Subject: A glimpse at the grecophone muslims of Turkey's Pontos
From: email@example.com.Virginia.EDU (Gregory Dandulakis)
From the influential Athenian weekly "To Vima", September 29, 1996,
Balothies (celebrative gunshots) and kemedjes (pontic lyra) in Pontos.
The photographer Kostas Sakellariou is
preparing his book about the secrets of
the grecophone villages in Pontos.
The camera records actions and persons
full of stories.
by Lena Papadimitriou
"In the Pontic Alps when they say village they mean half a mountain.
You walk and you see one house for each kilometer". Leica, his camera,
"walked" with him to the "parcharia" (that is "plateau" in pontic greek),
"looked" through the fog which accompanies the people there both summer
and winter and the moist which makes the clothes to stick on the body
like second nature, as much impenetrable as the small mountainous
communities, "travelled" in the valley of Othis, 60 miles east of Trapezounda,
"spoke", "registered", "uncovered". Just yesterday they returned from
their twelfth visit to the grecophone villages of Pontos. But for Kostas
Sakellariou this is not just one more ethnological expedition. The plateau
phenomenon, "which in turkish sounds even sweeter: _yaila_", is this
which attracted his interest most. His studies in arabic and persian
philology (at Boston University) but also his linguistic passion (along
with english and french he speaks turkish, persian and urdu) and his
photoreportage work with the magasines "Time", "Newsweek", and "Der Spiegel",
gave him all the support he needed for his lonely walks to "patika"
(the unpassable "paths") of the Pontic Alps.
"To go up in the villages, most of them at 2,000 meters high, it
was by itself an adventure", he says; and the pile of black-and-white
photos in front of him are perhaps the only concrete proof of his trip
to the Pontian villages. The mini-bus went up to a point, after that
you had to walk. The faces, both primitive and sweet together, which
were waiting for him to the end of patika, were the compensation for
his effort. "They get crazy" when they hear about Greece. The "Ah,
you are a Greek! We had in our village in the past many of them", and
the "I had an aunt Romia" make you feel an unexpected closeness for
a place whose cold breaks your bones. The names of the 38 villages in
the valley of Othis - Fotino, Alithinos, Giga, Zisino, Mavranton, Ipsil,
Stavri, Ai-Vasil, etc - simply verify this. "Villages inside the forest,
vegetation that you have never seen in all of your life, waters every
where, a whole primitive world is waiting for you up there". The people
"come out" only after May. In the winter they are closed inside, doing
whole night "paragath": "All come around the fire and tell stories about
the plateaus, the "magic female spirits" and the "magic snail spirits"".
Camera does not look too indiscreet to the villagers. After all, for
them the "seriat" (that is, the laws which describe the private and public
life of the devout muslim) is enough with the prayers only. Even
when the women with the bright eyes (many times navy-blue in color) and
the long white scarves tell you with charm "Ah, this is gunah (sin)", he
takes pictures of them saying "how can it be gunah such beauty?" and the
"click" at once brings up from them their tired smiles. The men, being
tired and broken from the life in the parchari too, most elders with
rough hands and big moustaches. "The youngsters often go down to the
cities, in Trapezounda, Kerasounda, Tripoli, or they emmigrate to Germany.
It is not going to be too long before the foreign money "floods" the
In the summer months the fairs - most of them with christian roots,
but many also of pure prechristian pagan flavor - give color to life
and the huts. Raki (alcohol) flows freely, despite Allah's word to the
opposite, the dancers cover circles on the hills, the songs talk about
the plateau, the peasant, the love. And when the dawn comes, someone
might hug you warmly and tell you, while exhausted from the drinking
and the night's games, "I am Romios too", even though he wears a ring
with the three moons of the "Grey Wolves" (that is, a revolutionary
organization of the extreme right active during the '70s). The dance
pontian, the fun the same too. This is the case even deeper in the
hinterland, where "Islam" is even stronger. The women cover their
faces but they leave their bodies to swing freely accompanying the
sweet-sadness sound of "kemedje" (the pontic lyra).
The greek photographer is invited to the tables to have fun with the
locals. They offer him mouchlama and chadits, "they fry flour and but
ter - their own butter - and they spread it on the bread". Balothies
(celebrative gunshots) are everywhere, exactly like in the Cretan villages.
At the forefront is the moustached mayor with the black suit.
"For a week now I can't hear from one ear!" he says while laughing with
the "invader". At the village's photoshop an aspiring James Bond poses
proudly with a "mouzer" (gun) and with a look which makes the "enemies"
to shiver. "All without exception carry with them guns", Mr. Sakellariou
explains. "They feel that they liberate them. One day I
met the director of the local busline - from a grecophone village
and a friend of mine for years. His coat was a bit lifted and I see
the gun inside his pants. I tell him: You are ready for the fair too?".
After all it is not accidental that vendetta is the trade mark of the
region. "Another friend - because you get many in the Pontos's villa
ges - had lost all of his clan, more than 40 people. The police of
course does not get involved".
On some tables there are cans of beer "Tuborg" too - trophies for
those who keep dealings with the outer world. And it is characteristic
that in other places in Turkey rarely you see public intoxication
(in the City they drink and play cards only at "kirathane"). From the
trees' branches are hanging meats "they cut the ribs and cook them at
the spot". All "open and hospitable - the East has not lost the respect
for the traveller". But a phototravel can not avoid its difficult
moments either. But there is nothing which the excellent know
ledge of turkish and the greek drive cannot handle. "One day I was
coming down from a yaila and a truck with three faces stopped. They
took me with them, we started talking and quickly I realized that they
were islamists fundamentalists of the Refah party (Welfare party).
They started the usual: "Ah, Salonic is ours and we will get it back
again", "You want always wars", "Why aren't you a muslim?". I answered
back to them with humor and diplomatic tact. By the end of the
ride they had become mellow and revealed their true self: "Does some
one need a visa to come to work in Greece?".
Kostas Sakellariou will return back several times on the Pontos's
plateaus. In many villages he is well known by now, they welcome him,
make a bed for him and they enjoy watching the tricks of the camera.
"Frequently they do not permit you to leave", he says about his hosts.
"Once they had stolen the passport of a grecopontian grandpa, so that
they forced him to stay one more week". He now knows some of them by
their christian "paronyms" (greek for "nicknames"): Todor, Kotsi, Panar
(from "Panayotis"). He laughs with their gossips and their swearwords
(a villager has won the very discreet title of "Klaneas" (greek for "The
Farter")). Leica will continue to travel and in some two more years
the photographer hopes to have ready the album about the pontian
"parchari" and its stories.
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