception of some elders. That is the proof that Karamanlides were not always Karamanlides = Turcophone Rum or Greeks. In the course of centuries living under and with the Turkish speaking Muslims, they were linguistically assimilated and not -they at least-- in religion or in their identity. Their identity was mostly Byzantine Greek. Greek identity, in the sense of ethnicity, flourished in mid 19th century, when they were granted some liberties and so had churches built and schools with teachers sometimes from Greece. The Church also helped in this, especially some enlightened Clerics such as Caesarea  (Kaiseri) Metropolitan Paisios B', who was a blessing to Cappadocian Greeks and a Farasiot and put emphasis on education. I can check the number of the Grecophone villages tomorrow, but they are around 34.
The day before I read a 
beautiful simile by Melpo Merlie, the founder of the Center for Asia Minor Studies. She compared the Cappadocians to Odysseas, in the sense that despite they knew not the sea they were on a continuous journey, as they had the merchant spirit in them, all travelled about Anatolia, for work in big cities or buying and selling things, It is a beautiful article but in Greek, if you want I can send it to you.
That aspect, their travels, made them learn turkish definitely and in many cases other languages too, such as Arabic and of course French.
2nd correction 😊: Rum is what the Arabs initially called the people and the land of Byzantine empire. Later the term was adopted by Seljuks and then by Ottomans. Mehmet the Conqueror, for example, after the Fall of Constantinople, declared himself Kyaser -i Rum = Emperor of Romioi / Rome. The whole of Asia Minor was called Rum, because of the people that inhabited it. (Here fits in Mevlana Celaledin Rumi too, who was not from Asia Minor but adopted the term).
Just struck me now, your ancestor could have been a chanter, a psaltis, there is an Archon title for the Patriarchate chanters, you know. Combined with the Kelaidis it makes sense.
Και εγώ σε ευχαριστώ πολύ
On second thought, and second reading, if you are talking about Anatolia as a whole, yes, it was largely Greek speaking and orthodox. So, no need to correct anything there, just some extra information about Cappadocia from me.
Erdogan is the living example of assimilation or rather devşirme paidomazoma, the recruiting of Christian children for the sultan's army, the Yenitseri, who could climb the social scale to its limits but not to the level of Sultan as he intends. His genes are not Turkish at all, but his mind is. So it is with the rest of them. Even the ones who know they are not Turkish, accept their new identity. I have in mind the young educated grandchild of greek speaking pontus greeks.He told me himself the above. He feels Turkish. Period. Brain washing for a century -and other techniques in the centuries before- have been a success. Alas!


  1. "And this is what the Fundamentalists would like to wreak upon America: a homogenous bland uniformity."

    I am not a Fundamentalist or even a Christian. I agree there are a lot of problems in the world due to religions or people who represent religions deciding they have the one true answer. But I think this statement is kind of like saying, "The Jews are trying to take over the world" -- a calumny against a broad swath of people who have lots of different ideas and goals, like most of us.

    1. You pricked my conscience...I was tempted to alter my text: but hearing of the homosexuals tossed out of windows in Chechnya by fundamentalists, and realizing that American fundamentalists were instrumental in electing Beelzebub, I must let it stand: extremely literal religion is much too prone to demonizing the "other"--I believe fundamentalism had evil programmed into it. It certainly led to the virtual ethnic cleansing of Anatolia--which what my heartfelt and profoundly sad blog posting was about--something perhaps you missed?


Featured Post

A garden near lake Tekapo

The crevice garden of Michael Midgley Just a few years old, this crevice garden was designed and built by Michael Midgley, a delightful ...

Blog Archive