Monday, May 24, 2004


What I love about the Eurovision song contest is how try-hard non-European nations try their darndest to act like funky Europeans. To wit: the male Turkish presenter’s extra-ordinarily bad mop top and dulcet French-speaking tones resembling ritual pig slaughtering, or the equally Eurocool female presenter’s smile, which seems to have been fashioned in plastic and affixed to her face with epoxy resin. Of interest too is how these countries showcase their natural splendours. Last week, while watching the tourism segments of the preliminaries, I noticed that they all showcased Greek archaeological sites or buildings. The ancient ones were classified as ‘pre-Roman’ (decidedly non-Greek), while the commentators could not bring themselves to refer to Byzantium at all. We had theatres at Aspendos, Troy, the Cappadocian monasteries, the monuments of Antiochus at Commagene, the library at Ephesus, Agia Sophia, and the mosaics of the Imperial Palace. All this was vaguely amusing, indicative of the irony of a nation that did its upmost to extirpate its native populations, now using those uprooted peoples’ past to gain legitimacy in the eyes of Europe.
Two things however, made me sick to my stomach. The first, which only evoked a mildly queasy feeling, was seeing a whirling dervish, a follower of the mystic Muslim order of Mevlana strutting his stuff inside the hallowed Orthodox Church of St Eirene, a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture and perhaps the only remaining church that bears witness to the crisis of iconoclasm in Orthodoxy. This is cultural insensitivity at its most heinous and betrays a cynical use not only of folklore and ethnic identity but of religion, in the eternal quest for the Euro. Admittedly, this is nothing new. Rather than return this church to the Oecumenical Patriarchate, Turkish authorities have allowed it to crumble, using it for the odd fashion parade and concert. One can only consider the backlash if we decided to hold a tsifteteli competition in the mosques of Ioannina. Not in Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr……………eece, as the female Eurovision presenter would say. In Greece, as Ali G would say, we have… raspekt.
The second thing that really made me sick, happened instantaneously as the ruins of Panagia Soumela, the great Pontian monastery and centre of Hellenism, were flashed onto the screen. Moments later, I received an sms from a Pontian friend as follows: “How could they?”
For Pontians and for Greeks in general, this is tantamount to Germans seeking to promote their culture by screening friendly images of Auschwitz. Between 1914-1923, it is estimated that more than half a million Pontians were deliberately massacred or walked to death in infamous ‘Death Marches’ by Kurds and the Ottoman military. This event is celebrated in monuments in Samsounta and re-enactments every year, at the same time that the Turkish government denies the Pontian genocide ever occurred and refuses to apologise. That Turkey, knowing full well of the crimes that have been perpetrated against the Pontians in the name of ethnic homogeneity can advertise the remains of the people who they destroyed displays a gravely disquieting cynicism that not only borders on sick, but surpasses it.
Events such as this underline why workshops, such as annual Genocide Workshop by the Pontian Youth at Pontiaki Estia in Melbourne are so important. The Pontian Genocide Workshop is an event organised by Pontian youth in the English language for all those who are interested in learning about the terrible events of the genocide and how it impacted upon the Geek people. For this issue is not a Pontian one, it is a Panhellenic one and we would all do well to remind ourselves from time to time of the transitory nature of our sojourn in the places we call home. We would also do well to attend events such as these so that we can pay tribute to the innocent fallen, sacrificed to realpolitik and to rage against the scale of barbarism that mankind can descend to.
This year’s Workshop, held on 23rd May has taken an interesting approach. Topics such as: “Who are the Pontians? Byzantine Pontus, the Pontian Genocide in Turkey and Russia, and the identity of the Pontian youth,” are presented by young Pontians, and their freshness of approach, provides comfort to those who strive for intergenerational preservation and development of our culture. The fact that the Workshop is created for youth, by youth, puts paid to the widely held view that youth cannot organise Greek functions or feel intimidated by their elders into not doing so. The Pontian youth, working closely with the first generation are proving that a sensitive approach that refers to the past and re-interprets it, can ensure the survival of our culture.
The use of multi-media, a photographic display of Pontos throughout the ages, an exhibition of Pontian costumes, re-enactments of the traditional Pontian home and displays of Byzantine coins from Pontus augments the ‘hands-on approach’ the organisers display towards their heritage, as does the CD full of historical, pictorial and musical resources which have so painstakingly prepared for each participant.
It is encouraging that the workshop attracts more and more youth each year, though the numbers of non-Pontian Greek youth attendees are still inexcusably small. At the end of the day, our community is only as vibrant as we make it and events such as these deserve the community’s full support. Full kudos therefore to the Pontian youth for showing us that while it is vital that we learn to forgive, we must also never forget.


first published in NKEE on 24 May 2004