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THE SACRIFICE OF GREECE
When I was growing up, I lived on Chios in Greece with my grandparents, and I remember the history all around me of the “Turkokratia.”
There was the famous castle of Chios, built by the Byzantines in the 10th century, and with a church inside, St. George, later converted by Piyale Pasha during the occupation into a mosque, and restored back into a church after the Ottomans were expelled.
I remember a very ornamental horse trough in the main square of the town that residents said the Turks had built. And, most of all, I remember the village of Anavatos, now abandoned, where all the inhabitants were massacred during the Occupation, and their bones deposited outside the wall of the village. And I remember the footprint there, embedded into the stone floor of the village church, and imprinted from the blood of all the people that were being slaughtered there, which still sends a chill up my spine.
I remember walking along the dry river bed near my grandparents’ farm, and finding all sorts of shards: some were recent, some were ancient, some were from the Occupation, all were a record of the history and turmoil of the island. This beautiful island, where the sky was always blue, the houses were white and had shutters that were blue and red like Easter eggs, where the lemon trees provided lemons for our dinner, was literally steeped in blood.
Chios, of course, is the site of the famous massacre of Chios, where the Turks took revenge on the Chiotes for joining the revolution, by killing four-fifths of the population of about 120,000: slaughtering all babies, all males over 12, all women over 40, and enslaving the rest, or the survivors fleeing into a generations-long exile. Chios, once one of the most prosperous islands in the Aegean, going back to ancient times, was never the same.
The history of Greece is glorious, but always painful, and practically every family has a history of survival going back generations. In my own family, both my grandfathers fought in wars (my paternal grandfather never recovered his health from them), and my father was a decorated veteran who fought in the Greek civil war and was at the front for five long years, and got leave just once to see his baby daughter. I remember looking at all his war photos when I was a kid, even bringing them to my public school one day to show them off to my teacher and the other kids. I couldn’t imagine my dad, a buttoned-down school principal always in a suit, being the dashing figure in khaki, and with sidearms, being shown in these pictures. He told stories about his war years, because he was a natural storyteller, he made them matter-of-fact, but in those young lives he described lost forever, there was a whole generation gone forever and the survivors afflicted for life.
Greece has earned its place in history, not just for the culture and wisdom it had singularly brought to the world, but for the blood and sacrifice of its people.
Dimitri C. Michalakis