Until today, I had only heard one side of the story. The story of the 76 Christian families who were deported from the mixed-faith village of Dila in Cappadocia, Turkey in 1924. My grandfather and my grandmother were among them, small children in the arms of their parents. My grandfather slightly older than my grandmother was only five years old at the time. Their story is not dissimilar to the plight of the universal and timeless refugee. They left their land and lost their homes, possessions and friends. In short, they lost their identity and, despite their resilience and the small joys of everyday life, they remained scarred until the day they died. Although Greece was supposed to be the “motherland” the fact of the matter is that they died in a foreign land.
Focusing on the journey of the displaced I had totally missed the story of those who were actually left behind. Mainly because the story of the displaced was the one of my own family but also because the attention is usually given to those who are forced to leave. The ‘others’ were safe; they were also of a different faith and in the new narrative they had to become the “enemy”. Why would one think twice?
Visiting the village of my grandparents today I discovered a whole new dimension of the suffering caused by displacement. Violent division and uprooting of communities is not (only) about land and territory. It is very much about people and relationships. My Christian grandparents missed their Muslim friends and neighbours unbearably. They missed them more than they had missed their plot of land. And those who stayed back also never forgot their Christian friends. The memories of those who stayed (Muslims) were passed onto the younger generations in the exact same way my own grandparents passed images and memories about “our Cappadocian village” on to us. Ali, Levent and Metin, although unborn in 1924, still know where every Christian family lived; where Demetris and Eftihimis had their plots of land, how the priest’s house had the best view and where the Christian school was based.
Tuesday the 19th of August 1924 was a day that scarred the people of Dila (and their offspring) forever. Two years after the end of the Greco-Turkish war, an offshoot of WW1, Christians in Dila (Til) were among the last ones to leave Anatolia for Greece. This brutal social engineering project was part of the end-of-war treaty that aimed at creating ethnically pure countries on the two sides of the Aegean.
But there is also another twist to the story. A village where Christians and Muslims co-existed for centuries had to become “ethnically clean” overnight. The houses of the 381 Christians evacuating the village would be immediately given to settlers. Incoming Muslims transferred from Bulgaria and Albania were to cover the demographic gap, displacement would create. But the settlers arrived three days earlier than expected and for three days the village had to experience a bizarre situation: the locals (Christians and Muslims) were mourning the impending separation while the settlers uncomfortably sat there and waited to move into the houses left behind. A surreal and brutal stand-off.
An important detail. On the 19th of August, the last place visited by the Christians was the Church of Saint Andrews in the centre of the village. The Church, however, shared the same courtyard with the Mosque. Those two buildings facing each other offered the most powerful testament of centuries of harmonious co-existence. Christians and Muslims, shared the same place of worship which in turn meant that the two faiths comprised one solid community. Regardless of faith, they shared moments of happiness and sadness, marriages and funerals. They were all together as one until that dreaded summer day of 1924.
Metin told me today that his grandfather was in love with Maria back then, a beautiful Christian woman who had also packed her staff and headed to the courtyard to light the last candle and say goodbye to “those who stayed” before departing to the unknown. They were both crying as they hugged each other for the last time and Metin’s grandfather wiped Maria’s tears with his handkerchief. They neither saw nor communicated with each other again. But Metin’s grandfather, kept this handkerchief for 70 years, until the day he died.
Those who stayed were also forever scarred. Most of the settlers eventually left as they never managed to grow roots in the village. The walls of the Christian houses still stand there and the images of the past come to life as one listens to the stories of “those who stayed”. Because memory is our only antidote to ignorance and hate. Please remember and have faith in humanity.
Refugees are Welcome.