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Greek CommunityViewpoint: The Perspective of a Western Anatolian Descendant at the CEP Vaughn...

Viewpoint: The Perspective of a Western Anatolian Descendant at the CEP Vaughn College Program

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By Catherine Tsounis



“The students are excited you are coming, because are from Izmir” said NYC ESL/Foreign Language instructor Theodora Efthimiades. Sure, my grandparents from the Papantonakis and Gagas families were from Cesme province in the state of Izmir. But that was in 1914 and 1922. They spoke only Greek and formed the backbone of the middle class of the Ottoman Empire. Their land was destroyed by the Western Powers, primarily, Germany, England, France and their ally Japan who influenced the Turkish government, according to Christos Papoutsy’s scholarship. As refugees in “Mother Greece”, they were denounced as “Tourkospori” (the seeds of the Turks). My ancestors escape from a catastrophic situation in the neighborhood of the Frourio (Fortress) in Chios, by immigrating to the US as displaced persons of Turkey. I was going to tell the truth.

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            The CEP (Cultural Exchange Program) of Vaughn Aeronautical College in Flushing, New York is in its first summer season with Turkey. Twenty-two students participated. It is a historical moment in New York and the United States college education field. The college administrators and staff include: Dr. John C. Fitzgerald, President; Said Lamhaouar, Associate Vice-President of Academic Support; Saralda Ortiz-Howard and Tomasita Ortiz, ESL Department Supervisors: Jason Collins and Theodora Efthimiadis, instructors, Ricardo Ortiz and Mindalia De Jesus, teacher assistants.

I opened my presentation with the u-tube song “Rampe, Rampe” played by Gus Valli orchestra and sung by Manny Ayvas (a Greek from Imvros) in Turkish. The Turkish lyrics inspired the audience of thirty persons to clap using the Turkish beat. Manny Ayvas, who was part of our community in the Transfiguration Church of Mattituck, played these Turkish tunes at Church events to an audience who wanted to keep alive their Western Anatolian roots.

          “Take a good look at me,” I said. “This is what a person from Western Anatolia looked like 100 years ago in the state of Izmir. I grew up listening to Turkish music and that of the African Arab. We even imitated saying the Turkish/Arabic words in the songs. My Father, George Tsounis, said he wanted us to remember his Mother, Catherine, who played this music.  The third generation (second generation born in the U.S.) listened to Turkish music. A Turkish rug from 1956 was on display at my presentation. The rug, showing two pashas stealing a princess, hung on the wall of our home for fifty years. I travelled 69 miles from Mattituck, L.I. to speak about my roots in the state of Izmir, on the request of Theodora Efthimiades and Dr. Michael Efthimiades, my former newspaper editor.”

           “My grandfather was 6 feet 1’. My grandmother and her nieces were 5 foot 4 ‘’ and taller. My great uncles were 6 feet to 6 feet 3’’ tall. The rich lands of western Anatolian provided an excellent nutrition diet that augmented their tallness. They were proud they were from Anatolia and called themselves by where they came from: Tseme, Smyrna, Katopanagia, and Erythraia in the state of modern Izmir. My grandmother, Despina Gagas Pappas’ (Papatonakis) passport wrote that she was a citizen of Turkey.” The well-dressed, mannered, audience listened quietly, with focused attention and a great deal of respect.

“My father and brothers were sea captains with their own boats,” said my Grandmother Despina. “They were involved in trading cottons and Turkish goods from Asia Minor to Chios. They would breach the blockade of the French and English against the Ottoman Turks to transport goods to Greece. All the trading was accomplished at night. In addition, they were involved in fishing in the best parts of Asia Minor. During one night of running the blockade, my 16 year old brother was killed by the European powers. My Mother never got over this and died young, leaving my grandmother an orphan to be raised by my sister, Maria Loura.” The women weaved traditional Turkish rugs in their homes that formed a home industry. Their summer home residences were in Erythrae, modern day Ildiri. It was known as Lithri in Byzantine times and was a small village. It has Byzantine and Greek ruins.

“My grandparents told us they lived in harmony with their Muslim neighbors for hundreds of years, until the Western Powers backed a Greek invasion,” I said. “Then they were abandoned. They fled, forced to leave all behind, to be mistreated in Greece. They would look intense longing at their homes from the shores of Chios, crying for a lost Paradise. On the coast of Chios, in 2012, the descendants still look at their ancestral lands with longing for a time when Christian and Muslim lived in harmony and prosperity.” The audience was quiet, and attentive.

An online presentation of “The Treasures of the Izmir History and Art Museum at Culturpark”, sights of Cesme and Izmir commenced. “When I presented my University Identification card at the Museum’s door, the Director was informed. He greeted me personally with a brochure on the Museum’s contents. Kulturpark is frequented by local residents for artistic and culture activities. While I was viewing the treasures, young artists were drawing the unique statues of Demeter and Poseidon.

            I entered several buildings with the finest statues, vases, jewelry, coins and glassware from 800 B.C. to Byzantine times. In one hall, Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Modern Turkish secular nation who was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, had a comment inscribed on the wall. ‘I commend the museum for preserving our heritage…..from the Greek Cities of Asia Minor.’

          Three museums are located on the premises. They include: Stoneworks; Ceramics and Precious Artifacts. The official Izmir Chamber of Commerce brochure states “the Izmir History an Art Museum aims to increase participation in Culture and Modern Art activities.” The Stoneworks Museum known as Tarih ye Sanat Muzesi is spectacular. When he/she enters, 6th century B.C. lions are present. Other works include: Homer, 4th century B.C.; 2nd century dog, bird, 5th-6th century B.C. and dolphin mosaics; the Hermaphrodite, 2nd century A.D.; bronze athlete statue from Kyma; bronze Demeter from Halicarnassus; Eros 5th-6th century B.C. from Pergamum; wall friezes from the Hellenistic Belevi Grave Monument that is the largest tomb after the mausoleum at Halicarnassus (opposite island of Kos); gladiator statues and friezes that were popular in Ancient, Hellenistic and Roman times from Symrna and Didyma; parts of temples, theaters and Roman Baths from Teos, Miletus and Metropolis; Kori and Kouros from Temple of Apollo in Kalaros; statues of the Goddess of Destine, Athena, Hygeia sophist and others. The most spectacular statue group is that of Poseidon, Demeter and Artemas found in the Smyrna Agora. On exhibit from Erythrae in Tseme (Cesme) is a monumental archaic statue of a woman with a head missing from 560-550 B.C. A Korean sculpture also found in Erythrae is one of the finest examples of large marble sculptures. This signifies that Greeks of the Erythaean peninsula (opposite the island of Chios) had trade relations with Korea over 2,500 years ago.

          The Ceramics Museum has 5th and 6th century B.C. amphora and 4th century B.C. pottery from the Agora Bayrakli, Symrna. A replica of an Aegean ship of that age is on display with its contents. A significant space is dedicated from the ancient city of Erythae (modern village of Ildiri), opposite the shores of Chios. Findings from recent excavations include pottery, small offerings in bronze and ivory from 670-545 B.C. The ivory statues are of Cretan and Rhodian style. The small lion figurines in bronze are from the first half of 6th century B.C. They resemble the large Lion statue from Bayindir that is in the Stoneworks Museum of Izmir. The small findings are the earliest Ionian examples of a lion type that served as models for Etruscan artists (early Italians).

The third museum of Precious Artifacts included jewelry, coins and glassware. Glass objects and perfume bottles from Phocaea and Klazomenae in the Erythrae peninsula (Cesme) are from 700 B.C. to 400 A.D. Over 100 glass objects were displayed. I have not seen exhibits of ancient glassware in such quantity in Greece, Sicily or the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They are in excellent condition. Viewing glass objects from over 2,500 years ago was an amazing experience.”

Instructor Collins asked “How is this possible?” I replied, “The Turks preserved their Ionian Greek heritage. The Ottoman Empire’s history has not been explored adequately in western civilization. The infrastructure was Greek and Armenian, destroyed by the influence of the Western Powers.  Dr. John G. Siolas said ‘1,050 words and thousands of last names with Turkish roots are in Greek’.

          The coin exhibits from 6th century B.C. through Byzantine times were strictly from Ionia. The numerous gold jewelry and diadem collections were from the tombs of wealthy Ionian women. It was breathtaking. In Western Anatolia around 6th century B.C., the Lydians devised the idea of shaping gold and silver into bean shaped lumps of fixed weight and purity. They were stamped with official symbols. This concept of coinage spread. It was further developed by the Ionian Cities, Greek Aegean Islands and Greece. I saw such quantities of ancient coinage at the Numismatic Museum in Athens.”

          The World Archaeology Magazine, Issue 52, vol 5, No.4, April/May 2012, shows the continued excavation of Ephesus that is financed by the Austrian Archaeological Institute. The Turkish Company Borusan Holding is financing the restoration of plagues in ‘The Marble Hall’, according to B. Nilgun Oz at [email protected]. Izmir’s past glories in ancient Smyrna were described by Ast. Prof. Akin Ersoy, 9 Eylul University, [email protected] and Assoc. Prof. Cumhur Tanriver, Ege University, [email protected]. Clazomenae, an Ionian city on the south coast of Izmir Gulf is further described by Prof. Dr. Yasar Ersoy, Hitit University, Corum, Turkey, [email protected] and Dr. ElifKoparal, Mersin Univerrsity, Mersin Turkey, [email protected]. The April/May 2012 edition of World Archaeology shows the latest research on Western Anatolia.




          Engineer/ESL student responded to this presentation by showing the class the museum of “APHRODISIAS” in Karacasu of the city of AYOIN. “If you like the Museum of Izmir, you will like Aphrodisias,” he said. He then served all of us 2 lbs. of Loukoumi from the best Turkish New York Bakery. The students began showing all the musical tradition of Turkey. Gizem Guzeller led a traditional Turkish folk dance on u-tube called the Halaye and videos of the Zeybek. A popular excerpt from a Turkish movie showing Kemal Ataturk dancing ballroom and the Turkish Zeybek folk dance thrilled the youth. The Turkish flag originates from a symbol of the ancient city Byzantium, according to Professor Nikolaos Moutsopoulos of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in “Cosmopolis” magazine, November,’2009.  The crescent moon and star is a copy of Byzantium’s currency. Suntan Mehmet II adopted these two symbols in 1453. Watching the Zeybek dance on the internet, reminded this writer of the zeibekiko dance that concluded the spectacular Southampton Kimisis Church Festival on Sunday, July 15th.

            A CD entitled “Turkey and Culture” by the Ministry of Culture, Republic of Turkey concluded the lecture. Portraits of famous persons were shown. Serdar Atesal said “you must know Mevlana. He is known for this quote:’ when we are dead do not turn your eyes to the ground, seeking my grave. My grave will be in the hearts of the wise.’” On the former internet site “The Unknown Greek History” ( describes the 16th century Turkish navigator Piri Reis maps of Antarctica, derived from the Ancient Greek maps. Piri Reis maps are in the Library of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.

         “The CEP (Cultural Exchange Program) encompasses students from Ankara (capital of Turkey).” Mrs. Efthimiades added “some CEP students are from Istanbul as well.” Instructor Collins explained “we offer four weeks of intensive English immersion lessons. The purpose is to enrich the student’s English for professional purposes. They range from the ages of seventeen to thirty-seven.”

Mr. Collins believes he has grown as a person through interaction with his foreign exchange students. “We have two groups, divided according to levels of achievement. We have classroom and lab lessons that progress from day 1 to the end. They have extensive conversation lessons and a final, polished term paper. They see the sights of New York from a historical bend. Our students include engineers, teachers, Ph.D. candidates and aviation specialists.” Mr. Collins has taught ESL in Prague, Czech Republic. He taught in the “JARO” Program sponsored by the European Union in the Czech Republic.

“The highlight of our program was your presentation,” said Theodora Efthimiades. The students danced, presented Turkish music and culture to all. Music is the universal messenger.Our students come from the educated, upper classes of Turkish Society. They listened to your perspective with respect and understanding because of their upbringing. Photos of their parents show they are well dressed and cosmopolitan, open to new ideas. We are breaking down the barriers that separate us. We are all one people.” The CEP students are the following persons: Sinan Akbal, Olcay Akdag, Serdar Atesal, Borkan Buyukayan, Gizem Guzeller, Gorkem Guzeller, Ozge Karakaya, Sansin Keser, Ozer Kose , Anil Kosker, Derya Musluk, Pinar Tuncer, Nurullah Abbay, Seda Altinisik, Hazal Azar, Melike Efkiling, Furkan Ersoy, Volkan Taskin, Pinar Tuncer, Ebru Yildirim, Irfan Yildiz, Tugce Ban.


Photo 1 – The CEP (Cultural Exchange Program) with administrator, instuctos and guests

Photo 2 – Dr. Catherine Tsounis and Student


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