Saturday, October 29, 2022



I think that the members of the Greek Australian Cultural League of Melbourne would forgive me for expressing the wish that this year’s edition of their literary journal “Antipodes”, being the sixty eighth, did not exist. This is because it is dedicated to perhaps the most traumatic experience within all of Greek history, the Asia Minor Catastrophe – the extirpation of a three-thousand-year presence of Greek people, in the lands of Asia Minor. 

Conversely though, the current issue of the journal could not have plausibly concerned itself with anything else, given that we are commemorating the centenary of the 1922 Catastrophe, and with it, the one hundred years in which writers, musicians and artists both in Greece and within the Greek communities of Australia have drawn upon this event, both as inspiration and as a festering wound that refuses to heal. 

Viewed from this perspective, the publication of a literary journal that purports to analyse the historical and artistic legacy of 1922 within a community whose organisations have largely ignored it, or who have relegated it to a stereotypical and arid wreath-laying photo opportunity, is a timely one. Prior to the recent launch of this year’s “Antipodes” Asia Minor special, there was a complete dearth within our community, of sensitive, sophisticated and imaginative commemorative events or onversations that seek to interpret the socio-economic, political and cultural factors that led to 1922, but also to initiate a discussion that examines how these engender parallel narratives not only in Greece, but also in Australia, as to the manner in which they are incorporated into our ever-evolving dominant identity discourse and our hybrid hypostasis as diasporic Greek-Australians, let alone how these are then expressed and interpreted as art and literature. 

As such, we ought to be exceedingly grateful that through this year’s journal,  the Greek Australian Cultural League allows for a multiplicity of narratives to contend and enter into dialogue with each other, both historical and literary, with a view to placing the Catastrophe in some sort of local context. This context is necessary, for it gives rise to a number of subsequent questions. A century on from the Holocaust of Smyrna, what lessons can be drawn? One obvious one has international implications: the complete utter failure of humanity to prevent genocide. What possible connection or relevance can this event have in a globalised world, to a Greek community that is completely integrated within the broader Australian social fabric? Maybe, that we cannot fully appreciate our identity as Greek-Australians without reference to the Holocaust of Smyrna and the genocide of the Greeks of Asia Minor, without having a regard to the paradox of our own ontology: as an indigenous people, we know what it means to be colonised, to have our children stolen from us, to be treated as sub-human, to be enslaved, to be exterminated and evicted from our homeland. Consequently, we are in a unique position to enter into dialogue and share parallel stories with the native people of this country. They at least were the recipients of an apology. We are not. Instead, we have a tyrant on the loose inside our ancestral homeland, threatening to finish the job that his ancestors were engaged in a century ago. Further, it should be noted that our presence in this country has been facilitated and is constantly mediated by an establishment that violently seized this continent from its original custodians, committed acts of genocide and that our acknowledgment of their sovereignty, is an act of complicity. 

The “Antipodes” Asia Minor special touches on all these points and more besides. Articles such those by Kyriakos Amanatides and Kostas Vertzayas treat with the history of the region, while Con Aroney provides valuable testimonies of survivors which are remarkable in that these survivors later became members of our own communities, having migrated to Australia. 

Kostas Markos’ article provides a unique contribution to Australian Asia Minor scholarship as, drawing extensively on archival resources within the Greek community and the broader mainstream it deals with the establishment of Greeks from Asia Minor in Melbourne, and the broader social implications of their settlement, a topic that exists largely outside the consciousness of most Melburnian-Greeks . 

Dr Christos Fifis and Dr Thanasis Spilias in separate articles examine disparate aspects of Iakovos Garivaldis OAM’s magisterial series: “Refugee Memories,” a multi-volume compendium of memories of those who survived the Catastrophe detailing both the trauma of expulsion, but also of relocation, a topic that is also examined by Kalliroi Loukidou-Tsiati, but with special reference to the re-settlement of refugees in the Athenian suburb of Nea Ionia. The similarities of the narrations of conditions and the prevailing attitudes of locals are eerily similar to those of early Greek migrants to Australia, and give us pause for thought. 

Yiota Krilli and other authors and poets who populate the pages of the periodical in Greek and in English posit prospective pathways by which we can analyse the extent to which the 1922 Catastrophe influences the literature and art of our community. The poem of second-generation poet George Athanasiou “Bosphorus,” where the Conflagration of Smyrna is conflated with the Fall of Constantinople so that his entire conception of Romiosyni is enveloped in flames and is ultimately incinerated offers a hint at the labyrinthine nature of this subject’s discursive possibilities. Accordingly, throughout the pages of the journal, we encounter treatments of the subject that are eminently conventional and others that attempt to forge completely new paths of expression. Some view the event from Australian eyes and mores, others from those of a Helladic vocabulary of loss and pain. All are fascinating and deserve our close attention and appreciation, as does the fact that there is a noted absence of Turkish narratives, in their own right or within the context to Greek responses to these. This symbolises a complete rupture within the discourse, highlighting the enormity of the trauma that still exists and a consequent inability to reconcile opposing perspectives. Though time and the manner in which we understand it, is an omnipresent dialectic that exists unarticulated throughout the journal. 

The launch of the journal last Sunday, was notable in that it was accompanied by an impressive audio-visual display. Attendees were called upon to observe a minute’s silence, the images of their ancestors who experienced the heinous crimes of 1922 flashing before the screen in front of them. To the rear of the room, the president of the Greek Australia Cultural League, Cathy Alexopoulos OAM, painstakingly assembled a display of remarkable array of ephemera and artefacts from long lost Smyrna, evoking days of old and diffusing throughout the Arcadian Hall, where the launch took place, a palpable sense of loss and nostalgia. On one of the tables was a half-burnt icon of Panayia: the only thing my ancestors were able to salvage from the ashes of their homeland of Aidinio as they fled. Behind the tables, stood mannequins adorned with authentic costumes from Smyrna, Aidinio and Cappadocia, all from my own collection. As I looked upon the many children present gazing at them, and at the supporting exhibition of paintings by members of the GACL inspired by the Catastrophe, pondering their meaning and legacy, an opposing query arose: “What will our legacy be?” 

It is precisely the posing of this intrinsic question that is made possible by the labour of the president and the committee of the GACL, and the editorial board of “Antipodes” headed by Kyriakos Amanatidis. In keeping the memories of our ancestral homelands alive, in facilitating the transmutation of those memories to art and for allowing discussion of their meaning the GACL proves yet again just how necessary it is, in an epoch of white notice, to allow a multiplicity of perspectives to flourish and contend with one another. 

One commentatorwriting about 1922 wrote, «ρίξαμε μια μούντζα πίσω στον χρόνο που μας έφυγε». There is no doubt that 1922 was Catastrophic. Yet from the flames of that Catastrophe we rose, phoenix like, certainly to take more batterings in the years to come, but in the certainty that we are always able to take stock, to reflect, to interrogate and to emerge, if not fully healed, then at least present. For if there is anything that the current issue of “Antipodes” teaches us, it is that ours is a discourse of survival. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 29 October 2022

Saturday, October 22, 2022



A statue of the hero of the Macedonian Struggle Pavlos Melas who died this month in 1904 has recently received criticism. Situated opposite the White Tower in Thessaloniki, the bronze likeness portrays a thin, almost emaciated figure, perched upon spindly legs. His visage appears neither heroic nor decisive. Rather, it seems indecisive and wracked with ennui.  

“This statue is completely unsuitable,” one commentator writes. “We needed someone with a more muscular torso.” “A failed attempt judging by the result,” another writer opines. “Spindly legs, shapely waist; it looks like the sketch of a fashion designer, not a likeness of a warrior. We need statues that exude dynamism and strength in order to inspire younger generations of Greeks to glory.” 

The sculptor is Natalia Melas, Pavlos’ grand-daughter. Having never met her grandfather, she used as her model, the iconic photograph of Melas, posing in a Macedonian doulamas; the image that is most commonly conjured up of the man, in the popular consciousness. That photograph was taken in an Athens studio, for Melas wore pants when on campaign and only seems to have donned the doulamas a month before his death, in order to impress his men. As he wrote to his wife on 27 August 1904: “Yesterday… I wore the dreaded doulamas for the first time and appeared so armed before my men. I made a favourable impression on them, for prior to that I was wearing that terrible straw hat and a pair of pants and I did not really look the part in their eyes.” 

Melas is widely considered to be the most significant figure in the Greek struggle to liberate Macedonia. As a scion of a wealthy bourgeois family married into the Dragoumis political dynasty, he is considered an ideologue, a man so concerned with fulfilling the national aspirations of Greece that he gave up his privileged position to give his life fighting for the freedom of Macedonia, being instrumental in the union of that region with Greece. A series of myths have been constructed about his Victorian family values, his utter and passionate devotion to his wife and children, constituting him one of Greece’s most romantic of heroes, as a result of his family’s deft handling of his correspondence after his death.  

A perusal of that correspondence reveals a more complex personality than the single-minded freedom-fighter we know and love. While the correspondence between Melas and his wife Natalia do evidence a close relationship, it is one that seems to place Natalia, as a member of the Dragoumis clan (her father served as Prime Minister of Greece), as the dominant partner, directing Melas’ movements and ordering the deaths of Bulgarian komitajis, primarily in order to further the political aspirations of her family, a far cry from the image of the submissive, passive wife waiting patiently for her hero husband to return, cultivated in the Athenian press. Further, plausible evidence exists to suggest that far from being the model of spousal fidelity, Melas was actually carrying on an affair with his sister--inl-aw, Efi Kallergi. 

Melas was certainly well-connected. His elder brother Georgios was a confidant and served as secretary to King Constantine, his other brothers Leon and Constantine served as members of Parliament for Patras and Ioannina and from his letters we glean the impression of a man frustrated at growing up in the shadow of his more capable and higher achieving siblings whilst also revealing a contempt for those who he considered to be of lower socioeconomic class. 

Melas made his first appearance on the public stage in 1894, when as a young sub-lieutenant, reacting violently to an article in the newspaper Acropolis protesting against violence against civilians by Greek army officers, he joined 84 of his colleagues in ransacking, looting and destroying the home of Acropolis’ owner, Vlasis Gavriilidis. A month later he joined the “National Committee,” a deep-state organisation responsible for inciting the disastrous 1897 Greco-Turkish War, which saw Turkish forces completely rout the Greek army and advance on Athens. Melas’ task was to transport guerrillas to Volos. In his letters home to Natalia, he gushed at the prospect of war: “I will return to my post, confident that the firing will begin.” For all his enthusiasm, Melas learned of the collapse of the front while participating in a Good Friday procession. Indeed, though expressing his disappointment at his fleeing comrades who as he wrote: “sold their rifles left and right,” Melas never participated in a battle. The closest he got to the fighting was according to his own admission, observing the Battle of Pharsalos from behind the safety of artillery lines with Swedish lieutenant, Erland af Kleen. 

Discredited by his association with the National Committee, many of whose leading members were prosecuted, Melas’ public activity was primarily restricted to duels with perceived antagonists. His lover, Efi Kallergi, wrote to his brother-in-law, Ion Dragoumis that Melas’ irritability was due to his father’s death and subsequent loss of income since Melas senior was no longer around to subsidise his son’s lifestyle. “[They] are finding it difficult as they are used to spending without thinking.” Around this time, Dragoumis revealed to Melas his intention of inciting the army to stage a coup that would “rid us of the disgusting quagmire of parliament.” According to Dragoumis, a necessary step was the infiltration of loyal soldiers into Macedonia, where, fighting against the Bulgarian komitajis, they would create the requisite political pressures to cause the downfall of the Athens government. It was in this context that Melas volunteered for Macedonia. 

Melas’ activity in Macedonia was limited to two incursions. In the first, in February 1904, he was the lowest ranking member of a band of four officers. His tour was cut short when he was sent back to Athens as a security risk, since he was indiscreet, giving away information as to his band’s plans that were picked up by Ottoman intelligence. On another occasion, he again had to be recalled, when he left behind his cloak, which contained correspondence that incriminated the Greek consul at Monastiri in irredentist activities. During their incursion, the activity of Melas’ band was limited to touring various Slavophone villages of Prespa (disconcertingly for modern Greeks, Melas in his letters refers to the Slavonic idiom of the region as ‘Macedonic’), handing out money and making patriotic pro-Greek speeches.  

The second, fatal mission saw Melas, through his family connections, appointed by the  Theotokis government, as general leader of the Macedonomachs of the vilayet of Monastir. Upon assuming his duties, Melas reported to his superiors that he immediately wrote to the Ottoman kaymakam of Florina, assuring him that he: “respected the Ottoman authorities, would not engage with the Ottoman army and was only interested in punishing the murderous Bulgarians.” Used to a more sedentary lifestyle, Melas found his mission extremely taxing.  He wrote to his wife: “Sadly my young servant has a terrible fever and I must carry my own backpack.” Blisters from being forced to wear tsarouchia, footwear he was completely unused to, also are a recurring theme, he complaining to his wife continuously: “These tsarouchia give me blisters.”  

There were however, situations where his sartorial predilections were given full opportunity to be put on display and it appears that he brought with him a whole wardrobe of costumes. As he wrote to his wife: “The notables of the southern part of the vilayet became enthusiastic when they learned an officer would visit them and asked me to come in an officer’s uniform. From my Wilhelmine wardrobe, I chose the cinnamon-velvet uniform of a bear hunter of the Black Forest.” 

Nonetheless, going from village to village, killing Bulgarian-aligned priests and teachers, compelling parents to remove their children from Vlach schools, forcing villagers to register themselves as Greeks with the Ottoman authorities and risk being killed should they seek to resile from their declaration and threatening villages with arson in the event they were visited by Bulgarian guerrillas must have been depressing. Melas confided in his wife of his despair that he could: “not achieve much….. due to the justifiable unwillingness of the local inhabitants.”  

Unable to relate to, or properly supply and protect the men in his band, one by one they began to desert him. This impacted greatly upon Melas’ mental state. It led him to the realisation, as he revealed to his wife: “that I am not capable of directing this type of mission. I began to tremble and shiver.” Withdrawing to a church: “alone in the dark I cried in despair. I felt as if I was in Hell and completely alone…” Having occasioned the death of a Bulgarian priest and teacher while they were returning from a funeral, Melas laments of a long and arduous journey through a valley: “All the while I shuffled along as if drunk, crying almost continuously. I thought that my beautiful and noble mission would be achieved with beautiful and noble deedswithout considering the harsh demands of the task and its terrible details. Twenty-four hours have passed and I am still crying.” 

Melas never engaged in battle with the Ottomans occupying Macedonia. He did not engage in any meaningful combat with the Bulgarian komitajis either, who generally kept out of his way, allowing him to wander around aimlessly. His failure caused him a few hours before his death to declare to his men that he intended to return to Athens, asking them to remain in the villages as guards. In Statista, where he died what is considered by Greeks to have been a hero’s death, conflicting accounts exist as to what transpired. The Greek consul of Monastiri reported that Melas was killed accidentally when Ottoman soldiers mistook his band for Bulgarian guerrillas, something, he admitted, twas deliberately being kept secret from the Greek public. Petros Hatzitasis, who fought with Melas, wrote that he was killed, when the weapon of another fighter, Lakis Pyrzas discharged itself accidentally. Cretan Macedonomach Euthymios Kaoudis, who met the survivors of Melas’ band soon after his death, alleged that his own men killed him after his wounding by Pyrzas, as he was groaning too loudly and they feared discovery by the Ottomans.  

These accounts, published in memoirs and articles years later, did not make their way to the Athenian press. Instead, the extended Dragoumis clan, through their selective publication of Melas’ letters, set about weaving the myth of Melas the Macedonomach that persists to the present day, with Embros newspaper claiming: “Ancient Greece and Rome has never produced a hero so pure and noble of purpose.” The most vociferous in their adulation were the political clients of the Dragoumis clan.  

However, one assesses Melas’ character and contribution to the liberation of Macedonia, his death, which served to galvanise the Greek public to demand of the Greek government that it prioritise the liberation of the region, served his cause far more effectively, than his troubled and turbulent life. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 22 October 2022

Saturday, October 15, 2022


My passionate Armenian friends are wincing. I am relating to them the story of a half Iranian, half Armenian friend who, being of mixed ethnic and religious heritage, was ostracised by both communities and ended up learning Greek instead. 

“I can see how that could happen,” one friend, whose grandmother still lives in Constantinople, remarks. “Marrying a non-Armenian is not something that is done in our community.” 

“No way,” another friend, a prominent lobbyist agrees. “That is how you lose your culture. It is the beginning of the end of everything.” This friend, who has arrived from interstate, is staying with his Greek-Egyptian grandmother, in the suburbs. Moments earlier he was expressing his incredulity at the Greek-Egyptian club EEAMA, which according to him, refuses to admit any Greek who is not from Egypt as a member. “It makes no sense,” he protests. “Especially since all these Greeks from Egypt were migrants from somewhere else anyway. Why should you restrict your horizons?” Apparently, his father’s cousin is the mayor of one of the smaller Aegean islands and he shares anecdotes about his father’s ire whenever his cousin, in the course of his mayoral duties, engages in contact with our neighbours across the water. 

“Once you marry out, you can kiss your culture goodbye,” Vartan, another community activist, declares solemnly. Vartan’s mother is Austrian, and while he is fluent in Armenian, enjoys speaking to members of the Armenian community resident in Germany, in German. 

Aram nods slowly. His wife is Greek and he has just returned from a holiday in her village. Noting his unease, I quote the Armenian mother in the SBS television series, “Marry Me, Marry My Family:” “a dog cannot marry a cat.” He chokes on his wine and I glance meaningfully at Ninos, the Assyrian in our convivial group, with whom I converse in Greek, he being fluent in that language since he lived in Greece for a few years prior to coming to Australia. He mentions that he taught his wife, a Greek-Australian, what he terms “proper” Greek, relating that when he first met her, she couldn’t carry on a conversation in that language further than a few village expressions. He then launches into a detailed account of Sara Khatun, a lady of mixed Assyrian-Armenian parentage, who being fabulously wealthy, donated a vast expanse of land in the environs of Baghdad for the re-settlement of Assyrian survivors of the Genocide, saving them from disease and starvation. 

We have come together to discuss ways in which we can work together to further the cause of Genocide recognition. We engage in a full and frank exchange of views, prompting the other Greek in our party to paraphrase the oft-cited quote of the great Rhigas Pheraios: “Whoever thinks freely, thinks as a Greek.” Our histories are distinct but also inextricably intertwined, so much so that our national narratives, when examined side by side, resemble each other both in their fervour but even more so in their internal contradictions and their ironies. I am reminded of Cavafy’s poem “Epitaph of Antiochos, King of Commagene,” where it is the local Assyrian population that demand of the Ephesian sophist Callistratus, a Greek epitaph in memory of their departed king. Extolling his virtues, Callistratus, according to Cavafy, writes: 

“He was the provident governor of our country.He was just, wise, courageous.And he was moreover that best of all, a Greek-humanity has no more honourable quality:those beyond are found among the gods.” 

The irony of course is that Antiochos was only half-Greek, feeling more attached to his and his wife’s Persian roots being related to the kings of Parthia as well as the Macedonian Seleucids, styling himself the “just, eminent god, friend of Romans and friend of Greeks,” and ruling over a hybrid multicultural and multilingual polity, which although initially Hellenised,  experienced a resurgence of Persian culture, intentionally supported by Commagene in order to highlight its ancient ancestry and refute competing Seleucid, Parthian and Roman claims over the area. Cavafy’s poem seems to imply that concepts such as ‘Hellenism’ are fluid and negotiable and that “others” can interrogate them and their boundaries at will. 

A further irony is contained in the local Assyrians’ utilisation of a Sophist to posthumously Hellenise their king. According to Plutarch, sophist are those who develop a discourse that is apparently philosophical but does not spring from their experience, and who do not try to connect it with their way of life. A construct devoid of vitality, for a ruler who is no longer extant. 

A similar discourse runs through Cavafy’s poem “In a town of Osroene,” a multi-ethnic Hellenistic kingdom centred around the Aramaic speaking city of Edessa, made famous by its king Abgar, who according to legend, wrote a letter to Christ offering him sanctuary and receiving, the Mandylion, a cloth miraculously imprinted with an image of Christ’s face. In his sensuous poem, Cavafy’s narrator suggests various approaches in which diversity in ethnic background, can be appreciated, declaring that his group constitute a «κράμα», an alloy, or a mixture: 

“Yesterday, around midnight, they brought us our friend Remon,who’d been wounded in a taverna fight.Through the windows we left wide open,the moon cast light over his beautiful body as he lay on the bed.We’re a mixture here: Syrians, migrated Greeks, Armenians, Medes.Remon too is one of this kind. But last night,when the moon shone on his sensual face,our thoughts went back to Plato’s Charmidis.” 

Here it is the Syrians who are the natives and the other populations are migrants and yet this “mixture,” of ethnicity coalesces around other points of reference. Their mutual admiration of the body of Remon, in the moonlight is what brings them together, causing the narrator to liken him to the classical Charmidis, the object of Socrates’ passion in the Platonic dialogue about the meaning of sophrosyne, or self-control, where Socrates declares: “I saw inside his cloak and caught on fire and was quite beside myself.” 

Rather than extol the virtues of Hellenism, Cavafy’s narrator here appears to establish ethno-cultural diversity as a value equal to the classical ideal. At the same time however, the homosexuality of the young men referred to in the poem does not serve to efface the significance of their origins: their alliance appears to be strategic, expressed within the norms of the Hellenic discourse, but establishing them as a distinct group, juxtaposed against hostile “others,” 


In the town of multicultural Melbourne, as we engage in vociferous disputation, indulging in Armenian delicacies that have their exact counterparts in the cuisines of all the erstwhile denizens of Osroene, our exclusionary discourses continue to construct the self as a performative action. In the process, as we attempt to advance or transform ourselves within our narratives the concept of preserving and being Armenian or Greek, becomes as fluid, changeable and poised upon the precipice of merging into one another as the juices of the delectable lamb khashlama we are simultaneously devouring. At that moment, we all revel in the barbarous nature of our imagined Hellenicity, realising that we, just like Cavafy’s heroes, are a «κράμα» of peoples, histories, memories and desires. 

«Παπούτσι από τον τόπο σουκι αςείναι μπαλωμένο,» Ninos remarks, quoting his father in law’s advice to his daughter, as we take our leave of each other. I revel in the irony. For the word most commonly used in Greek for shoe, is ultimately, of Persian origin. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 October 2022

Saturday, October 08, 2022


 “Woman is a ray of God” Jelaleddin al Rumi 

“Sex is great but have you ever been f….d by the Islamic Republic of Iran?” Placard at Federation Square. 

Twenty two year old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini is dead. She was arrested by the Iranian morality police for being improperly veiled in the company of her brother and suffered a skull fracture while in custody. Women who were detained with her allege that she had been severely beaten for resisting the insults and curses of the officers who had arrested her. Put simply, Mahsa was beaten to death because a cabal of old men were not happy with the way she was dressed. Those old men and their cronies have abrogated to themselves the right to dictate to the female population of Iran what they will wear, how they will behave and indeed where and when they can appear within society. 

Across the other side of the western world, audiences are being enthralled by a television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s feminist classic: “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a gripping account of the fate of women in an  imaginary patriarchal, totalitarian theocratic state, the Republic of Gilead. Yet according to Atwood, one of her inspirations in creating Gilead was the Islamic Revolution in Iran and indeed she refers to Iran within the text, referencing a fictional history book: “Iran and Gilead: Two Late Twentieth Century Monotheocracies mentioned in the endnotes describing a historians' convention in 2195. The most plausible fiction, is most often based on true events. Just like the fictional revolution that saw the creation of Gilead in Attwood’s world, so too did the current regime sweep to power in Iran by purporting to fight for liberty and social justice, only to establish a theocracy that drastically reduced the rights of women and imposed a strict dress code. The Iranian people have suffered ever since. Many of them, such as Mahsa Amini, have paid the ultimate price. 

Margaret Atwood has stated that her classic work serves as a response to the complacent who maintain that oppressive, totalitarian, and  theocratic governments that have achieved power, throughout the world cannot do so within the “western” sphere. And this is the reason why I, along with a sizeable number of members of the Greek community felt compelled to attend the Iranian community’s rally at Federation Square on Saturday, 1 October. Having enjoyed ties with that most vibrant and welcoming community over many years, I have borne witness to the heartbreak of friends and colleagues who have had their world turned upside down, compelled to leave one the most beautiful countries of the world, boasting one of the oldest continuous civilisations, because of their political views, because of their choice of partner, because of their religious convictions, because of persecution or simply because they cannot bear to see their country stagnate under a regime whose sole aim seems to be to perpetuate itself by widespread oppression. 

I meet with Taraneh at Federation Square. She is carrying a banner that is stark in its clarity: “Women, Life, Freedom.” “You cannot have one without the other,” she informs me. We reminisce about a time, half a lifetime ago when we would sit under trees at University and recite the poetry of Hafez and Saadi. With difficulty, I remember part of Saadi’s Bani Adam, where Saadi, as far back as the thirteenth century, calls for the breaking down all barriers between human beings: 

Human beings are limbs of one body indeed;For, they’re created of the same soul and seed.When one limb is afflicted with pain,Other limbs will feel the bane.He who has no sympathy for human suffering,Is not worthy of being called a human being. 

Taraneh starts crying. She has not seen her mother since she left Iran, just before I first met her. She cannot go back. 

I join in the chants of the crowd. The most common chant is: “Say her name: Mahsa Amini.” “We want the regime to remember the name of the innocent woman those life they have so unjustly taken. We want that name to haunt them for the rest of their lives. We want her name to be the name they hear as they lose power and are punished for their crimes,” Reza, who is standing next to be, tells me. We repeat her name over and over again. One chant that is not translated into English is “Marg Bar Khamenei,” Death to Khamenei, (the supreme leader of Iran.) Two middle aged ladies approach me and ask me where I am from. One of them carries a placard that states: “Open your eyes and march with us.” When I tell them I am Greek and that there are a number of members of Melbourne’s Greek community, they are profoundly moved at this gesture of solidarity.  

“We love Greece,” they tell me. “We used to visit the islands all the time before the Revolution.” They begin to describe their experiences in Greece and their life in pre-revolutionary Iran and I realise that for them, like many other emigres, their memories have crystalised and their lives have been put on pause, indefinitely. The anguish that this entails as they lead an arrested existence, must be agonising. 

Shahnaz, a forthright and vivacious activist is cautiously gratified by the presence of Greeks at the protest. She wants me to convince her that our presence there is not solely motivated by a settled middle-calls community’s need to assuage their social conscience from time to time. “Yeah, I know you are here in solidarity, and you sympathise with Mahsa,” she challenges me. “But you can sympathise from home. Why are you physically here?” 

I quote appalling and unacceptable statistics relating to women who are murdered as victims of domestic violence in both Australia and Greece. I tell her that as a father of two daughters, I cannot countenance a world that restricts the horizon and discriminates against that part of the population that brings forth life, and takes away their lives when they don’t confirm to preconceived expectations and demands. But most of all, I tell her, continually fighting for the causes of freedom and justice lie at the heart of what it is to be Greek. It is the raison d'être for the entire Greek discourse and it is the underlying ideology of our identity that compels so many of us to be drawn to that protest, even though we cannot articulate it properly. I tell her about the women of Souli and the iconic status they enjoy within our culture. Shahnaz leans over and squeezes my arm with an intensity that is overwhelming. Hours later, it still hurts. She leaves me with a parting gift, a placard bearing the photo of a particularly bloodthirsty individual and an inscription in Farsi. Shahnaz offers to translate the caption, which is a satirical epigram about the regime. She takes a photograph of me and takes her leave. Almost instantaneously, I am inundated by requests from other attendees to be photographed holding their placards. The reason, they tell me, is because it heartens them to know that they are not alone in their pain.  

It was only as the crowd began to disperse that I was able to find and speak to some of the members of the Greek community present at the protest. They share similar experiences as the recipients of the hospitality and gratitude of the Iranian community. These individuals do not represent formal Greek-Australian institutions. They do not represent the various Greek women’s advocacy groups that exist within our community. Yet, they have chosen to attend the protest as Greek individuals, some of them having gone to the trouble of rendering the protest slogans on their placards in Greek, knowing that these cannot be read by the vast majority of attendees but still, serving as an important manifestation of their identity, which they feel obliged to emphasise, as much to themselves, as to the others who they have come to support. 

It is mid afternoon now and the shadows are lengthening. Taraneh is walking towards the tram-stop with her photograph of murdered Mahsa Amini with her lovely flowing hair under her arm. I quote from Moniro Ravanpour’s “These Crazy Nights,” “She just did not want to be a revolutionary. The revolution made her ugly. It covered her. She had pretty hair that she had to hide. She had pretty legs that she had to cover up.” She smiles sadly and reminds me something that I had totally forgotten: That is was she who had first given me her copy of Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” half a lifetime ago. I raise my arm and cry “Azadi!” (freedom). She gives me a hug and whispers in my ear: “Say her name.” “Mahsa Amini,” my voice falters, and she is gone. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 8 October 2022