The following is one of a series of stories in “The Genocide in the Pontos and Its Women” written by Elsa Galanidou-Balfousia, in the folkloric magazine “Pontian Forum” of Eyxinos Club of the city of Kozani, Greece. Year 16 – Issue 16, October-December 2000.
The article was translated by Professor Eleni Phufas of Erie Community College, Buffalo, NY and is posted here with the permission of Mr. C. Galanidis from Athens, Greece.
A Woman from Kerasounda Recalls Μία Κερασουντία Θυμάται
As narrated by Eleni Leontidou (June 10, 1997)
But when the refugees arrived in Greece after the population exchange, naked and barefoot, they started working in order to regain a little semblance of life. But the wounds within them remained untreated. The memories of forced exile turned into nightmares. Nightmares that would cut short their breath and tear up their hearts. Wounds that remained permanent which pained them during the whole duration of their lives and would bleed at the slightest prick.
Such are the circumstances of the woman from Kerasounda. It matters not what her name is. Since just like her there were hundreds of mothers who paid with their very lives for the barbarities committed by the Turks along with their German instigators and in the interests of the Great Powers. The history of that well known, hazel-nut producing seaside city of Pontus – the beautiful white washed Kerasounda – is well known to the Pontian Greeks. Blessed with wealth, comforts, and fine-looking homes, the inhabitants were well-heeled and content, and showed concern for their fellow townspeople and their homeland. However, the blood-dripping Topal Osman and the Turks rampaged through this land. They devastated the land throughout the years from 1916 to the population exchange in 1923.
Those inhabitants who were not butchered were hanged and tortured and deported. Memories of horror whose pain still remains to this day. During the initial years of the refugee migration to Mother Greece, those surviving women along with their children did whatever kind of work they could to stay alive. So it happened one day in Kallithea (Athens district), a woman of Kerasounda went to the home of Mrs. Eleni Leontidou to stitch some quilts. After some chatting, the subject turned to the never-to-be-forgotten homeland. The lady from Kerasounda of the quilts as if in a trance, unfettered herself and spoke of her anguish. The day had come when along with others in her family, they were to be forcefully exiled. And until quite recently she had been a contented mother with two small children and one on the way. So, she took to the road of exile. Pregnant, with a child growing inside her, another infant in her arms, which in order to protect she had wrapped in a “post” (sheepskin), and another little one tugging at her apron.
The barbaric Turks with their plans of total annihilation of the Greek people selected the middle of winter to expel these people in order to be certain that no one would survive. The woman from Kerasounda continued on with difficulty, her spirit choking her to death. The Turk irregular soldiers shoved the women, beat them, swore at them, ridiculed them. In her exhausted state, woman sagged and fell. The Turkish irregular soldier caught up to her and started shoving her. The wretched woman did not have many options. She turned and looked around and saw a Turkish village nearby. Her spirits rose. She would leave her small infant wrapped in the sheepskin in the hopes that some merciful Turk would come by and would take it. If only her own flesh and blood could survive. If only this unfortunate God’s creature could survive. So with these thoughts, she left just it as it was wrapped and followed the flock of exiles with the hope that a merciful hand would gather it up. She had no other option. The Turkish irregular soldier cursed, threatened, forced. They had hardly distanced themselves and her gaze continuously turned toward the rear. Oh Lord what horror! Cries and yelps and howls for a moment had merged. Instead of a merciful Turk, the infant was snatched by wild dogs tearing it apart. Her soul grew desolate and all the while the wild Turk soldier was pushing, cursing and threatening her to keep moving.
This is what the woman of Kerasounda told to Mrs. Eleni Leontidou, choking on her tears at the horror of the image of her flesh and blood torn apart. What civilized human being can endure such an image? And yes, Turks were able to, and are able to do it. Their goal was, after all, the extermination of the Greeks of Pontus.
These writings are dedicated to the memories of the women and innocent children who were lost on the trails of forced exile from 1914 to 1923, whereupon the tragedy of the Greeks in Pontus came to an end. Following the population exchange, this ruined and crushed humanity arrived in their new homeland, where according to our poet Ilias Tsirkinidis: “They were left without foundation in a strange land.” In other words, these Greeks arrived in Greece as strangers in a strange land; as first generation refugees. And here too, the women rolled up their sleeves and rose to the challenge of reconstituting their families and re-establishing their lives.