On the 26th of August 2001 I had the opportunity and privilege of meeting and interviewing Mr. Gervasios Kosmidis during my visit to Adelaide, South Australia as part of a nationwide tour organised by Pontiaki Estia Victoria. The tour involved the presentation of traditional Pontic dances by the Pontiaki Estia Dance Troupe and a series of lectures presented by me on Pontic
History with emphasis on the Genocide of the Hellenes of Pontus. At the time Mr. Kosmidis was the oldest living member from his and my parent’s village of Apsalos in the province of Pella, Macedonia.
During our two-hour visit, Mr. Kosmidis discussed his early life and the many hardships he and his family suffered.
Mr. Kosmidis was born in December 1904 in a region called Ag Ntag Maten (Metalliou Ag Ntag) near Argyroupoli in the province of Ankara in Asia Minor.
Up until 1914 life was relatively good but once the Germans arrived and World War One had begun all the Greek villages (not the Turkish ones) were forced to collect their crops, which included mainly wheat, to feed the German Army. As a result, hunger was rife throughout the Greek population and so many of the Greek inhabitants were forced to relocate in order to survive. Due to the relatively close proximity of the city of Ankara to Ag Ntag Maten and having heard that in Ankara there was food available Mr. Kosmidis and his family set out on a two-month journey by foot to Ankara.
On arrival they met up with other Pontic Greeks that were working on the railroads and eventually were given a place to stay.
They remained in Ankara until 1922 during which Mr. Kosmidis had numerous jobs including selling newspapers. Mr. Kosmidis told me that he even sold newspapers to the office of Kemal Ataturk who he had met.
During the Greek Turkish War, the Greek army had reached the outskirts of Ankara and the Greek population in Ankara at the time (about 15,000) had heard that the Turks had captured 60,000 Greek soldiers and they were going to be brought to the city. Mr. Kosmidis told me that in reality there were only about 60 captured Greek soldiers who were taken to the outskirts of the city to a prison camp.
Everything changed for Mr. Kosmidis and his fellow villagers on the 12th of August 1922 when they rounded up all the Greek males from teenagers to age 60 and put them in a prison camp.
They were a total of 993 men and boys who three days later (της Παναγίας) were herded through the city to an unknown destination.
They walked continuously for 6 days accompanied by 370 Turkish soldiers.
On the sixth day they reached a river (ορμητικό ποτάμι) which was surrounded by hills and were told to rest. “We were all exhausted” says Mr. Kosmidis. “While we rested we noticed that a lot of the soldiers had ridden off, which we later found out were going to the nearby Turkish villages to round up the local Turkish population to come and slaughter us.” The Turkish leader then went up an incline and addressed us all in Turkish (at this point Mr. Kosmidis recalls the exact words said in Turkish and translates them in Greek): “You have all been brought here because this is where you will all die”.
When they heard these words the boys and men started to cry and called out in prayer but to no avail. They were told that “you will all die in the next 15 minutes.”
During this six-day ordeal and following the roundup of the men and boys, the women of the village protested and contacted the village priest Pater Efthimi who had not been present when the men were taken. They pleaded with the priest to do something to save their husbands, fathers and sons. On hearing this the priest drove directly to the office of Kemal Pasha Ataturk and managed to save the lives of all the men and boys.
At this point Mr. Kosmidis explained to me how it was possible that their priest managed to convince the Turks to spare all their lives. Pater Efthimi had sacrificed his two daughters giving them to the Turkish harems.
Mr. Kosmidis told me that soon after they were told that they were all going to die a written order arrived and was read out by the Turkish leader stating that “today is your lucky day, your lives have been spared.”
Although their lives were spared they were taken back on the road and made to repair roads and bridges for the Turkish Army. In one incident Mr. Kosmidis told me how they had to repair a particular bridge that required them to strip half naked and enter a freezing river which had “four fingers width ice” which they had to break every morning and then enter the water. “We were cold and had not been given any food.”
Eventually the survivors returned to Ankara and Mr. Kosmidis found his way to Greece as a result of the Exchange Treaty between Greece and Turkey (Treaty of Lausanne). It was my honour to have had the opportunity to meet and spend time with a Genocide survivor.
On asking Mr. Kosmidis whether his and many other eyewitness accounts of that period in our history should be made known he replied “what are you saying, of course it has to be known. Do you know how much blood was shed during that time?”