The Pontic Greek Family History of Sofia Dimarhos
By Sam Topalidis 2014
This family history of Sofia Dimarhos documents oral history passed down to Sofia by her mother, Maria. I have enhanced this oral history with published historical information located predominantly in the Notes section.
Sofia’s family history tragically reminds us of the hardships endured by Pontic Greeks1 from the northeast portion of Turkey (Pontos) at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century. May we remember their struggle for survival.
Sofia was born Sofia Spyridopoulou in 1934 in Veria, northern Greece. In 1935 her family moved to nearby Katerini. Her older half-sister Maria was born in 1928, also in Veria and she died in Sydney, Australia in 1980. Sofia also has two brothers, Elias and George. Elias lives in Canberra and George lives in the USA.
Sofia emigrated from Greece to Australia in 1961. In 1962, her fiancé, Demetre Dimarhos, emigrated to Australia from Greece and they married in Sydney that same year. Demetre was born in Katerini, and his father was Pontic Greek from the Caucasus (where many Pontic Greeks lived) and his roots were from Trabzon in Turkey (Figure 1). Demetre’s mother was born in the Pontos (Euxinos Pontos). When Demetre’s father moved from the Caucasus to Greece (before 1935) he changed his name from Dimarhopoulos to Dimarhos. Demetre died in 1999 in Canberra, Australia. Sofia has three children: Theo, Savvas and Angela and six well-loved grandchildren.
Figure 1. Towns in northeastern Turkey (Pontos) (Hionides, 1996)
Sofia’s father, Savvas Spyridopoulos, was born in 1905 in the picturesque in-land town of Amasya, Turkey (Figures 1 & 2) but his family must have moved soon after his birth to Ordu. The town of Amasya is on the Yeşilirmak River, 180 km (straight line distance) south-west from Ordu. Savvas died in 1957 in Katerini.
Sofia’s mother, Maria Karapidou, was born in 1905 in Ordu (also known by its previous Greek name of Kotyora2) and died in 2000 in Australia. Interestingly, Sofia’s mother’s religion and that of her mother before her was Protestant, not Greek Orthodox.3
Sofia’s mother’s father, Savvas Karapidis, was also born on Ordu before 1888 (Figure 2). Savva’s occupation was tin-plating copper utensils thus making them safe for kitchen use. He must have been well paid because he lived in an impressive two storey house decorated with Persian carpets. He also owned a house at Tsampasin, the summer station of Ordu (Parhar), 50 km south of Ordu at 1,850 metres elevation (Bryer et. al, 2002). Savvas worked away from Ordu for six months of the year (which included the unpleasant summer) and travelled as far away as Bulgaria applying his skills.
He was forced by the Ottoman Turks to join the second Greek exodus4 from Ordu in August 1921. He miraculously survived this ‘death march’ into the Turkish interior and returned to Ordu. When he returned, the Turks who occupied his house had removed several doors and used them as firewood. His children thankfully did not go on the exodus but they were evicted from their house. Fortunately they were fed and housed by neighbouring Turks. However, literally two days after Savvas returned home in 1922, he died.
Sofia’s mother’s mother, Sofia Hionides, was also born in Ordu before 1888 and died just prior to the August 1921 Greek exodus from Ordu. During the four warmest months of each year she took her children to their reasonably large house 50 km south at Tsampasin. Sofia Hionides’ husband did not travel to Tsampasin as he was working overseas. When it was time to leave for Tsampasin a Turk was hired to cart the family there with household items and food. In Tsampasin they did not have livestock nor did they grow any crops. The family must have lived a relatively comfortable life.
Sofia Hionides’s brother was Ioannis (1875–1922), father of Dr Constantinos Hionides, author of Pontic culture and history.5 The story goes that Ioannis was so pale and his hair so white that he was called Hionides (son of snow). Ioannis was also called Hadjiyiannis because on his return to Ordu (before 1914) from South Africa, he visited the holy tomb (Ayios Tafos) in Jerusalem (Hionides, 1996). (He had not been on the Haj to Mecca.)
In July 1914, Ioannis was conscripted into the Ottoman army. (In early 1915, Christians were not allowed to bear arms in the Ottoman army and were conscripted into the dreaded labor battalions attached to the Ottoman army carrying supplies and building roads. Many Greeks died in terrible conditions in these battalions.) Fortunately Ioannis deserted from the army labor battalion and went into hiding in Ordu. In August 1917, he boarded one of the Russian ships from Ordu and ended up at Batum on the Black sea coast (Figure 1).4 In 1920 he returned to Ordu. In August 1921, the Turks forced Ioannis to join one of the groups in the second Greek exodus from Ordu. This was a death march into the interior of Turkey.
Figure 2. Sofia (Spyridopoulou) Dimarhos’ ancestors
Ioannis tragically froze to death in 1922 while working on the road near Bitlis (southeast corner of Turkey) (Hionides, 1996). His name was written on the back of his shirt (to help identify his body).
In 1915, Sofia’s mother (aged 10 years old) witnessed Armenians; mostly children who were tied together being marched by Turks near her house in Ordu. They were in a hungry and dirty state. Sofia’s grandmother told Sofia’s mother, ‘don’t go to the Armenian homes and steal any of their items, I don’t want to have any stolen goods’. We know now these Armenians were being marched to their deaths in what is called worldwide the Armenian Genocide.6
Sofia’s great-grandmother, Maria Hionides (Figure 2) was born in 1848. In the last 15 years of her life, Maria was blind. She did not escape in 1917 from Ordu on the Russian ships.4 However, soon after the Russian ships departed, the Turks drowned her in the Black Sea (Hionides, 1996).
Sofia’s mother, Maria, remembered that the Turk, Topal Osman, sent a telegram to the Muslim Mayor of Ordu (a family friend) stating he wanted to come to Ordu to ‘clean-up’ [murder] the Greeks. The telegram was responded with words to the effect, ‘if the Greeks need to be cleaned-up in Ordu, I will do it myself’. The threat of Topal Osman and his band of ‘cut-throats’ would have been horrifying news to the Pontic Greeks, as Osman’s record of murdering Greeks was well known. Topal Osman did indeed enter Orduin December 1920 with a band of 100 Turkolazes and inflicted damage and murder in the town.7
Sofia’s mother’s parents had died by the time Sofia’s mother, Maria Karapidou, (aged 17 years), was forced in 1922 to leave Ordu destined for Greece. (She most likely left in December 1922.) Maria left Ordu by ship with her two younger brothers and her older sister. Tragically there were many other orphaned children on board.
Sofia’s father’s mother, Maria was born in Amasya or Ordu had died in Ordu in 1921, before the second Greek exodus. Sofia’s father’s father, Elias Spyridopoulos (was probably born in Amasya) had died on the 1921 Greek exodus aged at least 45 years old (Figure 2). He was ill at the time of the exodus and was assisted on this forced death march by his 30 year old daughter Rothi. Sofia’s father, the then 16 year old Savvas (Rothi’s brother) was saved from this same death march by being ‘adopted’ by a Turk, who was a family friend. This Turk made a commitment that Savvas would not be converted to Islam and he would go home when Elias returned.
This muslim Turk supported two wives and he owned a lot of a cattle. One of his wives lived in Ordu and was childless. She often wore a pistol for protection under her outer-clothing. (She was obviously someone not to mess with.) The other wife lived in a village just outside of Ordu with her children. Apparently the Turk’s children were irresponsible and Savvas, who tended the Turk’s cattle, was much loved by the Turk. In 1922 (before the survivors of the 1921 Greek exodus had returned to Ordu) the wife who lived in Ordu helped Sofia’s father to escape by paying for his passage on a ship bound for Greece. The news of Savvas’ escape greatly upset the Turk.
On the ship bound for Greece Savvas made friends with a family who were going to settle in Veria. Savvas also settled in Veria where he married one of the girls from this family. In Veria his occupation was building stocks for cattle. Unfortunately his wife died sometime between 1928 and 1932. He married his second wife, Sofia’s mother Maria, by 1933 in Veria. In 1935, the family moved to Katerini, where he became a tobacco farmer, like many other Pontic Greeks. Sofia stated that in Katerini, the Greek Government gave every two refugee families from Asia Minor one horse and each refugee family 29 stemmata (29,000 m2) of land.
Interestingly, around 1937, Savvas found his older sister Rothi. She had been living in Kilkis in northern Greece, but she soon moved to Katerini. Rothi had survived the 1921 Greek exodus to the interior of Turkey, returned to Ordu in 1922 and then boarded a ship for Greece.
In 1941, during the German occupation of Greece in World War II, the Germans imprisoned Sofia’s mother, Maria. She was imprisoned for six months in Thessaloniki for hiding two New Zealand soldiers. The Germans could not gaol Sofia’s father as he was in hiding. A few days after Maria’s release the Germans arrested her again and gaoled her for a further six months.
In 1952, a family friend, Lazaros Anamatidis, returned to Ordu on a holiday. Lazaros had owned a clothing store in Ordu and now owned at least one clothing store in Katerini. However, on his 1952 visit to Ordu, Lazaros encountered the Turk (who he knew) who had saved Sofia’s father from the 1921 Greek exodus. The Turk gave Lazaros a letter to deliver to Sofia’s father, asking Savvas to visit him in Ordu. (A friend translated the letter. So I assume it was Turkish written in Arabic script.) And so, in September 1953, 31 years after leaving the Pontos, Savvas did visit the Turk in Ordu, disregarding his family’s concern for his safety. He stayed with the Turk until late November 1953. Savvas returned to Greece and died in 1957. What a touching story.
In 1971, Sofia’s mother, Maria, moved to Australia. Even though Maria was in poor health for periods of her life, she lived till the ripe old age of 95 years.
Sofia, a humorous and very charming lady is proud of her Pontic Greek roots and her family. Her family history is recorded here particularly for those with Pontic Greek heritage. ‘To know where you are going you must know from where you have been.’ Many of our Pontic ancestors were forced to walk some terrible paths from which they did not survive. It is our obligation to remember this Greek Genocide, which was perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks in the early 20th century. May we remember their struggle for survival.
1. The academically accepted term to describe Greeks from the Pontos region of northeastern Turkey adjacent the Black Sea is Pontic Greeks.
2. Greeks colonised the Pontos region from at least the 7th century BC (Topalidis 2009). According to Xenophon (ca. 400 BC) Kotyora was a Greek colony of Sinope, which itself had been founded by the Greeks from Miletos.
Kotyora does not seem to have survived the classical era and Ordu appears to have a relatively modern foundation. Its sheltered beaches are overlooked by an acropolis, Boz Tepe. The earliest reference to the name Ordu is 1813 which means ‘army’ in Turkish (Bryer and Winfield 1985). When Hamilton visited Ordu in 1836, he observed it contained 120 Greek and 100 Armenian houses; and the Turks lived in single houses or small hamlets on the hills (Hamilton, 1842).
Hewsen (2009) states, according to Cuinet (1890–95), Ordu consisted of five quarters; three Greek, one Turkish and one Armenian with about 6,000 inhabitants. Ordu was served by three Greek churches, two mosques and one Armenian church.
Hovannisian (2009) states the Armenians in Ordu lived on the lofty heights of Boze Tepe. The Armenian sector was situated high up on the western slopes, running into the Greek quarter below. The Turkish quarters extended easterly down to the seaside flats and government buildings and market place. Armenians made up the majority of the artisans and craftsmen and they competed with the Greeks in commerce. In the latter part of the 18th century hazelnuts were introduced into Ordu and the industry quickly flourished becoming the region’s chief export. The construction of the Ordu to Sivas road in the 1880s led to an economic boom.
3. In the 19th century, Catholic and American Protestant missions were established in the Pontos. The missionaries worked in important cities on the coast and the hinterland or following existing Catholic or Protestant communities. They carried on relief work, besides their preaching duties and invested in important missing infrastructures. They also founded centres of high education presenting Christian organisations as establishments espousing western civilisation.
Due to their social involvement, especially during several humanitarian crises in eastern Anatolia, these missionaries gained a special position in Pontic society. As a result, Italian and American diplomats referred to their mission stations as an extension of their countries’ wealth, culture and international recognition. By the end of the 19th century, Protestant and Catholic missions had assumed a dual identity. They were considered geopolitical representatives of the Great Powers and important humanitarian organisations. At the beginning of the 20th century, these missionaries had achieved their peak, in accordance with the social growth of the Christian communities of the Pontos (Kastrinakis 2008).
4. The Ottoman Turks forced several ‘exoduses’ of Pontic Greeks from Ordu. After the Russians invaded northeastern Asia Minor in 1916 during World War I, the Turks responded by uprooting Greeks without adequate provisions or shelter and no transportation into the interior of Turkey starting with those closest the military front. Many Pontic Greeks perished in very harsh conditions.
The New York Times, 7 April 1918, article, ‘Bombarding Ships Rescue 2,000 Greeks’ in Kostos (2010, p. 96) stated: a flotilla of nine warships and three torpedo boats, all flying the Russian flag bombarded Ordu on 9 August 1917. The Russians had already occupied Trabzon to the east of Ordu. The Russians aim was to clear the town of Turkish soldiers sufficiently to enter and destroy certain ammunition depots and an airplane centre known to be there. After the Russians landed they found their targets and exploded the buildings. Two thousand Greek men, women and children from Ordu’s shore were able to scramble aboard the Russian ships. They were taken to Trabzon. ‘The story of the rescue of 2,000 exiles at Ordu by a Russian vessel comes to New York by two Greek refugees who were among the fortunate to escape. They are Lazaros George Macrides and Miss Evterpi G. Kantargi, now living with relatives in Brooklyn.’
According to the Greek Patriarchate (1919) in August 1917 Ordu was bombarded by the Russian Fleet. The Fleet retired after carrying off some 2,500 Greeks who went to Trabzon before crossing over to Russia [Caucasus].
Saltsis (1955) in Hionides (1996) stated about 3,500 of Ordu’s Greeks left with the Russians and about an equal number of Greeks were left at Ordu. Constantinos Hionides (Hionides, 1996) was two years old when he boarded one of these ships and his family ended up in Batum. He and his family returned to Ordu in 1920.
Immediately after the Russians left Ordu in August 1917, the Turks ordered the first Greek exodus out of Ordu would occur in a matter of days. Saltsis (1995) states more than 3,000 Greeks were divided into seven groups. Every two to three days a group would depart into the Turkish interior. Some went on the public road to Mesudiye (Figure 1). The rest went via Tsampasin to Mesudiye. From Mesudiye all the groups went on the public road Isketir, Perekketli to Niksar and finally to Erbaa (Figure 1). The distance took 30 days to travel with around 40% of the Greeks dying from hunger and disease. The elderly and the ill stayed behind in Ordu, but pregnant women were forced to march.
After 30 October 1918, at the end of World War I for the Turks, the survivors of this first Greek exodus returned to their homes. In May 1919, the Greek army landed in Smyrna on the west coast of Turkey. A few days later on 19 May, Mustafa Kemal (later renamed Ataturk) landed in Samsun on the Black Sea coast where he planned the next round of Greek persecutions. The 19 May is commemorated by Greeks as Pontic Greek Genocide Day. In reality these massacres were part of a co-ordinated Genocide of Christians in Asia Minor, Thrace and other areas under Ottoman Turk control.
Pontic Greeks should refrain from segregating ourselves from other Greeks and call for recognition of the Greek Genocide, ‘hand-in-hand’ with the other Christian Genocides of the Armenians and the Assyrians. We must remember the Christian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Turks is still not acknowledged by the Turkish Government. Courage to Turkish historians like Dr Taner Akçam who acknowledge these atrocities.
On 9 June 1921, a Greek warship bombed Inebolu (west of Sinope), which served as the harbour of the Turkish nationalists in Ankara. With the perceived danger of a Greek landing in Samsun, Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) and his government in Ankara agreed in June 1921 that all Greek males aged between 15 and 50 years should be deported to the interior (Mango, 2002). Thus commenced what I call the second Greek exodus from Ordu from June 1921. They were exiled from Ordu in groups. They passed inland by Tsampasin, Melet and Tivre. At Bitlis, (in southeastern Turkey) they stayed four months breaking rocks and building roads in winter (Hionides, 1996). In June 1922, a Greek warship bombarded Samsun. This served only to worsen the lot of the remaining Greeks (Mango, 2002).
In September 1922 after the Turks had recaptured Smyrna from the occupying Greek forces, Christian Greeks were forced to leave Turkish soil. After the Greek-Turkish convention and the protocols about the exchange of Greek and Turkish populations were signed on 30 January 1923, those Christian Greeks who had not left Turkey were forced to leave. Theodore Kurtides (Kurtides (1973) in Hionides (1996)) states he left Ordu in December 1922, having been forced to leave his small town of Mesudiye (Melet) about 120 km inland of Ordu (Figure 1). Some of the Greek women and children had not been exiled to the Turkish interior but the men were still in exile. The women and children from Ordu also boarded the ships for Greece in December 1922. This can be considered the third Greek exodus from Ordu.
5. Dr Constantinos Hionides was Sofia’s mother’s cousin. Constantinos was born in 1915 in Ordu and became an Andarte in Greece fighting the occupying German forces during World War II. He graduated as a medical doctor and then migrated to the USA where he became Professor of Anaesthesiology at Boston University School of Medicine. He died in 2008. A philanthropist whose life story must be written.
6. Deportations of Armenians, the Armenian Genocide, commenced from Kerasounda (Giresun), Ordu and Samsun on 10 July 1915 (Payaslian 2009). There are stories of Armenians from Ordu being huddled into boats only to be later thrown overboard into the Black Sea to drown.
For other first-hand accounts of the Armenian Genocide in Ordu refer to Hovannisian (2009). It is most unpleasant reading! The human race has perpetrated some shameful acts. It is believed at least one million Armenians were murdered in the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks. It must be remembered that many Ottoman muslims were also murdered during this period. Many muslims died in retaliation after the 1915 Armenian Genocide by Armenian hands. The human race has indeed perpetrated some shameful acts.
7. Topal Osman and his ‘cut-throats’ began murdering Greeks soon after meeting Mustafa Kemal in Samsun in 1919.
According to the Minutes of the 55th meeting of the AGS & the Armenian and Greek representatives, held in the British High Commission, Constantinople on 2nd February 1921 compiled by Yeghiayan (2007, p. 190):
Dr Theotokas read a short report of 13/26 January from Kerasund. On the 20th December a band of 100 Turkolazes from Rize enlisted by the Mayor of Kerasund [Giresun], Osman Agha [Topal Osman], landed at Ordu and were received by the Authorities of the town. The following day they surrounded the main streets and proceeded to pillage the shops of Christians, taking with them two Greeks. The Merchant Michel Macrides of Kerasund was decapitated in a small boat by order of Osman Agha and his body thrown into the sea. Several other notables have been deported. Terror continues to reign in this town.
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