submitted by John COMINO on 30.09.2005
Paper delivered by
Dip Law (SAB), Notary Public
1ST INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM OF KYTHERAISMOS
September 24-26, 2004
“Η πατριδα ενος ανθρωπου ειναι εκει
που ευδοκιμει και πλουτιςει"
........................Aριστοφανης, 388 π.χ.
PHILO - KYTHERAISMOS
“Hellenism and Kytheraismos: A State of Mind or a State of Being?”
[Image 1: Title Page]
Your Eminence, honoured guests, delegates and fellow Kytherians, when I was invited to speak at this Symposium, I felt in awe of being presented the opportunity to share this historic moment with fellow Kytherians.
I am honoured to stand here today as the grandson of an emigrant, John Comino who migrated to Australia in 1884 following his brother Athanassios who travelled first to Smyrna in Asia Minor and then to Australia in 1879.
Biographies of John D Kominos and Athanassios D Kominos
[Images 5 & 6: Books]
The expanse of history I have had the opportunity to research has been at once informative and inspirational reinforcing my sense of belonging – of being Kytherian. It is difficult to do this subject justice in the space of 20 minutes but I trust my talk will take us part of the way along that journey of our forebears and help define Kytherian Identity and our love of Kythera.
What is the identity of the Kytherians?
I believe it is one of great determination, struggle against adversity, an innate desire to forge a better life for oneself and one’s family and fellow citizens – to succeed.
History records the many and varied struggles faced and overcome by the Kytherians over the centuries. [Image 2: Seal] Our identity is, I believe, typified by this seal of the Autonomous State of Kythera (which was declared in Potamos on 5 March 1917).
Whilst this was short-lived, Kytherians figured strongly in the fight for Independence from the Turkish Yoke, under the Ottoman Empire. Freedom was of the utmost importance. Kythera offered a safe haven for the great Kolokotronis as it was under British Rule so it escaped the Islamic fury. Kythera provided refuge for many weary and fugitive Greek freedom fighters as well as strong support and involvement in the many battles that helped keep the flames of freedom burning. Many Kytherians were actively involved in the struggle for liberation and others were members of the secret revolutionary organisation known as “PHILIKI ETAIRIA” (Friendly Society), the most prominent being Ioannis Klados.
[Image 3: Historic Map of Kythera]
A telling insight into the Kytherian Identity is the aspirations of the Kytherians which followed the creation of the Septainsular Republic, stimulating the rise of Nationalism and the general belief that “there now exists a piece of free Greek soil, where great things may be achieved”. These feelings were expressed by T. Stathis in the ceremonial address he delivered at the planting of the “Tree of Liberty” in Chora in 1797: “Let us fight our way out of the darkness of ignorance and barbarism, which is keeping us in a state of Intellectual blindness….let us do our best to give our country all possible happiness by bringing up our children well…let us strive for virtue, justice and peace, which are the true foundations and solid cornerstones of equality, liberty….”
Education was strongly embraced by the Kytherians and interest in innovation and reform flourished most strongly. The Neo-Hellenic enlightenment (1755-1821) strengthened the sense of National Identity; provided a means for establishing national unity; leading to a social and political awakening. The manifestation of social consciousness was connected with the past history of the Greek Race, for the Greeks were interested not only in satisfying their need for a national identity on a European scale but also in satisfying the needs of class prestige in their own country. The quest for supporting arguments is drawn from Greek Tradition, which was used as a rallying cry for the masses, turned into exploitation by the French, and this helped to give it added strength.
A direct sequel to this was the bourgeoisie’s awareness of the idea of a home country and of the historical continuity of Hellenism, which was a prelude to the idea of nationality.
In the early 19th century, that sense of national identity manifested in action, but grew in intensity during the period of the Greek War of Independence and the Radical Movement of 1848 onwards, when all Ionian islanders joined the struggle for union with mainland Greece. Although some of the sources of liberalism on Kythera were derived from the Classical Tradition and others from Western European thought, they combined to form a single intellectual stream, tringed with local idiosyncrasies, that enabled the formation of a distinctive Kytherian character combining all of the above influences.
The feeling of social consciousness among the lower classes came to full maturity in the late 18th century and early 19th century, a critical period of social unrest exacerbated by the forces of production and the forces of consumption. This was a catalyst for social change on Kythera – also a time when the Orthodox Church presented itself as the spiritual leader of all classes. The sense of autonomy and unity in Kytherian Society was fragile but bonded together by a common religion, a common language, a common cultural tradition and education – this tied the Church with the social and national aspirations of the great bulk of the local population.
The decline of the Venetian Republic’s power towards the end of the 18th century and hence its fiscal regime (the Kytherians systematically practiced tax evasion), and a new less burdensome fiscal regime finalised from 1828 onwards (in the unification of the Ionian Islands on financial matters), established a background for farmers and families to grow a wider variety of crops, choose the most suitable land and become more self-sufficient. This led to more energy and time being devoted to manufacturing, trade and shipping.
After 1800, local government also was dramatically reformed with the people of the villages having a genuine involvement and say in their own local affairs.
Following the French Revolution, public education spread little by little to the great mass of the common people, they becoming more inclined towards innovative trends and greater freedom of communication.
Under the Septainsular Republic and the British Protectorate, a complete system of primary to university level education was introduced into the Ionian Islands and, on Kythera, children of Nobles and lower classes now attended the same schools and studied the same curriculum.
I will complete this discourse on the identity of the Kytherian by taking you to some defining moments of its development through Kytherian History:
1. The Venetian influence which commenced in 1363 by direct rule. This influence and local conditions later became the main features of Kytherian Society causing the island’s social structure to start being politicised and then evolve into a cohesive entity playing a integral part in the island’s economic, social and cultural life.
2. The arrival of members of the Byzantine Ruling Nobility and wealthy Peloponesian families following the collapse of the Despotate of Mystra in 1458 and the occupation of most of the Morea by the Turks in 1460. This helped to build an aristocratic Kytherian Society. Many surnames of Byzantine origin such as Andronikos, Panaretos, Logothetis, Komninos and Notaras are common on the island even today.
3. Barbarossa’s raid in 1537 which acutely de-populated the island precipitating the first Diaspora, which included Africa.
4. Post 1537, mistrust and hostility erupted firstly between the northern and southern parts of the island and the administrative divisions of the Mesa Dimos (Inner Municipality) and Exo Dimos (Outer Municipality)
There was re-organisation of the administrative divisions after the Ionian islands were united with mainland Greece, rooted in the open antagonism and frictions between the Nobility and lower classes.
5. Religious tolerance under Venetian Rule allowed the Kytherians to keep their language and preserve faith and tradition through the Orthodox Church. The Venetians shaped their policy to serve their predominantly mercantile and military interests and the political and social measures they imposed on Kythera did not succeed in changing the character of the inhabitants. On the contrary, the Venetians helped to conserve the foundations on which Kytherian Society was to develop towards the end of the 18th and into the 19th century.
6. The 1780 Revolt by the Islanders which must be viewed as precursor to later rebellions against oppressors.
7. The French Revolution and takeover of the Ionian Islands by the French introducing an emphasis on personal liberty, promise of a better future and enlightenment. This led to a collapse of Venetian Rule. At this time, the “Tree of Liberty” was erected and ceremonies conducted at Chora and Potamos. Local government reform also followed.
8. 1798 capture of Kythera by the Russian and Turkish Naval forces ousting the French influence and dividing Kythera into four administrative regions setting up a Protectorate. A provisional civil administration was established. The peasants were given control over their own affairs.
9. The Peasant Rebellion of 1798 to 1800 aiming to stamp out property inequities of the past and establish equal legal and civil rights of all Islanders, to end the exploitation of the peasants by the Nobility. This uprising had the support of nearly all the Islanders. This uprising was also fueled by antagonism within the Nobility.
10. A period followed from the passing of the Constitution of the Ionian Islands in 1803 with the British Protectorate established in 1809, which lasted till 1864. This fostered education and a period of stability and relative peace. Law and Order prevailed, pirate attacks almost ceased. The Nobles were however restored to power.
11. In 1821 the Greek rebellion to throw off the Turkish yoke peaked. Kythera was well represented in this national struggle.
12. In 1863, the Ionian Parliament, unanimously decided to unite with Greece and on 21 May 1864 Kythera formally became part of the Hellenic Nation. A period of euphoria followed and the free movement of people became the cause of many changes, improving the standard of living and morale.
A most significant outcome of this period was the fact that all people on the island started to consider themselves as Kytherians. They were bonded together, looking towards a more optimistic future as the past was slowly fading away. Young Kytherians were conscripted to serve in the newly formed National Forces to protect the Greek Nation. Upon their return to Kythera, they brought with them reinforced ideas and ideals of their new Greek identity!
The Diaspora and the motivation to migrate
Apart from forced relocation, the first emigration appears to be in the 1860s during a period of considerable growth of population on the Island. Although the trip to Smyrna took some three months, Kytherians had established themselves abroad and particularly in Smyrna they became owners of flourishing businesses and influential land owners. Kytherians also migrated to Romania, Russia, Egypt and other destinations.
Those who went abroad were generally more successful. Although there was considerable improvement in the everyday lifestyle of the peasants, they still struggled to make ends meet and they were always ready to migrate in search of a better life.
Although a strong Kytherian community was flourishing in Smyrna, the uncertainty of the future of Greeks in Asia Minor influenced some adventurous Kytherians to undertake long and perilous journeys to America and Australia. In 1850, Emmanuel Kritharis found his way to Sydney and settled there.
[Image 8: Athanassios Comino/Hellenic Herald Article]
My Great Uncle, Athanassios Kominos, having lived in Smyrna, decided that there were better opportunities for him in Australia, where he migrated in 1873. He invited his brother, [Image 9: Athanassios and John Comino] my Grandfather, John Comino to join him which he did in 1884 and they went on to establish very successful businesses in oyster bars, oyster leasing and property holdings.
[Image 10: John Comino and Image 4: “Life in Australia”]
John Comino in 1916 published the book Life in Australia, containing information about the life of over 200 Greeks – most of them Kytherians.
There were many success stories of Kytherians in Australia. Another was the late Nicholas Lourantos who arrived in Australia in 1908. There were about 150 Kytherians in Sydney at the time – his first job was as a shop assistant in the Thermopylae Dining Rooms in country NSW owned by E. Aroney at a wage of 7 shillings and sixpence a week. Lourantos became owner of the business when Aroney decided to return to Kythera. He became very successful and later became main benefactor to purchase land for the Lourantos Retirement Village as well as for the establishment of a Chair of Modern Greek at the University of Sydney.
From the early pioneers to the second, third and fourth generation Kytherians in Australia, hard work and determination saw them achieve their goals.
[Image 7: Hugh Gilchrist’s Book: “Australians & Greeks, The Early Years”]
Members of the Kytherian Community in Australia have for over 100 years played a central role in the preservation of Greek cultural values as well as making an important contribution to the social and cultural development of Australian Society. Some of the many who excelled including the Honourable Alex Freeleagus, Professor Emmanuel Aroney, the Honourable James Samios, the Honourable George Souris, Professor Harry Poulos and Justice Theodore Simos.
America, having undergone a number of developments in her history, was becoming a strong nation and economic power with an increasing population. The expanding economy and trade opportunities encouraged many Kytherians to take the opportunity to migrate there.
Like many immigrants, the intention was to work for only a few years and to return to Kythera. They saved their money and sent it back to the Island. Many returned and played an important role in the development of Kythera, having brought with them the knowledge and experience gained during their stay in America.
This happened to a lesser extent with Australia, many staying in their newfound country but also forging strong links with family and fellow Kytherians helping them on arrival with loans and jobs to establish themselves in their own businesses.
It is fitting that in Fratsia, Kythera, there is a stone monument erected symbolising the emigrant Kytherian. Carved on the plaque are the words, “In Remembrance of Migration, Motherland dictates….”.
The drive to succeed is epitomised by the diaspora – considering the size of the Island, and the number of Kytherians worldwide, the ratio of University Professors, doctors, lawyers and generally people qualified at tertiary level, far exceeds those of other Greek communities. Kytherians also hold the record of having excelled outstandingly in the spheres of commerce, industry and the public service.
Like their brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, the Kytherians of Australia eventually formed themselves into Associations. [Image 18: Kytherian Association Ball Program 2004] The first Association to be formed in Australia was the Kytherian Brotherhood of Australia (Sydney) on 14 May 1922 followed by the Kytherian Brotherhood of Queensland in 1944 and the Kytherian Brotherhood of Canberra in 1987.
The Association was formed with the objectives of fellowship, social and cultural activities, and also to help the underprivileged both in Australia and Greece.
Its growth into the one of the largest Associations of its kind was unforeseen and it has, over the years, donated large sums of money to a wide variety of charitable institutions as well as alleviating many of the needs of the Island of Kythera. These Associations cemented the Philo-Kytheraismos in emigrant Kytherian communities. Mr J Prineas in his 50th anniversary message said; “Reflecting back over the years, it becomes very clear that the Kytherians in Australia have been amongst the most progressive migrants assimilating well into the Australian Community without neglecting to carry on some of the fine traditions of the old country.”
Charity functions, annual balls, tributes to outstanding Kytherians, Greek dancing for the youth are just some of the activities organised and maintained by the Association to preserve the love and ties to Kythera.
Links to Kythera/ Philo-Kytheraismos
[Image 11: Poem on Kythera]
There is a magnetism that draws modern day Kytherians back to their homeland.
Is it the strong sense of tradition established by our forebears?
Is it the heightened awareness of all things Kytherian espoused by our parents and the Kytherian Associations around the world?
Whatever the reason, people of Kytherian descent both young and not so young are drawn back to Kythera on a “pilgrimage” as I was in 2002 visiting my grandfathers village of Perlengianika, imagining what thoughts passed through his mind 120 years ago; to trace my roots; to understand what “being Kytherian” is and why we are proud to be called “Kytherian” just as our forebears were in the years following the 1864 reunification with mainland Greece.
There is today a reversal of the emigration forced by poverty, and the early trials of Kythera’s occupation by foreign powers.
Kytherians, the world over, are looking to strengthen their ties to Kythera tracing their roots at the Archive held at the Kastro in Chora; searching the public record of the υποθηκοφιλακειο in Chora to locate property; restoring or rebuilding family homes long abandoned; investment by overseas Kytherians back in their homeland and especially assisting the old peoples home and other significant projects on Kythera.
There is a feeling of belonging; of IDENTITY.
It is innate and indescribable at once but every traveller back to Kythera feels it pervade his/her senses when they step off the plane or the boat at Diakofti – a sense of being…..KYTHERIAN - υπαρξη....it is both emotional and overwhelming at the same time and I felt it as I was writing these very words!
This is the essence of PHILO-KYTHERAISMOS, which I believe is the love of all things KYTHERIAN.
[Image 12: Soccer players as Spartan Soldiers]
It is exemplified in the national fervor and pride felt and expressed by Greeks the world over [Image 13: Brighton, Sydney, Image 14: Portugal, Image 15: Brighton, Image 16: 1896 Athens Stadium Welcome Home] at the UEFA Soccer Championship win in Portugal last July, against the odds, and the great success of Greece on the world stage in hosting the unforgettable dream Olympic Games in August, to the envy of the rest of the world.[Image 17: Olympics video clip]
In the words of the three time gold medal Olympic champion Greek weight lifter, Pyrros Dimas, IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING! This sentiment drove the early Kytherians and it drives today’s Kytherians. [Image 19: Kapsali and slogan]
The work of the Institute of Kytheraismos is invaluable to harness the vital force of Kytherians the world over and encourage co-operation. The Kytherian website has been a great innovation - the Kytherian Data Bank and other planned projects of the Institute deserve our unqualified support.
Thank you for this opportunity to be a part of such a historic moment in Kytherian History.
Brief biographical details of John Comino
• John Comino was born in Sydney Australia to Greek parents, Nicholas and Garyfallia Comino in 1951.
• He is the grandson of John Comino who migrated from Kythera in 1884 on the ship m.v. POTOSI.
• John qualified as a Solicitor in 1974 and Notary Public in 1985.
• In 1985 John married Elly and they have two children, a daughter Jana born 1987 and a son Christopher born 1988.
• In 1995 John was first elected to Woollahra Municipal Council in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney becoming the first Councillor of Greek descent elected to the Council.
• John was successfully re-elected to Woollahra Municipal Council in successive elections in 1999 and 2004.
• In 2001, John was elected Mayor of Woollahra Municipal Council a position he continued to hold to this year.
• John is also a very active member of Sydney’s Greek Community being a member of the Kytherian Association, a board member of the Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce, a board member of the Hellenic Club Sydney and a committee member of the Institute of Kytheraismos, Sydney Branch.
• This year John was honoured to be Master of Ceremonies to a Special Testimonial Dinner held by the Kytherian Association to recognise Professor Harry Poulos, a prominent Kytherian engineer, and was also Master of Ceremonies at the Kytherian Association’s Annual Debutante Ball.
In researching this paper I am indebted to the following authors and their families for permission to use material from the books and publications listed.
Also I would like to express my appreciation to the Kytherian Association of Australia (Sydney) for its assistance and use of material from the Vanges book and the 2004 Ball Programme.
1. Professor George Leontsinis: “The Island of Kythera – A Social History 1700- 1863”.
2. Peter D. Vanges: “Kythera” published by the Kytherian Brotherhood of Australia.
3. John D. Comino: “Life in Australia” published 1916.
4. Professor Hugh Gilchrist: “Australians and Greeks – The Early Years”.
5. Estate of the Late Beryl N. Lianos.
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