Friday, 30 May 2008

Theophilos Paleologos

This is the last year, this the last
of the Greek emperors. And, alas,
how sadly those around him talk.
Kyr Theophilos Paleologos
in his grief, in his despair, says:
“I would rather die than live.”

Ah, Kyr Theophilos Paleologos,
how much of the pathos, the yearning of our race,
how much weariness
(such exhaustion from injustice and persecution)
your six tragic words contained.

(Constantine Cavafy)

* Theophilos Paleologos, a kinsman of the emperor, shouted out “I would rather die than live” as the Turks penetrated the City's walls and he charged into them, sword in hand.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The Fall of Constantinople, 1453

‘Then a great horde of mounted infidels charged down the street leading to the Great Church… In the early dawn, as the Turks poured into the City and the citizens took flight, some of the fleeing Romans managed to reach their homes and rescue their children and wives. As they moved, bloodstained, across the Forum of the Bull and passed the Column of the Cross [in the Forum of Constantine], their wives asked, “What is to become of us?” When they heard the fearful cry, “The Turks are slaughtering Romans within the City’s walls,” they did not believe it at first. They cursed and reviled the ill-omened messenger instead. But behind him came a second, and then a third, and all were covered with blood, and they knew that the cup of the Lord’s wrath had touched their lips. Monks and nuns, therefore, and men and women, carrying their infants in their arms and abandoning their homes… ran to the Great Church…

‘Why were they all seeking refuge in the Great Church? Many years before they had heard from some false prophets that the City was fated to be surrendered to the Turks who would enter with great force, and the Romans would be cut down by them as far as the Column of Constantine the Great. Afterwards, however, an angel, descending and holding a sword, would deliver the empire and the sword to an unknown man, extremely plain and poor, standing at the Column. “Take the sword,” the angel would say, “and avenge the people of the Lord.” Then the Turks would take flight and the Romans would follow hard upon them, cutting them down. They would drive them from the City and from the West, and from the East as far as the borders of Persia, to a place called Monodendrion.

‘Because they fully expected these prophecies to be realised, some ran and advised others to run also. This was the conviction of the Romans who long ago had contemplated what their present action would be, contending, “If we leave the Column of the Cross behind us, we will avoid future wrath.” This was the cause, then, of the flight into the Great Church. In one hour’s time, that enormous temple was filled with men and women. There was a throng too many to count, above and below, in the courtyards and everywhere. They bolted the doors and waited, hoping to be rescued by the anonymous saviour…

‘Pillaging, slaughtering, and taking captives on the way, the Turks reached the temple… The gates were barred, but they broke them with axes. They entered with swords flashing and, beholding the myriad populace, each Turk caught and bound his own captive…

‘Who can recount the calamity of that time and place? Who can describe the wailing and the cries of the babes, the mothers’ screams and the father’s lamentations? The commonest Turk sought the tenderest maiden. The lovely nun, who heretofore belonged only to the one God, was now seized and bound by another master. The rapine caused the tugging and pulling of braids of hair, the exposure of breasts, and outstretched arms. The female slave was bound with her mistress, the master with his slave, the archimandrite with the doorkeeper, tender youths with virgins, who had never been exposed to the sun and hardly ever seen by their own fathers, were dragged about, forcibly pushed together and flogged. The despoiler led them to a certain spot, and placing them in safekeeping, returned to take a second and even a third prize. The abductors, the avengers of God, were in a great hurry. Within one hour, they had bound everyone, the male captives with cords and the women with their own veils. The infinite chains of captives who like flocks of sheep poured out of the temple and the temple sanctuary made an extraordinary spectacle. They wept and wailed and there was none to show them mercy.

‘What became of the temple treasures? What shall I say and how shall I say it? My tongue is stuck fast in my larynx. I am unable to draw breath through my sealed mouth. In that same hour, the dogs hacked the holy icons to pieces, removing the ornaments. As for the chains, candelabra, holy alter coverings and lamps, some they destroyed and the rest they seized. All the precious and sacred vessels of the holy sacristy, fashioned from gold and silver and other valuable materials, they collected in an instant, leaving the temple desolate and naked; absolutely nothing was left behind…’


Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Death and Resurrection of Constantine Paleologos


As he stood there – erect before the Gate and impregnable in his sorrow

Far from the world – where his spirit sought
 to bring Paradise to his measure – And harder even than stone – for no one had ever looked
 on him tenderly – at times his crooked teeth 
whitened strangely

And as he passed by with his gaze a little
 beyond mankind – and from them all
 extracted One who smiled on him
 – the Real One 
– whom death could never seize

He took care to pronounce the word sea clearly that all the dolphins
 within it might shine – And the desolation so great it might 
contain all of God
 – and every water drop ascending steadfastly toward the sun

As a young man he had seen gold glittering
 and gleaming on the shoulders of the great – And one night – he remembers – during a great storm the neck of the sea roared so it turned murky – but he would not submit to it

The world's an oppressive place to live through 
– yet with a little pride it's worth it.


Dear God what now
 – Who had to battle with thousands 
– and not only his loneliness
 – Who?
 – He who knew with a single word 
how to slake the thirst of entire worlds
 – What?

From whom they had taken everything
 his – And his sandals with their criss-crossed straps and his pointed trident – and the wall he mounted every afternoon like an unruly and pitching boat 
– to hold the reigns against the weather

And a handful of vervain
 – which he had rubbed on a girl's cheek
 – at midnight – to kiss her – (how the waters of the moon gurled
 on the stone steps three cliff-lengths above the sea...)

Noon out of night 
– And not one person by his side
 – Only his faithful words that mingled
 all their colors to leave in his hand
 a lance of white light

And opposite – along the whole wall's length
 – a host of heads poured in plaster
 as far as his eyes could see

“Noon out of night – all life a radiance!"
– he shouted and rushed into the horde 
– dragging behind him an endless golden line

And at once he felt – the final pallor overmastering him – as it hastened from afar.


Now – as the sun's wheel turned more and more swiftly – the courtyards plunged into winter and once 
emerged red from the geraniums

And the small cool domes – like blue medusae
 – reached each time higher to the silverwork 
the wind so delicately worked as a painting 
– for other times more distant

Virgin maidens
 – their breasts glowing a summer dawn
 – brought him branches of fresh palm leaves – and those of the myrtle uprooted from the depths of the sea

Dripping iodine 
– While under his feet he heard
 – the prows of black ships 
sucked into the great whirlpool – the ancient and smoked seacraft
 from which still erect with riveted gaze
 – the Mothers of God stood rebuking

Horses overturned on dumpheaps 
– a rabble of buildings large and small
 – debris and dust flaming in the air

And there lying prone
 – always with an unbroken word
 between his teeth

the last of the Hellenes!

(Odysseas Elytis)

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Radio Akritas: Eleni Vitali

Ellis has an interest in Yiannis Papaioannou’s song, sung in Turkish, Gelmenden, and I mentioned to him that there is also a Greek-language version sung by Eleni Vitali, called Ti ta thelis ta lefta? (What do you want with money?), which I’m now making available in Radio Akritas, along with two other songs sung by Eleni Vitali: Pente Ellines ston Adi (Five Greeks in Hades), which is another Papaioannou song (also see video); and To Dihty (The Net), music by Stavros Xaharkos, lyrics by Nikos Gatsos, from the film Rembetiko.

Πέντε Έλληνες στον Άδη (Five Greeks in Hades)
Πέντε Έλληνες στον Άδη
ανταμώσαν ένα βράδυ
Και το γλέντι αρχινάνε
κι όλα γύρω τους τα σπάνε

Με μπουζούκια, μπαγλαμάδες
τρέλαναν τους σατανάδες
Κι από κέφι ζαλισμένοι
χόρευαν οι κολασμένοι

Στο ρωμαίικο τραγούδι
κάηκε το πελεκούδι
Κι όλοι φώναζαν αράδα
να μάς ζήσει η Ελλάδα

Το δίχτυ
(The Net)
Κάθε φορά που ανοίγεις δρόμο στη ζωή,
μην περιμένεις να σε βρει το μεσονύχτι.
Έχε τα μάτια σου ανοιχτά βράδυ πρωί
γιατί μπροστά σου πάντα απλώνεται ένα δίχτυ.

Αν κάποτε στα βρόχια του πιαστείς,
κανείς δεν θα μπορέσει να σε βγάλει,
μονάχος βρες την άκρη της κλωστής
κι αν είσαι τυχερός ξεκινά πάλι.

Αυτό το δίχτυ έχει ονόματα βαριά
που είναι γραμμένα σ' επτασφράγιστο κιτάπι.
Άλλοι το λεν του κάτω κόσμου πονηριά
κι άλλοι το λεν της πρώτης άνοιξης αγάπη.

Αν κάποτε στα βρόχια του πιαστείς,
κανείς δεν θα μπορέσει να σε βγάλει,
μονάχος βρες την άκρη της κλωστής
κι αν είσαι τυχερός ξεκινά πάλι.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

The Bishop of Karpasia and I

I had the pleasure and privilege last Friday to share coffee and eliopitta (olive cake) with the Bishop of Karpasia at my mother's house, where we engaged in an interesting discussion on various matters pertaining to politics and theology. (The bishop, for example, explained to me why a priest must have led a virtually spotless, sinless life, whereas a saint's life, at least the initial, worldly part of it, could be full of transgressions).

Anyway, Karpasia is the easternmost peninsula of Cyprus, occupied by the Turks since 1974, and Christoforos was appointed bishop last year; the first time Karpasia has had a bishop since the Lusignans abolished the post in 1222 in an effort to suppress the Orthodox church and put the island under Roman Catholic sway. His appointment reflects Greek steadfastness in Cyprus and reveals how Greeks are still in the process of shedding centuries of malicious foreign influence. (See Nostos’ post on the Fourth Crusade here).

Christoforos was in London for two reasons. To attend the annual dinner-dance of the UK Association of Yialousa and Ayia Triada – Yialousa is the pre-eminent town in Karpasia; and, more importantly, as head of a delegation meeting officials from the UK foreign office making representations regarding the state of the monastery of Apostolos Andreas, which lies at the eastern tip of Karpasia and is the most significant Christian shrine on the island.

I have written about Apostolos Andreas here.

The issue at the moment is that the Turkish occupation regime is deliberately allowing the monastery, which is a World Heritage Site, to fall into a state of disrepair, to such an extent that it is in imminent danger of collapse. Christoforos' delegation pointed out to the British that the occupation regime has failed to keep an agreement brokered by the UN and the USA in which the Cypriot government would upgrade the Hala Sultan mosque in Larnaca – Hala Sultan, Mohammed’s wet nurse, was said to have fallen off her donkey and died in Cyprus during the Arab raids in the 7th century – in return for permission to restore Apostolos Andreas. The mosque restoration was completed amid much fanfare in 2005, but the Turks have not allowed any work to be done at Apostolos Andreas.

Turkish duplicity and malice regarding Apostolos Andreas reflect Turkish reluctance to revive anything Hellenic in the occupied areas; the presence of the Turkish military in the vicinity; and attempts by the occupation regime to become involved in the restoration initiative in such a way as to get the Church of Cyprus to recognise the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' as a legitimate authority, something which the church will, of course, not do.

As I wrote previously, the occupation regime rather than facilitating the restoration of Apostolos Andreas has instead drawn up plans to transform the annexes of the monastery into a 120-room luxury hotel.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Pontic Greeks in the Soviet Union

On 19 May, we commemorate the killing of between 350,000-500,000 Pontic Greeks by Turkish and Kurdish barbarians during the period 1916-1923. Stavros at My Greek Odyssey has written about the genocide here.

Also worth remembering is that many of those who escaped the Turkish and Kurdish atrocities fled not to Greece, but to Russia/the Soviet Union, where long-standing Greek communities existed in the Crimea as well as in Georgia and Abkhazia.

British journalist Neal Ascherson in his book Black Sea has written about their tragic fate.

Ascherson says that for Greek communities the first few years in the nascent Soviet Union were 'tolerable, if not encouraging', but after collectivisation of farming in 1928 and Stalin's consolidation of power, Greeks, perhaps more than any other minority, felt the full force of Stalinist madness and terror. Here's what Ascherson writes:

'Everything about them [the Greeks] was now construed as counter-revolutionary: their tradition of free enterprise, their links with the 'imperialist' world outside and especially with Athens (many of them held Greek passports), their independent culture. The Greeks in south Russia and Ukraine strongly resisted the loss of their farms, and thousands were arrested. As the 'Great Purges' developed in the 1930s, their cultural and political leaders were charged with treachery or Trotskyism and murdered. The Greek schools were closed and Greek literature destroyed. In south Russia, political persecution rapidly turned into ethnic pogroms; entire Greek communities were arrested and deported. [It is] estimated that as many as 170,000 Greeks were expelled to Siberia and Central Asia after 1936.

'But this had only been a prelude. The full impact of state terror was turned against the Greeks in the aftermath of the Second World War. Like the Crimean Tartars, the Chechens and the Volga Germans, the Greeks of the Soviet Union became a condemned nationality and were banished.

'The 70,000 Crimean Greeks, almost all Pontic by descent, went first. Then came the Greeks of Kuban and south Russia. Finally, on the night of 14/15 June 1949, a single immense operation planned in secret for many months rounded up almost the entire Greek population of the Caucasus. The settlements in Abkhazia and along the Georgian coast down to the Turkish frontier were the principal target. About 100,000 people were seized. Their villages were surrounded in darkness by NKVD special troops, and they were given only a few hours to pack. Many of them perished on the sealed trains, and when they arrived at their destination – usually weeks later – they were deliberately dispersed: scattered among small Moslem communities and kolkhoz cotton farms across the Central Asian plains…'

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Radio Akritas: Anestis Delias

Anestis (Anestos or Artemis) Delias was born in Smyrna in 1912 and with Markos Vamvagaris, Giorgos Batis and Stratos Payioumtzis made up The Legendary Quartet of Piraeus, which defined the Piraeus school of rembetika that lasted until 1937 when the Metaxas regime cracked down on the music and those who played it.

Delias was badly affected by the suppression of rembetika and in 1938 got mixed up with Katerina or Koula the Skoularikou (Koula the Earring), a prostitute and heroin addict, who, the rembetologist Ilias Petropoulos claims, was so fearful of losing Delias that while he slept she would insert a paper cone up his nose, blow heroin through it and in this way induced him to become dependent on the narcotic and on her.

Indeed, Delias, despite all the songs rembetes wrote about drugs, was the only rembete to become involved with heroin, and to succumb to it; for, having done everything he could to escape heroin and the clutches of Koula the Earring, including joining the army and fighting on the Albanian front in 1940-41, the Earring tracked him down in Athens and drew him back into her orbit, soon after which, in the winter of 1944, Delias was found dead in the street outside the teke Seraphim in Metaxourgio of a heroin overdose, clutching his bouzouki.

In Radio Akritas, I've made available four Delias songs:
1. Ο Πόνος του Πρεζάκια (The Junkie's Complaint);
2. Νίκος ο Τρελάκιας (Crazy Nick);
3. Το Κουτσαβάκι (The Show Off); and
4. Το Σακάκι (The Jacket).

The Junkie's Complaint, written in 1935, before he knew Koula – who outlived Delias, her victim, by 50 years – is horribly prophetic:

From the time I started to smoke the dose
The world has turned its back on me; I don't know what to do.

From sniffing it up, I went on to the needle

And my body slowly began to melt.

Nothing is left for me to do in this world

Because the drugs have left me to die in the streets.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Greek learning and American decline

Victor Davis Hanson, the US classicist, was annoyed in this article by the claim from French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner that America's 'magic has
worn off'. VDH responded thus: 'Our universities remain the world's best, and we lead the world in cutting-edge technological innovation.

‘American elections are more wide open than ever before. Our next president will either be the first septuagenarian (when taking office), woman or African-American in the job.

‘America remains a meritocracy where no one is above the law. Unlike so many other places, success is predicated more on ability than race, class, tribe, religion or gender.

‘So while we exhibit outward symptoms of sickness, our inner constitution — the real barometer of the health of a civilization — is sound.'

Yet, in this article last week, Hanson is more circumspect and realistic in his assessment of American society. In fact, all the myths he celebrates as American achievements – egalitarianism, multiculturalism, America as a post-racial, classless society – Hanson now identifies as the causes of the demise of classical learning in the United States and as a consequence the degeneration of that country's culture and intellectual life.

Here's an extract of what Hanson says:

'The decline of a classical core in the university also meant that the tragic view was eclipsed by the therapeutic. Following the spread of the social sciences, a second generation of “Studies” classes — African-American, Asian, Chicano, Feminist, Gay, Environmental, or Peace — proliferated in the curriculum. Their common theme was anti-classical in at least three ways. One, there are always new disciplines of learning that spring up, rather than a finite set of knowledge: Homer’s portrayal of Penelope, Helen, Calypso, and Circe cannot be fathomed without feminist theory; deconstructing colonialism and imperialism, not reading Virgil or Tacitus, has finally allowed us to understand state exploitation. Rather than ask what philosophy or history might say about contemporary pathologies from poverty to racism, the university instead invented ex nihilo whole programs about racial and economic mistreatment, mostly as a way of casting blame and garnering resources.

‘Two, in the new therapeutic mindset, human nature is not, as Thucydides insisted, fixed, but capable of being altered and “improved” in the university by the requisite money, learning, and proper attitude: early death, personal setback, and social unfairness are not innate to the human condition and sometimes to be borne over the generations with courage in the manner of Oedipus or Antigone, but are rather the result of those with power whose necessary dethronement might guarantee a life without such tragedies. Peace and conflict resolution theory classes, not Thucydides and Herodotus, can teach us more about war, since an improved human nature understands that conflict is not caused by evil intent, honor, pride, or fear, and so checked by vigilance, preparedness, and deterrence. Instead the cause of war is the absence of proper counseling, or of money and empathy that might have otherwise prevented genuine miscommunications and misunderstandings between like parties with similar desires for peace…

‘Three, the present generation alone can claim wisdom and morality, and thereby has the right, and indeed the duty, to condemn the past for not meeting our present standards of perfection. A chauvinistic Socrates was insensitive to his wife; the Greeks held slaves; homosexuals were caricatured by Aristophanes as effeminate — and therefore Hellenic civilization was pathological, its art, literature, and ideas sadly negated by omnipresent bias and oppression, now thankfully being addressed in our contemporary and morally superior generation.'

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Kissinger and us

‘The Greeks are hard to govern so we must strike deep into their cultural roots. That way we may knock some sense into them. What I mean is that we must strike their language, their religion, their cultural and historical heritage in order to eliminate any possibility of their progress, prominence and domination so that they would stop having a say in the Balkans, the East Mediterranean and the Middle East, which are the key areas of great strategic importance for the policy of the USA.’

Henry Kissinger, the notorious Jewish-American diplomat and war criminal, is alleged to have made the above statement about Greeks in September 1974, two months after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, which Kissinger so ardently desired and worked for. Recently, there was an article in Kathimerini which suggested that Kissinger never said any such thing and the statement is an invention, a Greek myth in fact.

However, the issue here isn't whether Kissinger did or did not say that America and its cohorts want and need to 'strike' at Greek history and culture to turn Greeks into US lackeys, like the Albanians and Fyromians, but whether he could have said it and whether it reflects the truth not only of America's view of Greece, but the view the West in general has had of Greeks for the last thousand years (and more).

It is not unreasonable to interpret the history of Hellenism in the last thousand years (and more) as a continuous 'strike' against Hellenism, by the West and others, which aims to strip Greeks of their culture and identity and get them to conform, to not be Greeks anymore.

This article by Professor Christos Yiannaras correctly identifies Greek 'progressive' intellectuals as being complicit in the Kissinger thesis, as being, indeed, the ones, paradoxically (since they also tend to be the most anti-American Greeks), keener than most to implement it.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Turkey reveals Cyprus intentions

My perception right from the start of this latest round of Cyprus settlement negotiations has been that Turkey’s intention is to insist on the Annan plan – or its essence – and that when this is (inevitably) rejected by the Greek side, to then claim that there exists no possibility of a resolution to the Cyprus problem and that the international community must now accept the ‘realities on the island’ and formally recognise Turkey's puppet regime in occupied Cyprus, the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.

And, indeed, given all the statements made this last two weeks by Mehmet Ali Talat – the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community – the Turkish military and Turkish government, this is what is happening. Last week, Talat was in Ankara to receive the decision of the National Security Council regarding Turkey’s Cyprus policy, after which he faithfully related it at a speech at the Eurasia Strategic Studies Centre. Talat said this was a last chance for a Cyprus solution, which he insisted must be based on recognising the existence of two states and two peoples on the island, who would create a completely new – parthenogenetic – confederal state, and on the continuation of Turkey’s guarantor status and troop presence on the island.

Turkey’s intentions in the Cyprus negotiations were confirmed by this article in the Turkish Daily News – the mouthpiece in English of Turkey’s foreign ministry – written by Serkan Demirtas, the newspaper’s chief news editor, who fleshed out what Turkey means by two states, two peoples, a ‘virgin-birth’ and so on.

‘The sine qua non parameters’ of a Cyprus solution for Turkey are, according to Demirtas: ‘Political equality based on the existence of two equal founding co-states, the continuity of the guarantor and alliance treaties that will enable keeping Turkish troops on the island… the need to keep the bi-communal nature and recognize the "realities" of the island.’

Demirtas goes on to say that Turkey also wants to secure more derogations from EU law in the proposed Turkish Cypriot component state, which would exclude Greek Cypriots from living and purchasing property in the north; and will seek to legalise the presence of all the 150,000 Turkish settlers brought to Cyprus since 1974 to change the demographic character of the island. (The Turks are even planning to bring up the utterly spurious issue of settlers from Greece in the Republic of Cyprus, ‘the fabrication’, as Demirtas puts it, of ‘many citizenships from Greece. Their status will also be on our agenda…’).

All this, of course, shows that the only solution to the Cyprus problem Turkey will countenance short of the immediate recognition of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ is one envisioned by the Annan plan, i.e. not reunification of Cyprus, but the island’s soft partition.

Naturally, this is entirely unacceptable to the Greek side. It is predicated, like the Annan plan, on the abolition of the Republic of Cyprus, a thriving entity, a member of the European Union, recognised by all other states in the world (apart from Turkey, of course) and the creation of a new United States of Cyprus, in which the Turks will have full independence in the north and a share of power in the south and would not be a normal, democratic European country, but an apartheid state and a Turkish protectorate.