Abstract from Helen Karatzas's book [in Greek] "The last Hellenism of the region of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, Akseray-Ghelveri (Carbala)"


The Akseray-Ghelveri region, which before 1924 numbered approximately 5,000 Greeks, mainly Turkophone, is situated in western Cappadocia. This large province, with Caesarea as its capital, occupies the centre of Asia Minor and is bordered by the region of the Pontus on the north. Cilicia on the south, Lycaonia on the west and the Euphrates and Armenia on the east.

From the 11th century onwards Cappadocia was repeatedly invaded, first by Seljuk, and then by Ottoman tribes. These invasions, which culminated in the permanent occupation of the whole of Asia Minor and in the constitution of the Ottoman Empire, led to the gradual loss of the Hellenic character of the region. Thus, prior to the population exchanges in 1924, there were only eighty-one towns or villages partly or wholly inhabited by Orthodox Greeks, of which only fifty-one were Hellenophone.

The Centre for Asia Minor Studies, founded in 1930 by Melpo Merlier, first turned its attention to the study of this distant and little-known province. To facilitate the study of Cappadocian Hellenism, the area was subdivided into seven regions by grouping hamlets and larger villages around a central town to which they were linked administratively or commercially.

The administrative centre of the Akseray-Ghelveri region examined in this book is the town of Akseray, situated on the road from Iconium to Caesarea, at a distance of 131 km southwest of the latter. Amongst approximately 150 hamlets and villages surrounding it are the five settlements which were inhabited partly or entirely by Greeks up to the exodus of 1924. These are: Ghelveri, a large village at a distance of 31 km southeast of Akseray, and the villages of Kenatala, Sivrinisar, Halvadere and Tcheltek. Only Tcheltek and Srivinisar were inhabited exclusively by Greeks and only in Tcheltek was a Greek dialect spoken. A Greek colony was founded in Akseray during the 19th century, also by Cappadocian Greeks.

According to the estimates of the Centre, the number of Greeks in this region never exceeded 5,000, but if one takes into account the circumstances in which they lived over a period of many centuries, this number is far from insignificant. The study of their life, customs, and traditions is of great interest. In this region, nowadays entirely Turkicised, there are, as in most of Cappadocia, a great many ruins of churches, houses and rock churches covered with frescoes and inscriptions. There are also labyrinths, called "inns", where the population took refuge in case of war or invasions.

Ruins of churches, chapels or sanctuaries where the Greeks worshipped are to be found in some Turkish villages, as for example in Peristremma, Mamasson et al.; these were also sometimes used as places of worship by the Turks, whose traditions, especially those linked to the cult of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, are very characteristic.

The research carried out by the Centre for Asia Minor Studies on these vestiges of Cappadocian Hellenism first centered around the study of the oral tradition based on material recorded from many sources. The Centre also undertook the study of community registers, records of the Greek authorities, Turkish official documents (firmans, etc), private texts, various manuscripts, stamps, etc brought back by the refugees, as well as the relevant Greek and foreign bibliography.

This book is the outcome of our personal research within the framework of the Centre for Asia Minor Studies, as well as that of other colleagues belonging to the same Centre. Special mention should be made of Mr. Hermes Andreadis, whose missions in Cappadocia were extremely fruitful; of the Centre's Cartographic Department and of the translators of firmans and other Turkish texts, all of whose assistance to the author of this work has been invaluable.

This book attempts to give a picture of the life and development of this late Hellenism during the period of about 150 years before the exodus of 1924 -- a period for which the existing sources are more abundant and reliable. We have nevertheless also attempted, whilst describing the area and its Greek and Turkish localities, to present certain aspects of its history prior to this period, with special emphasis on St. Gregory of Nazianzus whose legend is still alive amidst both Greeks and Turks.

More specifically, we have studied the large and important village of Ghelveri and its evolution over the 19th century, when the general conditions were greatly improved for the Christian populations who were finally given a breathing space after a long-drawn period of clandestine existence.

Ghelveri, most probably the Carbala of St. Gregory, abandoned its troglodyte dwellings, became a rich village and developed its economy, communal life and schools. A great advance took place in education, a major concern both of the local inhabitants and of the Cappadocian immigrants in Istanbul, and attempts were made to revive the Greek language which had disappeared during the preceding period.

This development, which was shared as far as possible by the small villages, came to an abrupt halt as a result of the 1914-18 war and the Asia Minor expedition. The end of that expedition also marked the end of Hellenism in Asia Minor, and its last representatives left the country in 1924.

Finally, the last chapter of this book deals with the vicissitudes encountered by this ancient population at the time of their settlement in Greece and the difficulties they have had to overcome in order to be integrated into their new homeland.

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