The testimony of the town crier of Ayvalik as told by his son.
In 1922, I was saved because my father had a good grasp of the Turkish language and he was on good terms with the Turks. He was a town crier, a delali as he was known back then.
He was informed that everything was being destroyed and everyone would perish if we didn't hurry. To frighten him, they jokingly told him that the Turks had bad intentions. He came out that same evening after dark and shouted out aloud telling them to leave. He circled the village twice then hid. The following day, the Turks were looking for him. They wanted to cut him up into pieces. As people descending to the sea coast, they were searching for him in the crowd but we dressed him up in rags and he pretended to be blind. He was obese, a large man. Everyone knew him, but he was now being held by his two daughters, one on either side. He was stumbling and I was following them holding things in my arms. The security wasn't that strict at the time so we entered through a nearby alleyway. The women starting crying, so the guard allowed them through and we went directly to the port. Once inside, we wrapped him in a mat and the women sat on top of him until the boat set sail. It took us to Mytilene.
That was 1922, but what about 1914? Let's remember that persecution too. It was at the time that the Germans were advising the Turks – that dishonorable lot – to destroy us in order to erase us as an ethnic group. Let us also remember the German occupation during the second World War. We always find them in front of us. What if their people were being persecuted? How would they feel?
In 1914 war was declared and things at Ayvalik were immediately turned upside down. Many people fled to Greece. The Turks immediately blocked the sea transit routes and did not let anyone leave. We were blockaded for a year. But then they ordered everyone to evacuate Ayvalı. They put us with another 200 families into four-wheeled ox-drawn carts without us knowing where they were taking us. We walked all day and when the sun was about to set, they stopped the carts and got us off in order to rest and feed the oxen. I forgot to mention that we took with us whatever we could lift with our hands and some bread. Those who had that little bit of bread sat down to eat it, while those who had nothing went begging for some. Two hours later they got us moving again. We walked for 5-6 hours until we reached a place called Valanidia. There, we stayed outdoors on the carts while others rested on the ground. During the night we were attacked by Turks. They wanted to take all our girls. But the gendarmes escorting us resisted them along with all of us; young and old, and so they didn't take anyone. We didn't sleep all night. When the day dawned we took to the road again. We walked all day. And in the evening, as we passed through some winding roads we encountered some unruly Turks, but they didn't hurt us. But we were afraid because we not only had girls with us but also many pregnant women and others who were close to giving birth. As dusk arrived we reached an inn at Brousali. We stayed there one night and the next day we took off again and we walked for two days without food and water before arriving at Balu Kiseri [Balikesir]. There, they didn't allow us to stay at all. They immediately took us to the train station and put us on trains and we were taken to Sousourlou [Susurluk]. They put us in ox-carts again and we took to the roads and in three days we reached Tas Kiouprou [Tas Kopru] which is a large stone bridge. There they left us in the fields without giving us anything to eat or drink. All of us dived in to the large prickly weeds and we peeled and ate them. We spent several days there eating prickles. From there they brought new ox carts. They loaded us on and took us to a small village called Loumpat which is near lake Apollonias.
They made us get off there and then put us in boats and passed us over to the opposite shore. There we rested a bit until they found carts. We loaded our few clothes, the old men, old women and babies and then we took off again. The youth walked at the rear of the carts and in two days we arrived at Bursa. There, they took us to some shacks to stay. They gave us a mix of white and red corn and just after we ate it, due to fatigue and exhaustion we were passing blood and 16 people died. We left behind our first dead person here.
There were Greek doctors there but not a single doctor attended to the sick because the Turks didn't let them. There was a Diocese there and my father who was our leader who protected us because he spoke very good Turkish, went and asked them for permission to stay in Bursa but they didn't let us.
We stayed there for 10 days. For food they gave us corn flour and a bit of German soup but we were afraid so we didn't eat it. We went out begging to all the Greek houses who gave us food, while later the Diocese offered us some rations so we passed by as best we could. Then they took us out again to send us into the interior of Turkey. Most of us were walking for days with only a few carts for our clothes and for the elderly. We passed through various villages including Timpos and Kuyu Neser, and with much toil and hunger we reached Yenişehir. We thought we would stay there for a little to eat and rest but as soon as the Turks and the Turkish women and their children saw us, they began chasing us with sticks and stones while shouting, "Infidels, go away!" Finally they took us to some hostels and gave us some bread to eat but no food.
We had a woman with us who was a little intellectually disabled. This poor woman couldn't handle the hunger anymore so she went to a Turkish house. The Turkish lady there was kneading some bread and she was watching her from outside. As soon as the Turkish lady left, the woman went inside, opened the oven and took a piece of bread. But they saw her, caught her and began beating her. As soon as my father heard her cries he ran to save her. A Turk took a piece of wood and hit my father over his ear. It swelled so much that he was unwell for two days.
What else could the people do? They were hungry.
On one hand they would push us away while on the other, we the children would wander around all day and whatever people gave us we shared it amongst ourselves and ate it. We stayed there for 14 days and we were made to move on again because nobody would accept us. We loaded the carts and started again. Fortunately we were young and weren't as affected; we were able to survive. But the old men and old women and the pregnant women were crying. They didn't want to go anywhere. They would have preferred to stay there even if they were killed. But my father told them, "Be patient, they will allow us to rest somewhere." Throughout the entire journey he would encourage them. After another two days journey we reached a water mill and we unloaded the carts to rest and eat some bread and drink some water. During the night we were attacked and two girls and a woman of 55 years were kidnapped. No matter what we'd have done and no matter how much we'd have shouted, nothing would have been done because the guards were with them. The following day as we started out again, we found the woman dead beside a pole that was chest height. We couldn't find the girls. We started out again, however on the road we started feeling very tired. As soon as the elderly were left behind, the Turks just gave them a whipping and stabbed them with a knife and left them there to die. Along the way we left many people behind as they dropped dead here and there. People were getting sick from exhaustion and extreme fatigue. The weather was also getting so cold that we were freezing on the roads. After four days we reached Bilecik. There were many empty Armenian houses there because they had killed the Armenians. We negotiated with them to either let us stay there or take us to Sogut further inland. The next day we were taken to Sogut, but once there, they didn't want all of us to stay so they split us into two groups. Our group returned to Bilecik. On the road, due to the snowfall and the extreme cold, one of my brothers got hypothermia and everybody went to his aid thinking he was dead. My father however, quickly ran to a drug store and asked for some Argan oil. He started to massage him. He undressed him and after massaging him for an hour he came to life again. He saved him from certain death. Other children who were younger lost their toes. Such was the cold in those areas. The experience will remain in my memory for as long as I live.
We remained at Bilecik for two years. Everyone did something to get by. Those who had valuable clothes wandered through the villages exchanging them for food together with any jewelry they had. My father found a job as a baker, but our family was growing bigger each day. Orphans who had lost their parents due to typhoid and parents who were dying every day left behind orphans who remained alone in the streets. My father was afraid the Turks would take them and convert them so he gathered 25 orphans. And if you include the 15 individuals of our own direct family, there were now 40 people at our table.
One day, a little girl whose mother and father died was kidnapped by Turks. We learned about it but we couldn't find her because the Turks were hiding her. My father however kept an eye out for her. He asked people who he felt could learn more about the whereabouts of the girl, and after about a month he discovered where the little girl was. He staked out the place and when the Turk went out he went inside to take her.
However the girl didn't want to leave the Turkish lady because she was being fed well and started shouting in Turkish, “My mother!” The Turkish lady cried out to other Turks who caught my father and beat him with pieces of wood. But he didn't leave the child, he held on to her tightly, He also knew Turkish very well and made the Turks understand that the child was not theirs. He took the girl after putting up a great fight and took her home. She was crying and wanted to go back but he locked her up, fed her and took care of her. There were so many children at home that she eventually became re-accustomed.
Every evening he would gather all the children and he would say nice things to them and that we would go back to Ayvalık again and that there wouldn't be any Turks to terrorize us anymore and that we would live well. The children would watch him intently thinking they were hearing some fairy tale. They adored him because every night he would sometimes bring them mints, other times chickpeas; whatever it took to keep them happy.
In those two years things diminished considerably because a lot of people died. Then the Armistice arrived ending WW1 and we were all placed together and taken to the station at Kiouplia [Kuplu] and there they told us they would take us to Constantinople. They loaded us on trains and we reached the first station called Vizier Hani [Vezir Cami]. We then arrived at Nicomedia [Izmit] and stayed there in the trains, and at last we reached Constantinople, at Haidar Pasha. From there they took us to Catikioy [Kadıköy] and put us in a Greek school there. We stayed there for two months. All the Greeks raised money for us and prepared a soup kitchen for us until we left.
After two months they put us on a steamship and on the 2nd of January 1919 they transported us back to Ayvalık. Only half of us returned. Everyone went to their houses. My father still had the 25 orphans in our home like one big family. After a week passed he went out and shouted the names of all the children around Ayvalık and everyone came to take their children. Some of the children were collected by the brothers and sisters of the parents. People didn't know how to thank him. In fact the Chancellor as well as many officials congratulated him too. He said, “I did what a father should do for his children. I just feel sorry for our fellow town-folk who were killed on the streets and others who died from severe diseases.”
Translated from: Koinos Logos (Common Voice) by Elli Papadimitriou, 1st edition, Ermis, 2003.
Translated with the permission of the source.
- Ayvalik and the Ayvalik Islands (Moschonisia)