THEA KEREKI

thea-kerekiThe article, Ή θεία Κερέκη, was translated by Professor Eleni Phufas of Erie Community College, Buffalo, NY. It is published here with the permission of the author of the book The Pontian Dream, Mr. H. I. Efraimidies, from Athens, Greece.

 

There still remain unanswered questions regarding the historical events of the Pontic Genocide, one of which is the issue of forced Islamification of the 20th century.  In the archives of the Foreign Ministry, there are a number of historical records by witnesses attesting to these events. Quite a number of documents exist at the Center of Asia Minor Studies, as well. Tragic personal testimonies exist as well among many refugee families. One of these testimonies is titled The Pontian Dream, a work by Haralambos Efraimidis, a professor and academic colleague of the Metsovio National Polytechnical University. The presentation of this journal took place at the invitation of the Dean of the Polytechnic, Th. Xanthopoulos, at the National Metsovion. I refer the reader to this excerpt:

 

“When informed that I would be going to Trapezounta, Aunt Kereki, my father’s first cousin, sent me a letter from Alexandropoulis, Greece, with the request that I locate her native home in a neighborhood outside of the city (Trapezounta) toward the district of Platanos.

 

Aunt Kereki had an infant named Kosti, who was seized forcibly from her by Turks when they drove the Greek population out of Trapezounta in 1922.  In her efforts to cling to the child, her right hand was crippled from the beating she suffered by a gun butt. Aunt Kereki never forgot her little Kosti. The photo of the child was saved in the shrine among the icons, along with the hanging votive lamp she had brought with her from her native land. The child had a distinguishing feature, a scar on the right side of his forehead which came about at birth, caused by the primitive techniques used to deliver children as well as the conditions of that era. In her letter, she begged me to search in the hearth of her former home. As she was departing from her home, she had hidden a box with her jewelry along with the gold cross of her child in a hole concealed by a brick and plaster. I could leave the box with the gold jewelry; she wanted only the gold cross of her Kosti. A difficult mission.

 

With the help of a diagram drawn up by my aunt and my anguish mixed with fear, it wasn’t difficult to find the house. From a distance there appeared the classic Greek architectural motif, characteristic of the turn of the 20th century with the wedged in keys in the cornices of the windows, the hammered door with the beautiful raised shell-like designs, the balconies with the beautiful iron work and pedestals. The house was maintained in good condition. I rapped at the door with the knocker.  A woman opened the door, and I explained who I was and that I wanted to see the house. It was difficult communicating. I understood, however, that she could not receive me as her husband was at work and that he would return in the evening.

 

In fact, I returned that evening. A stout man greeted me and although of an advanced age – he was around 71 years old – appeared to be a sturdy man with bright blue eyes and reddish lips.  Upon exchanging the standard pleasantries in English, I showed him a photo of the child, and I told them of my Aunt Kereki’s wish.  He looked into my eyes intensely. I explained the story of the buried box and that my aunt’s desire is to leave the box with the jewelry and to take only the gold cross because it was the baptismal cross of her lost Kosti. His gaze continued to pierce deeply into my eyes.

 

“All right,” he said, “I’ll see what I can do.  Come by tomorrow at the same time.”

 

Relatively content that my mission was going well, I returned to the house the next day.  He was waiting for me in the hallway. His wife was out.

 

“Take the box,” he said, “and give it to your aunt.”

 

Filled with emotion, I opened the old box.  Inside there were some gold earrings, some bracelets, a necklace, sequins like those that Pontian women used to sew into their festival clothing, and a few gold liras.

 

“The little cross of Kosti did not show up?” I asked him.
“Here’s the cross,” he answered, and he took out of his pocket a gold cross and chain.  On the back was written: “Konstantinos 1921”.
“Take all the jewelry, but the cross I will keep for myself.”
“But why?  Are you possibly a Crypto Christian?” I asked him.
“Not exactly,” he said lowering his gaze, “but I am Kostis.”
Speechless, we sank into each other’s arms and hugged each other like two cousins. The scar showed clearly on his right side of his forehead. He begged me to let the matter stay between us; otherwise, not only would the careers of his two sons, who were career officers of the Turkish Army, be endangered, but his own position as director of the customs house would be as well.   He insisted “…there isn’t any point any more…”  I left without taking anything. The box with its contents belonged to him. When I returned to Athens, I thought about how I would depict the story to my Aunt Kereki. Fortunately, God in His own way solved the problem for me.  Aunt Kereki had passed away ten days earlier.   I had no other contact with Kosti…“there isn’t any point any more.”

 

Time may have faded memories and details of similar tragic events but it has not completely erased them.  Each year we hear of yet more evidence which recalls the sagas of the victims of persecution.
So many narratives such as this, so many so many! The rivers of tears and blood in the land of Pontus have transformed it into sacred ground.