A Conversation with Maria Iliou, director of “FROM BOTH SIDES OF THE AEGEAN: Expulsion and Exchange of Populations, Turkey-Greece: 1922-1924”, March 20, 2014
More than three decades ago I traveled to Europe for the first time. There were three things I wanted to do while I was there. The first was to go to a tattoo convention in Amsterdam. I did that but it nearly cost me the rest of my trip…but that’s a story for another day.
The second thing I wanted to do was visit Mount Athos. A friend had been there a few years earlier and his tales of a place where there were only monasteries and a life that was lived like it was still in the Middle Ages fascinated me.
It was while I was on my way to Mount Athos when I first heard about about the exchange of populations that happened back in the 1920s. I’m not sure how I heard about it…probably it was in my guidebook, maybe it was someone I met on one of my many bus rides. I just don’t remember, but what I do remember was how shocked I was that I’d never heard of it before. I was a history major in college. Granted my field of study was the early Christian era but even so how was it possible that I’d never heard of this? The only thing more shocking to me was the story of the destruction of Smyrna. Again, something I’d never heard of.
My stay on Athos was… memorable? unreal? surreal? Ah, I could probably fill an entire page with adjectives to describe my few days on Athos. Especially since I was there shorty after an earthquake struck northern Greece. That just added to the whole bizarre nature of that part of my journey.
One other thing I should mention about that part of my trip. I think it was when I got back to Ouranoupoli, the last town before the frontier for Athos, that I somehow got into the into the Byzantine tower that dominates the beach. There I met a wonderful old woman and saw beautiful rugs hanging high up on the walls of the tower. I remember wondering how they could possibly have been hung so far up the walls. All these years later I think the woman I met may well have been Joice Loch who, with her husband, Sydney Loch, ran a Quaker refugee camp to help the people who had been displaced by the exchange and helped them start the rug weaving business there.
Today I’m still shocked by how little most Americans know about this period of history. Jeffery Eugenides’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Middlesex, has exposed us to the horrors of Smyrna but what about the great exchange of populations. Many of us know about what happened between India and Pakistan back in 1947 or the Babylonian exile mentioned in the bible but few have any idea of what happened during the early part of the 1920s.
Tonight I’ll be speaking to Maria Iliou about her new movie, From Both Sides of the Aegean. It opens tomorrow (March 21) at the QuadCinema located at 34 West 13th Street (212-255-2243) and runs to April 3.
Last year I saw her film: Smyrna, The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City, 1900-1922. It was a wonderful film. I look forward to seeing her new film.