Saturday, May 14, 2022

THE FORGOTTEN GENOCIDE: THE STARVATION OF THE MARONITES

 


“My people and your people, my Syrian 

Brother, are dead ... What can be 

Done for those who are dying? Our 

Lamentations will not satisfy their 

Hunger, and our tears will not quench 

Their thirst; what can we do to save 

Them between the iron paws of 

Hunger?” 

Gibran Khalil Gibran: “Dead are my People.” 

 

It took an inordinately long time for scholars to appreciate that the premeditated slaughter of Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks by the Ottomans and after their downfall, the Kemalists, formed part and parcel of the same Genocide, that of the Christians of the Ottoman Empire. It appears that it will take an even longer time for interested Greek parties to realise that the genocide of the Pontic Greeks and the genocide of the Greeks of Eastern Thrace and the rest of Asia Minor, is also part of the same event,  which is why in Greece, paradoxically, two separate genocides are commemorated. That aberration notwithstanding, the haphazard manner in which Assyrians were rounded up and murdered along with the Armenians attests to the genocide not being based upon nationality, but rather upon religious criteria. 

 

It is as a consequence of this understanding of the Genocide as being directed against the native Christian minorities of the Ottoman Empire, rather than any specific nationality, that the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek communities in Australia are increasingly collaborating in both commemorating and lobbying for recognition of the Genocide, notably with the recent formation of the intercommunal “Joint Justice Initiative.” Yet even that conceptual framework requires review, as the Genocide narrative, as it is currently being formulated does not yet encompass all of the native Christian groups that were subject to genocide. 

 

The Maronite Christians of Lebanon are a case in point. Originally adherents of the monothelite sect, the Syriac speaking Maronites eventually entered into communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Numerically significant in Lebanon and Syria, they currently form the majority of the Christians in Lebanon, where the Constitution prescribes that the President of that country must be a Maronite. In 1860, the Maronites rose up against their Druze overlords, followers of an esoteric Islamic sect with gnostic elements and the Druze in turn, massacred 20,000 Maronite Christians on Mount Lebanon, destroying 380 Christian villages and 560 churches. A further 25,000 Maronite Christians were also slaughtered in Damascus. 

 

The slaughter of the Catholic Maronite Christians caused France,  recalling its ancient role as protector of Christians in the Ottoman Empire which was established by treaty in 1523 to intervene, landing troops in Lebanon to protect the Maronites. France also compelled the Ottomans to grant autonomy to Lebanon under a Christian governor, a precedent recalled with alarm by the Ottomans in 1878 when they were compelled by Russia to give greater autonomy to the eastern provinces of their Empire where Armenians existed in large numbers. As a result of the intervention of a World Power on behalf of the native Christians in each case, from the Ottoman point of view, the sympathies and loyalty of both the Maronites and the Armenians were suspect and they were considered as a potential fifth column in the event of a conflagration. 

 

That conflagration was not long in coming. The First World War saw France and Russia, protectors of the Maronites and Armenians respectively, pitted against the Ottoman Empire. An Allied naval blockade in the Eastern Mediterranean was creating great damage and upheaval to the Ottoman economy, resulting in food shortages in Syria. On Mount Lebanon, Maronite heartland, the effects of the blockade were even more deeply felt, given that the area was not particularly fertile and heavily dependent upon  food imports from the adjacent Bekaa Valley and Syria. Making the situation worse, a plague of locusts descended upon Mount Lebanon, eating the few crops that were able to grow.  

 

In 1914, after the storming of the Beirut granaries, the governor of Beirut was able to organise the delivery of relief food supplies. In 1915 however, the Commander for the Fourth Ottoman Army, and key member of the Young Turk triumvirate that was ruling the Ottoman Empire, Jemal Pasha, decided to restrict the delivery of food supplies to Mount Lebanon. He did so knowing full well that his decision would cause the inhabitants of the region to starve.  

 

The results of Jemal’s targeted starvation policy were felt almost immediately. In a letter to Mary Haskell, dated 26 May 1916, famous Lebanese poet Gibran Khalil Gibran wrote: “The famine in Mount Lebanon has been planned and instigated by the Turkish government. Already 80,000 have succumbed to starvation and thousands are dying every single day. The same process happened with the Christian Armenians and applied to the Christians in Mount Lebanon.” 

 

Gibran here was alluding to the fact that Jemal Pasha was in charge of overseeing the final leg of the Armenian Genocide: ensuring the death, by starvation, illness or murder of those Armenians who were able to survive the harrowing death marches across Anatolia and into Syria. Gibran also served as secretary of the Syrian–Mount Lebanon Relief Committee which ultimately raised $165,815 in two and a half years from about 15,000 Syrian subscribers in America. 

 

In his seminal novel Al-Raghif (The Loaf), Lebanese writer Tawfiq Yusuf Awwad described in devastating detail, the horrifying effects of the Ottoman imposed famine: 

 

“There was a woman, lying on her back, covered with lice. An infant with huge eyes was hanging to her naked breast. One of the men pushed her with his foot and waited... Tom bit his fingers and stepped forward. The woman’s head was tipped back and her hair was sparse. From her bosom jutted out a scratched and battered breast that the infant kneaded with his tiny hands and squeezed with his lips, then gave up and cried.” 

 

 

Edward Nickoley, 1917, an employee with the Syrian Protestant College, later to become the American University of Beirut, was an eyewitness to the targeted destruction by famine, of the Maronites of Mount Lebanon. Accordingly, recorded their plight in his diary: “Starving people lying about everywhere; at any time children moaning and weeping, women and children clawing over rubbish piles and ravenously eating anything that they can find. When the agonised cry of famishing people in the street becomes too bitter to bear, people get up and close the windows tight in the hope of shutting out the sound. Mere babies amuse themselves by imitating the cries that they hear in the streets or at the doors.” 

Even Turkish feminist author and Ataturk devotee Halide Edib was profoundly moved by the plight of the Maronites of Mount Lebanon writing in her memoirs: “The nights….were atrocious: You heard the whining and screaming of starved people: ‘Hungry, hungry.’”  

 

Professor Aaron Taylor Brand, of the American University of Beirut, believes that the Armenian Genocide also exacerbated the suffering on Mount Lebanon:  “The conditions of the refugees from the Armenian Genocide and those fleeing to the cities in search of work or food increased the incidence of epidemic disease during the period. The increase in susceptible individuals and the wet springs of 1916-1918 meant there were more mosquitoes feeding on more people, allowing the spread of malaria to reach crisis levels by 1917. The anaemia and diarrhoea of malaria, combined with malnourishment, was a bad combination, probably subtly contributing to the death tolls.” 

 

Around 200,000 people starved to death at a time when the population of Mount Lebanon was estimated to be 400,000 people. At 50% of the total population,  the targeted Mount Lebanon famine caused the highest fatality rate by population in World War I. Bodies were piled in the streets and people were reported to be eating street animals. Some people were even said to have resorted to cannibalism. 

 

Jemal Pasha was never brought to trial for his role in the Genocide. He was assassinated in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1922 by Armenians seeking revenge for his pivotal role in the genocide of the Armenians. He was never compelled to account for his decision to deliberately starve the Maronites of Mount Lebanon to death. 

 

The targeted starvation of the Maronite Christians further serves to reinforce the conviction that all Christians of the Ottoman Empire were considered a security risk and were thus ultimately expendable, despite any variations in the timing of method of their extirpation. Their plight must be included within the broader narrative of the Christian Genocide, if the full extent of the genocidal intent of the Young Turk regime and the effects of their policies upon their Christian subjects are to be fully comprehended. 

 

DEAN KALIMNIOU 

kalymnios@hotmail.com


First published in NKEE on Saturday 14 May 2022

Saturday, May 07, 2022

BLACK CRETANS


 

“The Cretans are vastly picturesque: great number of blacks, male and female.” 

Edward Lear 1846 

 

According to the British consul in Chania, Crete, writing in 1858 about British efforts to stamp out the slave trade in the Eastern Mediterranean described how “the whole black population of the isle” looked up to him “as their best friend and benefactor.” According to the research of Michael Ferguson on Enslaved and Emancipated Africans in Cretethere were so many trans-Saharan Africans living in Crete at that time, that another British consul, writing in 1885, argued that African slaves freed on the high seas would be better off housed with their compatriots already living in Chania. In this respect, Ferguson points to the account of Mary Adelaide Walker, who in her 1886 book ‘Eastern Life and Scenery’ observes that: “industrious” trans-Saharan Africans had “planted their village on the sea-shore” at the foot of the city’s fort. This village was “composed of small, square, flat roofed houses,” with a mosque at its centre. 

 

While the struggles of the Cretan people for independence loom large in Greek historiography, the same cannot be said about the sojourn of non-Europeans on the island. It is a little known fact that right up until 1922 and beyond there was present in Crete, a significant Greek speaking population of trans-Saharan Africans. Their presence on the island owed much to the importance of Crete as a way station for ships plying the Ottoman slave trade between Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Brought to the island as slaves, domestic servants, soldiers or wives, the Africans of Crete dislocated from their homelands, converted to the religion of their enslavers and associated with those oppressors by virtue of that religion by the Christians of the island, were caught between two worlds, belonging to neither. Ultimately, with the advent of nationalism, their continued presence on the island proved untenable and little remains today to testify to centuries of their habitation in Crete. 

 

There are many accounts as to the arrival of African slaves in Crete. Ferguson in particular refers to a compendium of these including an account by F W Seiber in 1817 whereby he recorded a ship arriving in Chania with “nearly fifty Negro slaves on board, who were soon landed and sold singly to Turkish inhabitants a house servants.” In his ‘Report of Egypt and Candia,” John Bowring estimated that in 1840, there were about two thousand of them. They were mostly situated in Chania, where visiting in 1864, artist and poet Edward Lear observed: “the queer village of the blacks, with houses in a cluster was pretty.” British traveller T A B Spratt also recorded seeing a “perfect little African community” at Chania. 

 

Although ostensibly Muslim, the African Cretans had developed a vibrant culture of their own, preserving many of their own traditions and beliefs. In particular there are in existence, Ottoman accounts such as those by writer Leyla Saz attesting to the existence of a Zar or Bori cult, involving possession by a spirit and ecstatic dancing in Crete. There are also description of African Cretans commemorating the festivals of Islamic saints in traditional African ways including dancing, the beating of drums, and cooking traditional African dishes. 

 

The Africans of Crete were locally known as “Halikoutes” This word, as researcher Charidimos Papadakis maintains is still heard in some parts of Crete, mainly as a pejorative term, to describe someone of ragged or slovenly appearance, as the porters, butchers and labourers of the African community were of low social and economic background and were often reduced to poverty. According to one account, the term is derived from the Arabic command “Hal il kuti”, meaning “put the box down”, a phrase commonly used among African porters, who generally spoke Arabic. 

 

Coexistence between the Christians of the island and the African Cretans was not harmonious, especially during the intercommunal strife on the 1890’s when the Christian Cretans sought unification with Greece. There were considered a violent and subversive element, to the extent, as Ferguson points out, that the Christians of Chania wrote to the British, in a set of demands tabled in Parliament, insisting: 

“All Africans who have taken part in the late murders, plunders… are to be exiled from the island; also those who do not possess real property of 10,000 piastres, and no more emigrants from Africa are to be admitted into the island.” 

 

It is fascinating that the Ottoman authorities in response, sought to focus on the “othering” of the Africans by their Christian counterparts, asserting their equality and inherent right to remain on the island. Thus, in a letter written to the British consul, the Ottomans asserted that the African Cretans were “born here and have become our fellow citizens… they possess an equal title with us to our civil rights and cannot be looked upon as other than real natives of the country.” 

 

The polarisation of the population of Crete into opposing Muslim and Christian factions, with the African Cretans placed by virtue of their faith with the Muslim faction meant that in the eyes of the Christian population, they were a subversive element: an obstacle to independence, an organ of the oppressors and thus had to be removed. Ferguson, in citing Papadakis’ research contained in his work “The Africans in Crete,” describes how in 1901, a Christian official took the opportunity of ordering the demolition of the African quarter of Chania while local newspapers alleged that police had found swords and other weapons while setting African Cretan homes on fire. According to Papadakis, the African Cretans demonstrated outside the local parliament against the destruction of their homes, protested to the consuls of the European powers and planned to write a letter of complaint to the Sultan. There was no intervention by any party and as a result, African Cretans continued to be targeted by the local authorities, with children being rounded up for deportation, Ferguson believes to Crete, but most likely to Asia Minor. As a result of their ill treatment, African Cretans began slowly to leave the island, many seeking work around Smyrna, where they would encounter another Christian community and similar ethno-religious tensions. 

 

As Muslims who had acculturated to Crete, despite their African origins, and the fact that by this stage their only language was Greek, the African Cretans were considered Turks by the Treaty of Lausanne and were thus deemed exchangeable. They were thus officially deported between 1923-1926. 

Ferguson cites the memoirs of African Cretan Mustafa Olpak, who claims that his family still existed in some state of bonded servitude to a Muslim Cretan family in 1923. On the eve of their departure from Crete, he alleges that their master sold a female member of his family to a family in Constantinople. Olpak then relates how in 1926, the family was freed and they headed to Ayvali in Asia Minor, denuded of its Christian inhabitants and resettled with Cretan Muslims. 




 

Papadakis in his work cites the cases of three African Cretans who remained behind after the population exchange. Salis Chelidonakis who died in 1967, was a fisherman who saved the lives of five soldiers at sea during the war, fed hungry children, one of which is a migrant to Austalia and remembers him and gave away his pension to the needy. He was the last of the African Cretans. His sister Ayesha Chelidonaki remained on Crete until the 1950s, when she migrated to Egypt. Able Nuriye Marmaraki, who worked as a nut seller in the market, was the last female African Cretan. When she died, Salis Chelidonakis performed the customary prayers at her funeral, as there was no longer an imam on Crete. Ali Koko (named thus because of his dark skin) on the other hand, worked as a dock-hand until 1926. Not wishing to be deported, he jumped off the boat and attempted to swim to land. Captured by the authorities, he was sent to Asia Minor. 

 

Kostis Kourelis points to other populations of Africans in Greece, including one at the Black Caves" on the slopes of the Acropolis in Athens, whose population was again subject to exchange. 

 

In modern Turkey, African Cretans were the recipients of discrimination because of their lack of knowledge of Turkish and the colour of their skin, and popular prejudices and superstition still remain within some quarters. In Crete, the land they called home for centuries, they are largely forgotten by a narrative, which like its Turkish counterpart, has up until recently, called for complete homogeneity. 

 

DEAN KALIMNIOU 

kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on 7 May 2022

Saturday, April 30, 2022

ANZAC DISMAY


 


When I was young, Anzac Day barely rated a blip on the radar of my community consciousness. I was lucky enough to attend a private school but even there we received no instruction as to the importance of the day. Within the Greek community, the day barely received a mention. Sometimes as the day approached, I would catch snatches of conversation between members of the elder generation in which the words: “RSL,” “Shrine” and “racism” could be discerned. When I pressed them for an explanation, I was told that this was none of my business. 

Returning home from university on the tram one day, while reading Odysseas Elytis’ epic poem inspired by the Second World War «ΆξιονΕστί», I noticed an elderly, blue eyed gentleman stare intently at me. Then, he began, falteringly to read in a broad Australian accent: “A-xion E-sti.” Dumfounded, I asked him as to the source of his knowledge of things Hellenic and he replied that he had fought in Greece during World War II. He stated that whilst fighting there, he was impressed by the indomitability and generosity of the Greek people. “I’ve never met anyone like the Greeks,” he confided. “A noble and spirited people. Even here in Melbourne, I’ve always been drawn to my Greek friends. You are a very old but lively people. You are fighters. And you should be marching alongside us on ANZAC Day.” To my everlasting regret, I cannot recall his name. Yet this chance encounter made me reassess the importance of Anzac Day both to myself and the communities to which I belong. 

A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with some friends in South Melbourne. While volubly disputing the topics of the day in Greek, a lady approached us and asked us for change. Having received the object of her request, she walked off. A middle-aged lady seated at the table next to us, commented loudly: “How’s that for manners? Not even an ευχαριστώor a παρακαλώ!” Amused at our astonished expressions, she explained: “Yeah, I’m Aussie, but I went to Greek school. My dad fought in the war in Greece and he came back in love with the Greek people. He was full of admiration for the way they fought for their country and stuck their necks out for Australian soldiers. I grew up here in South Melbourne. So when all my Greek mates started going to Greek school, my dad thought it would be a good idea for me to go as well. I went for several years. I am a bit rusty, but I can still make myself understood.”  

In recent years there has been increased interest by members of the Greek community in Melbourne in participating in the Anzac Day March at the Shrine of Remembrance. This interest has been paralleled by an interest in military history, with special reference to the theatres of war in which Greece and Australia fought side by side, or as allies. The works of historians such as Jim Claven, Marina Hill and Martyn Brown among others have done much to elucidate the pivotal role Greece played in assisting the British imperial campaigns that Australia was a part of. As a result, the teleturgics of our community have changed. We now commemorate, among other events, the Battle of Kalamata and the retreat of Australian soldiers from Greece with a wreath laying ceremony at the Hellenic War Memorial, and there are many events which centre around the Epic Battle of Crete, one of the last events with a Greek flavour to be commemorated at the Shrine of Remembrance. T 

The emphasis on these military commemorations should not be seen as a glorification of war. Instead, what we are witnessing is a phenomenon whereby a “Greek” community feels excluded from a key mainstream “Australian” marker of identity and is seeking ways, founded upon historical experience, to be included within a national narrative which historically has not officially accommodated it. It is this need for inclusion that has proved the driving force for the erection of the Lemnos Gallipoli Memorial which firstly commemorates the nurses and soldiers who served on the Greek Island of Lemnos during the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 during World War One, and only then the role of Lemnos in the campaign. Similarly, the George Devine Treloar memorial which holds sacred the memory of a remarkable Australian soldier who saved Asia Minor Greeks from certain death in the aftermath of the Genocide, serves to remind the broader public that the Australian military discourse does not exist within a vacuum. It is multi-faceted and overlaps with our story, a story which we would submit, is just as Australian and deserves reception into the wider narrative. 

The Australian descendants of the villagers of Krithia and of the 15,000 Greeks who were ethnically cleansed from the Gallipoli peninsula by the Ottomans in order to fortify the area in anticipation of the Anzac landing also deserve to be honoured by the mainstream in recognition of the fact that wars, especially imperialist ones, result in collateral damage being inflicted upon the innocent and the vulnerable. The relatives of Hector Vasily, a ten year old Brisbane boy who while throwing gifts to soldiers returning from World War I was struck and killed by a vehicle carrying returned soldiers, also needs to be honoured. To banish their stories from the narrative, and indeed those of the many Greeks who fought as Allies or risked their lives to hide or assist Australian soldiers is to propagate a racially exclusive neo-colonialist discourse that while purporting to foster multiculturalism, in effect, creates two classes of people, whose participation in important civic events is determined largely by race, with a grudging acceptance of those few Greek-Australians who fought in the Australian armed forces. 

 

Smarting from the hurt of having our Greek national day celebrations banished from the Shrine of Remembrance, and our general exclusion from Anzac Day commemorations, our community this year was heartened by the news that the Evzones from the Presidential Guard would be “permitted” to participate in this year’s Anzac Day march, along with students from Greek community schools and organisations dressed in national costume. Yet just a few days before Anzac Day, prospective participants received the following email:  

“It is with great sadness that we have to inform you that your participation in this year's ANZAC Day parade has to be cancelled. Both the Victorian Returned Services League and the Hellenic RSL Sub Branch have officially written to us today clearly indicating that the youth are not allowed to Parade in Greek National Costume.  Furthermore, it was highlighted that unless students are direct descendants of our ANZAC soldiers, wearing their grandfather’s / grandmother’s medals they are not allowed to take part in the Anzac Day Parade.” 

In other words, to the powers that be, while descendants of enemy soldiers may march proudly beside the Anzacs, descendants of allies may not. Young Greek-Australians whose grandparents fought on the same side as the Anzacs in two World Wars and the Korean War are being told that their family history is irrelevant to the propagators of Australia’s national identity and that they have no place within it. While those Australians who fought in and for our motherland fully appreciated and cherished the sacrifices of the Greek people, those appointed to honour their memory, do not. In adopting such a policy, those arbiters of military identity dishonour the very legacy of those they purport to revere. They don’t have to follow such a policy. New South Wales veteran’s organisations are more than happy to allow descendants of Allied soldiers to march with them.  

I spent Anzac Day this year reading about the pogrom perpetrated by Australians against the Greeks of Kalgoorlie in 1916, as they were considered a subversive alien element. I read about Arthur Halkas, Edward Basil Makriyiannis and George Leonidas Paxin who died fighting in the Australian army in France during the First World War. I read about Angelo Barbouttis who destroyed two barges carrying Japanese soldiers in New Guinea before being killed in 1943. I read about Lela Karayianni of Athens, who was shot by the Nazis for saving the lives of dozens of Australian soldiers. 

I told my children about how their great grandfather along with other soldiers, having fought for the freedom of their country in the rugged mountains of Northern Epirus, decided to emigrate to Australia after the war because of the ties forged between the two nations on the battlefield. He, like so many others did not bring their medals with him. He sought no affirmation or reward for his service. His descendants and the descendants of all of the ancestors of Greek-Australians who fought in wars on the side of the Australians would most likely fill a football field. And then I told them why despite all this, they can never hope to participate in the Anzac Day parade.  

Our people don’t know of the Last Post, or of stultifying clichéd expressions of remembrance. Instead, as dusk fell over my grandfather’s grave, we recited these verses from Elytis’ “Axion Esti,” deeming them tribute enough: 

Those of us still left on hard soil 

will burn incense for the dead 

and when the caravan of Death, 

the great itinerant wrestler, 

is lost in the distance 

we’ll dance in their memory. 

 

Those of us still left in the morning 

will eat a slice of the loaf of sun 

and a bunch of grapes from the vineyard 

and without fear’s buzz anymore 

we’ll be moving ahead in life. 

 

Those of us still left in the night 

will go out in the desert to sow grass 

and before night takes us forever 

we’ll make of earth an icon stand 

and a cradle for unborn children. 

 

DEAN KALIMNIOU 

kalymnios@hotmail.com

First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 April 2022

Saturday, April 23, 2022

PRE-EASTER WITH GEORGE

 



George is a second generation Thessalian and enjoys a respected position working within the realm of finance while also dabbling in the arcane world of computer programming on the side. We meet once a year, just before Easter, with the sole aim of setting siege to the ideological foundations of each other’s world view, a pre-Pascal tradition that commenced when, a few years ago, he related an anecdote to me whereby: 
Two non-Greek ladies whose partners are Greek get together to make koulouria for Easter. The older sister of one of the Greek partners enters the kitchen and the ladies proudly ask her: "Do we qualify as Greek women now?" To which the older sister responded: “Nah, if you were true blue Greek Australian women, you would get your petheres or mothers to make them.”  

By way of riposte, I tell him about the time the lady at an obscure delicatessen some distance from my place of habitation refused to charge my wife for her Easter purchases because she heard me speaking Greek to our progeny. “See, being Greek opens up doors,” I told her. “Not for you. Only for me,” came her response, in Assyrian. 

George spent years in bank limbo, otherwise known as being a loans officer. I inform him that the first century Greek writer Plutarch was the author of a treatise entitled: «Περὶ τοῦ μὴ δεῖν δανείζεσθαι», that is:  “That we ought not to borrow.”  

In it, he gives the following advice: «ἄξιον, ὅτι ἔχει, πιστεύεσθαι, δέον ἔχοντα μὴ δανείζεσθαι. Τί θεραπεύεις τὸν τραπεζίτην  πραγματευτήν;» (It is fitting to pawn one's goods rather than to borrow. Why do you pay court to the banker or money lender?) 

George wiggles uncomfortably, lamenting the fact that while the employees of the banks hailing from the fair isle of Cyprus used to receive invitations to a multitude of community events, Greek bankers floundering in the mainstream were more or less excluded. I ty to console him by pointing out that Plutarch also experienced exclusion, in his case, from giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Banking, which is kind of ironic when one considers that his name means: “Master of Wealth.” 

 George looks at me disconsolately and types something on his phone. I am convinced he is looking up my credit file and would deny me a loan at the slightest of pretexts. I try to imagine George assuming a smug air while refusing me a loan and I cannot, for George’s facial expression is perpetually one of anxiety. Attempting to conceive of ways of winning him over, I recall how the ancient writer Theopompus describes the manner in which Phillip II of Macedon won over the Thessalians: 

"Phillip, knowing that the Thessalians were licentious and wanton in their mode of life, organised parties for them and tried to amuse them in every way, dancing and rioting and submitting to every kind of licentiousness... and so he won over the Thessalians by parties rather than by presents.” 

 

Last time I saw George at a party was just after the 2019 “Macedonia Rally.” He arrived at the venue draped in the Sun of Vergina flag and wearing a T-shirt bearing the logo «Εὐχαριστῶ τοῖς θεοῖς ὅτι ἐγεννήθην Ἕλλην» which means "I thank the gods for being Greek.” As the men in the room whooped excitedly and the ladies moved away gingerly, I enquired as to the source of the quote, his bulging biceps a reproach to the flaccidity of my own sedentary torso. He told me that it can be found it in Arrian's Anabasis of Alexander. 

 

While expressing great admiration as to the convexity of his pectoral muscles, I hastened to infom him that having read the Anabasis in the original (I don’t get invited to too many parties), the purported quote does not exist. Moreover, the Greek used in the quote is anachronistic: εὐγνωμονῶ in Arrian's time meant to think good thought, not to be grateful. Similarly, the terms εὐχαριστῶ and ἐγεννήθην do not belong to the Greek of Arrian's time in that context and they can be found nowhere in his books. 

For good measure, I added that the first time the quote appears, is in an article by Greek teacher Ioannis Kholevas, who cites as his source, a book by the same Ioannis Kholevas, called "Αλέξανδρος ο Μέγιστος, ο Ένας." Scoffing my glass of coke triumphantly and feeling the ensuing sugar buzz, I declared that the quote is in fact, a hoax. There is plenty of evidence to support the fact that the Macedonians belonged to the Greek world without resorting to falsehood and spurious quotes. George has not held a birthday party since. I would have known if he had one, for he would have invited me. 

 

It is the anniversary of the hanging of Patriarch Gregory the V on 10 April 1821 that invariably prompts George’s annual text, first expressing his profound sorrow at such a heinous crime and second, attempting to arrange a catch up. I am always inordinately moved by George’s sentiments as he is a communist, who believes that religion is the opium of the people and has an autographed photograph of Aris Velouchiotis on his bedroom wall in his parent’s house, which I suspect he has signed himself.  

 

Despite his proclivities, George expresses great admiration for the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos and especially his stance on ecology. I on the other hand greatly admire our EP’s quirky sense of humour, informing George that when I first met the Patriarch, he spent the first ten minutes doing a particularly plausible imitation of an Australian accent. 

I then told him that his “φήμη" or ceremonial chanting of his title, should be changed to Var-tho-lo-meos, sung to the tune of Guantanamera. Without blinking an eyelid, he confided in me that he ordinarily would refer the matter to the Holy Synod, if it was not for his concern that a future successor with less syllables in his name would play merry hell with the rhythm. For this alone I will revere him to my dying day. 

 

George, on the other hand, has no sense of rhythm, but he is pretty handy with an app, being of an entrepreneurial bent, owning four investment properties, in his sister’s name, as his mother is adamant that should he ever find a partner, she will leave him and take the properties with her. He shows me an app entitled “Do my tama,” in which one can via direct debit, pay for dedicated personnel in the motherland to visit monasteries that house thaumaturgic icons and light candles before them on one’s behalf. George exhorts me to construct a concept of similar ingenuity that he can transform into an app and a few days later I message him with the fruits of my labours:  

“Want to get a blessing this Easter but still worried about COVID? 

Want to save time waiting in queues and avoid being elbowed by elderly or unwashed parishioners who don’t socially distance?  

Introducing Ev-log the unique app that allows you to get your bishop’s blessing without the risk of falling foul of the Health Department’s directives. 

Easy to install, Ev-log allows you to “log on” and obtain your bishop’s blessing via a personalized digital signature. 

It also logs how many blessings you have received and reminds you when it is time to go to confession. 

Just one touch of your lips on the virtual hand screen and ev-logeite! 

The Ev-log. Now in new incense flavour for extra holiness. 

*Heresies sold separately.” 

 

I am awaiting confirmation as to the registration of my Intellectual Property rights when I meet up with George, who arrives bearing, a week too soon, koulouria, red dyed eggs and a bent and battered monstrance. “Tenant left this behind in one of my properties, he mutters. “I thought you could give it to one of our churches, or something.” I explain to him that the monstrance, used to contain the consecrated eucharistic host, is a Catholic usage, though I marvel at how much the Sun of Vergina, his particular monstrance resembles. By this stage, George is scrolling through his phone, reading political commentary about the upcoming elections. Launching into an impassioned analysis of electoral boundaries and the preferential voting system, he laments: “the system is flawed. They are failing the people.” 

I explain to him that before Big Brother, the Athenians invented the concept of voting someone off the show. One wrote the desired exile's name on a piece of potsherd (ostrakon) and the person who received the most names would be exiled from Athens for ten years. 

According to legend, one day, a peasant asked the great politician Aristides the Just to write the name "Aristides" on an ostrakon. 

"Why? What has he ever done to you?" Aristides asked. 

"Nothing," the man replied. "I'm just sick of everyone referring to him as "the Just." 

Aristides duly helped him to write his own name and I suggest that this model be adopted not only in our Federal and State systems but also in all of our community organisations. 

 

By this stage, George is no longer interested. He has discovered the Greek Dating App, and having read glowing reviews on the internet posted by Ibraham Brissardyaong and Lando Benallackooyng, is pondering whether he can make it to and from Chicago in time for mageiritsa at Anastasi. He wishes me a satisfying Pascal Feast and walks away. 

 

DEAN KALIMNIOU 

kalymnios@hotmail.com


First published in NKEE on Saturday 23 April 2022