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Thursday, 23 May 2013

Giritli - Cretan Turks (Τουρκοκρητικοί)

One of the greatest upheavals in the history of contemporary Greek times is the moment when the Greek citizens of Mikrasia (Asia Minor, as Ottoman Turkey was known before 1923) were forced to leave their homeland and adopt another one, a period in history known as the population exchange. People were literally thrown out of their homes when the Smyrna crisis broke out in 1922. Mikrasiates and Moslems were forced to flee their homes and adopt a new homeland. Much has been written about the stories of the people involved in the population exchange.

Not quite a century has passed since then, so the wounds of this upheaval have had time to heal, but there are still people who will never forget their ancestors' former homelands, people like Mufide Pekin whose grandmother was in her mid-30s when she arrived in Turkey after her family left Crete, and Hakki Bilgehan whose parents lived in Crete up until 1924 when they were forcibly removed from the island in 1924 through the population exchange. Their parents spoke constantly about their life in Crete, about their former neighbours, and the happy days they lived there. These feelings are shared by many other Tourkokritiki (Giritli in Turkish), Turks with Cretan origins. With the help of the Foundation of the Lausanne Treaty Emigrants, many Turks and Cretans have found the sites of their ancestors' former homes in Greece and Turkey.

Monument dedicated to the memory of the Asia Minor catastrophe in Hania, showing a mother and her children sighting for the first time the place where they were brought to after being forcibly removed from their homeland. 
"Who am I?", "Where did I come from?", "How did my grandfather live?" To be able to answer all these questions means that you are closely linked to your past; it also shows that you are a wealthy person: you know your past which helps you in the present to see your way to the future.

Over 2 million people - 1.5 million Greek Christians from the East and half a million Moslems from Greece were uprooted forever from their homelands, and transported to a new country which was practically foreign to them as they had never lived there before. Only the Greeks of Constantinople and the Moslems of Western Thrace were exempted, according to the Treaty of Lausanne, which solved the  refugee issue once it was signed in 1923, a decade after the problem began to arise after the end of the Balkan Wars in 1912.

Moslem children with their
teacher in Crete
The descendants of Cretan Turks have never lived in Crete, but still keep close connections with the island, visiting it many times and searching for their ancestors' former homes. Many take back some soil in a jar to spread over their parents' and grandparents' graves. Some Cretan Turks left Crete before the Balkan Wars, and settled in North African countries; these people shed more insight about the origins of the Moslem Cretans, as they often consider themselves Cretan/Greek and have maintained the Cretan dialect, while also speaking Arabic. While Cretan Turks are not considered a minority group, they have their own identity, which was challenged by the local population when they first arrived in the newly formed Republic of Turkey, which was naturally building up its own modern identity once Ottoman rule was dissolved. Despite being Moslem, Cretan Turks were often labelled as 'infidels':
"The Cretan immigrants who landed on the Aegean coast towns and cities after the  “Population Exchange” did not speak a word of Turkish when they first arrived. This is especially true for women who were less exposed to the world outside the home. Not being able to communicate with the locals naturally resulted in the Cretan’s isolating themselves  and closing up in their own communities. Greek was spoken in the house and Turkish was a second language to be learned at school or in the neighborhood. During our oral-history interviews, almost all Cretan informants of the first generation immigrants reported that  they learned Turkish at school. Needless to say, the Cretan Muslims were not received very well by the locals or other immigrants whose mother tongue was Turkish . Just because they spoke Cretan Greek or spoke a very broken Turkish led to their being labelled as “yari gavur” or “half-infidel” in their social environments. They had to face humiliation and “othering” by the locals just because they sounded different.  As we can easily see, their “Muslim identity” was challenged or at least questioned because they did not fit well  into the picture of a Turkish speaking society. The language problem of the Cretans was articulated by all our informants and it seems to be the main factor that held together the Cretans in solidarity and coherence more than anything else. Today, the Cretan Greek is still spoken inside the Cretan house but naturally to a lesser degree as the third and fourth generations are getting more and more assimilated   and are forgetting  their mother tongue." (Source:
Greek cuisine has been heavily influenced by the Asia Minor immigrants, leading many to say that the Greek and Turkish cuisines are very similar. But few people realise just how much Cretan cuisine influenced Turkish cuisine, through the traditions brought by the Cretan Turks, namely through the use of wild greens; it is believed that the use of horta was not common in Turkey until the Cretan Turks introduced the local population to their uses. This new culinary tradition for the Turks gave rise to anecdotes about the newly-arrived refugees:
"A Cretan goes into a field with a cow. The son of the field’s owner runs to his father, and says “Papa! A cow and a Cretan are in the field! What should I do?”  His father answers: “don’t bother the cow, she’ll eat until she’s full and leave. But the Cretan will gather everything before he leaves. So chase the Cretan out!
It is this connection, the relation between Greek food and Greek identity as expressed in Crete, that I have the honour to meet the descendants of a Cretan Turkish family, who came from Istanbul to Crete on a recent visit, and asked to meet me in Hania...

Candia, Crete, 1923. Mostafa's father and grandfather Ibrahim leave their Greek homeland, never to return. Mostafa is born 10 years later in Turkey. At the age of 80, he has come to visit his ancestors' homeland with his son Ibrahim. Mostafa speaks the Cretan dialect that he grew up with in Turkey. Together with the Greek language, he also grew up with the Cretan food customs that his parents took back with them when they were forcibly removed from Crete after the population exchange following the Smyrna catastrophe.

Four generations of Cretan Turks: the men in the photographs were all born in Crete while Mostafa and Ibrahim were born in Turkey. The photo on the left is the maternal grandfather of Mostafa Jnr (pictured here with his son Ibrahim Jnr). The top photo on the right is Mostafa Snr; the bottom photo Mostafa's father, Ibrahim Snr who left Crete in 1923. Ibrahim Snr went by the name Arnaoutakis, which shares the same stem base as the the well-known name (in Greek) of Arnaoutoglou: -akis signifies a Cretan name while -oglou shows Turkish origins. 
It is difficult to describe the emotions felt on meeting Ibrahim and his father Mostafa, who trace their Cretan roots back to Ibrahim's grandfather and great-grandfather (also called Mostafa Ibrahim) as they came to my homeland searching for their roots. We had arranged a cafe as a meeting place by the Venetian harbour, and it was there that I realised I was their only human contact in Crete. Mostafa began to speak to me in the Cretan dialect from the moment I met him.

Less than a hundred years ago, there was a place in Crete called Candia, where the Latin script was regularly seen in tandem with the official Greek language, where it was used to represent the Turkish language.
"I speak Romeika," he tells me in Greek with a Cretan accent, "like my afendi did." He does not say 'Ellinika' (Greek), using the word that the Greek language was called when his parents left the island before he was born (Romeika = Roman = language spoken in a Roman-occupied country). Nor does he call his parents 'goneis', as Greeks would now say; he talks of his afendi. "Αλλά δε κατέω καλά", he says apologetically. ("I don't speak it well.") This was hardly the case - I understood what he was saying most of the time. His knowledge of the language has declined now that he doesn't have anyone to speak it with - but it hasn't been purged. He remembers the life of Crete - and the language of Crete - as it was a hundred years ago.

Mostafa speaking with the cafe owner, who wanted to see the photos of his kafetzi grandfather - Mostafa Snr ran a coffee house in Candia (modern-day Iraklio). 

Mostafa's mother's family lived in Hania, but his father's family lived in a place he calls Candia, which now goes by the name of Iraklio, known as the capital city of Crete. "Half of us were Haniotes, the other half Kastrini," he said, pointing eastwards in the direction of Iraklio, whose people were also known as 'castle people' (kastro - castle) after the large fortress found in Iraklio. Haniotes also referred to Irakliotes as Kastrini in my parents' times; this is now largely old usage, still heard among old people - just like Mostafa. Mostafa's wife's family also came from Crete, as does his son's wife's mother. The family can trace back their roots to at least three generations before they were born. Like modern people of the second millenia, Mostafa's grandfathers did not stay put in one place - migration is a constant theme since Oddyseus' time, and his grandfathers traveled to and from Crete mainly as soldiers.

Washing down the afternoon with raki (tsikoudia, Cretan firewater). 

"Κουβεντιάζω πολύ," Mostafa says to me, "stop me if I am talking too much." But how can you stop someone from talking too much when you want to know more about them? By the end of the afternoon, Mostafa had made friends with all the cafe staff, re-telling his story to them too. He had never forgotten his parents' Cretan language, the one they raised him on in Turkey, and this was his first time in Crete; he was making up for the time he lost after his parents died. By the time we all left the cafe, we were all drinking raki, and the Cretan Turks had made many friends. (That was the biggest honour for me, bringing these people together, helping to forge new friendships.)

My presents from Istanbul - the kalitsounia are home-made in the traditional shape of lichnarakia (as in Crete) and peinirli (Turkish filled pizza). On my part, I bought them some traditional xerotigana from Hania, fried rolled pastry dipped in honey syrup, which were individually wrapped and can be stored for a few days. When I showed them to my guests, they told me they remembered their mothers making long curly-shaped xerotigana, which we call avgokalamara - they are made in similar ways, but the avgokalamara are reminiscent of Southern and Eastern Crete, whereas the round xerotigano that I bought (an ever-present feature of Hania weddings and baptisms) is common in Hania. A century later, The Cretan Turks still remember the food of their ancestors.   

Despite being an immigrant of sorts myself, I have always been able to connect with both my homeland and birth country, which has not been possible in Ibrahim's case. It is both a source of pride and humility to know that you have a full grasp of your past: "Obviously without the past, you cannot go into the future with wisdom”.

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