On May 19th. Pontian Greeks around the world will gather and hold memorial services. They will remember the loss of their ancestors and homeland along the Eastern Black Sea shores of Turkey, in the region known as Pontos. It is a day of genocide. The official day, Kemal Ataturk and the “Young Turks”, launched the invasion on the Eastern shores of the Black Sea coast, at the city of Samsun (Samsounda). Recognized as the first genocide of the 20th century or the “quiet genocide”, it includes Armenians, Assyrians and other Greek-speaking people from around Asia Minor and Thrace, from 1915 to 1922.
More than 3.5 million people were lost in this genocide that ethnically cleansed 99% of all Christian-speaking minorities, in what is today the modern state of Turkey. Many western countries, scholars and humanitarian organizations have acknowledged the human atrocities committed by the then Young Turks and the Ottoman Empire and deemed it genocide.
But in Turkey, the truth continues to be shielded and denied by its government; And because of geopolitics, the United States continues to turn a blind eye to history. In Upper Darby (suburban Philadelphia), on May 20th, at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox church, following church services, the Greek community will gather outside, where the only monument dedicated to this tragedy in the United States stands in recognition of this event.
I will attend this event and hope you will also. I will reflect on that time and the history of our people and remember the modern day Pontian heroes that have touched my life and have now passed. How often do we recognize these heroes? In Pontian culture, modern day heroes give and sacrifice so that this culture and history go on; so that this incredible human odyssey continues to play out as part of our day-to-day lives. History books are filled with heroes from our past. But they have some how remained distant to me; inaccessible, except for their good deeds left in the pages of books or in a ceremonial gathering once a year. Every day, modern heroes in our community touch us and it’s time to thank and remember them as well. In my lifetime, I’ve had the good fortune of knowing some of them and learning what it means to be Pontian Greek.
In the summer of 2000 I was introduced to my first hero, Panayiotis Savvidis of Kozani Greece, A Pontian dance instructor who often returned to his ancestral home in Pontos. There, he would meet with the locals, record information and shoot video. Upon his return to his local Pontian clubhouse, he would share all this with the next generation. He was my first travel partner who introduced me to Pontos and introduced me to the path to our culture. Sadly, he passed a few years ago. He was a modern Pontian hero.
Charalampos Pataridis of Greece, another member of the Pontian Greek community shared his lyra playing and taught dancing. He provided a model of traditional Pontian folk dancing that extends from Greece to Philadelphia, to our local chapter “Akritai”. He gave, because he loved and cared about his culture. On several occasions we traveled together in Pontos and walked the hills of our ancestors. Sadly, he passed as well.
Last week, here in Boston, in the US., Steve Pesiridis, another beloved member of the Pontian community of North America passed away. He touched many lives and left us ever better Pontians. His generosity and love of his fellow Pontians will be missed. A talented lira player as well, he gave with out question. “When the Philadelphia community had no Lyra player and needed one to give of his time, he would often make the 6 hour trip down I-95 and play for the community with no requirements or questions asked.
These are the modern heroes of the Pontian Greek community; those that give without question and touch our lives. They gave because they want their children and the next generation to continue to uphold a treasured culture. They were not academics or politicians. They didn’t hold titles or degrees. They are, simple put, Pontians; modern day heroes of our now global community.
On May 20th at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox church in Upper Darby, I invite you to attend and stand with the local club house members of Philadelphia,”Akritai”; to reflect on genocide and of our heroes and homeland. To remember those that perished and those that have given. When we stand in silence and gaze upon the monument and the words that rest a top it’s shoulders, let those words ring true in our hearts and as a symbol to live by.
Cosmos Philly/E. Kostans