History of a Family from Asia Minor

Theo Pavlidis

Click on the image


This is part of a family history that I have prepared for my children. I thought that the parts having to do with Asia Minor (where both of my parents were born) might be of wider interest so I have put them together as a separate story. In order to protect the privacy of all living people the story ends in 1932 with the marriage of my parents. (The only exceptions are recording of deaths after that day.) I should add that I have been exposed from a very young age to a lot of oral history about the events that forced the families of my parents to leave Asia Minor and settle in Greece. (I was born only 12 years after the expulsion of the Greeks from Turkey, so the history of the Greek/Turkish war of 1919-22 is as close to me as the Vietnam War is to a child of Vietnamese parents born in the U.S. around 1980.) In order to put the family history in the proper context I have added two background essays. A map of the region and a glossary are essential and are provided next.

Some of the tragic events that engulfed my parents (and millions of other people) were triggered by the efforts of "world powers" to control the Iraqi oil fields. While I am writing this document in February of 2003 a war with Iraq seems imminent. It gives me an eerie feeling.

Note added in June 2006: See also the The Refugees of Asia Minor on this site.

October 2008: A section about a trip to Turkey and links to pictures have been added.

November 16, 2013: There is a recent movie made from archival footage "SMYRNA:THE DESTRUCTION OF A COSMOPOLITAN CITY, 1900-1922." I saw it at Stony Brook and I was moved by its scenes although I did not agree with some of their analysis of events. See http://smyrnadocumentary.org/?lang=en&cat=2 for the scenes but not for the analysis.


Asia Minor (Μικρά Ασία): The Greeks use the term 'Asia Minor' for most of the Asiatic part of Turkey. The name goes back to Roman times, when it was used to designate the Roman administrative division comprising that area.

Byzantine Empire: This name is now generally used for the (Eastern) Roman Empire. There was never a state with the name 'Byzantine Empire;' the official name had always been Roman Empire. However, after the Roman Empire split into two parts in the 5th century, the eastern part quickly acquired a distinct character and the Byzantine designation is a convenience to avoid confusion. Christianity became the official religion and the common spoken language was Greek. Greek also replaced Latin as the official language in the 7th century. Since the 11th century split from the Catholics the religion of the Byzantines has been known as Orthodox Christianity.

Greeks: Until the early 19th century, Greeks in both Asia Minor and in what is now Greece called themselves Romans. The Greek version of the word is Romyos (Ρωμηός). The modern Greek words for Greece Hellas (Ελλάς) and for Greeks Hellenas (Ελληνας) came into use around 1830, when the modern Greek state was established (following the 1821 revolution against the Ottomans) and it was eager to link itself with ancient Greece. The ancient use of the word Hellenas implied only a person speaking a particular language and provided no ethnic connotation or citizenship. Ancient Greeks were citizens of Athens, Sparta, Thebes, the kingdom of Macedonia, etc. Therefore an ancient word used to denote a linguistic/cultural group was taken to denote a modern ethnic state. When the Greek army invaded Asia Minor in 1919-1922, the locals (such as my mother's family) still kept calling themselves Romyi and used the words Hellenes for the army. The word Romyos is still used in Greece, but is has acquired a somewhat negative connotation. In this document the word 'Greek' is used as a translation of both Romyos and Hellenas.

Rom Millet: The religious community of the Ottoman Empire that consisted of Orthodox Christians under the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Its members were called Romyi (see above).

 A MAP OF MODERN TURKEY AND SURROUNDING AREAS: Areas circled in blue are of interest to the family chronicle: Bursa is near my mother's hometown. Kayseri it is near my father's hometown. Crete is the Greek island where the grandfather of my maternal grandmother came from. The island of Mytilini where my mother's family fled in 1922 is also circled (near the left border). Notice that Baghdad is on the map near the lower right corner


Historical and Geographical background

The ancient Greek - Roman name of the region that my mother came from is Bithynia. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Bithynia was an independent Thracian tribal state evolving into a kingdom by the 3rd century BCE. The Thracians are ancient people closely related to Greeks (and speaking a Greek dialect). Bithynia became part of the Roman Empire in 74 CE. Its main city was Prusa that prospered during the Byzantine times. It stayed firmly in (Eastern) Roman hands until the end of the 11th century when it changed hands several times between the Seljuk Turks, the Crusaders, and the Romans. Finally, it was taken by the Ottoman Turks in 1326 and was made the capital of their state. It lost that distinction in 1413, but it has remained an important city known now (in Turkish) as Bursa. (illustrated article about Bursa)

1840 - 1900 (approx)

The earliest known ancestor on my mother's side was a Christian man whose last name was Manousis. He moved from the Cretan province of Sfakia to the province of Bursa in Asia Minor (NW part of Turkey). The yellow arrow on the map on page 1 shows the overall path of his trip. He settled in the town of Appoloniada situated on a peninsula in the lake Appolonias (Turkish name Ulubal). Most likely, his move occurred around 1840-1855. (I am guessing the interval on the basis of the age of his son who was my great grandfather. The latter must have been born around 1860.) I have not been able to find any strong correlative historical event. The people of Sfakia are known to be “tough” and he held a prominent position. Maybe the Ottoman government transferred him there as a reward for previous services, but nothing is certain. He married a local woman and had two sons (and very likely several other children) and, relatives have told me, that these two sons were eventually “running the place.” One of them was Haralambos Manousis who was my great-grandfather. I have heard many stories about him from my mother; she told me she was his favorite granddaughter. Haralambos had large land holdings and was involved in silk production (the province of Bursa is famous for that). He was also a tax farmer. Most of the medieval states did not have a central tax collecting organization, but, instead, they “farmed out” the tax collecting process to individuals in each region. The tax farmer collected the taxes from the locals and passed them to the central government after keeping a part for his labors. (The position offered great opportunities for oppression and several bad things have been written about tax farmers and the system that relied on them. I have heard that in the Ottoman Empire tax farmers were never Moslems; one way to direct any popular disatisfaction to the "infidels".)

I should add that while most of the surrounding area was Turkish speaking, the population of Appoloniada not only was almost entirely Greek, it was also Greek speaking. By being on a peninsula on a lake the place was rather isolated and their language was an archaic idiom of Greek. This was the language of my grand mother and the first language my mother learned and she would revert to it now and then.

I have been told that Haralambos Manousis was sent to Jerusalem to study (in the Greek Patriarchate there) and, apparently, he did well so he wanted to join the church to follow a clerical career. (Since he came from a prominent family, it is likely he would have become a bishop.) However, when he was 5 or 6 years old he had been engaged to a girl and he had to honor the commitment. According to the custom in those times in that part of the world when someone had a baby girl he would look amongst his friends for someone with a little boy and they would agree to engage their children. So Haralambos went back to Appoloniada to marry Elisavet (Greek for Elizabeth). He was about 19 and she was about 12.

Haralambos and Elisavet had at least 12 children that grew to adulthood. One of them was my maternal grandmother Eugenia. Local custom had it that education was only for the boys. Thus while one of her brothers went on to become a physician, Eugenia had no formal schooling. Still she learn to read although she could not write. Apparently Eugenia was quite a rebel because she refused to marry the people her parents recommended and at 20 years old, she was considered an old maid. She married a person who she had seen in church (from the women's' section she could look at the men's section). Thus in the span of about 20 years there was a change. A woman (if she persisted) she would marry someone she had seen (and probably heard about him) rather than someone her father had chosen when she was a baby.

1900 (approx) - August 1922

Eugenia's husband was Konstantinos Daniilidis. He was usually called Konstantis. I believe he had five or six brothers and they all were sea-faring traders. They would get on their boats in lake Appolonia and then go on through a river to the sea of Marmara and from there on to Istanbul. (The total distance is about 80 miles, so it could be covered within a day.) I know that my grandfather went as far as Bulgaria (the port of Varna), but I do not know whether that trip was in his own boat or not. He did well in a business and he owned amongst other things a mill where the Turkish farmers would bring their crops. (The arrangement between the mill owner and the farmers has been pretty much the same all over the world, so you can read about it in several places.) With the standards of the times and the place he was considered a self-made man.

Eugenia and Konstantis had three children, Afroditi (born in 1910), Thanos (Athanasios, born in 1912) and Kaiti (Aekaterini corresponding to Catherine in English, born in 1915). There may have been a fourth child that did not survive infancy. They did not live in Appoloniada but in Mihalitsi and later in Kermasti (modern Turkish name M.Kemalpasa). The town was also known by the name of Kasaba. The area was quite fertile (that is where the Kasaba melons take their name from) with rich agriculture and the production of silk. My mother had been talking a lot about the latter: how they were feeding the larvae with mulberry tree leaves and how they would cook the pupae in ovens to kill them and get the silk intact. Bursa continues to be a silk center today.

They would often visit Appoloniada and my mother remembers her grandfather taking her by the hand to see the fishermen bring the fish out of the lake. He would chose a nice fish and give it to her to take it to her mother. By this time her grandfather was called Hadji-grandpa. The title of Hadji referred to his having been to Jerusalem. Hadj is a title given to Moslems who have made the pilgrimage to Mecca and the Ottoman Empire Christians adapted the custom while replacing Mecca by Jerusalem.

Life was good in the house of a prosperous businessman but the clouds of world politics were gathering in the horizon. The Balkan wars took place in 1912-13 and World War I broke out in 1914. The Ottoman Empire was allied to the Central Powers (Germany, etc) and Greece was allied to the Entente (England, France, etc). At the end of the war Greece, being on the winning side, was rewarded with a piece of Asia Minor around the port city of Smyrna (Izmir in Turkish). However the Greek army did not stay in that original area but pretty soon moved into the interior, supposedly to protect the Greeks from Turk atrocities. It seems that this was only part of the story. In reality they were encouraged by the British to try to reach the oilfields of Mosul (now part of Iraq). See the second background essay for more about the Greek/Turkish war of 1919-22.

The Greek Army soon reached the town of my grandparents household and most Greeks rejoiced although others were skeptical, including my grandfather. In the Ottoman Empire every adult male was required to wear a fez or other appropriate headgear. (A fez is a felt brimless hat, usually red, and sometimes with a black tassel.) Most Greeks stopped wearing a fez after the Greek army arrived but not my grandfather. According to my mother he was doubtful about the longevity of the Greek regime. Unfortunately, he was right. While in the beginning the Greek army found little resistance from the Turks, things gradually changed. For a start, the army was pushing deep in the interior of Asia Minor thus not only stretching its supply lines but also going into territories with a hostile population since Greeks (or more precisely the Rom millet) were absent from many parts of the interior. Such an advance discredited the excuse of protecting minorities and made apparent the real goal of the campaign, i.e. to reach the oil fields of Mosul. At the same time Turkish resistance stiffened. The Turkish general Mustafa Kemal (by the way, born in Salonica) took over the leadership of both the army and the state, abolishing the Ottoman Empire, and creating the modern Turkish state. Since the French and Italians were eager to stop the British from reaching the oil fields they help Kemal build the Turkish army. The new Soviet Russian state also helped Kemal.

The Catastrophe of 1922

By the summer of 1922 the British had been able to carve the state of Iraq out of the lands of the Ottoman Empire and include the oil fields of Mosul within it. They had no motive to support the Greek Army and the end came quickly. The front collapsed in August. As the Greek army was retreating in near panic, the Christian population (Greeks and Armenians) followed them. It was a route. (Housepian's book [MHD98] provides strong evidence that the Greek/Turkish war was really a proxy war for the British versus the French and Italians with Iraqi oil being the prize.)

My grandfather was on a business trip to Mihalitsi and he had taken his 10 year old son with him when a neighbor went to my grandmother and told her: “the Greeks (meaning the army) are leaving.” My grandmother faced a great dilemma that it was particularly hard to deal with because her husband was away. Should they leave or should they stay? She was in her middle thirties then and she was facing a true life or death decision.

Years later my grandmother told us that she went to wash her face in a fountain in the courtyard of their house and then she made up her mind to leave. They started loading the family belongings in an ox-drawn wagon (araba) but the neighbors started putting their belongings there as well so they could take very little. Eugenia wrapped their gold coins around the bodies of her two daughters as a place less likely to be found by bandits. It was a very hot August day and the whole Greek population of the town started walking West. In the meantime my grandfather and uncle were returning home on their horse drawn vehicle. Years later my uncle remembered that he remarked about how hot it was on that day 'imagine to be walking in this heat.' Little that he knew that his mother and sisters were doing exactly that. When my grandfather met the walking people his first business was to try to secure some protection for them since after nightfall they were likely to fall victims to bandits. There was one unit of the Greek army that had not panicked, a regiment led by colonel Plastiras. He had kept his cool and he used his forces to protect the fleeing Greek population. My grandfather was able to get a detachment from that troop to come and guard the people from Kermasti until they reach a secure location. Eventually, they reach the port town of Panormos (Pandirma in Turkish) and took a boat to Sylivria (Silivri in Turkish) on the Thracian coast. (That part of Thrace was under Greek administration then although eventually was returned to Turkey). They stayed for 3 months in Silivria and then they left on a small ship to the island of Mytilini (Lesbos). I think the ship was Russian and it was overloaded. Their escape route is marked by red in the map of Turkey shown earlier.

Two brief asides: Eugenia's decision to leave was the right one. A few Greeks that stayed after the army left were killed by irregular Turkish troops. - Plastiras decision to concentrate on the protection of the fleeing Greeks made him popular and he went on to play an active role in Greek politics.

In Mytilini my grandparents and their children were safe from Turkish attacks but they had to find another place since they were too few opportunities in a small island. So they moved to Salonica together with many other refugees from Asia Minor. About 1.5 million Greeks came to Greece as refugees and a few hundred thousand (nobody has an exact figure) were killed by the Turks on the way. The whole events of those times are referred to in Greece as the “1922 Catastrophe” or the “Asia Minor Catastrophe” (Μικρασιατική Καταστροφή). A good historical account can found in Housepian's book [MHD98]. Morgenthau's book is a good history of the resettlement [HM29]. See the second background essay for an abbreviated history of the events.

Life in Salonica 1923 - 1940

At first my grandfather, opened a grocery store in partnership with a local person. But the business failed (his partner may have been cheating him) and the family fell on hard times. My grandmother father (Haralampos Manousis) moved also with them. When he left Asia Minor he went to his father's old place in Sfakia but for some reason he could not stay there and he ended up in Salonica. Eventually he suffered a stroke and a few years later he died. My mother remembers him as having a sharp mind and education. He used to help her in her high school work in Latin and classical Greek.

Haralampos' brother had two sons who had been educated in Greece so they were in strong positions. One of them, Nicos Manousis, became a politician and he was elected to the Greek parliament with the votes of the refugees from his area in Asia Minor. For the next 40 years or so he was like a clan leader. He married but he and his wife had no children. Later they adopted an adult woman who had been their caretaker. The other brother, Lycourgos Manousis, had a senior management position in the Austrian-Greek tobacco company. He gave my grandfather a job in that company. In spite of the difficulties, my grandparents were able to educate their children. After my mother finished high school she went to work as a clerk in a bookstore. While her brother went to college, the family did not think college was appropriate for girls. (Finances did not play a major part because the tuition at Greek Universities was relatively low and most people commuted from home.)

Konstantis lived until about 1948 and Eugenia until the fall of 1967. She died shorty after her two first great-grandchildren were born.


Historical and Geographical Background

My father's family lived near Caesarea (modern Turkish name Kayseri) at least since 1806. Caesarea is an ancient city in the region of Cappadocia. (Originally, Caesaria was named Mazaca and was renamed by the Romans early in the 1st century CE.) Cappadocia is directly north of Syria in the Anatolian plateau. The earliest known inhabitants of that region were the Hittites. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the earliest mention of Cappadocia in history (around 6th century BCE) is as a Persian satrapy. The Greek influence starts with Alexander's conquests (late 4th century BCE) when Cappadocia became part of the Seleucid kingdom. Later it became a client state of the Roman Empire and it was fully annexed in 17 CE. According to many historical sources there was a large Jewish convert community. Eventually they were forced to convert to Christianity, but they kept many of the Jewish customs. As the Roman Empire evolved into the Byzantine Empire, Cappadocia became a province of the latter. The Arab conquests of the 7th century CE were stopped at the Taurus mountains, in the south of Cappadocia, so the latter became a frontier province and as such it was colonized by professional soldiers. In the 11th century it fell to the Seltzuk Turks and later it passed to the Ottoman Empire. Most of the people converted to Islam, but a small Christian minority remained. However they also spoke Turkish. The Christians were craftsmen (metalworkers, etc) and merchants. In general, they fulfilled a similar role in a Moslem feudal country as the Jews did in feudal Christian Europe. (illustrated article about Casarea/Kayseri)

A comparison: While my mother's area had been inhabited by Greeks (or people closely related to them) since at least the second millennium BCE, falling for good to the Ottoman Turks in the 14th century CE, my father's area was Hellenized only in late 4th century BCE and fell to Turkish rule in the 11th century CE.

19th Century

There used to be a family history diary, recording births, deaths, and other significant events. It was written in Turkish, first with the Arabic script and later with the Greek alphabet. It started in 1806 with the mention of the marriage of the writer. The entry mentions the name of the “best man” (apparently an important person in the community), but it does not mention the name of the wife. My father read this to me. Another early entry mentions a trip to what is now Greece; apparently the writers were merchants. The last entry in the book was written by my paternal grandmother (in Turkish) and was a record of my birth or maybe of my brother's. The book was discarded after my father's death as part of a cleanup!

Late in the 19th century there was a rising of awareness of “Greek identity” and not only the Greek alphabet started to be used but also people started learning Greek in school. Last names were also changed: the family name used to be Hadjipavloglou and it became Pavlidis. They lived near Casarea (Kayseri in Turkish).

My paternal grandfather was Theodosios, He was born around 1860 near Ceasarea (Kayseri in Turkish), in a place called Tavlousoun (Tavlasun in modern Turkish) and he died from typhoid fever around 1892 in Istanbul. His father's name was Kosmas. However his first child (my father) was named Pavlos. Normally the first child was named after his/hers paternal grandparent of the same gender, but in this case the custom was not followed because Kosmas was still alive. They were entrepreneurs. One of them owned a silver mine. It was a speculative venture and did not seem to have made any significant profits. Very often they worked away from home in major cities of the Ottoman Empire. However the wives stayed home under the watchful eye of the in-laws; such separations kept the number of children down. Theodosios had a money lending business in Istanbul. He also had literary interests. He had translated and published a French novel into Turkish (printed with the Greek alphabet). A few copies of the books have been saved and a page about it has been added to this site: Turkish Translation of "Les Filles de Bronze". The book was printed in several small volumes and at the end of the last volume there is a list of customers who had subscribed for the book. The list provided valuable family history for earlier generations. The back cover of the book also provided an address (see below).

Theodosios married Hariclea Artemiadou from Kermira (Germir in modern Turkish), also near Ceasarea in the late 1880's and they had two boys: Pavlos, born in 1890 and Savas, born around 1892. Hariclea was pregnant with Savas when Theodosios died in Istanbul. Hariclea moved to Greece in 1924 as part of the “population exchange” between Greece and Turkey. Among the items she brought with her are two with Jewish symbols that are now in my possession: a copper baking dish with the Shield (star) of David and a pen with the word Jerusalem in Hebrew and Roman characters. Hariclea spoke Greek poorly and whenever she could, she would converse in Turkish. She died early in 1942 (during the German occupation), a few years after she suffered a stroke.

Addendum as a result of our trip to Turkey in September 2008: My wife Marion and I visited places related to my father's family. In Istanbul we tried to locate Theodosios' work place for which we had an address from the back cover of the book, Astarci Han No. 29 and 31 in the Grand Bazaar.However, the building no longer exists - it was torn down and rebuild in 1948 and there are no numbers 29 and 31. The whole ground floor is now the Kardeşler Restaurant and Café (No. 23). The owner of the restaurant was very gracious and treated us to tea, while expressing interest in our story. In Cappadocia we visited both Germir and Tavlasun (my brother Kostas and his wife Aliki as well as two friends of theirs had joined us in that part of the trip). Germir was the bigger city of the two and the old Christian section is still inhabited. However th big Greek church has been demaged and it stands empty. In Tavlasun the old Christian section has been destroyed and is uninhabited.
Pictures from Germir and Pictures from Tavlasun taken during this trip.
Impressions of Modern Turkey, essay containing observations about life and politics. Also some pictures. Link added March 1, 2009.


Pavlos attended a Jesuit school for a few years and then attended Anatolia College that was run by American protestant missionaries. As a result he had a good knowledge of both French and English. He was an excellent student in Anatolia College but he did not graduate. In 1906 Pavlos had to leave school and move to Macedonia (which was still part of the Ottoman empire) to work as an interpreter for a British military mission. Then, as now, the various ethnic groups in the Balkans were killing each other and Western powers intervened to calm things down. Macedonia was part of the Ottoman Empire but the population was a mixture of Turks, Greeks, and Bulgarians and each group was fighting the other two.

While this may not sound as an ideal job for a 16 year old, it also offered the opportunity to establish contacts with Western European powerful people, something desirable for a Christian living in the Ottoman Empire. Indeed, when the term of the mission ended, one of the officers (who was from a very wealthy family) offered Pavlos a job in England. Inexplicably, Pavlos did not take it. Eventually Pavlos moved to Kavala and then to Salonica (still part of the Ottoman Empire). Salonica became part of Greece in 1912, so Pavlos found himself in Greek territory. He served in the Greek Army for five years in World War I, most of it in the divisional headquarters as interpreter for English. In 1919 his unit was sent to Russia to fight the Bolsheviks but my father was demobilized because of his leftist ideology. Some years after the war he opened a bookshop in Salonica.

In 1932 Pavlos married Afroditi Daniilidou who had been working as a clerk in the bookshop. In order to protect the privacy of living people I am skipping the story of their children and note only that they moved to Athens in 1940. Pavlos died from a heart attack in 1965 and Afroditi died from a stroke in 1987.

A footnote

After the death of both of my parents I went through their belongings and I found some papers in Turkish using the Arabic script. I brought them to Stony Brook and I had some of them translated by two students. An Arab student transliterated the Arabic script into the Roman alphabet and a Turkish student translated the latter into English. The papers turned to be Ottoman identity papers, including an internal passport. Pavlos had saved them for over 50 years. He was an idealist and on various occasions had expressed the opinion that replacing the Ottoman Empire by a multitude of small, warring ethnic states was a mistake. He thought a federation would have been a better idea. Of course, this would have been a better solution except for the nationalist genie that came out of the bottle in the 19th century. He did not live to see the extreme results of nationalism in Yugoslavia. Anyway, he had not discarded the proof of his earlier Ottoman citizenship. 


Until the early 19th century the Ottoman Empire included all the Balkan Peninsula (what is now Greece, Albania, Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria), all the Middle East, Egypt, Libya, and, of course, modern Turkey. The Empire came into existence between the 13th and 15th centuries by the conquest of the Armenian kingdom, the territories of the Seljuk Turks (who had arrived there in the 10th century), the Arab countries, and the Eastern Roman Empire (the so called Byzantine Empire, see glossary). The conquest of the Byzantine Empire was completed in 1453. (It is no coincidence that the trip of Columbus took place only 40 years after the completion of the Turkish conquest. After 1453 the road to India was entirely in Moslem hands.)

Since the Arab countries (with the exception of the Arab peninsula) were also part of the Eastern Roman Empire until the 7th century, the Ottoman Empire was pretty close to being a territorial successor of the Greek speaking Eastern Roman Empire. After the Arab conquest Arabic became the dominant language and Islam the dominant religion in the conquered parts. (However some Christian minorities survived, mainly in Egypt and Lebanon.) After the Ottoman conquest Turkish became the dominant language and Islam displaced Christianity as the dominant religion, although, in contrast with the Arab part, a significant number of Christians remained. In addition, there was a Jewish minority in several parts of the Ottoman Empire. The numbers of the Jews was bolstered by the arrival of the refugees from Spain at the end of the 15th century.

The separate countries that constitute the Balkans and the Middle East today are relatively recent, formed during the 100 years between 1820 and 1920 when the Ottoman Empire was falling apart. It is not a coincidence that all these countries share several cultural aspects, including cooking and music. While each of these countries tries to claim links to ancient states that existed in the same geographical location, such links are quite tenuous and ignore over 2000 years of history. People such as the modern Greeks and the Turks have many more things in common than differences.

The Ottoman Empire not only tolerated religious diversity, it actually encouraged it (!) as part of a divide and conquer policy. The empire recognized religio-political communities called millets. Each millet was administered by its own chief and its members were subject to the rules and laws of their religion. There were four major millets; in order of ranking, the Muslims, the Greeks, the Armenians, and the Jews. (There were also several minor millets, including the Zoroastrians.) Millets were defined exclusively in terms of religion and were quite mixed in terms of language and ethnic origin. In addition they had no geographical coherence.

The Greek millet was actually called the Rom millet reflecting the origin of its members as citizens of the Eastern Roman Empire. Both of my parents were born as members of that millet, so we will focus on this group. The Greek word for members of the millet was Romios (RwmhoV) reelecting the identification of its members with the Roman Empire. The head of the Rom millet was the Orthodox Christian patriarch of Istanbul (Constantinople in Greek). It included not only Greek speaking people, but also Turkish speaking (such as my father's family), Albanian speaking (like many of the inhabitants of southern Greece), Slavic speaking (such as the Serbs), Arabic speaking (the Christian Arabs), etc. The Rom millet did NOT include Catholic or Protestant Christians.

The idea of an ethnic state came into existence in the early 19th century and, as the Ottoman Empire was collapsing, it led to ethnic movements. While members of different millets co-existed peacefully in the empire, now each one wanted their own territory and was not willing to share it with members of other millets. Thus while the Albanian speaking orthodox Christian inhabitants of southern Greece were readily accepted as Greeks, the Greek speaking Moslems of the same territory were not and, eventually, they were expelled. By the same token the Turks themselves started an effort to make the Ottoman Empire a Turkish state. It is remarkable that the worst persecution of non-Moslems (such as the massacre of the Armenians) did not occur when the Ottoman Empire was all powerful, but in the years of its collapse when nationalism was dissolving it. We continue to see such ethnic cleansing today in the Balkans.

A major concern of any imperial regime is how to keep those in the upper strata of society from overthrowing them. For example, in Japan the shogun kept transferring the daimyos from territory to territory so that they would never set deep roots. In the Ottoman Empire top positions were spread amongst different millets. While the majority of such positions belonged to Moslems, several were occupied by Greeks, Serbians, Albanians, Arabs, etc. The myth of Turkish oppression has been given wide circulation but it is not true. The Ottoman Empire was an authoritarian feudal state and the rich oppressed the poor in a similar way as in other countries of Europe and Asia. Most but not all the oppressing rich were Turks and, similarly, most but not all of the oppressed poor were Turks. Until the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was more tolerant than Europe (see p. 355 of [BL02]).


Besides hearing a lot of oral history, I have read a lot of books on the topic, almost all of them in Greek. Recently, I found a good book in English by Housepian Dobkin [MHD98]. The book offers a fairly comprehensive history of the events that led to the destruction of Smyrna and it covers the happenings in a broader geographical area. My mother came from a place about 200 miles away from Smyrna. I found out that any descriptions I could compare with oral history or Greek writings were true. The London Sunday Times selected it as the "book of the year" in 1972 and had this to say: "A documentary indictment of the inhumanity of religion, the callousness of Powers (i.e. Western Europe and U.S.) and the avarice of commerce (mainly Iraqi oil)." Other sources in English include Morgenthau's [HM29], a good book written by the former ambassador of the U.S. to Turkey who was later in charge of helping Greece deal with the settlement of the refugees. A recent Greek translation of that book includes a preface written by a contemporary Greek. An annotated translation of most of the preface is given below because it provides an interesting viewpoint, looking at the bright site of a disaster. (The original uses very ornate language, as it is common in Greek and other Mediterranean language writings.  I have tried to tone down the hyperboles as much as possible. My annotations inside the text are in italics.) Doulis' book [TD77] focuses on Greek literature but it contains a historical overview in pp. 8-24 and it should be easier to find than Morgenthau's. I have found the older books at the Stony Brook University library and the Housepian at amazon.com.

From the preface by Grigoris Troufakos to the 1994 Greek translation of Henry Morgenthau's book 'An International Drama' [HM29]
In 1922 the Greek nation may have lost ancient homelands but Greece achieved its political, social, and financial maturity. Spiros Markezinis wrote that "the new Greece was born in 1922 rather than in 1912 and the refugees were its new blood." It is almost inconceivable that 1,500,000 people were added to a population of 5,000,000 in a very short time and these added people needed food, shelter, and means to livelihood. Probably the greatest achievement in modern Greek history is this enormous outpouring of energy that follow the decade long war effort of 1912-1922. To understand the scale of the event, think of  75,000,000 new immigrants arriving in the United States (with a population of 250,000,000) within the span of a few months. In less than a decade these "hungry and thirsty" refugees were settled and were forming the shape of the new Greece while providing a backbone for the country. (Actually, for some of the refugees it took quite a bit more than a decade.) In contrast the new Turkey lost not only its intellectuals, artists, and entrepreneurs, but also the mainstay of social cohesiveness, the skilled workers, such as ironsmiths, tailors, agriculturists, and fishermen. An invaluable investment of centuries was lost during the decade of 1914-1924 since to the expulsion of the Greek population we must add the physical destruction of the Armenian population. In spite of such efforts Turkey failed to achieve ethnical homogeneity that the party of the Neo-Turks (they came to power around 1910) and their successor Kemal Atatourk strived for so recklessly and persistently. (Troufakos overstates the case here. The Turks were not the only ones striving for ethnic homogeity and the actions of other countries left them little choice. The Greek government is not blameless either. See below) The revenge of history is being delivered by a Moslem hand. The Kurds that are a significant fraction of the Turkish population are replying to the efforts of the Turkish leadership to achieve racial purity. The following example illustrates the loss to Turkey. According to the Turkish historian Uner Turgay, in 1884 the city of Trabzon had 130 commercial enterprises involved in imports, exports, insurance, and shipping. Only eight (8) of them were owned by Muslims,  the rest were owned by Christians, Greeks or Armenians. Therefore the conflagration of Smyrna (a city with a large Greek population that was set to fire by Kemal's army) illuminated an event that has all the elements of a Greek tragedy looking for a catharsis. I believe that this book (Morgenthau's) will help in that direction by keeping alive the memory and restoring the honor of the both the mainland Greeks and the refugees from Asia Minor.
(End of the Troufakos text)

Why the sudden persecution? Greeks and Armenians were living in relative peace with the Turks for hundreds of years under the Ottoman sultans. This not only has been written in various books, but it is also a story I have heard from my parents and other relatives. Problems started with the decline of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century and the simultaneous emergence of the concept of nation-states in Europe. During the 19th century Ottoman reformers grappled with a model for a modern Ottoman state and eventually ended up with a that of a Turkish state (see [BL02]. When the party of the Neo-Turks came to power (around 1910) it tried to replace the multi-ethnic Ottoman empire with a national Turkish state and the results were not pleasant for the minorities. Like in most feudal states, in the Ottoman Empire religious minorities made a large part of the middle class. In a Muslim state these were Christians (Greeks and Armenians), in Christian Europe these were Jews(see a related essay). But in the same way that nationalism gave rise to anti-Semitism in Europe, nationalism in the Ottoman Empire was bound to cause problems for the minorities.

There is a widespread belief that the persecutions may have been encouraged by external forces. The decline of the Ottoman power in the 19th century attracted the attention of Western Europe to the business opportunities of the region. However, since commerce was in the hands of the Greeks and the Armenians, such opportunities were limited. The expulsion of the Greeks and the Armenians opened opportunities for Western Europe. Note that the Europeans needed to do very little other than encourage (and possibly finance) the Turkish nationalist elements and later not interfere to stop the persecution of the Christian population, especially the Armenians. [MHD98] contains lengthy descriptions of how this happened. According to Housepian's sources the French and Italians provided direct military aid to the Turkish nationalists.

How did the Jews of Asia Minor fared? While the Turks went after the Christian minorities, the Jews were left more or less alone. Not for long however. [MHD98] relates how most of the Jews eventually left because of pressure from the authorities through excessive taxation, etc. The same was true for the Greeks of  Istanbul who were originally exempted from the population exchange. Almost all of them are now gone. However some of the Jews left right away in 1922 because they realized the dangers they faced. During a recent meeting of the emeriti faculty at Stony Brook, one of them told me that his father left then because he thought the situation was untenable.

The loss to Turkey from the expulsions: In the piece by G. Troufakos that I translated above there is mention of the loss to Turkey of the skilled people that were expelled. Here is some evidence from my family. One of my great uncles (Lycourgos Manoussis) went to Turkey about 30 years after the expulsion and visited his old hometown. He was around 30 when he had left so he had several Turkish friends. He found the people and the town in abject poverty. His old friends told him: "When you left you took with you God's blessing." On the other hand with the expulsions Turkey achieved a certain degree of national homogeneity.

The real culprit and the real victims: Ultimately the real culprit for the disasters was nationalism tied up to a particular religion. A Turk had to be a Muslim, a Greek had to be an orthodox Christian. While the movement of Christians from Turkey to Greece and of Muslims from Greece to Turkey in 1922-23 has been described as a “population exchange,” Bernard Lewis [BL02, p. 355] points out that what happen was in effect “two deportation into exile-of Christian Turks to Greece and of Muslim Greeks to Turkey.” Most “Greeks” of Karamania (a broader area that encompasses Cappadocia) spoke no Greek and many of the “Turks” from Greece (especially from Crete) spoke no Turkish. Each group found itself in a foreign country. I have witnessed that for people in my father's family and fate brought me to hear such a story from the other side. In the early 1990's while checking out of a hotel I had a conversation with a clerk who was a student  working there for the summer. He was Turkish and knew some Greek because his grandparents spoke mostly Greek. They were part of the “1922 exchange” and they found themselves in a strange land and he told how hard it was for them. (See also Osler's quote on the evils of nationalism.)

Of course, besides religion tied to nationalism we must add the machinations of "world powers" that helped to inflame the local conflicts. Unfortunately, these trends continue today. As I am writing this document we are at the brink of war in Iraq. It is important to remember that the catastrophe of Asia Minor was the end result of events that started with the British desire to control the Iraqi oil fields.



This document was first posted on the web on February 7, 2003. It was the result of revisions on a version written in October 2002 and circulated via e-mail and snail-mail.

February 17, 2003: New posting with a few minor revisions.

January 2, 2005: New posting with minor revisions and the addition of the section "Other Related Books" (this section was later moved to the main page).

January 29, 2005: Links to illustrated articles about some of the locations mentioned added.

June 8, 2006: Link to Main Page on Asia Minor added.

December 7, 2006: Various editorial changes and creation of a separate page for the Bibliography.

April 19, 2008: Revisions of the section 19th century based on information extracted from a book my grandfather had translated from French into Turkish. Link to a page about the book added.

October 11, 2008: Section about our trip to Turkey added. Also links to pictures of Kermira and Tavlousoun.

March 1, 2009: Link added to essay with general impressions about Turkey from our earlier trip.

June 20, 2009: Revisions in section 1900-1932.

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