Salonica and Izmir “…the absence of history.”

23 Jun

From my previous post’s comments on Salonica and Izmir…

A great book on the Population Exchange, with both extensive historical background that helps a reader from outside the region understand the events; a deep theoretical analysis on nationalism and ethnicity as concepts; the wars involved; the mechanics of the Exchange itself and its consequences, both large-scale and personal; how it would be considered the most objectionable kind of Ethnic Cleansing today and would raise howls of protest from the international community, but was then considered a perfectly rational way by our two Great Leaders to solve a problem and “nation-build” — move almost three million people against their will –setting a horrible twentieth-century precedent (which we’ll later see in Eastern Europe, Palestine, most tragically of all, India, in Yugoslavia…); and all somewhat miraculously condensed into a book of less then three hundred pages, is Bruce Clark’s Twice a Stranger: the Mass Expulsions that Forged Modern Greece and Turkey.

And if there’s a first book I recommend to anyone who wants to understand our complicated, often beautiful, mostly dysfunctional romance, and how it continues even after the Great Divorce, it’s this one:

Clark strikes the absolute perfect balance between historical and journalistic research and poignant personal accounts of both the Turkish and Greek refugees.  But these personal accounts are made even more moving by Clark’s own deep, emotional sense of loss and time and violence and his investment in his subject matter (his first chapter on Ayvalik, with it’s haunting, closing quote from one of his subjects: “It’s too early to remember,” is a masterpiece).  When you find out that Clark is Northern Irish, so knows of what he speaks when it comes to inter-communal viciousness, another layer of profundity is added to the experience of reading this book.  Many thanks to him for his generosity in allowing me to reproduce sections of his work.

I thought of one passage in particular, like I said, when mentioning both Salonica and Izmir’s sterility in the previous post:

“In this region of ancient settlement and civilization, there is often an unhappy mismatch between where people live now, and the places to which they feel the deepest attachment; and that mismatch is reflected in the physical environment.  Monuments and places of worship seem to be in the wrong place, or to be used for the wrong purpose.  In contrast with European cities like Bologna or Salamanca, where the past and present seem to blend quite seamlessly, the Aegean landscape is full of odd, unhappy disjunction; places where people have lived, prayed and done business for centuries feel as soulless and ill-designed as a strip development on an American turnpike.  That is partly the result, of course, of ill-managed and corrupt forms of economic development; but the legacy of an artificial exercise in social and ethnic remodeling has played a part.” [my emphases]

Some older photos that might help:

Salonika

Solun: from a Bulgarian website.  That Kievan mosaic in the previous post should actually be titled Dmitiri Solunskiy, as he’s known throughout the Slavic world, where he’s widely venerated, but especially by Bulgarians and Macedonians.

Smyrna before the twenties

Stuff like this below, though, doesn’t really help, but I find clownish and borderline offensive: Izmir’s “Aegean Greek Wine Tavern” (though the food looks great and probably is)*; I mean, if it were in Istanbul, where there’s still a living memory of Greeks, it wouldn’t be so weird, but in Izmir, where there haven’t been any Greeks in almost a century, and from where they left under horrific conditions that can’t be compared to Istanbul Greeks’ slow exodus…plus, where due to the Exchange and the flood of refugees from Greece, there are probably hardly any native Izmirli Turks to remember them either (try finding a true native Salonikan who’s not of refugee origin) makes it a little creepy.

 

*The classic seafood-meze-raki meyhane was almost exclusively a Greek insitution in Turkey, and clearly the association lives on.  For obvious reasons, the tavern has always been default “gavur” territory, since the beginnings even of Islamic poetic culture.  The fish tavern continued to be mostly Greek terrain (and Armenian) in Istanbul itself until well into the sixties; in what little modern Turkish fiction I know set in C-town the only Greeks are waiters in seaside restaurants.  There are still a couple of Greek-owned ones left.  Which doesn’t mean that the genre doesn’t live on without us.  It flourishes in fact, and a good Turkish seafood-meze-raki meal in Istanbul is one of life’s sublime experiences.  I pity those who die without having experienced it.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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