Saturday, May 16, 2015


A Pontian friend relates a remarkable story whereby she once employed the assistance of a Turkish hairdresser for the purpose of taming her unruly tresses, in suburban north-west Melbourne. Peering through the mirror, my friend noticed that her hairdresser had pinned to her undershirt, a familiar triangular piece of cloth.
“Do you know what that is?” my friend asked.
After a slight hesitation, the hairdresser replied: “It’s a fylakto,” stressing the first syllable, in such a way as to indicate that he was not familiar with the term.
“Where did you get it from?” my friend continued.
“My grandmother gave it to me before she died,” came the response. “She always kept it hidden under her shirt and I was the only one that knew she had it. For some reason, it was her big secret. She took it out, gave it to me and told me to keep it secret and safe. I’ve always worn it because it makes me feel close to her.”
This chance enquiry and the discovery of the fylakto, led the hairdresser on a voyage of discovery where she discovered that her grandmother, also hailing from the Pontic region on the southern shores of the Black Sea, was in fact not Turkish but Greek and that she had been left behind during the genocide of the Pontic Greeks and brought up as a Turk by a Muslim family. While conforming outwardly to her adopted family’s culture, religion and language, it appears that she never forgot who she truly was, her fylakto, truly living up to its purpose, watching over her to make sure that she never forgot who she was. Given the secrecy in which she not only maintained her fylakto but also passed it on to her grand-daughter, it is evident that she would have felt, if not fear, then substantial enough pressure from the society in which she lived, not to be able to speak freely about her ethnic origins. This fylakto then, bequeathed in secret, was, more than a symbol, a veritable ark of truth and identity.
These days, Turkey has shifted its stance from a blanket denial of the genocide to a more subtle and no less insidious expression of regret for violence in which all communities suffered. This is an attempt to ‘spread the blame’ which no longer fools anyone, except those who have a vested interest in maintaining a silence about the genocide of the Christian inhabitants of Anatolia by the Ottomans, including a number of powerful nation states.
In Turkey itself, more and more people are beginning to question concepts of ethnic affiliation and how this impacts on state-defined conceptions of ‘Turkishness.’ This is particularly so, given while hitherto such subjects were taboo, an increasing number of people are looking at the events of the genocide, and in particular, at the plight of survivors, who like the Turkish hairdresser’s grandmother, were forced to suppress their identities. While that generation has largely disappeared, the discovery of a suppressed identity by their descendants is proving for the catalyst for introspection and debate.
This is nowhere more evident than in Turkish film, which is displaying a remarkable willingness to return to the events of the genocide and consider them critically. In the most recent example, the 2014 film “The Cut,” which was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 71st Venice International Film Festival, director Fatih Akin examines the story of an Armenian genocide survivor who travels the world seeking his surviving children. As a result, he has had to deal with death threats and has attempted to play down the message of the film, describing it to the Istanbul Armenian ‘Agos’ newspaper as an ‘adventure movie.’   Yet the desire for candour when assessing issues of identity within Turkey, predates this movie by a decade, and in particular can be symbolized by a remarkable 2003 Turkish movie, Waiting for the Clouds. Directed by Yeşim Ustaoğlu, it is based on a novel by Georgios Andreadis entitled “Tamama,” and was nominated in Montréal World Film Festival of 2004.
Set in the seventies, the plot revolves around issues of suppressed identity which come to the fore when an elderly woman Ayshe, loses her older sister and mysteriously, shuns the company of her fellow villages and instead, seems to display a strange interest in a foreign visitor whose name is Tanasis. Soon after, Ayshe travels to Greece to seek her hitherto unmentioned younger brother. As her young neighbor Mehmet discovers, Ayshe has in fact been born as Eleni in the Pontos and was adopted by a Turkish Muslim family during the events of the genocide. For the next fifty years, she has kept her identity a closely guarded secret, as well as being racked with guilt over seeing the safety and comfort of a familiar environment over the protection of her brother.
Reviewers have pointed out that the film appear to be inspired by or constantly referring to a series of movies by Theodoros Angelopoulos: the borders and their impact on the lives of human beings, as in The Suspended Step of the Stork; a tedious Odyssean search for a family member, as in Landscape in the Mist; the long-lost identity and the fusion of different cultures, as in Ulysses' Gaze and The Suspended Step of the Stork.  Even the differences between the films reinforce this intertextuality between them:  In Waiting for the Clouds, the idea of distance is emphasized, whereas Angelopoulos emphasizes the journey. We barely see Ayshe on the journey; rather, we see her at two different destinations. While the film does not permit us to see her cross the physical boundary, the border, her transcendence of the imagined boundaries that she, and others had created for her is manifest. In this voyage, her plight is the reverse of the hero of the 1969 Xanthopoulos classic: Η Οδύσσεια ενός Ξεριζωμένου.
Ustaoğlu states that her film was inspired by the repressive hyper-nationalistic political and social climate prevailing within Turkey in the seventies. She states that it was around this time that stories began to emerge of suppressed identity, stories that contrasted with the official propaganda about ‘one Turkish nation’: ”I think it's a pity that the idea of one nation means that elements of some cultures must be thrown away. The Turkish government has always been very sensitive about the unofficial part of our history, meaning anything about ethnic minorities. Regarding the Pontus Greek issue, it has long been taboo.”
Thankfully (for the integrity of the film) Ustaoğlu, through Ayshe/Eleni, is deftly able to argue that the objective properties of the community are less important than the imagined ones. Ayshe/Eleni does not ‘embrace Hellenism’ or ‘return to the fold.’ While deep in her subconscious, she imagines herself belonging to another nation and linguistic community, when she ventures outside her small village, she perceives that her imagined ‘true’ community, is foreign to her. She returns to her home, changed, but unburdened. In this artful way, Ustaoğlu shows just how complex the construction of an identity can be. She also cleverly positions the debate where it must lie: within Turkey. For all her past, Ayshe/Eleni is still Turkish and it is incumbent upon Turkish society to understand and accommodate her ethnic identity and her unique experience of history within its national narrative. 
Films such as these, made by Turkish directors, suggest that Turkish society itself, rather than the State is, of its own accord, moving towards a position where the need to address suppressed taboo issues of the past hundred years is becoming acute, as is the need for openness and pluralism within that society. As Ustaoğlu herself states: “I felt this was a part of Turkish history which had remained in the dark for too long. I hope this will have meaning not only for Turkish viewers, but citizens of any multicultural country where issues of identity are often problematic.” It is incumbent upon us to facilitate and nurture such praiseworthy developments, through a corresponding introspection of our own.

First published in NKEE on 16 May 2015

Saturday, May 09, 2015


Of the Empire of Trebizond or Trapezous, much has been written. As a multi-ethnic state situated in the Pontic region of the southern Black Sea, it was the terminus of the famed Silk Road and it was also the last Greek-speaking state to succumb to the Ottoman Empire. As a bridge between Europe and Asia, it formed an orientalist’s paradise, inspiring writers as early as Cervantes to describe his hero Don Quixote as "imagining himself for the valour of his arm already crowned at least Emperor of Trebizond." French writer Rabelais on the other han  had his character Picrochole, the ruler of Piedmont, declare: "I want also to be Emperor of Trebizond," while Rose Macaulay begins her classic the Towers of Trebizond with the immortal line: “Take my camel, dear.”
What is lesser known however, is that the Empire of Trebizond extended far beyond the borders of modern day northern Turkey all the way to the Crimea, where the “Lordship of the city of Theodoro and the Maritime Region,” (Αὐθεντία πόλεως Θεοδωροῦς καὶ παραθαλασσίας), formed an integral part of the Empire of Trebizond.  This should not surprise us. Since times ancient, Greeks founded colonies in the Crimean region. In Roman times, a hybrid Greco-Scythian culture emerged under the Bosporan Kingdom, an ally of Rome. During Byzantium, the Crimea played an important role in the dissemination of Greek culture and Orthodoxy to the Slavs, as well as providing a place of exile and exscape for sundry Greek emperors, such as the vicious Justinian II, who having his nose cut off after he was deposed, used the Crimea to regroup and re-take the throne, under the sobriquet of “Rhinotmetus” (the slit-nosed).
By 1204, when the crusaders took over Constantinople in a most brutal fashion, causing the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire into rival kingdoms, the principality of Theodoro, also known in Greek as Gothia (Γοτθία), owing to the sojourn of Germanic tribes in the region centuries earlier, came under the control of the Komnenus dynasty in Trebizond. It had its capital at Doros, also called Theodoro and now known by its Turkic name of Mangup, a city that formed a separate ecclesiastical Metropolis as early as the seventh century. 
In keeping with the Crimea’s multi-ethnic past, the population of the principality was comprised of a mixture of Greeks, Crimean Goths, Alans, Bulgars, Cumans and Kipchaks, all of whom, confessed Orthodox Christianity. Despite the plethora of languages spoken in the region by its inhabitants, the principality's official language was Greek. 
The earliest mention of the Crimean section of the Empire of Trebizond is made after the fall of Constantinople, by the historian Theodore Spanoudes who makes mention of the existence of a "Prince of Gothia" in the reign of Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328–1341) Other references make mention of events taking place in the fourteenth century. For example, some chroniclers identifying "Dmitry", one of the three Tartar princes who resisted the incursion of the Lithuanians into the Ukraine at the epic Battle of Blue Wates, with a Prince of Gothia, who was tributary to the Emperor in Trebizond. On the other hand, the name "Theodoro" (in the corrupted form Θεοδωραω) appears for the first time in a Greek inscription also dated to 1361 and then again as "Theodoro Mangop" in a Genoese document of 1374. Scholars have suggested that the name of the city was actually "Theodoroi", referring to thhe saints Theodore Stratelates and Theodore Tiro, but others posit that this is a mare corruption of “To Dory”, the city’s ancient name.  By the 1420’s though, the city was colloquially known as "Theodoritsi" (Θεοδωρίτσι) by its inhabitants.
The principality of Theodoro basically aligned its foreign policy to that of its suzerain, Trebizond. By necessity, it cultivated peaceful relations with the Mongolian Golden Horde to its north, paying them an annual tribute but was in constant conflict with Genoese colonies to the south over access to the coasts and the trade that went through the Crimean harbours, culminating in a strip of the coastal land from Balaklava to Alushta, known to the  Greeks as Parathalassia, falling under Genoese control, whereupon it was renamed as Captainship of Gothia. After the principality of Theodoro had lost harbours on the southern coast, it constructed a new port called Avlita at the mouth of the Chernaya River and fortified it with the fortress of Kalamita which is now known as Inkerman.
Apart from the aforementioned Prince Demetrios, we know of the rulers of Theodoro, mainly through Russian chroniclers. The prince Stephen known as ("Stepan Vasilyevich Khovra"), emigrated to Moscow in 1391 along with his son Gregory. They became monks, with Gregory going on to found the Simonov Monastery in Moscow. In modern times, the Russian noble families of Khovrin and Golovin claimed descent from them. In Theodoro, Stephen was succeeded by another son, Alexios I, who ruled until his death in 1447. Alexios' heir was his eldest son Ioannis, who was married to Maria Asanina, a lady connected to the Byzantine imperial dynasty of the Palaiologoi and the royal family of Bulgaria, showing just how international in scope, the principality was. The couple had a son, also named Alexios, who died young in Trebizond, indicating that as was the Byzantine practice, the princes of Theodoro would send their children to Trebizond to be educated. His epitaph, titled "To the Prince's son" (τῷ Αὐθεντοπούλῳ) was composed by John Eugenikos, the brother of Saint Mark Eugenikos who was resident for a time in the Empire of Trebizond.  Such was the prestige of Theodoro, that Alexios was also able to marry off his daughter, Maria to the last Trebizondian emperor, David.  Alexios was then succeeded, by his son, who was given the Mongolian/Turkish name of Olubei.
No mention of Olubei exists in any records after 1458, with Genoese documents only mentioning "the lord of Theodoro and his brothers" (dominus Tedori et fratres ejus). Yet th Principality outlasted its suzerain, the Empire of Trebizond falling to the Ottomans in 1461. In 1465, a prince Isaac is mentioned, who in the face of the mounting Ottoman danger, engaged in a rapprochement with the Genoese at the nearby colony of Caffa and wed his sister Maria to Stephen the Great, ruler of Moldavia. However, his increasingly pro-Ottoman stance in the later years of his reign caused his brother Alexander to overthrow him. Despite this, Theodoro was powerless to arrest the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.  In December 1475, after conquering the other Christian strongholds along the Crimean coast, the Ottomans captured the city after a three-month siege. Alexander and his family were taken captive to Constantinople, where the prince was beheaded, his son was forcibly converted to Islam, and his wife and daughters became part of the Sultan's harem.
The rulers of Theodoro appear to have been members of the Gabras family, an important Byzantine family with Aramaic roots, which became especially prominent in the late 11th and early 12th centuries as the semi-independent and quasi-hereditary rulers of Chaldia, a region in the Pontian hinterland. The last notable members of the family are mentioned in Constantinople during the early centuries of the Ottoman Empire, where Cyril Gabras, acted as the megas skeuophylax of the Patriarchate in 1604. Other family members are attested in Crete and the Aegean islands. An unnamed Gabras held lands in Santorini in the early 17th century and numerous Gabrades are to be found at Chios and in Crete, especially around Siteia, until the early 19th century.
Any assessment of Pontian history would be lacking if it did not take into account the internationalist in outlook and broadly inclusive social fabric of the Empire of Trebizond as is evidenced by the Principality of Theodoro. Its brief yet fascinating existence attests to a continuous presence of the Greek language in the region for millennia, a presence that was sorely tried and diminished during the twentieth and twenty-first century.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 9 May 2015

Saturday, May 02, 2015


"Australian soldiers, sailors and pilots saw columns of Armenian, Assyrian and Greek women and children being forced along the countryside in death marches. They saw their pitiful, bedraggled state. The homes, churches, monasteries and schools of these people became the prison camps of the captured Anzacs and their allies." 
Cherie Burton, Member of the Legislative Assembly of NSW, 30 November 2010
On a drizzly Sunday two weeks ago, my daughter and I attended the Anzac commemoration at our local RSL. The main road had been closed off and we stood its side, watching as a troupe of pipers, dressed in Scottish kilts marched down the largely deserted thoroughfare, playing the bagpipes. In their wake, men and women dressed in digger costumes followed on horseback, desperately trying to control their somewhat unruly steeds. Behind them proudly marched the returned servicemen in their blue blazers, sporting medals awarded for service in the Second World War and so many other conflicts besides. Bring up the rear where the cadets and the local scouting group.
Having managed to procure, I know not from where, two Australian flags for each of her hands, my excited my two year old daughter yelled out, «Ζήτωζήτωζήτω!» as the participants marched past, an exclamation she had recently been taught at the Greek Independence Day parade. Unable to stifle a chortle, I commenced, in Greek, to point out to her the horses and especially the way they seemed to be nodding their heads and waving their tails in response, every time she waved her flags.
"Speak in English or go back to your own country," a curt, nasal voice sliced unexpectedly through my explanation. Looking up, a tight-lipped, elderly gentleman was glaring at me, his eyes partially obscured by the thick lenses he was sporting. I could not be bothered pointing him in the general direction in which I was desirous that he would remove himself, nor did I deem it fit to enlighten him that we shared the same birth-place. "Yes," I replied instead, "but isn't it great that we can cheer along these people purporting to be ANZAC's in as many languages as we can?" 
In response the gentleman, unyielding, muttered something under his breath, the overtones of which I interpreted as to attesting to the intellectual capacity of my posterior. "And I'll tell you something else," I continued, divesting myself of my composure.  "My people, the Greeks, contributed a good deal to the ANZAC cause. Not only were the wounded ANZAC soldiers hospitalized and cared for in Lemnos by the Greeks, but the whole Gallipoli campaign was fought in an area where 35,000 Greek people were forcibly removed from their homes and many were killed, just because the Turks were expecting the ANZACs to attack there. I don't think the ANZACs had a problem with their allies speaking Greek. So maybe you shouldn't either."
A few disinterested onlookers shuffled their feet uneasily, the confrontation having disconcerted them and the elderly gentleman pushed his way past them, giving me a hostile sideways glance as he did so. As the onlookers jostled for a position next to the war memorial, a lady of Indian background sidled up to me: "I know how you feel, but you shouldn't have done that," she whispered.
"Why?" I asked. "I was speaking to my daughter, not to him and that conversation shouldn't concern him at all. At any rate, I stand by what I said. Did you know that the Greeks in Lemnos..."
"Good God," the lady explained. "Why does it have to be about the Greeks? This is THEIR celebration. Let them celebrate it. Leave it alone."
I disagreed with this point of view entirely.  Quite apart from the impropriety of seeking to dictate to a two year old and her father in which language they should discourse, to my mind, any country that actively assisted the ANZACs had a right of at least some acknowledgment if not a stake in the ANZAC commemoration. Local historians such as Stavros Stavridis have shown through their research that the contemporary Australian media was well aware of and reported on the massacre of the native Christian inhabitants of Anatolia during the war, and the accounts by high-profile diplomats such as US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, who, with his agents and information gatherers was able, after the war to provide a full account of the suffering of these people, especially the Greeks who were forcibly conscripted into labour battalions whereby they were:
". transformed into road labourers and pack animals. Army supplies of all kinds were loaded on their backs, and, stumbling under the burdens and driven by the whips and bayonets of the Turks, they were forced to drag their weary bodies into the mountains of the Caucasus. Sometimes they would have to plough their way, burdened in this fashion, almost waist high through snow. They had to spend practically all their time in the open, sleeping on the bare ground.  They were given only scraps of food; if they fell sick they were left where they had dropped, their Turkish oppressors perhaps stopping long enough to rob them of all their possessions - even of their clothes. If any stragglers succeeded in reaching their destinations, they were not infrequently massacred."
So why then is this aspect of the Gallipoli campaign obscured? Why has it taken decades for these matters to be raised and debated in Australia, and in fact have only been so debated after historian John William's article "The Ethnic Cleansing of Greeks from Gallipoli, April 1915," was published in Quadrant, on 2 April 2013?
The Indian lady rolled her eyes. "I know where you are coming from, but it's their day," she repeated. "Let them have their day. After all, do you know how many Gurkhas and other Indian soldiers fought and died in World War I?" Her eyes flashed angrily as she spoke. "To support whom? The occupiers who took our land? But you don't see us going on about it, do you? Just let it go. You have your celebrations and festivals and so do we. Let them have their day. All you will achieve by trying to take ownership of this day is resentment."
Two were the thoughts I took away with me after the speeches were over and I just managed to drag my daughter away from the horses. The first was the singularity of my own sense of entitlement in linking the sacrifices of the Greeks of Anatolia and Lemnos for and/or as a result of the ANZAC campaign with a continuing obligation (of respect and acknowledgment) to the Greek people, including Greek-Australians, a century after the commencement of the campaign. The origins of this belief surely must lie in the propaganda employed at the time to make Greeks feel that they were tied by bonds of brotherhood to those who were 'fighting for the cause of civilization.' The second was this unconscious belief that I held, that somehow, my people, by virtue of such participation and suffering, have a stake in the Gallipoli commemoration. While I did not agree with my interlocutor's arguments, I recalled that the immense contribution made by speakers of an Albanian idiom to the Greek revolution is largely glossed over and certainly not afforded any space within official and unofficial celebrations of Greek Independence. The automatic reaction of most Greeks when raising this absence as an issue is one of denial or extreme defensiveness and I have witnessed Greeks castigating participants in the Greek Independence Day parade for speaking 'unsuitable' languages, the inference being that such a practice profanes the sanctity of the celebration of ethnicity, in a manner parallel to that of my own elderly verbal assailant. This was certainly the feeling inculcated in my Indian interlocutor.
While it is proper and right to explore all aspects of historical events, ultimately, ownership of such commemorative events, linked as they are to the process of myth-making (for the qualities participants of the myth are said to have possessed are attributed to the imagined nation as a whole), is therefore an extra-ordinarily sensitive issue that goes to the heart of one's sense of self, cultivated or pre-existing. The aforementioned notwithstanding, I stubbornly maintain my conviction, that in multi-cultural Australia, a child born in this country and enthusiastically wielding not one, but two Australian flags, is perfectly entitled to celebrate any or all aspects of ANZAC day in whatever language she sees fit, as long as she gets to pat the horses afterwards.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 9 May 2015

Saturday, April 25, 2015


It is quite difficult for Greek Australians to oppose the erection of statues of Kemal Ataturk in various sites around Australia, and indeed the proposed erection  by the City of Hume in order to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign on the basis that Ataturk was not of good character. This is especially so, given that numerous Greek leaders have in the past, sung his praises.

Greek dictator Ioannis Metaxas for instance, had this to say about the architect of modern Turkey: "...Greece, which has the highest estimation of the renowned leader, heroic soldier, and enlightened creator of Turkey. We will never forget that President Atatürk was the true founder of the Turkish-Greek alliance based on a framework of common ideals and peaceful cooperation. He developed ties of friendship between the two nations which it would be unthinkable to dissolve. Greece will guard its fervent memories of this great man, who determined an unalterable future path for the noble Turkish nation."

Similarly, Greek prime minister Eleutherios Venizelos (a statue of whom graces the club-house of the Cretans in Brunswick), even nominated Ataturk for the Nobel Peace Prize. He described him thus: “In the life of a nation it is very seldom that changes to such a radical degree were carried out in such a short period of time... Without a doubt, those who have done these extraordinary activities have earned the attributes of a great man in the complete sense of the word. And because of this, Turkey can be proud of itself.” Venizelos’ successor, Panagis Tsaldaris also admired Ataturk, especially because together they were able to sign a comprehensive agreement for peace and co-operation known as the Entente Cordiale.

Captured Greek officers fighting against Ataturk during the Greco-Turkish war described his magnanimity in their memoirs. According to one account, he supposedly ordered the removal of a painting showing a Turkish soldier plunging his bayonet to a Greek soldier by stating, "What a revolting scene!" Furthermore, Kathimerini newspaper was lavish in its praise of him: “Turkey is in possession of a genius man that friends and foes are astounded with.”

Undoubtedly, Kemal Ataturk’s achievements in modernizing a country ravaged by war are many. They are so many in fact that a large number of historians are willing to overlook his institution of a one-party, non-democratic state, his suppression of religious orders and his complete marginalization of ethnic minorities, both Muslim and Christian to the point where there was a complete denial that some of these ever existed. This is a man who saw fit to dictate to people the type of headgear they should wear and penalize them if they did not obey. He also permitted the Turkish army to carry out horrific massacres of native Christians in Smyrna and to burn down that city at the end of the Greco-Turkish war. Nonetheless, the world loves him, including Australians, who have linked him to their own Gallipoli myth, by terming him a magnanimous foe, for his supposed letter to Australian mothers who lost their sons in the Gallipoli campaign wherein he supposedly wrote that: “Those heroes that shed blood and lost their lives…. you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us, where they lie side by side in this country of ours… you, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears.” Interestingly enough, an increasing number of historians are unable to find evidence proving that Ataturk ever uttered or wrote such words and they may just be a myth.

Arguably, Armenian, Assyrian and Greek community groups are barking up the wrong tree when they oppose the erection of a statue of Ataturk I various locations, including at rate-payers’ expense in the city of Hume, a municipality that houses a large and vibrant Turkish population but also a significant Assyrian population as well. Attempts are being made to link Ataturk to the genocide of the Assyrians, Armenians and Greeks in Anatolia, even though the genocide largely took place just before, during and at the conclusion of the First World War, prior to Ataturk’s assumption of power. While Ataturk did preside over the capture, removal or execution of Pontian guerillas who led a war for independence in the Pontic mountains and ensured that the Greeks remaining in Anatolia were removed, this was done by treaty, and can hardly be compared to the organized attempt to extirpate an entire people as envisaged and carried out by the Ottoman government. Such attempts to conflate history merely do damage to a serious cause, the long overdue recognition of the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia and at any rate, considering that this genocide tends to leave the vast majority of the English speaking world unmoved, surely this is not a persuasive argument as to why the erection of Ataturk’s statue should be opposed.

If there is a valid argument against the erection of the statue, it is that Ataturk, just like Leonidas, whose statue was erected in Sparta Place by the City of Moreland, also at public expense, has absolutely nothing to do with Australia and appears more to have to do with placating the politically important Turkish community in the area, just as Leonidas’ inexplicably nonsensical erection swelled the loins of local Greek rate-payers with pride.  While it may serve the purposes of the Turkish government to place Ataturk at the forefront of Australian Gallipoli commemorations, the fact remains that it was he, who, in the defence of the peninsula and in the course of his duties, was responsible for the mowing down of tens of thousands of ANZACs. There is nothing particularly magnanimous or noteworthy from the Australian point of view then, that warrants the special honouring of Ataturk by way of a statue.

On the other hand, the reconciliation and the forgiving of past foes sends a powerful message of tolerance for the future. Furthermore, Turkish-Australians have made valuable contributions to this country that deserve to be recognized. To this effect, if the City of Hume and others wished to emphasise the rapproachment and the friendly ties enjoyed by Australia with the Turkish Republic, it could instead, erect a statue to any Turkish peasant or soldier who treated captured Australians with care and consideration, at expense or risk to themselves, assuming that cases of this nature exist. If such do not, then the burghers of that City could possibly erect a statue to honour the hundreds of Greek or French peasants who nursed and cared for wounded and dying Australian soldiers in Lemnos and behind the French trenches during that most horrific of wars. For reasons, possibly of policy but more likely of romantic myth-making, save for a few cursory acknowledgments by military historians, the sacrifices of these simple but kind-hearted people exist largely outside of the Gallipoli narrative, just as the tremendous sacrifices of the Greek people who hid Australian soldiers during the Second World War and often paid a terrible price for their compassion are also glossed over.

What will transpire once Ataturk is placed upon his pedestal to lord it over Broadmeadows with his steely, ANAZAC-adoring gaze?  Will we then erect a statue to Hirohito in order to celebrate Australian ties with Japan? Or should we, as is proper and right, erect statues at public expense only to honour great Australians or thoers who contributed to Australia, whatever their national or religious origins? If this is so, then perhaps the good counselors at Hume, Moreland and beyond would deign to commemorate in marble and bronze, the forgotten ANZACs, the Aborigines. While historian Ken Inglis estimates that there are between 4,000 - 5,000 war memorials in Australia, there is no official database of Aboriginal war memorials and few such memorials exist, with South Australia only constructing one in 2013.

Prominent Ray Jackson, president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, has stated: “We must have our own war memorial in our own agreed place. A place that is not shamefully hidden up a dirt track behind the national war memorial.” Surely then our own first Australians are much more deserving of honour, when commemorating the centenary of Gallipoli than  Ataturk, Leonidas and all the Spartans combined. It is an honour long-overdue and the Greek community, which appreciates the sacrifices of the indigenous diggers, should make the requisite representations in this regard.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 25 April 2015

Saturday, April 18, 2015


In the common consciousness of the Greeks, Byzantium and its last ruling dynasty, the Palaeologus family came to an end on 29 May 1453, when the last Emperor, Constantine Palaeologus, fell in battle, fighting Mehmet the Conqueror and his marauding hordes. Constantine's body was never found giving rise to the popular legend that an angel had taken him and entombed him in marble. There he lies until such time as we need him most, whereupon he will once more arise and re-establish his Empire. Considering that his profligate nephew, Andreas sold the rights to the Byzantine crown to Charles VIII of France in 1494, a dispute as to the legitimacy of the title of Emperor seems more than likely, considering that said Andreas also sold the title to King Ferdinand of Spain.
 Meanwhile, in far off Cornwall, a monument in the Landulph parish church commemorates the most unlikely of parishioners, members of the Palaeologus family that, after remaining in Chios, then under Genoese control, gradually made their way, via Italy, where many Byzantine refugees and a considerable number of members of the Palaeologus family had settled, marrying into the ruling family of the marquisate of Mantua, to England, settled and died there, having played an interesting role in key events in English history. In particular, a brass near the vestry door of the church commemorates a certain Theodore Palaeologus, who on 6 July 1593, married Eudoxia Commena, descended from the previous imperial Comnenus dynasty. The couple had a daughter, Theodora, who in October 1614, married Prince Demetrius Rhodocanakis in Naples.  One of their children Dr. Constantine Rhodocanakis, born in 1653, became a well-known physician, scholar and friend of King Charles II, whom he met during his European exile.  
The patriarch of the family, Theodore Palaeologus not long after his wife's death in 1596 came to England, and in 1600 was named "Rider to Henry Earl of Lincolne" at Tattershall Castle.  There he met the celebrated Captain John Smith, who had recently returned from service in Europe and at the age of only 21, "being glutted with too much company wherein he took small delight," had retired into seclusion at Tattershall.  Apparently, his friends "perswaded one Seignor Theadora Polalga......a noble Italian Gentleman, to insinuate into his woodish acquaintances" and gradually drew him back into normal society.  In the same year, Palaeologus married at his second wife, Mary Balls, in Yorkshire. The next we hear of him is few decades later, in 1627, when at Plymouth, he wrote a letter to the Duke of Buckingham, begging to be taken into the King's service.  The response is unknown and he next learn that Palaeologus owned a small property in Plymouth, as his name appears among the monthly assessments for the relief of the poor in Old Town Ward for the year 1628, being rated at one halfpenny per week.  At some time, presumably after this date, Palaeologus and his daughters from his second wife settled in Landulph, and apparently lived with Sir Nicholas and Lady Lower at Clifton, both classical scholars who enjoyed the company of Palaeologus and studied classics with him. 
According to the church brass, Theodore Palaeologus died, on 21 January 1636.  He was laid to rest in the parish church of Landulph and in 1795 the vault containing the body of Palaeologus was accidentally broken into, revealing an oak coffin, which was opened.  The body was well preserved, "in stature much above the common height, his countenance oval in form, much lengthened, and marked by an acquiline nose, and a very white beard, reaching low on the breast."
Theodore Palaeologus sons also have an interesting history. The first, John, is said to have fought for King Charles I in the English Civil War, and was probably killed at Naseby.  The second, Theodore, is recorded as being among the lieutenants in the army sent against the Scots in 1640.  When the Civil War broke out, he sided with Parliament, and his name occurs again as a lieutenant in the Earl of Essex's army in 1642.  In 1644 he died or was killed, and was buried in Westminster Abbey near Lady St. John's tomb in the north transept, possibly the only Greek ever to have been buried there, ptrobably owing to his service in Lord St. John's regiment. There even exists in the House of Lords, a draft order dated 3 May 1644, for payment of £50 to Sir Philip Stapledon, being part arrears of pay due to Captain Palaeologus.
The last brother, Ferdinand, who also fought for the King in the Civil War, migrated to Barbados in the West Indies, where his mother's family owned property.  In 1649, his name occurs as vestryman of the parish of St. John, and thereafter he held a number of parochial offices, including that of churchwarden. He died in 1678 and his will, dated 26 September 1670, is still preserved.  A hurricane in 1831 destroyed the church of St. John, where he was buried and his coffin was discovered under the organ loft.  Some years later it was opened, and revealed a skeleton of an extremely large size The coffin was carefully deposited in another vault and in 1909 a tablet was erected over it, which an inscription identifying Ferdinand as a descendant of the Byzantine Emperor. In his will, Ferdinand divided his property between his widow Rebecca and his son "Theodorious," the widow to be trustee till he should attain the age of fourteen years.  In 1693, Theodorious, who had returned to England and had a son and a daughter, died in Corunna, Spain.  A sailor signing his will Theodore Paleologey died at sea in 1693, and has been variously described as a son of Ferdinand or of his elder brother Theodore, but his relationship to the family cannot be established.
            Whether the Palaeologoi of Cornwall and Barbados will, like King Arthur who according to some legends is also buried in Cornwall and is awaiting the appropriate time to make a special guest star appearance to rid the British people of their ills once and fore all, ever return to leaf their people to greatness is unknown. Such was the lasting appeal of the family in the hearts of the Greeks that in the nineteenth century, the provisional government of newly liberated Greece sent a delegation to England to determine whether there were any living descendants of the Palaeologoi who could assume the Greek throne. They visited Landulph and noted the grave of Theodore, but strangely not locate any living descendants. Nonetheless as late as 1862, when the Bavarian Otto was ousted from Greece, a Theodore Palaeologo of West Norwood in South London and originally an immigrant from Malta, pressed his hereditary claim to the Greek throne and was duly ignored. We cannot help but admire however, these doughty exiles of noble lineage, who make lasting contributions in diverse and unexpected ways, to the countries they chose to call home.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 18 April 2015

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Every year while attending the Greek Community's annual 1821 Revolution Commemoration at the Shrine of Remembrance, I am reminded of the verses of Epirote poet Panagiotis Noutsos' brilliant poem 'National Magma,' (Έθνους Μάγμα). Noutsos writes
«Δεν είναι εδώ το Σούλι, εδώ ναι το μαγιασούλι!
Σούλι, καψούλι, μαξούλι, μαγιασούλι, 
ζητωζητωζητωκραυγάζουν ούλοι
In his own unique way, by employing wordplay in an uncharacteristic, almost Anglosaxonic manner in order to subvert traditional poetic forms and motifs, Noutsos is making a point about the effusive yet ultimately empty rhetoric surrounding nationalistic events such as the traditional military parades and accompanying hyperbolic speeches that present the liberation of Greece as an inevitability stemming from unique and superior qualities residing with the DNA of each person who calls himself a Hellene, μαγιασούλι, being a synonym for an overabundance of speech. The implication is that ultimately, when all is said and done, a hell of a lot more is said, than actually done and we are all somehow implicated in this ceremony of mass self-delusion, by being willing and or passive participants of it. 
            This year driving to the Shrine, dressed in the full regalia of hoplarchs, I began to recite Noutsos' verses under my breath as a friend turned and asked: "Why do suppose the English or the Aussies value cricket more highly that parades like this? Think about it. The British have numerous battles to commemorate: The Battle of Hastings, the Battle of Bosworth Field, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the Glorious Revolution, the Battle of Waterloo, the Charge of the Light Brigade, various World War I battles and of course VE day. But they don't seem to capture the imagination of their people the way our 1821 'parelasi' does. Why?"
            The answer of course is a complex one and probably has much to do with how comfortable a society is with their identity. Save for VE day, which took place within living memory, most British military turning points have taken place a long time ago. Nonetheless, as any visitor to Britain would know, the Britons feel great pride in their history. Having been lucky enough to have known few invasions, they have been able to preserve and conserve a vast amount of artefacts, building and lore and this has permitted their composite identity to emerge naturally in, around and from that history. As such, their identity is a historic inevitability of their surroundings and rather than being prescriptive, is expansive, embracing and for the most part, participatory.
            Greece has experienced neither the security nor the stability of Britain. As a result, its history exists in shards and disparate fragments that historians and ideologues have attempted to weld together into a coherent narrative of continuity. Whereas it could be said that Britons live history, the Greeks on the other hand have lived the ruins of history. Layer upon layer of destruction has been covered by the earth, awaiting reconstruction and reunification with long sundered memories and expectations as to which particular 'ancestors' we should emulate. 1821 therefore, marks the symbolic starting point for a process of reconstitution and recreation - point zero, where anything is possible and yet the archaeologists's trowel and the classical scholar's erudition prescribe for us, just who the shattered fragments of our past should be put back together and by implication, just who we should be. Thanks to their expert welding skills, 1821 is a mere culmination of the indomitable ethnic spirit that gave us Marathon, Salamis and Thermopylae (its Neohellenic counterparts being Dervenakia, Mycale and Souli). Celebrating 1821 thus helps us to interpret the resistance of OXI, providing us with a depth of resources real and imagined in times of crisis, simultaneously trapping us in a perpetual time warp where past and present coalesce continuously. 
This would probably explain why as a boy, attending the parelasi in a foustanella, accosted by a group of older pant-wearing Pontians, I was exhorted to jump into the water fountain at the Queen Victoria gardens, in pure Greek-Australian: "If you are a real τσολιάπήδα." I refused to do so for fear of soiling my costume, whereupon I was castigated for lacking the courage, indomitability and recklessness to act the way a true wearer of the kilt would display. I have felt a fraud ever since.
Australia, as an aside, does share a parallel to the Greek pride in the parelasi. As a young nation needing to construct an identity, it has chosen to emphasize the legends of Gallipoli, tantalizingly beyond living memory as an ideal starting point for the weaving of strands that constitute an ideal. That it has done so at the expense of the (within living memory) experiences of World War II veterans, in which War Australia's territorial integrity was actually threatened, tells us much about the power of identity construction.
Undoubtedly there is a good helping of such constructed pride within Greek-Australian participants of our own parelasi. After all, this is part of our imported heritage and forms the backdrop of our identity in Australia. Yet it would be wrong to consider the Melbourne march as merely a form of nationalistic elation or threadbare jingoistic rhetoric. Marching up to the Shrine this year felt more like a family picnic than the pompous regimented affairs of yesteryear. Gone was the measured step, the stiff turning of the head to honour puffed-up 'dignitaries.' Instead, masses of children and community members sauntered past their elated peers towards a friendly and smiling group of VIP's, the relaxed and familiar tone being set by His Excellency the Ambassador of Greece, resplendent in a broad brimmed slouch hat, who enthusiastically cheered on the younger participants. This was no militaristic or nationalistic parade. Instead, it had the feel of a street party.
The Melbourne parelasi is unique, in that it takes place on a practically self-contained stretch of road, largely out of the broader public's gaze. As such, the self-conscious pandering to other's conceptions of what Greeks should act or look like that form much of the parades of Greeks through the cities of America, for example, (caryatids, Olympic rings, Doric temple floats and the like) is mercifully absent. In relaxed and comfortable Melbourne, we present ourselves, not as the Greeks of Greece wish us to be, nor as mainstream Australians perceive us to be, but rather, as ourselves, marching out of step, some of us combining shorts with a fermeli, and almost all of us leaving prior to the politician's speeches. As we march, we talk about the cricket, the Alexandros versus Hellas match (yes, it will always be Hellas) or we will laughingly wonder why the Stalinist old guard of three separate organisations from the same region of North-West Greece are unable to let go of incomprehensible internecine squabbles and conspiracies and march together, rather than separately, in a Greek-Australian Monty-Pythonesque parody of the infinite combinations and permutations of the appellations of the rival Popular People's Front of Judaea and the Judaean Popular People's Front, before breaking ranks to shake a friend's hand who we haven't seen for a while.
As I marched this year, I did so with pride, not so much for the sake of my ancestors, but because marching to my left, as she has done ever since she was two, was my sister and between us, for the first time ever, my own two year old daughter, enthusiastically waving flags and exclaiming: «εν δυόεν δυό» and «Ζήτω.» Unquestionably, she has no conception of the fact that Andreas Miaoulis preferred to scuttle his fleet rather than hand it over to the government of Free Greece, or that Odysseas Androutsos was a sell-sword and when she grows up, I doubt that she will care. For really, it is this sense of the coming together of all generations in the unspoken knowledge that we all belong to the same vast, complex, dysfunctional, frustrating but intricately absorbing and ultimately endearing family that lends each Melburnian1821 parade, its sense of wonder. Long may it continue to do so.
First published in NKEE on Saturday 11 April 2015

Sunday, April 05, 2015


“The Orlov rebellion… was absurd in conception, devoid of genuine libertarian teleology and brutal and chaotic in execution.” J. C Alexander
In the popular Greek imagination, there was the fall of Byzantium and then, 400 hundred years of continuous darkness in which the Greek nation gradually lost its civilization and spirit, oppressed under the upturned slipper of the Ottoman conqueror. What is not widely known, is that since the time of the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the Greek people were, in various regions, constantly engaging in revolts, whether this be the revolt of Greco-Albanian Giorgos Kastriotis, or that of the Himariote fighter with the fascinating name of Krokodeilos Kladas who let a revolt in Mani in 1480, or even that of the Epirote Bishp of Larissa, Dionysios the Philosopher, renamed the ‘Skylosopher,’ by the Ottomans, who led an agrarian revolt in Agrafa in 1600 and another in 1611, when he managed to occupy the city of Ioannina for a brief period of time.
These early revolts were generally fomented by Venice, which still controlled vast tracts of territories along the coastline and the Aegean islands for much of the early Ottoman occupation. In later years however, the mantle of protector and prospective liberator of the Greek people was assumed by Russia, especially during the reign of Catherine the Great, who sought to expand her empire at the Ottoman’s expense, reclaiming territory along the Black Sea that had been settled by Greeks in times ancient. Catherine the Great even conceived of a plan to retake Constantinople and have her grandson Constantine preside over a newly resuscitated Byzantine Empire, underwritten by Russia, of course.
It is for this reason that the Orlov revolt, that is, one of the most major and most recent revolts against the Ottomans in Greek territory, is mostly referred to by historians as an ‘incident’ within the broader context of the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-1774. Catherine the Great dispatched Count Fyodor Orlov to the Aegean, where he was to contact the Cretan shipping magnate Ioannis Daskaloyiannis, and raise the Greeks of Peloponnesus.
Even before Fyodor Orlov arrived in Peloponnesus with his small group of fighters and provisions, various attempts were already being made to provoke a revolt among the Greeks. An officer in the Russian Imperial Artillery Corps, Giorgos Papazoglou had been active in the region, attempting to foment an insurrection among the affluent Christian kotsabasis of the region. Especially prone to his particular form of propaganda was Panagiotis Benakis, one of the largest landowners of Peloponnesus, who as well as owning six vast agrarian estates, also controllen much of southern Peloponnesus’ external trade and the collection of its taxes.
As a result of his immense influence, Benakis was the master of a patronage network that included both Muslim and Christian notables and it was due to this influence that Orlov decided to appoint him leader of the rebellion. It is stated that he may have even had Benakis commissioned into the Russian army as a general. 
The plan was that Benakis, working in concert with Orlov, would seize control of Peloponnesus so as to render it secure by the time a Russian occupying fleet would arrive. Yet as Thomas Gallant writes, the uprising was never anything more than a power struggle between Benakis and the other factions that opposed him, more specifically, those led by the most powerful Mulsim notable in the region, Halil Abdi Bey of Corinth, as well as the Zaimis family of Kalavryta, who went on to play an important role in the Greek revolution and the formation of the Modern Greek state. In the months prior to  the uprising, Greeks and Muslims alike were informing the acting governor Hassan Effendi, that Russian agents were actively inciting Greek and Muslim notables to rise in rebellion.
When Orlov arrived at Kalamata in mid-February 1770, he joined with Benakis and his 4,000 fighters in attacking Koroni and Methoni. Another Greek collaborator from Mykonos, Antonios Pasros, led a mixed band of Russians and Greeks to rendezvous with Yiorgakis Mavormichalis and the forces of the Koumoundouros family, both of whom were also to play an important role in the 1821 Revolution, and to attack the city of Mistra. They were successful and massacred its Muslim inhabitants. However, every other attack, including those at Leondari and Kalavryta were met with a complete failure. 
The reasons for the failure of the uprising were manifold.  The majority of the Greek inhabitants of Peloponnesus met the ‘freedom-fighters’ with complete indifference. As well, many powerful Greek clans refused to compromise their own privileged position by taking part. Indeed, some of the most powerful clans, such as the Zaimis family, actively opposed the uprising, not for any other reason than that it was being led by the Benakis clan, who were their rivals.  One member of the family, Andorusakis Zaimis, even wrote to Muslim notable Syleyman Penah of Gastouni, reassuring them that he had nothing “to fear from our rayas, so please be at ease. If any one of them participate in the rebellion, I will kill them myself.”
What the Russians had not realized is that rather than expecting all Greeks to unite under their banner in order to fight for freedom, all they had achieved was to entangle themselves in a brutal, on-going power struggle between competing factions. The minute they picked one side, they thus alienated all other factions against them. Meanwhile in Crete, the military support promised to Daskaloyiannis by Orlov did not materialize and he was captured and skinned alive.
From the Russian point of view, Count Orlov's mission was a success, damaging the Turkish Fleet, directing Turkish troops south, and contributing to the victory that led to the signing of the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji, where Russia was, at least recognized as the protector of the Orthodox Christians of the Ottoman Empire.
From the Greek point of view, the affair was a failure which is generally blamed on the Russians for providing half-hearted support to the national aspirations of the Greek people. As a result, many among the next generation of Greek revolutionary leaders, would look to Britain and France for protection in the years to come. What is fascinating however, is to see how clientilism and networks of patronage among the Greeks conspired to render ineffectual any attempts at united action for the purpose of nation building. Considering that the same networks and factionalism caused the Greek revolution to descend into a civil war on more than one occasion, resulting in the intervention of the Great Powers in order to save ‘Greece,’ the fact that the 1821 Revolution actually took place, is indeed a miracle.

First published in NKEE on Saturday 4 April 2015