Tonight is the night many of my follow citizens spent a night in Konstantinoupolis (Istanbul) fifty-five years ago in nightmares. Today their sons were killed, today, fifty-five years ago their daughters were abused. Their shops were destroyed. But their pride was intact.
They did what a real citizen would do. They thought the pogrom against the Greeks of K’poli (Istanbul) and Smyrna (Izmir) was an act of a mob. They waited for the state to protect them. They didn’t know then, the state itself was behind the mob. The last remnants of the Greek population of Asia Minor would be sent away. 5o years of ethnic cleansing against the Greeks was about to be completed.
They also didn’t know they were spending one of the last nights that they would in a city that they have built almost two millennia ago. A city that they created, embellished and worshipped above all. A city where its Greek inhabitants survived centuries of abuse, humiliation and torture. But that was it. As an infamous patriarch of the turn of the century couldn’t save them when Greek Republic was formed, as banishing the newly born Greece couldn’t save his head, the fate was written on the wall.
The father of the protagonist of the movie “Politiki Kouzina” (Cuisine of Poli) narrates about the night they were deported from the city. The policemen comes and asks them to leave, while whispering to his ear; “but of course if you turn muslim, you can stay”. The father still cries when he says that he thought about it for some seconds. He couldn’t decide right away. Noone can decide right away when it comes to this city. But even they thought, their blood, their beliefs, and most of all their belief to mother Greece, made them leave the city of their dreams.
So they went.
Their bodies are gone for decades. But their souls linger on. When I hear Dalaras sing “The bells of Hagia Sophia”, I still hear the chorus of countless refugees. This is what they are still. Premature kids of mother Greece; belonging nowhere, still in limbo.
You can hear Theia Eleni weeping if you listen carefully on the pavement at Yeniköy. You can see the absurd looks on the faces of private security personnel at Fanari. Or you may take the “vapori” (steamship) to the Princess islands. Where you can listen the cries of sirens longing for their habitual songs of amines.
Maybe soon in time, no one would remember the citizens of K’Poli. But the city will. From the walls of Hagia Sophia, or from the ruins of a Byzantine aqua-duct, you will still hear the song “Kaiktsi”, longing for a lover lost on a different shore, in the centuries to come. Because a child never forgets the womb he was created in.