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ITHAKA ON THE HORIZON: A Greek-American Journey



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24 November 2012


Simon Baddeley

I have spent many hours trying to learn about the complicated and dramatic history that underlies these scenes of poignant longing and grief. There is still too great a silence - especially in the education of the young (as opposed to their indoctrination) about the events that could lead to women tourists ('tourists' is the wrong word I think) clinging to the walls of some houses in Çeşme:
Greece, except for the front-line Ionian Islands defended by Venice for four centuries was a part of the Ottoman Empire until the founding of the original Greek Kingdom in 1843 – the Peloponnese, Aegean islands within about 100 miles of Athens and what is now Central Greece from south of Prevesa in the west to the tip of Euboea to the east. Twenty years later the British Protectorate – not colony – of the Ionian Islands became part of Greece. Thessaly was joined in 1881. In 1913, after another 30 years, as a result of the Balkan Wars, Macedonia, Crete and the islands of the north eastern Aegean became Greek – Samos, Chios, Lesvos, Mitylene, and Lemnos. In 1920 under the leadership of Eleutherios Venizelos the hold of the ‘big idea’, in his words, of a “greater Greece of two continents and five seas”, encompassing those parts of Turkey with strong Greek Orthodox populations, the International powers promoted but never ratified the Treaty of Sèvres, ceding to Greece parts of Asia Minor, Smyrna and its hinterlands with North Western Turkey up to Constantinople, giving Greece back its Byzantine capital, a part of the Black Sea coast and all the northern shores of the Sea of Marmora and of the Bosphorus. Turkey’s Grey Wolf, Kemal Atatürk, put a bloody end to that dream in 1922 as allied powers turned their back on Greece, treating Turkey as a preferred ally in the eastern Mediterranean while European leaders fearing the irredentist insurgency and violent repression associated with such bloodily settled borders promoted the Treaty of Lausanne and the great exchange of populations (2 millions forced to give up their ancient homes - Christians in Turkey to Greece, Muslims in Greece to Turkey). This heartbreaking sequence is denoted in the mural dated 1928 that I saw in the Taverna in Igoumentsa the other day – grief for all involved (who knows what further heartbreak it avoided). But via Lausanne in 1923 Greece was ceded Thrace, between Macedonia and a new Turkish border 100 miles west of Istanbul. Then 24 years later after the end of WW2 Italy in 1947 ceded Greece the islands of the south east Aegean – the Dodecanese – tiny Castelorizo, Rhodes, Kos and other island south of Samos, east of Crete. Cyprus, both Greek and Turkish, partakes in the history of contested borders, never became part of the Hellenic Kingdom or Republic but marks the last struggle over the latter’s present boundaries. This briefest of outlines explains the greater prevalence, compared to Britain, of frozen conflict around the edges of modern Greece, some as in the case of Kosovo, Cyprus, islands within throwing distance of Turkey, the former Yugoslav country now called the Republic of Macedonia, threatening to thaw, reviving ancient feuds, for the moment festering as chants in the stands at football matches and abuse exchanged in cyberspace.


Hello Simon,

Good to hear from you. Hope you and family are well.

Sometimes I think we are prisoners of our own past. Was it not Shakespeare who said, "The past is prologue," and so it is.

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  • Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you're destined for. But don't hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you're old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you've gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you wouldn't have set out. She has nothing left to give you now. And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. C. P. Cavafy


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