“When I was little I used to play in the ruins of Levissi. One warm spring day I saw some beautiful flowers in an overgrown garden. I went inside to pick a flower, but as I touched it a cold feeling overcame me that made me let go. I left the garden knowing these flowers were not mine to take.”
-Excerpt from an interview of a Turkish lady who grew up in Makri, a once-thriving Greek village in Turkey that saw its entire Greek population disappear almost overnight in the 1920s.
In October of 2015 I stumbled across an online article in the Hürriyet Daily News, announcing the imminent public auction of Kayaköy, the former Greek village of Levissi.
The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism was planning to lease one third of Levissi to the highest bidder for the purpose of turning it into a large hotel complex with modern tourist facilities.
I had visited Levissi 25 years ago and again in 2002 when it was already apparent that the Kaya Valley was encroached upon by the Tourism developments of Ölüdeniz, Fethiye, (the former Greek town of Makri), and the artificial tourist settlement of Hisarönü.
Ölüdeniz is a lagoon that can be found depicted in almost any Turkish tourism advert. It attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Unfortunately these tourists do not come to see the Byzantine remains adjacent to this lagoon.
They come for the beach, the cheap bars, clubs and restaurants. As a result the Byzantine remains of Ölüdeniz where systematically destroyed to make room for hotels. What remains is illegally encroached upon until the last remains will disappear into rubble, supporting some hotels’ concrete foundations.
This is possible, because the building of structures on forbidden property is penalized in Turkey by such laughingly low fines that the landlords already budget for this expense during the planning stages of construction.
Having witnessed the destruction of historic remains in Turkey, I have no doubt that a partial lease of Levissi will result in the eventual disappearance of the entire village. Alarmed, I set out in June 2016 to film what is left of Levissi and to interview the local Turkish population. Through the interviews it became apparent that the majority of locals are supporting the hotel development. Tourism is inflating local property values. Illegal construction in the Kaya Valley is extremely profitable to anyone involved. I was told, that even a Lycian tomb was turned to gravel, to make room for the summer home of a wealthy politician.
As I continued the interviews in Kaya something else became apparent: The narrative of the events taking place in Makri and Levissi, leading up to the population exchange of 1923, seemed to hardly exist. Most people told that the Rumlar (the Turkish word for Greeks whose home was Asia Minor, meaning Romans), and the Turks, under Ottoman rule, lived happily together. There was a war, but that was the politicians’ doing. It hardly affected the community of Levissi and in 1923 the Christians had to leave. Their Turkish friends waved them good bye, holding on to their property, awaiting their return.
Being born in Vienna, a city that will forever carry the guilt and mourn for the loss of its vibrant Jewish community, I am no stranger to the sanitation of historic tragedies. The more interviews I conducted in Turkey the more it became apparent that the tragedy that was inevitable, in a war resulting in the deportation of an entire people, was hardly acknowledged.
I realized that today Levissi is a ghost town without a history. I believe Levissi and the people who had to leave their homes deserve this history to be remembered, and I believe that this history can save Levissi from destruction.
Having found a source online that made brief mention of Levissi refugees escaping to the Greek island of Kastellorizo, I boarded a ferry and arrived on this incredibly picturesque island in early July of 2015.
This was a long shot. I did not know anyone on the island and was just hoping to find someone whose ancestors may have come from Levissi. Kastellorizo had seen its own tragedy in World War II and I ended up visiting the island exactly as the Greek banks locked their doors on the people at the height of last summer’s financial crisis.
I spent a week on the island, filming views that are probably reminiscent of Levissi, but though I found descendants from Kalkan, I was not able to find anyone with roots in Levissi or Makri. I was, however, told that Australia would be where I would find the history I was seeking.
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With the help of members of the Greek community in Melbourne, Adelaide, Sydney, Perth and Brisbane I was able to find thirteen descendants of Levissi families living in Australia. I have furthermore found descendants in Toronto, Rhodes, London, Athens and Istanbul.
On June 6th I will embark to record the history that has been lost for so long. I expect to film in Australia for three weeks. Anyone wishing to participate can reach me through the film’s website.
I would furthermore like to, humbly, ask for support of this project. Ghosts of Levissi, is entirely privately financed. There is no studio, television station, or organization funding this documentary. Equipment and travel expenses amount to considerate sums and any contribution would be of tremendous help! I have set up a Patreon account for donations HERE.
Patreon works through monthly contributions, which are cancelable at any time. A Patreon link can also be found on the website. With some support I am hoping to be able to travel to Greece, Britain, Turkey and Canada in November to record the history of descendants living there.
Once post-production is complete, I expect to release the film to festivals around the world. I expect the film will restore some of Levissi’s lost history, and hope it will help protect its remains through the respect this history deserves.
I dream of a screening in Levissi in the presence of all descendants I could find. This dream is well beyond my means, but maybe someone who reads this can make it happen.
About the filmmaker: Joerg Schodl is a Vienna-born professor of film and television at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. He has been living in the United States since 1997. Prior to teaching he worked in Los Angeles in the high speed film industry. He is a cinematographer, and this is his first time directing a film. Ghosts of Levissi is a low budget production that he is funding out of pocket and filming when his teaching schedule permits him.