Turkey Black Sea coast travel guide and destinations


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Black Sea Region TOUR GUIDE




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Sinop city travel
Sinop travel
situated on a narrow peninsula at Turkey’s northernmost point, Sinop is like a Black Sea island with its good-natured people and streets where time passes slowly.

pontian greek Development of the Pontic Greek Dialect
Development of the Pontic Greek Dialect
Will Pontic Greek continue to be spoken? Bortone (2009) believes Pontic Greek spoken in the Pontos in Asia Minor today will probably disappear. The challenge is to keep the Pontic Greek dialect alive. The more recent work of researchers like Emeritus Professor Peter Mackridge, Assistant Professor Pietro Bortone, Dr Theofanis Malkidis, Ömer Asan, Dr Anthi Revithiadou and Dr Vassilios Spyropoulos have increased our knowledge of the dialect.

Time For to Discover the Black Sea Highlands

Time For to Discover the Black Sea Highlands

Discover the Black Sea highlands in September when time is suddenly rent by a blanket of fog or the cry of a vulture, and make the acquaintance of nature in its most beautiful aspect.

Greek settlements pontos map
Formation of the First Greek Settlements in the Pontos

According to Liddell and Scott’s An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon, the word Pontos stands for the sea, especially the open sea. In time, the word Pontos became associated with the north-eastern portion of Asia Minor that borders the Black Sea (see Map 1).1 The Greeks first called the Black Sea, Aξεινος πóντος (inhospitable, unfriendly pontos), but later it was called Εϋξεινος πóντος (hospitable pontos) when they became aware of its wealth in the lands around it ...

Chrypto-christians Trabzon Pontos Matsouka

Crypto-Christians of the Trabzon Region of Pontos

The crypto-Christians (also called cryphi, klosti, Stavriotes, Kromledes) were Christian Greeks who due to the Muslim persecution against Christians publicly declared themselves Muslims. However, in secret, they upheld their Greek language, customs and Christian religious practices...


The Incredible Odyssey of the Black Sea Greeks

Neal Ascherson

Pontic refugee family, Greece

The Black Sea Greeks are, according to one scholar, "perhaps the most astonishing of all survivors." Three thousand years ago they left their homes in ancient Greece to cultivate the fertile land that borders the Black Sea. Since then, they've seen it all: Roman rulers, Byzantine emperors, Crusaders, Ottoman overlords, and Soviet hegemony. Neal Ascherson, in an excerpt from his exceptional new book, Black Sea, tells the riveting story of this fascinating people.

The bus journey from Ankara to Trabzon, which used to be Trebizond, takes thirteen hours. The road begins in the steppe of central Anatolia and then winds down through the forests and passes of the coastal mountains to the Black Sea. This is the route that Xenophon and his Ten Thousand took in 400 BC, on their march home from Persia. But where exactly they were when the soldiers saw the blue band on the horizon ahead of them, and cried out "Thalassa! The sea!," cannot be known.

Some think that it was near the port of Ordu, about a hundred miles west of Trebizond, others that they filed down from the mountains a little further east. The point is that when the soldiers shouted "Thalassa!," the local people understood them. They were Greeks too. Trebizond, which was their "Trapezos," was only one of the chain of colony-cities which lined that shore, in touch with all the other Greek settlements ringing the Black Sea. They had been there for three hundred years already when Xenophon and the survivors of his army came out of the wilderness. The Pontic Greeks, as these settlers came to be called, remained on that coast and in its green, foggy valleys running up to the snowline for almost two-and-a-half-thousand more years. They were ruled by the Romans, then by the Byzantine emperors, then-briefly-by the Grand Comnenoi, emperors of Trebizond. After that, the Turks came. That too the Pontic Greeks survived, negotiating and conceding a little, converting to Islam a little. The end came only in 1923, with the event known in diplomatic language as "The Exchange" and in undiplomatic Greek as the Katastrofe.

Greece, in a wild imperial venture supported by Britain, had invaded western Anatolia, hoping to make itself an Aegean "great power" and to construct a "greater Greece" out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. But the invasion ended not simply in Greece's defeat at the battle of Dumlupinar in 1922, but in a calamitous rout and slaughter which drove not only the Greek armies but much of the Greek civilian population of Anatolia into the sea. The Treaty of Lausanne, in 1923, settled the frontiers of the new Turkey under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The universal caliphate-a sprawling, multi-ethnic and multi-religious empire-now imploded like a dead star, metamorphosing itself into a compact, homogenous modern state of Moslem religion and Turkish speech. At the same time, Greece and Turkey agreed to exchange minorities. Nearly half a million Moslems (many of whom were Greeks in all but religion) were forced to leave Greece, while more than a million Christians (some of who were culturally Turks) were expelled from Turkey. Most of the Christians were Pontic Greeks, who abandoned their monasteries and farms, their town houses and banks and schools, and fled with what they could carry down to the docks…

Trabzon is built upon ridges, between deep ravines which run down to the sea. On one of these ridges stands the ruined citadel of Trebizond, the palace and fortress of the Great Comnenoi. The town itself is full of Byzantine churches which are now mosques: St. Eugenius, St. Anne, St. Andrew, St. Michael, St. Philip, the cave church of St. Savas, the church of Panaghia Chrysocephalos. On a headland in the western part of the city, cool in the wind from the sea, is the cathedral of Aghia Sofia, now a museum, its Byzantine frescoes restored by David Talbot-Rice and Edinburgh University.

The Comnenian Empire began here in 1204, after the Crusaders had stormed and sacked
Constantinople; Alexis Comnenos, son of the Byzantine emperor, escaped to Trebizond and made it his capital. A stroke of commercial luck ensured that the Comnenian state would survive and flourish even after the Greek emperors had regained the throne at Constantinople. In the mid-thirteenth century, the Mongol conquest of Persia opened a new, southern branch of the "Silk Routes" which began at Tabriz and ended, after crossing the Pontic Mountains, at Trebizond.

Professor Anthony Bryer, who in our own times is the historiographer-imperial of the Comnenoi, lays emphasis on the compactness of this Pontos which was governed from Trebizond, "hemmed like the Lebanon and south Caspian by its Alps...select by climate and geography." Coastal agriculture, once oil, wine and grain but now nuts, tea and tobacco, is fringed with temperate rain forests "which give way to summer pastures, overlooking the dry highlands of Armenia, upon which the Pontos turns its back to face the Black Sea."

From the beginning, the Greek settlement here was unlike those on the other Black Sea coasts. It was a settlement in depth, reaching up into the wooded valleys of the interior. Behind the usual city-colonies along the shore, "Greek-speaking settlement extended inland to the watershed." In the time of the Comnenoi, the relatively tiny city of Trebizond enjoyed a turbulent urban and political life, but the mass of the population lived in the hills behind, growing crops and driving their beasts up to high pastures in summer. Most of these Christian peasants were the tenantry of a chain of opulently endowed monasteries which perched along the steep flanks of the valleys; as Bryer says, "a monastic economy of almost Tibetan proportions."

Apart from the cities, this rural Pontic society amounted to far the greatest concentration of Greek-speaking population in the Hellenic or Byzantine worlds-much more numerous than that of the Peloponnese. Constantinople finally fell to Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, and Trebizond was captured by the Turks in 1461 after a siege of forty-two days. But the Pontic Greeks remained in their valleys and villages, and the monasteries clung to their wealth and most of their estates for many more centuries. Many people, including some of the great families of Trebizond, converted in a superficial way to Islam, but continued to speak Pontic Greek-a language which over the millennia had steadily diverged from the tongue spoken in the Aegean or in the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Who did they think they were, in this pre-nationalist age? In the first place, they did not think of themselves as "Greek" or as a people in some way rooted in the peninsula and islands we now call "Greece." Sophisticates in Trebizond might address one another in the fifteenth century as "Hellenes," but this was a cultural fancy rather than an ethnic description. Outsiders, whether Turks or northern Europeans, referred to them and to all the inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire as "Rom" or "Rum" people, or as "Romanians"-citizens of the Roman Empire, in other words, who were also distinguished by their Orthodox Christian faith. Struggling with these categories, a Pontic Turk whose village had once been Greek told Anthony Bryer: "This is Roman (Rum) country; they spoke Christian here..."

The people of the Pontic valleys and cities themselves seemed to find identity in three things: in belonging to a place or patris which could be as small as a village, in not being Western (Roman Catholic) Christians, and in feeling themselves to be members of a polity which was so ancient, so sacred and superior to all others that it scarcely required a name. We call this community, weakly enough, "the Eastern Empire," or "
Byzantium." That cannot convey the almost Chinese degree of significance which the "Rom" people attached to the Empire even long after it had been overthrown, as if it were the eternal essence of all political community in comparison to which other states and realms were only transient realities.

We call the imperial capital Constantinople or Byzantium; the Vikings called it Micklegard; the Turks called it
Istanbul, which is no more than the three Greek words eis tin polin-"into the City." And for its citizens, whether they lived within its walls or in Pontus or Georgia or Crimea or at the Danube mouths, that was its name: "The City." There was no other. Nor was it possible that this city could come to an end except in a purely phenomenal way. The essence was indestructible. Inevitably, its earthly manifestation would return.

This is a Pontic folk-song composed 500 years ago, when the news of the fall of Constantinople reached Trebizond:

A bird, a good bird, left the City,
it settled neither in vineyards nor in orchards,
it came to settle on the castle of the Sun.
It shook one wing, drenched in blood,
it shook the other wing, it had a written paper.
Now it reads, now it cries, now it beats its breast.
‘Woe is us, woe is us, Romania is taken.'
The churches lament, the monasteries weep,
and St. John Chrysostom weeps, he beats his breast.
Weep not, weep not, St. John, and beat not your breast.
Romania has passed away, Romania is taken.
Even if Romania has passed away, it will flower and
bear fruit again…

The Turkish guide-books on sale in the Taksim Meydane offer this account of the 1923 Katastrofe: "After the proclamation of the Republic, the Greeks who lived in the region returned to their own country, and the monastery of
Sumela was evacuated and abandoned." Their own country? Returned? They had lived in the Pontos for nearly three thousand years. Their Pontic dialect was not understandable to twentieth-century Athenians. Their world was the Black Sea littoral, and their family connections abroad, by the twentieth century, were with the enormous Pontic Greek emigration which had already settled in the Russian Empire: in the Caucasus, Crimea, and the lands around the Sea of Azov.

Yet the guide-books are not entirely wrong. All through the nineteenth century, two historical forces worked on the antique community of the Pontic Greeks with growing intensity: an ideology and a practicality. One was Greek nationalism, radiating from Constantinople and then from
Athens, at once modernising and romantic. The other was the rise of Russian power around the Black Sea, and the successive wars which advanced Russia into the Balkans in the West and down into the coastal regions of the Caucasus in the East. Each war, increasing the tensions between Christians and the Ottoman authorities in Anatolia, led to an inflow of Moslem refugees, mostly from the Caucasus, into the Pontos. After the Russian-Turkish war of 1828-9, some 42,000 Greeks, almost a fifth of the Pontic population, followed the withdrawing Russian armies. More Greeks left after the Crimean War, settling mainly in Georgia and Crimea, and another emigration took place after the 1877-8 war between Russia and Turkey, until by about 1880 nearly 100,000 Greeks had taken refuge under the Christian protection of the tsar. The last of these movements took place during the First World War. Russian troops advancing along the south coast of the Black Sea occupied Trebizond for two years, between 1916 and 1918, and when they withdrew another 80,000 Greeks departed with them, fearing reprisals.

The "Pontic Renaissance," by contrast, came from the West. All round the Black Sea, the Greek communities flung themselves into the huge commercial opportunities of the nineteenth century, into shipping, banking, tobacco-growing and the manufacturing industry. They used their prosperity not only for investment but for enlightenment and culture. George Maraslis, for example, whose family came from Plovdiv in modern Bulgaria, was mayor of Odessa from 1897 to 1907; with his personal wealth, he founded schools, libraries, publishing houses and teacher-training colleges not only in Odessa but in Thrace, Plovdiv ("Phillipoupolis"), Salonica, Corfu and Athens.

Trebizond shared this prosperity, especially during the decades when the port served as the western terminal of the overland route from India through Persia (the boom ceased abruptly when the Suez Canal was opened in 1869). There were European consulates in the city, and half a dozen Greek banks. The whole Pontos benefited from a surge of school-foundation, and with modern education came an entirely new, lay generation of teachers trained in Constantinople or Athens for whom the Greek language was not Pontic but classical.

For the first time, intellectuals set out to give the Pontians an ethnic national consciousness. That required "origins" and "roots." Anthony Bryer relates how "Triantaphyllides, a Chaldian schoolmaster...christened his son Pericles and sent him to Athens, whence he returned after 1842 to teach Xenophon and classical Greek at the Trebizond Phrontisterion..." By 1846, schoolmasters had renamed Gümüshane a fancy "Argyropolis." In a typical example of cultural nation-invention, the teachers proceeded to graft the Pontos onto the stock not just of Byzantium but of Periclean Athens itself. All round the Greek world of the Black Sea, the same process was going on. The teachers and the school curricula came from Athens, bringing with them a new concept of Greekness which linked the Greek-Orthodox communities of the Black Sea and the "nation" of Greece.

This was in no way a "Little Greece" nationalism restricted to the arid peninsula in the Aegean Sea. A speaker in the Greek parliament in 1844 expounded this newly designed identity: "The Kingdom of Greece is not Greece. It constitutes only one part, the smallest and the poorest.... A Greek is not only a man who lives within the Kingdom, but also one who lives in Yoannina, Serrai, Adrianople, Constantinople, Smyrna, Trebizond, Crete and in any land associated with Greek history and the Greek race... There are two main centres of Hellenism: Athens, the capital of the Greek Kingdom, and the City, reaching from Athens to the borders of Georgia and Ukraine." But "The Great Idea" had now acquired a far more impressive myth of origin, which led back to the Parthenon and the stoa and the battle of Marathon.

This is why, in 1923, it was possible for Chrysanthos, last Metropolitan of Trebizond, to lead 164,000 Pontic Greeks "home" to Greece-a country alien to them physically, climatically, politically and linguistically. By then, admittedly, there was nowhere else for them to go. The Russian Empire had become the Soviet Union, suspicious of Greeks ever since a disastrous occupation of Odessa and Sevastopol by the Greek Army in 1919. Georgia, where hundreds of thousands of Pontic Greeks had settled, had become an independent state after the Russian Revolution but had been reconquered by the Bolsheviks. Attempts at the Versailles Peace Conference to gain international support for an independent "Pontic Republic," or for an Armenian state in
Asia Minor which would include Trebizond and give the Pontic Greeks internal autonomy, had come to nothing.

The Greek invasion of Anatolia, egged on by Lloyd George, was smashed by Kemal Ataturk in 1922. The following year brought the Treaty of Lausanne, and the "exchange" of Moslem and Christian minorities. The Greeks of Istanbul and the Aegean islands west of the Dardanelles were allowed to remain for another half-century, until most of the surviving Greeks left during the Greco-Turkish confrontation over
Cyprus after 1974. "The Great Idea" was extinct at last…

But the Pontic Greeks were not extinct at all. From being a motherland with widely scattered children, the Pontos had become a diaspora. One part of the diaspora now made its life in Greece, remaining for other Greek citizens a puzzling, inward-looking nation-within-the-nation. The other part vanished behind the fortress walls of the Soviet Union and the outside world, including most Greeks, forgot about them. But they, it turned out, did not forget about Pontos or Greece.

Most Greeks in the new Soviet Union lived around the Black Sea. Settlers who concentrated around the north shores of the Sea of Azov (the "Mariupol Greeks") had a dialect and culture of their own; they were the descendants of an older farming community in Crimea which Catherine the Great had moved into southern Russia. But the majority was of Pontic origin. The Greeks lived in the port cities, especially Odessa, Rostov and Sevastopol, in the fertile Kuban steppes, in the coastal towns and villages of Georgia and Abkhazia and in the hills off central Georgia.

The first Soviet years were tolerable, even encouraging. The Greeks rapidly recovered from the devastations of the Civil War. They kept most of their farms, and there was a vigorous cultural revival: a reform of the Greek alphabet; a wealth of bold and interesting Greek books, journals and newspapers in the kiosks; a state-assisted network of Greek-language education. On the Kuban coast and in some districts of Ukraine, Greek autonomous regions were established.

But with the collectivisation of farming after 1928, and Stalin's usurpation of supreme power, the Greeks were transformed almost overnight from beneficiaries of the Revolution to victims. Everything about them was now construed as counter-revolutionary: their tradition of free enterprise, their links with the "imperialist" world outside and especially with Athens (many of them held Greek passports), their independent culture. The Greeks in south Russia and Ukraine strongly resisted the loss of their farms, and thousands were arrested. As the "Great Purges" developed in the 1930s, their cultural and political leaders were charged with treachery or Trotskyism and murdered. The Greek schools were closed and Greek literature destroyed. In south Russia, political persecution rapidly turned into ethnic pogroms; entire Greek communities were arrested and deported. Dr. Effie Voutira, who has done much research among the Pontic Greeks in the ex-Soviet Union, estimates that as many as 170,000 Greeks were expelled to Siberia and Central Asia after 1936.

But this had only been a prelude. The full impact of state terror was turned against the Greeks in the aftermath of the Second World War. Like the Crimean Tartars, the Chechens and the Volga Germans, the Greeks of the Soviet Union became a condemned nationality and were banished.

The 70,000 Crimean Greeks, almost all Pontic by descent, went first. Then came the Greeks of Kuban and south Russia. Finally, on the night of 14/15 June 1949, a single immense operation planned in secret for many months rounded up almost the entire Greek population of the Caucasus.

The settlements in Abkhazia and along the Georgian coast down to the Turkish frontier were the principal target. About 100,000 people were seized. Their villages were surrounded in darkness by NKVD special troops, and they were given only a few hours to pack. Many of them perished on the sealed trains, and when they arrived at their destination-usually weeks later-they were deliberately dispersed: scattered among small Moslem communities and kolkhoz cotton farms across the Central Asian plains.

Why was this done? There is no clear answer, even today. Stalin's fear of war in the Black Sea, his memories of the 1919 Intervention, Georgian intrigue and envy or the possession of Greek passports by so many Pontic Greeks-all these have been put forward as explanations. Perhaps the real provocation was that the Greeks were a family. Their human links were stronger than the artificial bonds of totalitarian politics. They were residents of the Soviet Union, but their crime was to be "cosmopolitan"; to be members of a wider world of trade, gossip, marriages and family funerals which carried on its activities across and beyond the Soviet frontiers.

But Black Sea life without Greeks-the local politicians and factory owners, the grocers and cafe proprietors, the journalists and bank-clerks and grain-dealers and ship's captains-was a thin shadow of what it had once been. The Greeks had been envied by their neighbours. Now they were painfully missed…

Like the Crimean Tatars whose exile they shared, the Pontic Greeks in the Soviet Union did not merely sit down and weep by the waters of Babylon. They tried, illegally and in secret, to teach Pontic Greek to their children, who at school were being indoctrinated into a monoglot Russian-Soviet culture. In the dusty kolkhoz villages of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, parents managed to transmit at least fragments of their culture-music and cookery, especially. At the same time, their sense of identity slowly changed and hardened during the decades in Central Asia. Although they had now lost contact not only with Athens but with the remnants of the old Greek diaspora around the Black Sea many thousands of miles away to the West, their sense of "Greekness" tightened into a belief in their own Greek political identity.

Most of the Pontic Greeks who went into exile had retained Greek passports. After the First World War, the government in Athens had distributed national identity papers throughout the diaspora, a gesture which paid respect to the dying, irredentist "Great Idea." At the same time, it was in line with a new current in post-1918 nationalism: the notion that nation-states had a right and even a duty to extend some degree of membership to their own ethnic compatriots abroad. Cultural affinity was to be developed into political affiliation. This idea was taken up principally by nations with a tradition of emigration and a recognizable diaspora. Germany, Ireland and finally Israel were among the nation-states which constructed versions of a "right to return," the right to citizenship based on ethnic criteria which could be biological, religious, cultural or a mixture of all of them. Poland, before and after the Second World War, experimented with several versions of "Polonia," a category which was intended above all to tap the wealth of the huge Polish diaspora in the United States.

What did this call to identification with a "motherland" really mean? The contemporary states of Greece, Ireland, Israel, Hungary and Poland are all modern restorations of lost polities. As restorations, they are all highly inaccurate; none of them has the frontiers of its "original." But those originals all had in common the fact that they were obliterated from the political atlas by imperial violence. Accordingly, those who left the old national territory as emigrants-mostly in the nineteenth century-retained and passed down some sense that their departure from their native countries had been a matter of coercion rather than of free choice.

The resurrection of these countries as independent nation-states was therefore at once touching and reassuring to a diaspora. It was emotionally touching because independence did not merely avenge the trauma of emigration but also legitimated it. In a country like the United States, the appearance of Ireland or Poland on the world stage as a fully fledged, passport-issuing, conference-attending state raised the self-esteem of the Boston Irish or the Chicago Poles. The whole rhetoric of triumphant national liberation ascribed the tragedies of the past to foreign imperial oppression. "We did not run away from our country in its hour of need. We were driven overseas by English landlords, or Prussian gendarmes, or tsarist Cossacks."

And it was reassuring to the diaspora because it demanded little of the emigrant. There could of course be strong moral pressure to "return"-intense in the case of Zionism, perfunctory in the cases of Ireland or Poland. But for the most part the emigrant could both have his cake and eat it. He or she could remain in the relative comforts of Chicago, New York or Melbourne with the extra sentimental empowerment of a second passport and a flag to carry on the old country's independence day parade.

At the same time, the cultural gap between the diaspora and "homeland" could widen very rapidly indeed. Less than two centuries have been enough to make the average Illinois Pole into a foreigner in Warsaw, where, if he speaks Polish at all, he usually baffles his listeners with remnants of extinct peasant dialect. In Budapest, the Szekelyi women from Transylvania, wearing peasant costume and selling embroidered linens in the underpasses, are not exactly emigrants-their country left them, when Hungary lost Transylvania to Romania, rather than the other way round-but their culture is now remote from that of late twentieth-century Magyars. The German Einsiedler, now arriving in the Federal Republic after hundreds of years of village life in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Russia and Siberia, often speak little or no German and bring with them an idea of Germany-pious, servile to authority, repressive-which was already obsolete when Bismarck was chancellor.

Two different processes operate here, apparently contradictory but actually complementary. As the cultural gap widens, so the subjective importance of national identity-in the narrow sense of nation-state membership-intensifies. This new diaspora patriotism may remain little more than a luxury of the imagination, but there are times when, suddenly and desperately, these cheques on the Bank of Symbolism are presented for payment. We have been living through such times for 50 years. Twentieth-century anti-Semitism in Europe, followed by the rise of Arab nationalism, brought the Jews of Europe and the Middle East to Israel. As the Soviet dictatorship weakened, the Volga Germans (also deported by Stalin to Central Asia) set out for Germany announcing that they were ‘‘returning home."

The Pontic Greeks were doing the same thing. Perhaps 300,000 are left in the territories of the old Soviet Union, more than half in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Most now intend to "return home," and nearly 200,000 have already done so in the last few years. And by "home," they mean modern Greece.

Even Zionist Jews cannot match the extravagance of this statement, as a remark about history. It is nearly 3,000 years since the first Greek colonists passed through the Bosporus and set up trading-posts around the Black Sea. Most of them originated from Ionian cities, on the Aegean coast of what is now Turkey, rather than from the Peloponnese. Since then, their culture and language have steadily diverged from those of the peninsula we call "Greece." And yet now their descendants head for Athens or Salonica as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

After Stalin's death in 1953, the deported Greeks who had acquired Soviet nationality were allowed to return from Central Asia. (Most went back to Georgia, although their houses and farms had been sold off or confiscated after 1949.) The rest, those who held Greek papers issued by a country which they had never seen, remained in exile. At this stage, it seems, their concept of their status and of their relationship to Greece began to change. They had accepted their first great uprooting, the flight from the Turks in Pontos, as an emigration, a move to new shores on the same sea. But Stalin's banishment turned the Pontic Greeks, in their own estimation, into refugees.

Dr. Effie Voutira has pointed out that the modern use of the word "refugee"-especially in English-predicates the existence of a nation-state. By the mid-twentieth century, everyone was assumed to be a member of a national community. Everyone was at home somewhere, each with his or her passport. The great and growing number of human beings who had become internationally "homeless"-the refugees-were therefore people whose primary plight was that they had been separated from their rightful nation-state. This is why we almost always add a national adjective to the term, as in "Bosnian/Polish/Zairean refugee." The refugee is somebody who once had a nation, but lost it.

This is an odd, inadequate way of designating the millions of displaced individuals and families carried back and forth on the tides of the world, but the displaced themselves are increasingly inclined to adopt it-precisely because "refugee" implies membership of a state community. This was not always so. The Gaelic-speaking Highlanders who were removed from their townships and transported to Canada considered themselves emigrants, rather than refugees, although their departure (the "Highland Clearances") was not usually voluntary. The Pontic Greeks who fled from Trebizond to run beach cafes at Sukhum, or print newspapers in Odessa, or plant vineyards in Georgia, grieved for their lost homes but prepared to put down fresh roots. But when Stalin snatched them away from the Black Sea and duped them in the steppes of Central Asia, threatening their whole community with physical and cultural extinction, they could no longer consider themselves emigrants. This time, they had been not merely transplanted but condemned.

In Central Asia, the Pontic Greeks faced two extreme alternatives. One was to assimilate to Soviet society, and to seek to climb the Party ladder-which many Greeks did. The other was to reject the whole new environment. In the end, the choice was effaced. The Communist Party and then the Soviet Union capsized and sank, leaving climbers and rejectors together in the same leaky boat: all were now non-Kazakh or non-Uzbek "colonialists" in newly independent Moslem states. The "natives," who understandably drew no distinction between outsiders who had arrived in their land as conquerors, imperial settlers or banished victims, contemplated the farms and bureaucratic posts occupied by Russians, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Volga Germans, Chechens and Meshketian Turks, and began to close in. By 1990, ethnic rioting between locals and incomers was spreading across Central Asian republics. Now, with fresh desperation, the Pontic Greeks appealed to "their nation:" Greece.

In the first years after the Russian Revolution there had been some outflow to Greece, and more Greeks contrived to escape in 1939-9, after the Great Purges. But then the Soviet external frontiers closed tightly. They did not open again for almost fifty years, when Mikhail Gorbachev began to lift the ban on mass emigration.

At that time, in the mid-1980s, probably around 500,000 Greeks were living in the Soviet Union, almost all of them of Pontic origin. By the end of the decade, they were arriving in Greece at the rate of 20,000 a year, and by the mid-1990s, the Greek villages in Central Asia were practically empty. Some, a minority, went back to the Black Sea coasts in south Russia or Georgia. There was even some optimistic talk of reviving the old idea of a Greek autonomous region in the Kuban; a congress of Greek delegates was held at Gelendzhik, near Novorossisk, in 1991, and a Greek-language newspaper (Pontos) appeared in the little port of Anapa. But the Caucasus grew much less attractive for Greek exiles in the next few years. Civil war in Georgia was followed by an even more violent struggle as Abkhazia, historically one of the centers of Greek settlement, fought Georgia for its own independence. Most Pontic Greeks headed "home"-to Athens or Salonica…

As Anthony Bryer writes: "Pontic Greeks...will not lie down. They are perhaps the most astonishing of all survivors. But some seek a history, some seek a homeland, and some both." It is not surprising that modern Greeks often feel baffled by the contradictions of Pontic attitudes. On the one hand, they have opted for Greece as "home," but then-as soon as they have disembarked in the promised land-they begin to weave together a wonderful, exotic bower of special tradition and private destiny which suggests that their home is, after all, entirely elsewhere. Their emblem is the Pontic eagle or the Byzantine peacock, perhaps the "good bird" which flew from the City to proclaim that "Romania is taken." Their slogan is the last line of that song: the proclamation that dead Romania will "flower and bear fruit again."…

The good bird mourns and prophecies again, but what will be the flowers and fruit? Once this tree of Romania, felled but rising magically from death to blossom once more, seemed to be a version of "The Great Idea": the restoration of the City's imperium over all the lands and coasts of Byzantine Christianity. But now "Romania" seems to have retreated into itself, contracting-rather like the modern Turkish state-from a universal realm into an ethnic defensiveness concerned with a single tradition and a single language. "Romania" seems to have become less a kingdom of this world than the secret garden of those who keep faith with the past.

The bird sings that, one day, the glory and pre-eminence of the Pontic Greeks will be recognised wherever Greek is spoken. When that day of justification comes, the two-and-a-half millennia of Anabasis will at last be over. The theater of transformations which made this people first colonists, then strangers in their own land, then emigrants, then exiles and then refugees will lower its curtain. The journey which led from the Ionian shore to Pontos, from Pontos to Crimea and Kuban and the Caucasus, from the Black Sea to the nomad steppes of Central Asia and finally from Kazakhstan to Greece, will be complete.


Usefull links


Sumela Monastery



 The cost of language, Pontiaka trebizond Greek

Colchis, Armenia, Iberia, Albania

Eastern Black Sea houses, Turkey

Greek Penetration of the Black Sea 1

Greek Penetration of the Black Sea 2
Greek Penetration of the Black Sea 3 Greek Penetration of the Black Sea 4

A Pontic Greek History by Sam Topalidis


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