This year is the centenary of the Asia Minor catastrophe, with commemorations centering on the destruction of the great city of Smyrne in 1922. However the year commemorates the whole series of tragic events that occurred across Asia Minor, some beginning during the First World War, which would witness the destruction of Asia Minor’s historic Christian communities, the survivors fleeing to Greece seeking safety. Hellenic communities throughout the world will be remembering this tragedy in a series of events and projects.
One of the most significant of these is a new initiative of the University of Florida’s Ottoman Greeks of the U.S. Digital History Project. The mission of this project is to preserve the memory and heritage of immigrants from regions of the Ottoman Empire who emigrated to the US in the first third of the 20th century.
As part of the commemoration of the Asia Minor Catastrophe the project will create a unique series of videos, drawing on their digital oral history archive. This archive has worked to document the experience of Greek migrants to the U.S., capturing their migration experiences of life in the Ottoman Empire, of their departure, their journeys and their arrival in a new land. The migrants’ descendants preserved these experiences through trans-generational memory transfer and archival research.
The new initiative is titled Remembering 1922: Twelve Memories of Migration from the Late Ottoman Empire to the US. Over the next twelve months, researchers will present individual experiences in a series of online videos.
Each video will feature one of twelve communities from the late Ottoman Empire’s regions. In this way, they hope to connect with the hundreds of thousands of descendants of the Greeks of Asia Minor throughout the world. In addition, the videos will present a variety of migration experiences between 1907-1924, from economic migration during periods of relative peace and stability, to their life as refugee fleeing conflict, to transnational migration and return migration.
As this year marks the centenary commemoration of the destruction of Smyrne, many of the presentations will emphasize the resulting refugee wave from first-hand accounts provided by descendants of Ottoman Greek immigrants and refugees to the US.
The online video presentations will be released progressively throughout the year. The first two episodes have already been released. They can be viewed here: https://ogus.oral.history.ufl.edu/remembering-1922
As a historian and as someone who has visited some of the major locations of Hellenic settlement in Asia Minor – accompanied by descendants of those who had to flee for their lives – these videos and the wider project are an important initiative that should be emulated throughout the Hellenic diaspora. Melbourne as a city that has become the home to one of the largest Hellenic communities outside of Greece should be leading the way in documenting and capturing these important memories of these tragic days. They represent an important part of both the Greek and Australian experience.
Events commemorating the Catastrophe will be held this year throughout Australia. Many of those in Victoria are being organised under the auspices of Melbourne’s Organisational Committee of the Greek National Day and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia. The title of their program is Commemorating 100 Years of Asia Minor Hellenism, 1922-2022. Importantly, the program will both commemorate the disaster for the Greeks of Asia Minor but also celebrate the role of Asia Minor Greeks in modern Greek history. The story of the Catastrophe is both one of tragedy for the loss of both life and community but is also a celebration of those who survived and went on to play a major role not only in Greece but throughout the Greek Diaspora across the world, including Australia.
One of the most important of these will honour a distinctly Victorian aspect to the remembrance of the Asia Minor Catastrophe. The George Treloar Memorial Committee will be holding a commemorative service on Sunday September 4th at the George Treloar Memorial in Sturt Street in Ballarat. The service will encompass a musical and dance performance and a wreath-laying. The formal service will be followed by refreshments and commemorative speeches. All are welcome. For more information contact the Committee’s Penny Tsombanopoulos on mobile 0409 850 109.
Readers will know that this Memorial was erected in 2019, with the support of many organizations and individuals, to commemorate the refugee work of Ballarat-born Major George Devine Treloar. As the League of Nations representative in northern Greece, George assisted in the re-settlement of over 100,000 Asia Minor refugees in northern Greece, a service for which he was honoured by the Hellenic authorities and whose memory is kept alive in the villages connected to his work, including that of Thrylorio in Thrace. It was my privilege a few years ago to have visited this village, leading a commemorative tour group and researching the story of George Treloar. In this visit I was accompanied by both Lee Tarlamis OAM MP and former Victorian Minister the Hon John Pandazopoulos. Recently, the Australian Ambassador to Greece, Arthur Spyrou visited the village to honour the work of George Treloar.
The descendants of the survivors of the Catastrophe have kept the memory of their ancestors and their sufferings alive for the past one hundred years, through annual commemorations and appeals for recognition of the tragedy by governments. As the US Project states – may their memory be eternal.
At a time when a new war is seeing over a million refugees flee conflict in the Ukraine – including the areas significant Hellenic community that have roots in the region going back to ancient times – the commemoration of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, its victims and survivors has become even more relevant to us today. We should never forget where war, intolerance and a lack of humanity can lead.
This story was published as part of Neos Kosmos’ call-out for extensive features focused on the Asia Minor Catastrophe to be shared for the entirety of 2022 in honour of those who were uprooted during those times. If you have Asia Minor heritage, share your family history and heirloom photos with us by:
- Mailing it to Neos Kosmos PO Box 773, Port Melbourne, Victoria 3207
- Email your texts and images to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone Sotiris Hatzimanolis at (03) 94824433 Monday to Friday during office hours
Jim Claven is a trained historian, freelance writer and published author. He has researched the Hellenic link to Anzac over many years. He has been an active member of the George Treloar Memorial Committee since its foundation. His latest publication – Grecian Adventure: Greece 1941, Anzac Trail Stories & Photographs – will be released soon. He can be contacted via email@example.com