CHRISTOS ILIADIS

christos-iliadisThis is a true story from the book “Brazier of Memory – Stories Forgotten even by God” written by the author George Andreadis. It has been edited by members of the Pontian Greek Society of Chicago and is published with the permission of the author.

CHRISTOS ILIADIS

I was born during 1911, in the village Ahurnu, south of Ordu, in the Black Sea region. I had nine brothers and sisters. My father’s name was Panagiotis and my mother was named Pelagia.

When the tragic moment came, they gathered all the Christians of our area. I was only five years old at the time and cannot remember much more.  All I recall is that only my sister Evropi and I survived; the rest of my family perished.

Many of the women in our village, followed the Gendarmes that night, while all the men were exiled. Through their tears and sobbing, these women tried to elicit the sympathy of the gendarmes and the soldiers who monitored the deportation.

When night came, the cries of children from each home could be heard out on the streets. Even the yelping dogs could sense the evil occurring.

In our home that night, there were only six children. My four sisters and my brother Haralampos who was not older than fifteen. I was only five years old. We agonized over the return of our friends, relatives, and neighbors. In vain, our poor mother followed the route of exile taken by my father and her older sons.

All women abandoned their search, and returned home, desperate and dying from marching in the cold weather. Our mother also returned alone. One hour later, she was dead. Her death left six orphans abandoned and unprotected.  I was too young at the time to fully understand the loss of my mother.

Our village was destroyed. No men remained. Everyone had gone on foot to the city of Ordu. Without any support, or protection, we also took the road to Ordu, which offered greater safety. We embarked on this destination on the advice given by our church. Thank God, the people of Ordu helped us. They provided us with shelter and food.

Soon after, we faced a new calamity. Turkish police arrived and they gathered all females over the age of fifteen, kidnapping my three sisters. Now only the three of us children remained in Ordu.

Much time had passed and we heard no news about the girls. Later, some people said that the Turkish policemen sexually abused them all and then threw them down the cliff. Only God knows what really happened. Many Christian families in Ordu adopted the orphans. My brother was adopted by a family called Grigoriadu. My sister was adopted by a family called Semertzidis.  By now, I had turned 6 years old.

I was also adopted by a family but after three days they threw me out on the street, leaving me at God’s mercy, because I was very weak and they were afraid I might get sick. All children like me, who were not accepted into households with families, were instead placed in an orphanage administered by the rich Christians of Ordu. The school building next to IPAPANTI Church, became our orphanage

One day in 1916, or 1917, I do not remember the exact date, the Russian fleet of the Black Sea, appeared in Ordu. The Turkish population of Ordu ran away to the mountains because there were great rumors that many Armenians were serving within the Russian army vessels. The Russians brought boats to the coast and gathered Christians on their fleet to be transferred to Russia. The teachers and personnel of our orphanage ran out to the sea, leaving behind the crying orphans.

We then left our orphanage and ran towards the sea coast, to save ourselves by boarding the Russian boats. I was six and a half years old and I found myself responsible for my own survival. I managed to enter a small boat which exceeded capacity and could not depart from the coast. My brother and my sister left with their new parents to Russia.

Before I realized it, I was thrown out of the boat. A man threw me out and the only thing I could to at that moment was cry.

When the Russian fleet left, the Turkish police returned to Ordu. They were evicting the residents from their homes. They also came to our orphanage to find 100 of us. They were very angry as they forced us outside. They informed us of their new plan in which we were to be transported away from the coast.  We were then exiled – memories of which, can bring shivers to one’s spine. From this exile, I only remember a two month martyr’s march. 2,500 souls departed Ordu and by the end of this ordeal, only 1,350 skeletons, resembling human beings, remained.

Some of us were taken to Erbaa, others to Tokat. We were kept alive with a little bread and some olives.

One morning, they told us we could return to Ordu. I was very glad to hear of this, not expecting to find a deserted city.

Our Patriarch took care of our arrival in Constantinople. We all had tears in our eyes as we bid a final farewell to our beloved homeland. In Constantinople we were brought to an orphanage located on one of the islands on the Sea of Marmama. There were 700 orphans from several regions. They cut our hair, gave us a bath along with clean clothes and shoes.

It was here where I took my first school lessons. There were some American ladies who also brought us some gifts. It was at that time when I received the first gift of my life, a small ball, which I kept like a talisman. One day a picnic was also organized for us.

We stayed in that orphanage for about four years and were then taken to Greece. The orphans were relocated to several orphanages around the country. I finally entered the Naval School for officers in the island of Poros.

When the holidays came, any of my classmates who had a mother or other relatives, received permission to leave school and visit their families. Those of us had nobody else on earth, had to stay at school. I will never in my life forget the feelings of joy, when our classmates returned from vacations and brought some gifts to me saying: “Take it. This gift is from my mother to you”. My eyes were full of tears knowing that there were still somebody in the world who cared about me.

I graduated from the naval school and served on the Greek Naval Fleet for thirty seven years. Now, at the end of my life, I am glad to be a grandfather and I thank God that everyting came to a good conclusion