INTRODUCTION TO INTERVIEWS RECORDED ON VIDEOS FROM FAMILY MEMBERS, SURVIVING GREEK INHABITANTS OF KIRKAGATS TURKEY DURING 1922

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I am a Greek national born in Greece but the origin of both branches of my family came as refugees from areas, Greeks are calling Asia Minor, which basically is Modern Turkey.

It is natural, therefore, that I have inherited the emotional sensitivity, my parents and the rest of the members of the family, either directly or indirectly, acquired for the forceful uprooting from the homes of our parents.

As a result, I became a person that processed information from many different sources, a fact that motivated me to search deeper, to understand national and cultural differences and causes of events that led to the development of the current “de facto” situations

This experience, helped me appreciate the real value of accommodating differences among people of different cultures, nationalities, religions and backgrounds.

My specific experience of the pain caused by forceful uprooting of people from their natural environment that we call “home land” has been very vivid and made me come to the conclusion that it takes three generations heal the pain of the elderly to even talk about it. That is why you see silent grandparents talking to their Grandchildren, in fact they were speechless and found their speech after two generations….

As a third generation descendant, I feel obliged to record some of these stories and capture their sentiments, although they bare a risk due to the fact that these stories cut through long periods of time, under different conditions, conflicts, subjective observations and personal points of view, that may contradict or even offend others, due to national, religious or cultural differences.

So please take these considerations under the prospective of a “bird’s eye view” so that to distant ourselves as much as possible from the events in order to achieve an objective view.

In few words we need to place ourselves as living parties in the circumstances, at the time and place it was happening, taking the position of each participant.

Presenting the cases of members of my family, which inevitably are Greek stories, in no way, I want to offend or minimize the corresponding position of a Turkish person or counter argue the Turkish point of view, which is very much respected and appreciated.

A lot of references exist that provide historical and folkloric information about Greek and Turkish populations which coexisted under the administration of the Ottoman Empire, in what we know today as Greece and Turkey and more, representing complete national entities.

Never the less, very little information exists, about the Greek community of approx. 5.000 people that lived in the town of Kirkagats, from which the branch of my family related to my mother came from.

Most of the information has been saved and documented in a book written by Panos Meimareidis, a member of an important family in Kirkagats, who survived and progressed later in Greece, no other information exists except as reference in a book “THE NUMBER 31328” written be Ilia Venezis a famous Greek writer from the town of Aivali, again in Asia Minor Turkey.

It has always been very difficult to maintain a level of neutrality and objectivity when communicating information with Turkish people especially because there still exist a number of differences of opinion among Greeks and Turks which are sensitive, especially when it comes to Cyprus, West Thrace and some islands in Aegean Sea close to the west coast of Turkey.

In spite of this I have experienced excellent relations with Turkish friends as a student in UK as well as in business collaborations.

I don’t intend to analyze current major issues of conflict between Greece and Turkey, I will leave this to our politicians, I will only comment that both Greece and Turkey have mostly been victims of international politics engaged in conflicts serving the interests of big powers.

In the case of Modern Greece this conflict resulted in a major catastrophe during 1922 where a significant part of Greek population which was living in Asia Minor, under Ottoman rule, for many centuries.  This population was forcefully uprooted and dispersed around the world sending 1.5 million refugees in the Greek mainland This consist the larger population movement that took place in the 20th century.

The issue has been the object of discussion indefinitely. There is no question that Greece made a serious mistake that gave the excuse to the rising new Turkish State to change the “status quo” of multy ethnic coexistence that used to prevail for thousands of years, including, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empire periods.

I have tried to capture the stories of both branches of my family that lived thru these times of enormous change and documented them on various sites on internet and videos and my only desire is to retain the memory of these events for my children and grandchildren.

My most recent work I have initiated was to introduce subtitles to video recordings on interviews taken from the last living inhabitants of the town of Kirkagats which include Evaggelia Kouzou Consolidou, her sister Dorothea Geraniou Consolidou and their compatriot Kostas Papazachariou an agriculturist, from the same town.

Their stories describe aspects of life in Kirkagats when both communities were living side by side as well as their experience of fleeing away from Turkey during the retreat of the Greek army in September 1922.

The interviews are recorded in two videos.

Video 1: Interview from Dorothea Geraniou  Consolidou and Evaggelia Kouzou Consolidou : http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5msqhw_interview-for-kirkagats-from-the-sisters-dorothea-and-evaggelia-consolidou-with-english-subtitles-mp_people

Video 2: Interview from Kostas Papazachariou:

RESETTLEMENT OF THE FAMILY IN GREECE

There are some interesting observations that one may make following the stories of Consolidis family from their original homeland in Kirkagats in Asia Minor to Greece.

Greece, at the time, was not in a position to properly provide for 1.5 million refugees arriving, literally barefooted, over a short period of time.

The country was financially in ruins, refugee camps were set up and foreign aid was desperately needed

Anastasia Consolidou and her family were very lucky to have relatives to help, in Anemotia village in Mytilene. There was really a lot of communication between the islands of East Aegean Sea and towns on the West coast of Turkey. This is another reason that explains the survival and progress achieved of the Greek populations that was based in Asia Minor, for so many years before 1922.

It is worth noting, also, that the standard of living of Greek populations coming from Asia Minor were considerably higher than that, of the Mainland Greeks, in many cases.

This inevitably created a cultural clash, even resentment of local populations against refugees.

Anastasia was even luckier because her husband, Ignatios Consolidis had the forethought to sign a life insurance contract with an International company to protect his family against unforeseen disasters in case he died. Another indication of how advanced of their time were the Greeks in this area of the world.

Another reason that improved the conditions of the family’s life was the fact that, to their surprise, the Turkish government kept forwarding money for the rent owned to Anastasia as the owner of old Municipality building of Kirkagats, up to the time of population exchange that took place during 1924,  despite the war conditions prevailing this period.

Finally a house, belonging to a Turkish family sent to Turkey, under the same agreement, was given to the family.

But most important, the cultural roots from the Girl’s School of Kirkagats and the rest of the cultural influence of Kirkagats have followed the two young girls, Dorothea and Evaggelia who arrived at the village of Anemotia that had not even primary schooling facilities, they had to walk two and half hours among the mountains of central lesbos to Kaloni town to satisfy their cultural needs.

As they were growing their thirst for education forced them to move to the islands’ capital and stay alone or with Aunts to finish high school, and later to Athens for University degrees and professional and professional opportunities. Their desire to pursue higher education was passed to their children and grandchildren who all obtained post graduate degrees in Athens and London Universities.

Their descenders seek professional achievements in three continents around the world Europe, USA and Australia. That is how far the Kirkagats influence has gone.

I have always been surprised where from this drive for higher education, professional recognition and pursue for success came from.

It is not so easy to leave unnoticed the effect an influx of 1.5 million refugees had to Greek mainland, you have only to mention a couple of names such as Aristotle Onasis From Manisa, to stress the international success in global shipping industry this man had and a couple of names in modern Greek literature with Nobel awards that Greece had with George Seferis from Smyrna and Ilias Venezis from Aivalic, even Ilia Kazan the top USA director distant relative of Kouzos family.

But outside these famous Greek names one needs to appreciate the boost that these refugees gave to the Greek commerce and industry with hundreds of Industry pioneers reviving food industry ship building industry, Banking and so much more.

So, how this was made possible from Greeks that lived for centuries under Turkish rule in Asia Minor?

There are people giving the explanation that it all had to do with Ottoman administration that gave certain degree of freedom to various nationalities inherited after the concurring of the Byzantine Empire. We all know the dividing of administrative sections under the name Vilaets.

Vilaets had been allowed to retain certain degree of autonomy, to exercise their religion and finance and trade activities as long as they followed the tax regulations.

The Turkish elite was mainly occupied with military activity and the Turkish clergy was mainly involved with religious and spiritual activities.

This gave a window of opportunity for Greeks, Armenians and Jews to establish their communities and acquire control of most commercial and financial sectors of the Ottoman Empire as the rest of the Turkish population remained in the agricultural sector, in reality most middle class space was taken by these three communities.

Meanwhile West and central European powers developed special interests in acquiring parts of the collapsing Ottoman Empire. Germans tried to take advantage by entering the Ottoman market when they realized that their real competitor were by far the Greeks and to a lesser degree the other two national communities.

The British, French and Italians took a different approach, trying to acquire parts of the Ottoman Empire and control the road to Mosul oil wells that were becoming more important..

The rise of ‘New Turks’ movement initially gave hope to Greek communities that a new liberal wind will blow in what was emerging as New Turkey, but very soon it became obvious that the three elements of Turkey, The military, the clergy and the agricultural population basically wanted to get read of the three nationalities and create its own middle class.

That was the end of any coexistence that would have been the alternative. The expedition of the Greek army during 1919 under the encouragement of the British gave the excuse to Kemal to organize the Turkish Army with the support of the Germans and launched counter attack to what proved to be a very stupid campaign of the Greek army, which was left alone with no support from its allies, especially the British who changed their politics in favor of Kemal who gave them access to the road to Mosul.

This left the Greek population unprotected which was exterminated or thrown back to the sea.

At various stages of negotiations the top negotiators from both sides Kemal and Venizelos nearly managed to resolve the problem in benefit of both countries but external influences did not allow this to take place with Greece being the big looser because the expulsion and uprooting of such population was a national disaster of immeasurable magnitude.

So the story of both branches of my family describe a small but indicative part of the story.

It is my firm believe that both countries would have gained if this destruction wouldn’t have happened and the middle space between Europe and Asia would have been a major power dominating on equal terms with all world powers and certainly within Europe since we would have created the first model of a European Union very much ahead of the second world war, instead of spending enormous amount of money on defense that counts against each other today.

I hope neither of our governments will repeat the same mistakes of the past that both countries have paying for years.

 

Nick Kouzos

28/5/2017

Athens Greece

 

PS

A text published by another descendant of the family, my cousin Tzeli Chatzidimitriou who experienced similar influences:

My grandmother was called Renea Karekou Consolidou, .

She came from Kirkagats. They were five little girls, their mother and their Nene Anastasia Consolidou Grigoriadou.

They arrived as refugees in Anemothia village in Mytilene.

They advised locals how to lay a dinner table properly and how to make delicious meatballs. She married, and had three sons two died, one son died very young, the second died at his 20s, the third left for Australia.

Shortly before my mother died, my grandmother had lost her mind completely. She was not even 70 years old when she died.

She used to see me and thought I was her twenty-year-old son. She used to speak to me about the fields in Kirkagats, the fine melons, how we would go with the “araba” and how beautiful life used to be there.

So I grew up, searching for the paradise of  Kirkagats.

The cousins from Kirkagats were all talking among themselves, about those years and how “peasants” were the locals.

They all had a sensitive nervous system that I inherited, along with all their memories for both, their persecution during 1922 and their past happy years.

From my Nene, I inherited the same sadness in her eyes, with the same nostalgia, the same search for another life.

What a nice description Bravo Tzeli!

AMERICA! AMERICA! by Ilia Kazan extract:

The link that follows refers to an extract from the film America!  America! Produced  from the famous US Director Ilia Kazan, of Greek origin, distant relative of Kouzos family.

The film describes the story of his Grandfather, a story that gives the atmosphere in Turkey during the Ottoman period.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IqThT2fbNgY

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