Come Over Into Macedonia, H. Allen

1
An Old Problem in New Greece

b.

I found it exceedingly difficult to picture in its entirety such a national disaster, such a tremendous uprooting of a whole people, and so in the process of gathering material on this subject I invited two victims of this tragedy to tell me their stories. The purpose of these two personal stories is merely to provide a background of information which may enable the reader to have a clearer understanding of the situation that existed in Greece during the years immediately following 1922. There is no desire to indicate the relative issues of a highly complicated international problem or to fan the flame of old hatreds. As a matter of fact, many Greeks now recall their life in Turkey with longing and affection. The two nations several years ago wiped out old differences, signed workable commercial treaties, and became good friends. This fine relationship has been an example of the whole world and an important factor in the recent heroic stand of Greece and the forthright neutrality of Turkey.

Stephan Harlamides, an ex-orphan of Near East Relief and a graduate of Cornell University, interrupted one day his agricultural ministrations among the peasants of six Macedonian villages to give me his story:

"My memory goes back vividly to 1914 when my childhood suddenly fled and the constantly recurring tragedies, from that time on, gave me the mind of a man. I was only nine, with two older brothers and two younger than I. We lived, with my father and mother, in the little Turkish village of' Chakrak, about thirty miles from the Black Sea port town of Kerasoun. Father owned a small drygoods store which, with seven acres of farm land and a few cattle and sheep pastured on the mountain side, gave us sufficient to live on. Our ancestors were farmers and my grandfather owned a large tract of land. After the revolution of 1908, however, most of his holdings were confiscated by the government and my father inherited only the few acres remaining. Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, the little property that we had was taken away from us and my father was ordered to report for hard labor in the army.

"For a year father broke stones and helped build roads near Erzeroum. Then the conditions under which he worked became so unbearable that he, with thirty-five others, ran away.

"The following year my oldest brother, now twenty, was ordered out for the same gruelling work. Demetrius stood up under the hardships for a few months and then he too became so broken in body that he proved to be useless and was granted a sick leave.

"Shortly after this, the Russian army, pushing into Turkey from the east, succeeded in reaching the Black Sea region around Trapezoun. The Turkish population, including many bandits and robbers, fled in the direction of our region. They were well armed and they pillaged every Greek and Armenian settlement through which they passed, setting fire to the homes, killing many, and carrying away the women and girls. For a time our village managed to keep them off by purchasing protection from their leaders. But this did not save us for long. My two older brothers, Demetrius and Ioanis, of an age to be most in danger, were prevailed upon to flee to the mountains for safety. But my mother was ill and my father, now secretly home, was unable to move.

"As the pillagers passed on, with our family luckily still alive, mother decided that somehow we must move. We started out, but we had proceeded only a short distance when father gave out. His poor feet, lacerated and frozen during his escape from forced labor, could no longer bear him up. So we left him under a shelter near the road while mother continued with me and my two younger brothers to the next village. The following morning mother sent me back with some food to find father. Eventually I found him. But he was weak and worn out. 'Do not come any more,' he said, 'for I will surely die.'

But the next day mother sent me again with more food. As I neared the place I saw him by the road with several Turks close about him. I dared not approach and so I returned with the food. Two weeks later, Demetrius and Ioanis, who had fled to the mountains, found us and heard the news of our father. Immediately they started out to find him. They discovered only his decayed body lying in a ditch where he had been thrown after he was killed.

"Now we moved on again, proceeding to the city of Kerasoun. Here we found refuge for four months in a house which belonged to an uncle of ours. In order that we might have some means of livelihood, Demetrius, being the oldest, began going to the outlying country for hazelnuts and bringing them back to the city for sale. After several such trips he returned no more and we decided that he must have been killed. This heightened our fear and we moved into the house of a friendly Turk. One day this kindly man told us that it was dangerous for him to shelter our family any longer. Mother pled with him. Finally he agreed to continue his protection providing we could decrease the size of our group. He suggested that one of us boys be assigned as a shepherd to work for a friend of his in another village. Mother agreed, and I was the one to be sent. I stood this for several weeks and then out of fright and sheer loneliness I ran away and came home.

"My mother was happy to see me, but we could no longer stay with our protector. There was only one course to follow, and that was to give ourselves up to the authorities and ask to be deported. We did this and the police immediately threw us into jail for not having reported our presence before.

"Our troubles now began in real earnest. We spent a week in that dirty prison and then we were sent on to Ordou, another coast town on the Black Sea. For two long weeks we were kept here, herded together with hundreds of others in an old school which had been converted into a concentration camp. From this place we were driven on to Andres; and then on again to Zele.

"At this point all of the parents were separated from their children to be deported in another direction. The children were placed in ox-carts and sent off toward the town of Erba. Somehow my mother managed to escape from the group to which she was confined and she followed us from far off. Walking through the fields and near by forests, she managed, from time to time, to catch sight of our ox-train and in the end she reached the place of our destination. In Erba we were all dumped down in an old Armenian school. Mother secreted herself in some secluded spot near by and every day she would come to the wall, watch her chance, and call out to us. We used to keep part of our bread to give to her when she came.

"One day, when she arrived, she said that she was not feeling well and she feared that she might not see us any more. She told Ioanis that he was to be responsible for my next younger brother, Constantinos, while I was to look after Michael, the youngest. A few days later a strange woman came to the wall and called out to us. She told us that our mother had died. First father, then my eldest brother and now mother. Thus we four, who were left, found ourselves alone in the world.

"We remained in Erba for four months. During this time many of the children died from starvation and exposure. Among these my brother Constantinos passed quietly away one cold, winter night. Ioanis, who was responsible for his care, felt terrible. Not only did he sense the loss more than I, but he believed that he had not fulfilled his obligations to mother in the last sorrowful instructions she had given to us.

"Again we moved on. This time we were driven to Tokat. It was January and cold and many died on the way. Upon reaching this place the children were divided into two groups. The older ones, including my brother Ioanis, were sent on to Merzefoun. Michael and I, with many others of our age, were left behind in Tokat. About a month and a half later, however, we also were sent to Merzefoun. We were forced to walk all the way. Little Michael, only about three years of age, was too small to travel far on his own feet. And so I carried him on my back. We came to a swamp and the soldiers in charge of the party insisted that we should march straight through. For a man it was easy, but for a child the deep mud, the tall reeds, and the briars made it very difficult indeed. How I passed through this place, carrying brother on my back, I do not know. But I succeeded. When we reached Merzefoun, I discovered that I was covered from head to foot with bruises and scratches.

"Michael was very ill. Upon our arrival we were packed into a Turkish orphanage with several thousand children of all ages. I placed Michael on the floor and there he lay with his eyes open, but with no expression on his face or any movement of his body. I thought he was dead. Those about told me to leave him there and in the morning he would be taken out. And so I stretched out on the hard floor for the night, for there was nothing else to be done. What was my surprise in the morning when I found the little chap quite lively and cheerful! The warmth of our closely packed bodies had somehow revived him.

"In this same town there was another Government orphanage which was utilizing the buildings of the now evacuated American Girls' School. Here the Turks were placing the most sturdy orphan boys with Greek and Armenian backgrounds to be trained especially for a military life. Janizaries they called such soldiers of Christian origins and Turkish training. There were only a few in the country but they were well-known as excellent fighters.

"One day an officer came to our orphanage and announced that he wanted to select fourteen or fifteen boys for this Military School. We were all lined up and then asked to give our names. The boys who answered quickly and intelligently were placed at one side. In this way fourteen youngsters were selected with myself among them. When we arrived at Shufa Yordou, as the place was called, we were quite impressed with our new surroundings. The boys were well dressed and they seemed to be well fed. We could not believe that such privilege would be ours. The students gathered around and asked our names, where we came from, who our parents were. Everyone had lost a father, or mother, or brothers and sisters. One of the boys looked intently at me. He drew closer, demanded my name, and wanted to know where I came from. Suddenly he threw his arms around me and said that I was his brother. We had separated barely two months before, but we scarcely recognized one another. One of the officers liked my brother, Ioanis, very much and when he was told about Michael, left behind in the other orphanage, the man arranged for his transfer to an Armenian home.

"One American woman, who had been principal of the Girls' School before her buildings were appropriated by the Government, was still in Merzefoun. In the fall of 1917, Miss Willard came over to Shufa Yordou and asked the officer in charge if she might have a few of his orphans with which to start a boys' school. He agreed and permitted her the use of one building at the edge of the grounds. Seven boys were selected, including Ioanis and myself. Furthermore, the officer arranged that little Michael, now with the Armenian family, should also be included.

"In this little institution we continued until the end of the war. At that time Near East Relief came in to organize orphanage work on a much larger scale, and thus we found ourselves in the protecting arms of that great American organization. In addition to the school for girls there also had been operating in Merzefoun before the war a boys' school whose president. Dr. White, left for Constantinople when the Turkish authorities took over his plant. Now he returned to begin the difficult task of reorganizing his college. Most of his students were boys from our orphanage.

"Our life was now quite normal. We were well cared for at the orphanage and our school work was a joy. The region in which we lived was thoroughly policed by a thousand Indian soldiers sent in by the British Government. During this period Mustafa Kemal passed near Merzefoun in the process of reorganizing his army, but for some reason the British let him proceed unmolested. Some time later our Indian soldiers were withdrawn. Then, of a sudden, we began to hear disquieting news which brought us back to some of our old fears. The Greek Government was undertaking a new military campaign, backed by her former Allies, to regain Smyrna with its hinterland. In fact we heard that they were already approaching the interior.

"Late in 1922, following the Smyrna disaster, which marked the ignominous failure of the whole Greek campaign, it was decided by Near East Relief that its orphans should be transferred, forthwith, to Greece. So the organization scoured the country and engaged hundreds of wagons to supplement the one old truck which it owned. In these conveyances the three hundred children that now filled our orphanage were taken over the mountains to Samsoun. At this point, thousands of other Near East Relief orphans converged from various places in the interior. From here we were taken by British ship to Constantinople, and thence to Greece. There, in Athens, we three brothers were placed with hundreds of others in the beautiful Zappeion Exhibition Center which the Greek Government had turned over, along with many other buildings, to Near East Relief.

"I was seventeen and Ioanis already twenty. And so we could now shift for ourselves. A job was found for Ioanis in the city while I stayed on at the orphanage as interpreter and messenger boy. Michael, now eight years old, lived the institutional life of an orphan. Several months later I was transferred to another orphanage as a general helper, and eventually to a third. I liked gardening and I was assigned to help grow the crops that were raised to supply food for our children. At the same time, I was able to continue my education by doing a certain amount of studying either in the orphanage classes or in the government schools of these places.

"In 1924, the former boys' school of Merzefoun was reopened at Salonica as Anatolia College. A call was sent out for students and I was fortunate enough to be selected. Three years later, I was graduated again. I returned to my old environment, but this time as a full-fledged supervisor and instructor. In this work, I was assigned to the large orphanage on the beautiful island of Syra.

"In my own orphanage days at Merzefoun there had been on the staff an American who took great personal interest in all of us boys. Following his return to the States he never forgot us and often he used to write to me. Knowing my interest in growing plants and caring for animals, he suggested in one of his letters that I should come to America to study agriculture. This seemed far beyond my most ambitious dreams. But he supplemented his generous invitation with a check for one hundred and fifty American dollars. This would be sufficient, he said, to pay my way over. Upon my arrival I should look him up and then he would see what could be done for an ambitious, hard-working boy.

"So in May, 1928, I started out to explore a new world. It proved indeed to be quite another universe, for my next four years in America brought me to a point where I simply could not believe that I had seen fighting and killing and hunger and death. I still had plenty of hard work, more, even, than I had ever known before. For it was difficult to make ends meet, even though I worked almost every moment that I was not in my classes. But I was making real progress among people who seemed always to move forward. It was a wonderful life. When I returned to Greece in the fall of 1932, I felt that I was well equipped to return to the world some measure of service for the protection and training that had been given to me as an orphan."

[Previous] [Next]
[Back to Index]