Returning to My Greek Roots— In Turkey; Finding Cretans in the Process


Back in 2010, I had made the craziest, stupidest, yet smartest decision of my life. With a ridiculous idea of connecting to my ancestral roots, which are Hellenic and originate from the majestic historical city of Smryna, I picked up from New York City and moved to Izmir (Smyrna), Turkey.

Now I know I used a lot of contradictory synonyms just now, but that’s what living in Turkey is all about; contradictions. For example, people love the summer but hate the heat. Most people are Muslim, but love drinking raki. Everyone devours massive amounts of white bread and cheese, but remain stick thin. Everyone studies English for over 10 years, but can’t use simple present tense. But most importantly, it is a city that was heartlessly destroyed, never to regain its former glory.

Today, there is no simple sentence that can explain or would sum up my experience and feelings of what it’s like to live in this city. But I do know what keeps me here; my blood. I can’t describe it any other way. As tempting as it would be to return to New York, or even travel abroad and live in a fancy, prosperous city like Dubai or Hong Kong, the weight of my cultural heritage and the memories passed down from my grandparents who were forced out due to their religion in 1922, have laid the foundation of what I was meant to do here. That is to share my journey every step of the way.

In 2011, with the help and funding of some many supporters on Kickstarter, I was able to catch the eye of the Greek America Foundation. Through the endless support of GAF and Gregory Pappas, a true human being who understood my vision when most didn’t, worked with my company Crescent Street Films in executive producing the documentary film, Hello Anatolia. When production had wrapped in 2012, it quickly garnered acceptances to festivals and major screening events in the US and Greece.

From the American College of Greece in Athens to the Transatlantyk Film Festival in Poznan, Poland (to which I was welcomed personally by Academy Award-winning film composer Jan Kasmarek), Hello Anatolia became more than a film, but a call to action that would help inspire people to seek out their family’s roots.

When Hello Anatolia opened the New York City Greek Film Festival in fall of 2013, it not only inspired Greeks to visit their ancestral homes in Turkey, but also Turkish people to come to Greece and to do the same.

When we were filming Hello Anatolia, there were of course, several scenes that we could not fit into the film. One of them was my experience traveling with a good friend of mine (a Turkish young man who incredibly learned Greek in a year) to the village of Urla (formerly Vourla) and speaking to the first person we bumped into, who was interestingly enough, a Greek-speaking Cretan Turkish man.


For those of you who may not know, the story of Cretan Turks is incredibly interesting. During the latter part of the Greco-Turkish war, and later, the population exchange, the Muslim population of Crete, deemed as ‘Turks’, were forced off the island and sent to Turkey in exchange for the Christian populations from what became the new Turkish state. This Muslim population, who predominately spoke the Cretan dialect of Greek, dressed in Cretan clothes, and saw their island as home, would carry over this heritage to Smyrna (now Izmir), where it still survives today. The Cretan-Turkish population is rather large today in Izmir, with many of its members speaking Greek.

As a director, I had it as a part of my original idea to capture conversations with this community, as they, like my great grandparents, were the victims of a terrible population exchange. The scene ended up hitting the cutting room floor however due to creative reasons. As you will see from the video, the man we met, Fetih Hasan, was incredibly nice and went on to show us his restoration of an old Greek house that he grew up in. The conversation goes from good to great when he offers us a family heirloom which came from Crete; the place he terms as ‘patrida’.



  1. Kathy Boulukos on

    Fascinating insight into a painfulperiod in the Smyrna disaster. Congratulations to this filmmaker. I too have roots in Smyrna and Crete

  2. I have family that fled in 1922. What I have left is copies of exit documents and a cover story from my late yiayia who didn’t want the family to know things. I really wish someone would be able to help me but no one reads ottoman arabic I keep being told.

    I really wish I could find our family’s real last name and I know they are in the docs somewhere. I have heard rumblings that the name Bijan is one. We are Greek Orthodox who were caught in the uprising like many innocents.

    • Patricia, I too have remenants of family that fled Turkey between 1919-1922, but from the Pontos, unfortunately many had perished during the attacks on the village regions. What I have found out, is that the likelihood of finding specific information of ancestors is almost zero, yet, I also believe that there would be extensive records kept in the Greek Orthodox Patriarchs offices in Istanbul that have not yet been sorted or archived, and are probably centuries old.If you research on how the Greek Orthodox regional bishops operated and who they reported to, you will find that all records, from all regions would have been sent to Istanbul. I have been told this by other Istanbul born Greeks who fled in the 1950’s-60’s, and were privy to seeing the rooms these archives were housed prior to their hasty departures.

  3. margaret kourtesis on

    I have enjoyed all these interesting topics and stories there is so much history which should never be lost We must all support each other to help Greece to keep our Greekness alive together we are strong devided we fall .

  4. I wish the destroyed Turkish villages and disaster they have faced during the Greek Army occupation wasn’t left out. That is another part of this story.
    Also the population exchange was the idea of Venizelos Turkey just complied with that wish in order to stop excalating individual revenge seeking.

    The people who has Ottoman documents can search and trace back their properties left in Turkey.
    contact they can help you through it

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