Pontos Lives: A Miracle of Cultural Celebration and Preservation in Atlanta, Georgia


Events taking place in Atlanta, Georgia this past weekend could be the subject of a sociologist’s or an anthropologist’s dream research project in the study of preservation of cultural identity.

Pontians are not supposed to exist.

First of all, global trends say that small, tribal groups with distinct dialects and cultures are, for the most part on their way to extinction. Whether you blame globalization or assimilation, it’s a trend faced by most groups similar to the Pontians.

Add to that the historic upheavals these people faced a century ago when they were caught up in a massive and brutal attempt to exterminate Greek Christians from the face of Anatolia— further evidence that Pontians should be long gone a hundred years after an attempt was made (almost successfully) to wipe every last one of them off the earth.

In order to understand who the Pontians are— we need a brief lesson in geography and history.

The world today isn’t what it was like two, three thousand years ago.

Back then, the “Greek world” encompassed a lot more than the contemporary borders of modern Greece. There were large tribes of indigenous Greek populations that inhabited the shores of the Black Sea— called Efxinos Pontos in Greek.

They built settlements and huge cities, massive monasteries and lived peacefully as indigenous Greeks for thousands of years. Their ancient dances, foods, culture and dialect were preserved— probably because of their distance and isolation from the rest of the Greek world, but also because of the ferocious pride these people had.

Like the broader region around them, they came under Ottoman Turkish rule in the 1400s. Their fate, like other non-Muslim Ottoman subjects, was one of four centuries of perseverance and difficulty.

At the beginning of the 1900s, the Ottoman Empire was crumbling and the modern nation of Turkey emerged from the rubble led by Kemal Ataturk, who sought to “rid” the new nation of its millions of non-Turkish residents.

In addition to millions of Anatolian Greeks from other regions of Asia Minor, the Pontians suffered expulsions and brutal massacres. Entire male populations were sent on death marches into the Turkish interior never to be heard from again and hundreds of towns and villages that were once prosperous Pontoon trading posts and multi-cultural centers were burned to the ground. Monasteries were looted, monks skinned alive.

By 1922— millions of ethnic Greek Anatolians, including the entire population of Greek Pontians who survived the genocide fled as refugees to all corners of the globe. Large numbers went to Russia, while the majority ended up in inhospitable Greece— where they should have been welcomed as fellow native Greeks.

Unfortunately, that was not the case as “locals” considered the Pontians and other Anatolian refugees as “Tourkospori” or “Seeds of the Turks.” Despite being both ethnically Greek and Orthodox Christians, they were herded into refugee camps throughout Greece and often mistreated by the locals and demonized by the Greek media as foreigners and strangers.

Life in Greece was brutal for the first generation of refugees but slowly, they got jobs, picked up the pieces of their shattered lives and began assimilating into Greek life. Because they were considered “different” by the mainland Greeks, they were forced to create their own societies and cultural organizations.

Many Pontians who couldn’t make ends meet in Greece migrated to Europe, Australia and North America, as well.

Fast forward to 2016 and specifically to the city of Atlanta, where The Pappas Post was present at the annual Pan-Pontian Youth Cultural and Folkloric Festival, where hundreds of young people from throughout the United States and Canada came together to sing, dance, learn and celebrate their Pontian culture and heritage.

What’s so striking isn’t only that these people have survived— four generations after they should have been extinguished from the face of humanity, but unlike other diaspora Greek youth who return to their islands and the villages and ancestral homelands— these Pontian youth have no homeland. Pontos today, doesn’t exist.

Unlike Crete, where the Pancretan Youth can return to and be re-energized and re-connected with their heritage; or Chios, where the diaspora can return to see village festivals and meet and connect with the culture— Pontos doesn’t exist anymore. It was a land that their grandparents and ancestors were kicked out of— forced to flee for their lives, if they weren’t killed already.

It’s a remarkable thing to see and hear young kids— second, third, even fourth generation removed, talking about “Trapezounta” and “Samsounda” and other towns and villages where their ancestors once lived, or sharing their dances from specific regions— only a memory now and not even their own, but that of a several generations passed.

The Pan-Pontian Youth Festival was organized by the local chapter in Atlanta, representing Pontians from the Southeastern United States and spearheaded by Kyriakos “Sandy” Papadopoulos, a second generation Pontian-American whose family was exiled to Russia, then to Greece after Russian expulsions of Greeks– and finally to the United States as immigrants.

The weekend included workshops on history, including the difficult topic of the genocide, which their grandparents faced, as well as cooking demonstrations on traditional Pontian food, dance workshops and lessons— even costume workshops on how to wear the traditional Pontian attire and how girls should braid their hair the traditional way.

Of course, like all Greek celebrations, music and dance was the centerpiece of the weekend— and it was impressive.

In a symbolic move, the organizers had all of the youth, dancing in unison in a single line, forming a massive single circle— the way these dances have been performed and celebrated for over 3,000 years— happening again and again over the generations, surviving wars and genocide— and finding a home right here in Atlanta, Georgia in 2016.

Enjoy our multimedia tour of the Pan-Pontian Youth Festival

Dance workshops were led by expert Pontian dance instructors from Greece

Cooking demonstrations were given to all young people by the “elders” and experts of Pontian cooking

Masters of Pontian traditional dress gave lessons on how to wrap kerchiefs and even how women should braid their hair


Workshops on history and the genocide of the Pontian people were held, with student guides passed out to all in attendance

Workbooks and history brochures designed especially for young people were handed out to all in attendance.

Workbooks and history brochures designed especially for young people were handed out to all in attendance.

Performances by youth dance groups from throughout North America


The Grand Finale of the Weekend– a Pontian Youth Flash Dance Mob at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, at the AHEPA Tribute Statue


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