The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Friday, August 9, 2013

A Girl in the Asia Minor Catastrophe


Common meal for Asia Minor refugees in Mytilene, Greece.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the newly established Greece and the Turkish National Movement found themselves in conflict over territory in Asia Minor. The dispute led to the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) and ended with the Great Fire of Smyrna. The resolution was given by the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which provided the political and diplomatic context for an exchange of polulations among the two warring parties. Of course, both sides are to blame for many atrocities on behalf of their troops at the expense of refugees and innocent civilians. In the case of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, although historians have used much ink, few of the central individuals found the strength and courage to recall the actual facts. Ninety years later and the reckoning of those days remains as vigorous as scary. Museum exhibitions are still devoted to this scope in an attempt to interpret the tragic events in a wider and more humanistic approach. Many books, essays, songs, and films also narrated the uprooting and the crimes of violence.

At first, the main core of refugees, a figure of more than 1,250,000 people, settled in Attica and Macedonia. The adaptation was not an easy process, even though the Asia Minor Greeks came bearing a strong cultural and vocational background. The main traits that contributed in attaining a coherent self-identity among the newcomers was the power of religious faith and the common place of origin. The period of adjustment was a long-term procedure, one that presupposed social inclusion and interaction with local communities. Everyday living in the refugee settlements was harsh, whereas access to care and employment became a difficult task. But the hard-working spirit and  the business creativity of the refugees turned out into valuable assets that contributed to the expansion of the Greek economy.

What would it be for a girl to experience all this horror? The terror of getting expelled, abandoning homeland and becoming a refugee? 
Years later my grandmother told us that she went to wash her face in a fountain in the courtyard of their house and then she made up her mind to leave. They started loading the family belongings in an ox-drawn wagon (araba) but the neighbors started putting their belongings there as well so they could take very little. Eugenia wrapped their gold coins around the bodies of her two daughters as a place less likely to be found by bandits. It was a very hot August day and the whole Greek population of the town started walking West.
From Theo Pavlidis' History of a Family from Asia Minor

Because the word 'refugee' was loaded with negative meaning in the early days, many families chose to send their children to private schools so that they wouldn't be stigmatized in such a sensitive age. The Asia Minor Greeks' tradition included several customs, like the dowry for newborn girls or the equal sharing of the property between boys and girls after the death of the parents (which was not the norm at that time in mainland Greece). Girls were usually married by the age of fifteen years-old and the matchmaking was only a measure of reinforcement in women that passed the age of twenty five years-old. Women played a significant part in the working force of the Asia Minor Greeks and chiefly occupied places in the ready-made clothing industry. Female clothing of the urban class was predominantly influenced by the western and royal standards, while the absence of corset is a significant detail that reflects the liberation of women.

When it comes to the Asia Minor Greeks, there are so many cultural paradigms one can admire. And it looks like the children that survived then managed to pass them on to the future generations. Nothing is wasted after all.

For more information, read Renee Hirschorn's Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus.

-Magda Repouskou
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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