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Antonis Mihailides: I am lucky

I consider myself lucky to have escaped from Amaysa thanks to the action of my very good long life Turkish friend named, Mehmet Pazavoglu. We grew up together in Samsun (Amissos) where we played together as young children. Our two families were the best of friends. Despite the ongoing conflict between the Greek army and the Kemalists,  Mehmet's family continued its friendship with my family. I remember other Turks sneering at Mehmet for being friendly with us Giaourithes. He didn't care what others thought. He simply was a decent caring person.

Our fathers were successful tobacco merchants in Samsun. They exported large amounts of tobacco to the US, Greece, and western Europe earning Turkish liras before the outbreak of the great war. The 1914-18 conflict had greatly reduced tobacco production but our fathers still managed to export some tobacco to overseas markets. There were two American cigarette companies: Bowyer Tobacco Corporation and Mitchell Cigarette Company who had buying agents in Samsun who evaluated the quality of the tobacco before its export to the US. After the great war, a British company named Leicester Tobacco Inc., set up an agency in Samsun to cover the Greek and European markets.

I attended  Anatolia College as a boarding student in Merzifon. I started my education in 1905 and graduated in mid-1918. Mehmet also attended here and we enjoyed each other's company. I spent the summer vacation with my family and my mother would cry at the start of each new school year. She wouldn't see me for almost 9 months until the following summer. I enjoyed my schooling where I received a good education learning geography, history, and several languages.

Anatolia College was founded by American missionaries in the early 19th century. It had a seminary, a kindergarten, a high school for girls and boys, and offered tertiary level studies. A hospital and an orphanage was part of the college. The teaching faculty were Greek, Armenian, and American. However, the Armenian teachers were deported during the great war and never seen again. Our Greek and American teachers were untouched by the Ottoman Governor, Fehraddin Pasha. He opposed the deportation of the Armenians but remained governor throughout the war.

Fast forward to the middle of 1921. The Greek navy started shelling the Black Sea coastal towns of Trebizond, Kerasunda, Samsun, and Sinope hoping to force a Kemalist surrender. The Kemalists weren't scared and retaliated by deporting Greek men, women, and children into the Anatolian interior. For some inexplicable reason, my family had a reprieve. We read in the local newspapers that the Kemalists were engaged in a life and death struggle trying to repel a Greek occupation of its capital, Angora.

In the meantime, the Kemalists established the so-called courts of independence in Angora, Eskishehr, Konya, Isparta, Sivas, Kastamonou, Pozanti, and Diyarberkir to punish army deserters and anyone considered an enemy of the Kemalist regime in late 1920. Its proceedings were more like a kangaroo court where the accused didn't have legal counsel with no chance of appeal against their sentences. The accused once found guilty were summarily executed. Those fortunate enough to escape execution received long prison sentences. They were treated worse than animals whilst in jail.

In mid-August 1921, I visited family and friends in Amaysa which is located some 80 miles inland south from Samsun. I told Mehmet of my visit there which would prove important with the subsequent events that unfolded. I will never forget that black day of August 31 when Kemalist gendarmes arrested me as I was on my way to visit uncle Theodoro. "Why am I being arrested, tell me the charges", I said. "Shut up your traitorous dog", barked the gendarme.

I was taken to the governor's residence for interrogation. Fevzi Bey came flanked by two guards at his side to question me of what I knew about a Pontus club. "What Pontus club", I remarked. "Well, we have proof that the Pontus club is a front for the establishment of a Pontus Republic," he stated. " I know nothing about it", I said. "Let me be clear, we found incriminating documents in Greek, weapons, and maps at Anatolia College to foment an insurrection against Angora", Fevzi said.

I didn't believe for a minute that our Greek compatriots were involved in a conspiracy to establish a republic on Kemalist soil. After my interrogation, I was taken to a nearby prison where I was badly treated by the Turkish prison guards. The next day, I appeared before the Independence Court presided by Judge Emin Pasha who hailed from Samsun to hear the charges leveled against me. I had no legal counsel.  Emin Pasha read out the charges accusing me of being involved in a conspiracy to foment an insurrection against Angora. I couldn't believe what I was hearing coming out of the judge's mouth. I stood silently in the dock when the judge pronounced that I would be sentenced to death.

I was to be executed in seven days. I pondered whether some divine intervention might ensue to save me from death. Mehmet read about my court appearance and death conviction in the Samsun press. He hurried to Amaysa to see what he could do to save my life. Mehmet visited the governor in the hope that my death sentence could be commuted to prison time. Fevzi rebuked him for seeking to save the life of an infidel.

Mehmet was a resourceful individual. He bribed the prison guards who released me into his care. We quickly left and went to uncle Theo's house. I disguised myself as a Turk  wearing a collarless vest and a turban to avoid capture. We arrived in Samsum where he hid me and my family until he could arrange for our escape from Turkey. He arranged through an American named John Crothers of the Mitchell Cigarette Company for us to be taken to Constantinople in a US merchant ship.

Arriving in Constantinople, we immediately went to the Greek High Commission seeking permission to travel to Greece. Our entry visas were approved and finally to safety in the country of our ancient forbears. We were so glad to land in Piraeus.

I read in the Athenian press that our Greek elite in Pontus had been executed for an imaginary conspiracy. That was the Kemalist aim all along to kill all the Greeks in Pontus. Many years later, Mehmet visited us in Athens with his family. I was so glad to see him. We hugged each other as tears of joy streamed down our cheeks. Truly a great friend in my hour of desperation. I thank Mehmet for saving our lives.

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