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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

What happened to the survivors of the 1923 Asia Minor Catastrophe?

Catherine Tsounis
Catherine Tsounis
Contributing Editor The copyrights for these articles are owned by the Hellenic News of America. They may not be redistributed without the permission of the owner. The opinions expressed by our authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Hellenic News of America and its representatives.

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“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage” –  Seneca, Roman philosopher.
They did not have welfare. No food stamps, free lunches, medical care, or advocacy groups trying to id them. Business merchant, maritime merchants with their boats, scholars, factory owners, the 1922 refugees of the Greek Genocide in Asia Minor is Western Anatolia, destroyed by Western Powers who dismembered the Ottoman Empire by using ultra-nationalistic groups.
They came to Greece, traumatized with Greek Orthodox icons. “Unwelcomed,” said Scholar Efrosini Mancini of a Constantinople Family with Phanariot roots (Greek ruling class I would Ottoman Empire). “No one wanted the 1923 refugees.”
Called ”tourkospori” or “seeds of the Turks”, they came to Greece with their knowledge of Greek language, civilization, and Greek Orthodoxy. Dr. Isaak Papadopoulos, of the European University Cyprus in Nicosia/Lefkosia, Cyprus, Collaborator of Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus” related an amazing story of survival of the “Asia Minor refugees of Larissa”, Thessaly, Central Greece.
It is 98 years after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. That is the reason why many of us are in 2020 America. I met Dr. Isaak from a workshop hosted by the Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus”. His research shows the Asia Minor refugees built churches, schools, transforming their area.
My village was named “Nechali” as there were only some native people there when refugees from Asia Minor came,” explained Dr. Isaak. “They created a new village just next to Nechali and they renamed it ‘Omorfochori’.  My great grandmother told me that when she came to Greece, she felt really sad. She was afraid because of the unknown. They came to Omorfochori, they were given a small building for a house and a cow. They tried to survive.  They did it because they were very hard working.”

Sts. Raphael and Nicholas Church in Omorfochori.

Wikipedia explains “The Omorfochori Larissa is a settlement belonging to the Municipality of Platykampos in Kileler municipality located in the region of Thessaly, in accordance with the administrative division of Greece as incorporated by the program “Kallikratis”. The village, also known as Nehali, originally consisted of the estate of Scaliora …. in a relatively barren and unhealthy area. After 1923, Greek refugees settled from the Cappadocia region (Nevsehir, Jalela and Potamia [2] ), many of whom died of malaria.  The name of the village is due to a translation of the name of the village Tzelela or Cemil in Greek.”2

Dr. Isaak said there was not a school when the refugees came to Omorfochori. Only a teacher taught 5-6 children, he said. In 1927 the Single Elementary School of the village operated which was housed in the cells of the church. Obviously, somewhat older children would go to this school. According to the testimony of Despina Tsopouroglou, she and a few other children were taught in a house by a lady in reading, writing and arithmetic. In 1930 the school became Ditaxio. It was housed in the old school building of the old Settlement, which probably remained from the Ottoman Empire the “Mekteb Rouchate”. The new primary school was built in 1935 at the expense of all residents. The school, however, suffered severe damage due to the earthquakes and was rebuilt. Today’s primary school started operating, renewed with the recruitment of private staff.  It now has a tertiary or post-secondary secondary education school.  It is worth mentioning here that Omorfochori was awarded by the Academy of Athens, for its large courtyard with many the Primary School trees and greenery.
The professor explained “They created so many things in Omorfochori. All the women were very good at cooking traditional Minor Asian foods. My grandmother’s Apostolia’s favorite food is “Mantou”. It is short pasta with yogurt. They used to eat when celebrating St. John Russian from Cappadocia. The refugees had no contact with the natives and were isolated. They preferred to marry each other rather than mixed. The opposition of the natives and the refugees was not expressed in the form of an open confrontation. For a long time, however, the term refugee was derogatory. Indigenous people often talked about refugee ethos and cosmopolitan behavior, as well as their tendency to have fun. On the other hand, the refugees talked about the low educational level of the natives. In general, there was initially a state of opposition between these two sides.”
Dr. Isaac continued saying “In 1928 the name of the village was changed. From Nehali it was now called Omorfochori F.E.K. / 156/1928 as most of the refugees came from Omorfochori in Central Asia. The first president of Omorfochori was Abraham Anastasiadis. Later in 1931, the first nucleus of the Agricultural Party of Greece was created in Omorfochori and Larissa under the leadership of Prodromos Kanakis. Prodromos Kanakis was a special personality for the village. He created Omorfochori as an example of a village in the whole Thessalian Plain. While the names of other former presidents are typically mentioned, Michael Sideridis (1932) Savvas Perivolopoulos (1933-4) Prodromos Kanakis (1934-36-1945) etc.”
“Naturally, the refugees focused on two key factors: religion and education, explained Dr. Isaak. “The religious faith of the people of Asia Minor was great. There was a chapel in almost every house. They also showed great reverence during the holidays as most of them fasted, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays. Priests were also respected and loved like their parents. Respect for the elders was the main element then. The metropolis of the village was the church of Agios Athanasios, which was operated by Myron Pitsolakis the archimandrite. This church was very old and was accidentally burned by a candle in the Resurrection. It was built in 1869 during the Ottoman Empire with the contribution of the whole village. When the refugees came to the village, they brought to the temple relics such as a wing, banners, silver disks and chalice and the precious Gospel. Finally, the icons of the Saints of the church, which date from 1850, are of great value, while the refugees also brought the Epitaph to the village. A relic of incalculable monetary, artistic and intellectual value.”
The scholar said “another church of the village is the holy church of Agios Charalambos which is in Hassambali. This church is of Byzantine style. It collapsed in the earthquake of 1941. Agios Charalambos was rebuilt in 1943 with the style of a basilica and funding by all the inhabitants. There is also another small church, the church of the Ascension on Mount Mopsio, which was built with a donation from Skaliora and Meimaroglou. Much later, the church of Agios Georgios was built in the center of the present village after a dream in which the Saint presented himself to a man from Asia Minor and told him to build a church in his name.”
Dr. Papadopoulos’s narration is one of survival and rebirth. It is almost 100 years after the three-thousand-year-old expulsion and genocide of the Greeks of Anatolia. The descendants remember. For without a deep understanding of where they came from, they will never understand their present and future. They honor their ancestors in their creation of modern communities in central Greece. Their love of the Greek language, culture, and Greek Orthodox faith shaped modern Greece.
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