Imagine living with people who are your family, people you know and love and love you on return, people who are hard working and caring who have given of themselves time and again without fail. Now imagine that you never met those people for they weren’t there, at least not completely.
This is the case for many Pontian Greeks whose families suffered through the genocide and who continue to live with the pain of loss. These that occurred in recent history and for some in living memory. For the successive generations thit pain and anger lingers as the stories emerge of what their families faced not that long ago.
I’ll speak of one of those families whose story is filled with heartache and hope, love and hate, and above all pride in who they are. The grandparents hailed from Trebizond or Trapezus and Kerasous or Kerasounta in Pontus.
Both towns were along the south coast of the Black Sea east of Constantinople. An area of abundance from both the sea and the land. Kerasous would have been surrounded by hazelnut tress and cherry orchards. It’s very name meaning cherry. Which came first the name of the town or the fruit has been lost to history. Imagine the beauty and peace of a region filled with blossoms and sweet fragrances. It would have been the ideal place to fall in love and raise a family and for a time it was. Then came the atrocities of a forced relocation, occupation, or war. Whatever you choose to call it it was hell and deemed a genocide.
Now running for their lives the grandparents who were still just teenagers carried what they could including infant children and fled to the sea. Their journey was filled with danger, fear, and hunger as they travelled to unknown islands trying to stay ahead of the horrors behind them. The perils of their journey were too much for at least 2 of the infants who succumbed to the stresses and horrific conditions they faced. They were buried in haste on unknown islands never to be found again.
Eventually the young family found their way to the safety of Greece and were offered land close to the sea to rebuild their lives. Instead they ended up in the mountains of northern Greece far from the sea. The grief of their losses and fear of the horrors they faced too strong to bare against the constant reminder the sea would provide. In those mountains they raised a large family and prospered and were viewed by some as heroes in the face of new horrors at the hands of the Germans during WW2.
I spoke of living with someone who wasn’t complete, who was missing pieces of themselves. The loss of your children is enough to change anyone but once you factor in the circumstances in which they died and that they are literally lost to you the hole left would be irreparable. The loss of the way of life in a place that was once idyllic still haunts most Pontian Greeks. “Πάλι με χρόνια με καιρούς, πάλι δικά μας θα ‘ναι!” is in the hearts of many.
The current generation of Pontian Greeks wish to return to what they still feel is their home. They see it as a way of healing those wounds and reclaiming a way of life they’ve only known as stories. The lives lost instill feelings of intense grief and hate and will always be present and in a way those feelings bind all Pontians together. The love and pride in their heritage and their ancestors is strong and inspiring. In the face of such horrors they clung to tradition and each other somehow instinctively recognizing another Pontian Greek. I feel a pride in just having had the chance to get to know the Pontian Greeks – to see first hand how strong they are. This very young and brave family I refer to were my beloved grandparents. Their names Kerasia(cherry tree) and Theoharis(God’s grace). I wish every Pontian Greek the peace they deserve in dealing with their past while looking to the future.
In loving memory of my grandparents.