submitted by Peter Vanges on 04.06.2006
Chpt 48, Peter Vanges', Kythera, A History of the island and its people 1993.
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The adventurous nature of their Greek origin has always enticed the Kytherians to look for new and foreign lands, where they could achieve what was not possible on the island. The constant waves of migration from the Greek cities attracted many Kytherians towards Asia Minor, from where stories of riches and vast estates beckoned them.
The political complications after the fall of Constantinople 1453 did not directly influence the Kytherians as they were travelling at the time under Venetian, French, Ionian and later their English citizenship. When in 1715-18 the Turks occupied Kythera, many fled and others were sold as slaves. Eventually, a number of these people came to the rich and productive fields of Asia Minor. After all, this was to the Greeks a Greek territory.
Their hard work, initiative and pioneering spirit, even under the Ottoman rule, soon saw them become settled in the new country and eventually well-established financially. Upon arrival, Kytherians usually worked as servants, gardeners or farmers. The naturally lazy attitude towards work by the Turks opened numerous opportunities for many Kytherians. In small groups they started exploring territories - so vast in comparison to Kythera - and their enthusiasm pushed aside all fears as they started organising their new life there. Having purchased small portions of land from the Turks, the future looked secure due to the demand for their services. Gradually, they congregated, creating Greek areas in many parts of Asia Minor. Soon whole towns were predominantly Greek. It did not take long before the Kytherians of Smyrna built churches in honour of the Virgin Myrtidiotissa at Pappa-Skalla (“Priest’s Steps”), at Gioul Baxem (“Nice Garden”) and elsewhere. Their success became the magnet which attracted whole families from Kythera to seek their fortune.
A will written on 21st October 1776, by George Zervos, clearly indicates that Kytherians had already arrived in Smyrna (Jzmir) and work was readily available. In the minute books of Smyrna’s cathedral, Saint Fotini, we find the first indication of a Kytherian Association being in existence in 1806. From that year onward, on 24th September, celebrations and special services attended always by the Bishop of Smyrna were introduced, in recognition of the substantial donation of 500 grosia (Turkish currency) made by the local Kytherians towards the needs of this church as well as other contributions to hospitals and charitable organisations.
At the conclusion of the divine service, the clergy walked to the promenade where the blessing of the “Kytherian Fleet” would take place. After the blessing, all the boats in procession would leave the harbour of Smyrna for Gioul Baxern to the church of Myrtidiotissa. The event was so well known that those who lived near the shore line watched the armada of decorated craft leaving,commenting: “There goes the Kytherian Fleet again.”
Kytherians became very wealthy in Asia Minor. After many years they began to assimilate with the Turks. As late as 1906, H. Lamprakis visited a town at Theatyra (Asia Minor) where, although a number of the locals spoke only Turkish, they still celebrated the feast of Myrtidiotissa on 24th September each year. He learnt that they were originally from Kythera. No one remembered or knew any details as to their Kytherian origin.
Such was the pride in their Kytherian origin that the total amount required to research and print a complete “history of Kythera” was donated and deposited with a bank, awaiting its publication. Unfortunately, their dream did not materialise due to later events.
Following is a list with some names of Kytherians who became well known through their business successes in Asia Minor:
P. Benardos, G. Tambakis, G. Marselos, G. Stratigos, Emm. Stratigos, G. Karidis, F. Fotinos, D. Kassimatis, G. Kritikos, A. Aronis, P. Aronis, G. Mavromatis, A. Seinitekolos, G. Kalligeris, P. Alfieris and many others.
Such was the Kytherian connection in the part of Smyrna where they lived that it was known as “Tsirigotika”. It was possible for Kytherians to prosper because they were considered as nationals of countries friendly towards the Ottoman Empire. The success of Kytherians in Asia Minor is well-documented. Their numbers include solicitors, doctors of medicine, ministers of religion, architects, bankers, traders, landowners, wine makers, business proprietors and ship-owners. In a census prior to the slaughter and loss of Smyrna, the number of Kytherians in the area was shown to be over 25,000.
From 1854-56, during the Crimean War, France and Great Britain fought on the side of the Ottoman Empire. However, in 187 7-78 the Turks in the Russo-Turkish War were defeated. The Empire started to lose territories. Turkey lost Algeria to France in 1830, Tunisia in 1881, Cyprus to Britain in 1878, and Egypt was occupied by the British in 1882. The Turkish government grew more and more tyrannical, and minority groups in all parts of the empire were abused and persecuted, to the point of extinction.
In 1908 a party called the “Young Turks” revolted and demanded dramatic changes. At the same time many other groups within the Ottoman Empire were also demanding independence. In 1908 Austria annexed Bosnia, Bulgaria became independent, Italy took Libya, and Crete was united with Greece in 1913. World War I found Turkey on the side of Germany. The Allies, including Australia, tried to invade Turkey at Gallipoli in 1915 where many Australians lost their lives.
Kytherians throughout Asia Minor rejoiced when the Allies occupied Istanbul (Constantinople) and the Greek army took possession of Smyrna. Early in 1920 Mustafa Kemal became the President of a provisional national government. In 1922 Turkish troops took Smyrna from the Greeks. The events of that day are a stain on the history of man and the honesty of the so-called “allies”. The streets of Smyrna became rivers of innocent blood, of civilians and soldiers who were used as pawns in a game by the power brokers of Europe. The Allies, including England, stood by and watched the devastation and loss of innocent lives. The stories which can be written about this tragedy are too horrendous to tell. The exact number of Kytherians who died in 1922 in Asia Minor, especially in Srnyrna, will never be known. Some survivors, however, were able to recall these tragic events and a number of them returned to Kythera destitute.
Approximately 500 Kytherians, out of many thousands from Asia Minor, found refuge on the island. A number of them, although of Kytherian origin, had lost touch and knew of no relatives or friends on Kythera. These people escaped from Asia Minor with only their lives and were dependent on the generosity of the locals. The latter welcomed them, sharing their limited resources with the refugees. Two committees were set up, one at Hora and one at Potamos, to see to their needs. The Red Cross made assistance available, through collections both on the island and abroad. Considerable assistance was received also from the United States of America and Australia. The main problem was the lack of employment. The lucky ones were able to find work and continue with their professions and trades. A good example was Doctor Constantine Simandiris who, upon his arrival, took up the position of doctor for the northern villages of the island where his services were both welcomed and well-rewarded.
Others from Smyrna preferred to find refuge in places as far away as possible from the terrible world of European diplomacy and power play. Africa, America and Australia became their destinations.
Only the memory of these Kytherians with their successes and misfortunes will remain for future generations to be aware of the Kytherian connection with Asia Minor and with Smyrna in particular.
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