Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Trauma of Macedonian Resettlement in Turkey in 1924

I came across this article about a documentary film that sounded quite compelling. As the article says, the story finds echoes in all the displaced communities of the world today:

"Last weekend a documentary film had its premiere in Mustafapaşa. Emine Yıldırım’s “Yastığım Taş, Yorgunum Taş” (My Pillow was a Stone, My Quilt was a Stone) tells the story of the arrival of the Macedonians in what was once the small Cappadocian town of Sinasos. It was 1924, the year of the population exchange, when all the “Greeks” in Turkey and the “Turks” in Greece were forced to change places. However, some of the so-called Greeks were really Macedonians, caught up in a politics that saw them as no more than pawns in a settling of ancient scores.

The film was shown in a 19th century medrese which had recently become a vocational high school. The conference room was filled to capacity and there was a buzz of anticipation as people took their seats, clutching their cups of tea and plates of dry biscuits. Then the lights were dimmed and suddenly the locals were coming face-to-face with themselves on the big screen.

It was a magical experience to watch and listen to their reactions. “Our mahalle (neighborhood),” I heard people whisper, and “Look, that’s so-and-so.” One particular woman, who played a big part in the film, was sitting immediately in front of me. In her şalvar and yemeni, she was the sort of country woman who would not normally expect people to pay her much attention and yet here she was, with the camera caressing her every gesture, her every word. Her face, as she watched herself, was a picture.

Of course the story unfolding on the screen was equally gripping. It was the tale of a group of people forced to sail all the way down the Aegean and around the Mediterranean to Mersin, knowing only that they were going to Anatolia but not what that was going to mean. On arrival they found themselves abandoned in a rocky landscape where, as one woman so poignantly put it, the stones even served as their bedding. An audible gasp ran round the room when one man explained how, with winter coming and no money or means to make any, the newcomers were forced to rip down the magnificent wooden ceilings of the old Greek houses and burn them as firewood.

We saw a list of the names of the incomers, we saw their children starting school without a word of Turkish and, later, we saw one man laboriously compiling a Turkish-Macedonian dictionary while his neighbors explained how the third generation of Macedonian Mustafapaşalıs no longer understood what their parents were saying if they reverted to the old language.

It was the thought-provoking story of one community’s struggle to make a new life in a strange country, but at the same time it was a story which finds echoes in all the displaced communities of the world today."