Saturday, May 30, 2015

Der türkische Führer

Adolf Hitler, when planning the Holocaust, is said to have rationalized his acts by stating: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” While evidence for this quote is scant, it cannot be doubted that the Nazi’s fascination with cleansing ethnic or religious minorities was stimulated in part by the example of Kemal Ataturk with the early Nazi’s and other right wing ideologues paralleling The fate of Turkey with that of Germany.
In a chilling study entitled “Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination”, Stefan Ihrig presents two decades of research into mainstream, right-wing and Nazi publications in Germany following World War I. He goes on to demonstrate how the founder of the modern state of Turkey served as a model of emulation for the Nazis and Hitler.
Considering that Hitler himself called Ataturk a “a star in the darkness,” it is not  diffiuclt case to prove As Ihrig states,  “For the Nazis,” in the aftermath of the World War, “Turkey was not the old East, but standard bearer for the modern nationalist and totalitarian politics that they wished to bring to Germany.” In particular, the Nazis were interested in two aspects of Kemalist Turkey which they considered were worthy of emulation:  its active resistance against the Entente countries including its ability to resist the dismemberment of the heartland of the Ottoman Empire, its ability to secure a homeland, and to revise a post-war peace treaty imposed on them by the victors as well as its elimination of the opposition and minorities.
This makes sense. A number of early members of the Nazi movement such as Han Trobst had previously served in the Turkish military in an advisory capacity. Some of these had even witnessed the Genocide of the native Christian minorities by the Ottomans and noted their approval of such a policy in writing.  A Nazi analysis of the Kemalist movement replete with the racial politics that characterized the movement is evident in Froembgen’s, popular book Kemal Atatürk: Soldier and Führer, which was published in 1935. He wrote: “Turkendom was dying slowly but surely of the poison that pours out of the racial mishmash of the subdued peoples, this famous sputum of peoples of the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, of the Levantines, the Greeks, the Armenians, the Arabs, and the Jews, who like the resistant weed cover the ground [everywhere].” According to him “sneaky, parasitic and unworthy” Armenians were seen as the “Jews of the Orient” who had “stabbed the Turks in the back” during the war. Even as  early as 1924, , it was suggested by the abovementioned Trobst on the front page of the Völkischer Kurier that “what had happened to the Armenians might very well happen to the Jews in a future Germany.” Going back to the source, Hitler himself paralleled the Christian minorities of Turkey with his own pet hatred of the Jews, stating at a party meeting in 1927, that Greeks and Jews  “have these specific, disgraceful characteristics we condemn in the Jews.” Thus the genocide of these populations was considered by the Nazis to be admirable because, as Ihrig states, it provided the harmonization and standardization of their populations. “Only through the annihilation of the Greek and the Armenian tribes in Anatolia were the creation of a Turkish national state and the formation of an unflawed Turkish body of society within one state possible.” 
 Such was the Nazi admiration of Turkey that Nazi racial theory, incomprehensible and inconsistent as the best of times that the Turks themselves were included as part of the racial fold. In 1936 the Nazi  office for Racial Policy announced that “The Turks are Aryans!” As seen earlier, the minorities that were cleansed, had their “Aryaness” stripped from them.
Kemal Ataturk’s rise to power also seems to have been closely studied by the Nazis and Ihrig mounts an effective argument that his rise formed the inspiration for the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Just as Ataturk abandoned corrupt and subjugated Constantinople for Samsounta, where he formulated the national movement that took over the country and cleansed it of its minorities so too, did Hitler seek from provincial Munich, to form a movement that would march on Berlin. As such, Kemal was the perfect Führer. According to Hitler, no salvation could come from Constantinople because “the city was, just as in our case, contaminated by democratic-pacifistic, internationalized people, who were no longer able to do what is necessary. It could only come from the farmer’s country.” As Goebbels teacher, F. Hussong wrote, Kemal was “the man who transformed a helpless and unstable, disoriented and faltering mass into a unified nation; a will rises and creates ascent from doom; a Führer rises and shows the way… where once one saw only abyss and doom.” The modelling of the Nazi movement upon Kemal becomes even more evident during Hitler’s own speeches when on trial of mounting the Munich Putsch. He argued that the German recovery “could only come from a relatively healthy part of Germany, and that was Bavaria”  just as Ankara ‘saved’ the Turkish nation. He went on to state: “If we ask ourselves: What has legalized Kemal Pasha’s deed in the end? The gaining liberty for his nation.” 
Hitler’s ascent to power did not diminish his use of the Kemalist movement as a guide. In 1928, addressing a gathering in Nuremberg, on the topic of the German defeat in World War I, he had this to say about Ataturk: “The inner strength [of the Turkish State] had remained and the man came who managed to remind his people of its great tradition and who led them forward. That is what was different with us Germans.”  By 1933, Nazi publications constantly equate Kemalism with Nazism. Kemalism was described as “Turkish National Socialism” in Hamburger Nachrichten while the Völkischer Beobachter attributed the ascent of the Turkish nation to the “deed of this one single man, who with iron will and undiminished determination leads his nation to independence.” In the Kreuzzeitung, it was stated that “the German National Socialism of Adolf Hitler and Turkish Kemalism are closely related.”
It is important to note that Kemalist Turkey, while it enjoyed amicable ties with Germany prior to the outbreak of World War II, was not influenced by the Nazi regime. Instead, the infatuated Nazis considered Kemalism to have reached the endpoint of the journey that they had embarked upon that is, a situation where, the country, having been cleansed of its minorities, and the people having already given their blind obedience to their leader, had no more need for fanfare, parades and fancy speeches. For them, Kemal, moreso than Mussolini or Franco was what a leader should be.
It is this rationale that justified, in the minds of the Nazis at least, the genocide of the Christian peoples of Anatolia and the Jewish Holocaust, at least ideologically, should be seen as a logical progression of this nuanced yet essentially ‘copy-cat’ aspirational parallelization of Nazism with Kemalism. In this sense, Ihrig’s research is of paramount importance as it establishes a continuum of genocidal ideology that the world would do well to study. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 30 June 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015


«Τις Πταίει;»  or "Who is to blame?" was a manifesto published by Greek politician and subsequent Prime Minister Charilaos Trikoupi  in the Athens daily Kairoi, in 1872. He blamed the King for Greece's terrible political instability, in particular, for his by-passing public opinion as expressed in elections, in his selection of Prime Ministers. Eerily enough, Trikoupis presided over Greece's valiant attempts to secure bailout loans and that country's ultimate declaration of bankruptcy in 1893.
Listening to a song on the radio I had not heard for an age, I have come to the radical conclusion that is neither the politicians nor the banks, the world powers nor our enemies who have contrived, jointly or severally to bring the fair land of Greece once more to its knees. Instead, blame can be ascribed fairly and squarely to the Greek popular band ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ, who enjoyed the peak of their fame in the late eighties and early nineties - that is, during the period in which the current crisis has had its genesis. 
The hirsute members of ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ, have been a source of concern for me, ever since they released a song whose lyrics, «είμαι ερωτευμένοςμε μια δεκαεξάρακι ότι κι αν μου λένεεγώ δεν δίνω δεκάρα,» (I'm in love with a sixteen year old and do not give ten cents for whatever anyone else says,) appear at their worst, to evidence a contravention of the Victorian Crimes Act, and at their slightest, an incitement to civil disobedience.
ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ further provide cause for disquiet with their unsubtly named song: «Βόλτα με κλεμμένο αμάξι,» (Ride in a stolen vehicle), in which the object of the bard's affection is invited to come for a ride in a stolen vehicle because her lover is poor but loves her even more, possibly in anticipation of Timbaland's "The Way Am Are," a generation later. «Είμαι άφραγκος μωρό μου, τι να κάνω. Σ' αγαπάω όμως κάτι παραπάνω. Έλαέλακοντά μου έλαέλαέλα φύγαμεέλαΒόλτα με κλεμμένο αμάξι.» Is this truly a song about the straitened circumstances of youth, or, indulging our paranoia for just a moment longer, are we witnessing something much more insidious: the justification of theft?
Without a doubt ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ want us to think that they are merely idolizing the transient state of youth. Yet in the aptly named 1997 hit «Ευτυχώς που ξέχασα να μεγαλώσω» ("Lucky I've forgotten to grow up"), the band makes this prescient observation of the future state of Greece:   «Σε παίζουνε στα ζάρια και σε χάνουν κάθε μέρα εδώ πέρακαι σβήνουνε τα ίχνη της αυγής τα μεσημέρια τα ξεφτέρια.» (They gamble you away on the dice here every day, and at midday, the smart-alecs wipe away all remains of the dawn.) Is this smug foreknowledge both of successive Greek government policy and the economic stylings of Varoufakis? In actual fact, are the nefarious ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ, by their vocal celebration of youth seeking to lull the Greek people into a state the infantilism necessary to allow their politicians to systematically bring the country to ruin?
The answer lies a few years earlier in their 1992 song Γεια σου Έλληνα, (Hail the Greek) which enjoyed unprecedented popularity. By means of its pernicious verses, I contend that ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ single-handedly attempted to brainwash the erstwhile humble, hardworking, modest and self -effacing Greek into the extravagant, loud-mouthed, entitled spendthrift that, if the Troika is to be believed, is at the root of the current crisis. Let us consider the prescriptions embedded within the lyrics:
«Λένε πως δεν νοιάζεσαι για τίποτα, ότι δε σου καίγεται καρφί· κι όλοι σε κοιτάζουνε καχύποπτα, οι πονηροί.» By saying that "they say that you don't care about anything and that everyone is suspicious of you, those shifty people," the band is inculcating a sense of nonchalant irresponsibility into the Greeks, while simultaneously puffing up their pride.
They go on to claim that: «Λες πως σε λερώνουνε με ψέματα, ότι σε ζηλεύουν δηλαδή. Είναι κάποιων άλλων μαγειρέματα, δε φταις εσύ.» Here ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ again embed within the Greek a false sense of superiority and irresponsibility. According to themnothing is the Greek'sfaultHe can do no wrongInstead, it is those who are jealous of him, who spread lies about him that are to blame for his woes. Accordingly, the band is surreptitiously divesting the Greek of the necessary introspection required to conduct an analysis of his deteriorating condition.
The manner in which ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ methodically sets about to prepare the Greek for his fall becomes ever so more blatant in the chorus: «Γειασου Έλληναγεια σου δαίμοναείσο πρώτος σε όλαμεγάλεψηλά το κεφάλιΓεια σου Έλληνα, γεια σου δαίμονα, τσιφτετέλι χορεύεις τρελό, και όπου σε βγάλει.» By praising the Greek's intelligence as daemonic, telling him he is the first at everything and should therefore keep his chin up and finally, by suggesting that his problems can be superficially cured by an exotic eastern dance, and "wherever it goes,"  not only has the band succeeded in fuelling the Greek's vanity beyond all point of return, it has also achieved the Geek's complete incapacity for responsible action. From now on, all acts, of self-preservation or otherwise, will be as ill-conceived and as useless as an eastern dance. That is, the Greek will be happy to engage in such activities, as they will make him feel he is doing something, but thanks to the evil ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ, will be unable to perceive the futility of his actions.
In the final verse, apart from inciting the Greek to be «της κομπίνας .. πρίγκιπας,» (ie. the prince of scams) ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ, cruelly predict a narrowing of the easy path for the Greeks. Instead, however, of suggesting solutions or steeling the Greeks for their trial to come, the band falsely predicts a rosy and easily surmountable future course: «Λένε ότι κλείσανε οι δρόμοι σουμα εσύ με χίλια προσπερνάς· κι ύστεραζητάνε τη συγγνώμη σου κι εσύ γελάς.» Of note is the duplicitous prediction that not only will the Greek surmount his difficulties without pain or struggle, but will also triumph over the Troika, which will be compelled to seek an apology, said statement of contrition to be met by the Greek with peals of laughter.
What cuts one to the quick is that later, in their song «Γαλάζιο Ταξίδι,» (Blue Journey, a clear metaphor for Greece's modern history if there ever was one,) the perfidious ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ, proceed to completely contradict their assurance that the future will be one of smooth sailing. Insteadit is envisaged as a veritable Golgοtha: «Ξέρω καλά το δρόμο που μου ζητά για να βαδίσω/Τα μονοπάτια τα καυτά που πρέπει να περάσω/ Για να σε φτάσω.» By this time however, the Greek, as metamorphosed by ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ is a shallow creature, a slave of his passions and a dependent upon the Greek state, unable to heed the warnings, let alone do anything constrictive about them. Therefore, the band has indemnified itself against liability cleverly, warning us that as they know the road that needs to be trodden upon in order to reach [financial security/ the bailout/ exit from the Euro], and even the by-lanes and short cuts, which are apparently, quite hot, there is nothing that their poor listeners, divested of all their critical and creative faculties can do, except follow them blindly.
As if that were not enough, having lulled everyone into a state of political narcolepsy, ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ, in their height of arrogance, see fit, in the song «Παραμύθια της Χαλιμάς» to indulge in a bit of triumphant self-criticism of their own, admitting that they are telling their people untruths and discarding them as so much refuse: «Με τελειώνεις και με πετάςΜου λες παραμύθια της ΧαλιμάςΜε τελειώνεις και με πετάςστην άκρη του δρόμου
If Greece is ever to emerge from the current crisis with any sort of comprehensible social structure or finances, the nefarious activities of ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ must be accounted for. Furthermore, the question as to why Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and his immediate three predecessors and ZIΓΚ ΖΑΓΚ have never appeared in a room together, requires an urgent answer. In the meantime, let us console ourselves in our hysteria with this offering, a telling description of our modern times and the movement in the Athens market, from the masters of delusion's prophetic 1997 song «Χωρίς Σκοπό» (Pointless):
«Χωρίς σκοπό, χωρίς σκοπό
 Έτσι μ' αρέσει ν' αγαπώ
 Δεν λογαριάζω, ούτε μετράω
 Δεν αγοράζω απόψε, δεν πουλάω»


First published in NKEE on Saturday 23 May 2015.

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