The Greek America Foundation, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to preserving Greek culture and history is partnering with Chrysovalantis Stamelos and Crescent Street Films to document an historic event taking place in Turkey on May 31st. Stamelos is a New York native now living and working in Turkey.
Kydonies— or Ayvali, was a homogenous Greek region in what is now the western shores of Turkey. In the early 20th century the town and entire region were subject to violent attacks and more than 30,000 Greek Orthodox Christians who survived the slaughter by the incoming Turkish army were deported to mainland Greece in a matter of days.
They left behind their centuries-old heritage and traditions, stone mansions lining the harbor front. Less than a year later, the region was populated by Muslims who had been expelled from Greece during the massive uprooting that was brought about by the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey.
The massive Church of St. Taxiarchis survived the war. In 1927 it was converted into a mosque but eventually fell out of use for decades and lay in disrepair until very recently when the The Rahmi Koç Foundation took over the property from the Turkish government and spent millions renovating it to its past glory. The newly restored church will be reopened as a cultural center, however, will be allowed to conduct Christian Orthodox services throughout the year on special holidays.
The May 31st liturgy, presided over by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, will mark the first time in 92 years that a Greek Orthodox church service has been conducted there.
It is believed that one of the final church services that took place inside the historic church in September 1922 was presided over by Metropolitan Gregory of Kydonies, the Greek Orthodox hierarch of the region, who is also credited with negotiating with the Turkish army to allow safe passage to the Greek population to flee to Greece. Despite his pleas, all of the able bodied males of the region were deported and sent to labor battalions in eastern Turkey, most of whom died along the way.
But 30,000 Greeks were allowed to leave without harm from the Turkish army. On September 30, 1922 while Metropolitan Gregory supervised the evacuations, he was arrested together with the rest of the local clergy. On October 3, they were taken outside the town and executed. According to documented eyewitnesses he died of a heart attack, while the Turkish troops attempted to bury him alive.
Stamelos traveled to Turkey to research and film a documentary about his Greek ancestors who once lived in the region. While there, he decided to make Turkey his permanent home. His first film, a documentary called Hello Anatolia, has received widespread critical acclaim.
“As a Greek-American now living in Izmir, Turkey, one of my main creative goals is to document the latest developments in the preservation of the Hellenic heritage of Asia Minor. The opening and dedication of the church will be one of the most significant events in recent years,” Stamelos said.
The aim is to produce an 8-12 minute short documentary film that will highlight the momentous occasion and share the event— and history of this lost community— with the world, via the Greek America Foundation’s YouTube channel.
The Greek America Foundation has set up a special donation page for people to contribute to the goal of raising $5000 to produce the film. The deadline to reach the goal of $5000 is this Friday, May 30th at 5pm CST. All donors of $50 or more will be listed in the film’s closing credits. If the goal is not reached, all monies will be returned to those donors who contributed.
According to Gregory Pappas, founder of the Greek America Foundation, such historic moments are not to be left to pass without documentation and preservation.
“The first liturgy in this historic church in almost a century is an epic moment we should make accessible to the world. This involves us culturally, politically, theologically and in so many other ways and needs to be shared,” Pappas noted in his appeal to potential donors.
Costs involve travel expenses and equipment rental, including an HD camera with which the film will be shot, as well as sound equipment to capture the Divine Liturgy.