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Hellenic History Foundation Raising Funds for Catastrophe Documentary

Αssociated Press

People crowded into boats to escape from the Catastrophe of Smyrna 1922. (Photo: Museum of Asia Minor Hellenism "Filio Hademenou" in Nea Filadelfeia, Eurokinissi/Tatiana Bollari)

ATHENS – The Hellenic History Foundation (IDISME) is planning to produce a documentary on the Asia Minor Catastrophe and Dr. Irini Sarioglou, Director of IDISME, shared the details of this project with The National Herald in the hopes that the Greek-American community will support the funding of the project.

Dr. Sarioglou told TNH, “You are aware that we approach the 100th Anniversary of the Great Catastrophe that befell our ancestors, influenced all our lives and transferred many of us to the USA.

“The Hellenic History Foundation (Ίδρυμα Ιστορικών Μελετών, ΙΔ.ΙΣ.ΜΕ., IDISME) in Athens (www.idisme.gr) is planning to produce a documentary on the Asia Minor Disaster and is in need of funding for the project.”

She continued, “I am hoping that even in these difficult times, the love we have for our Pappous and Yiayias and their stories (many of which remain untold) will rouse us to support this project.”

Dr. Sarioglou explained, “The documentary is based on a book, Patrida Aksehasti Mikra Asia by Mrs. Vasiliki Ralli (now aged 98); her parents originated from the island of Moschonissi (now called Cunda) at the Ayvali gulf –seven miles from the North Aegean island of Lesbos. 

“On September 12, 1922, the author's parents had packed their belongings in their boat to escape to Mytilene, when the father told the mother (pregnant at the time with Vassiliki) that he had to go to Ayvali to rescue his Koumbaro who was trapped there. He got captured by the Turks who had already entered Ayvali and spent 25 years in a Turkish labor camp in Adana, deep in Turkey, working as carpenter. His wife, Angeliki, managed to escape the genocide that took place in Moschonissi on September 14, 1922, and fled to Lesbos, the clothes she was wearing being her only possessions. In Thermi, a small village of Lesbos, she undertook to run a bakery owned by a Turkish woman who lived there, and successfully gave birth to her daughter on January 28, 1923. She heard no more about her husband, assuming he was dead, and she vowed that if she survived she would make a small chapel to Panagia - in thanks. Years later, in 1959, she donated a piece of land to build the chapel she had promised, and during the excavations, the holy relics of the Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene were found. It is where the later Thermi Monastery was founded (https://www.greeka.com/eastern-aegean/lesvos/sightseeing/lesvos-agios-raphael/).”

Dr. Sarioglou told TNH, “To finish the story, in 1948, the father escaped from the labor camp and made his way to a Turkish port on the Mediterranean Sea. An Italian sea captain took him aboard his ship saying his ship was on the way to New York, and that he would return to Athens soon. While working on the ship during a storm, he fell, fracturing his hip and ended up in a hospital at Albany, NY. He contacted the Greek Orthodox Church in Albany that sent letters to the Greek churches in Lesbos and located his wife. While arrangements were being made for a reunion, the father died at the hospital in Albany and was buried at the Graceland Cemetery.”

She noted that “years later, Dr. Angela Ralli (the granddaughter, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Patras) and her mother Vasiliki (the author) were able to locate the burial site tombstone in Albany, NY, with the precious help of a distant relative, Dr. Richard Moraites whose origin is also from Moschonissi. The tombstone is still at Graceland Cemetery.”

Dr. Sarioglou said, “This is indeed a unique story and is deserving of preservation. We cannot forget our history, heritage, the sacrifices and resilience of our ancestors. The main goal of the Hellenic History Foundation is to record the contemporary Greek history as best as it can. Right now, the Foundation is completing a new documentary on Georgios Seferis and his hometown Vourla of Asia Minor.”

Dr. Sarioglou also noted that some filming has already begun on the project on Moshonissia and Ayvali a few years ago including three interviews with Mrs. Vasiliki Ralli. However, due to the lack of sponsorship, the project was not finished.

For those interested in supporting the project, donations may be sent to the Hellenic History Foundation bank account at the National Bank of Greece. 

If the project for one reason or another cannot be completed, the donations will be returned to the sponsors. 

National Bank of Greece

Bank account details: ACCOUNT NUMBER: 48080022

IBAN: GR 93 0110 0750 0000 0754 8080 022

SWIFT BIC: ETHNGRAA

Once IDISME has raised the needed funding, approximately 50,000 euros ($60,000 USD), it will take about one year to complete the project since much of the filming has been done already.

The finished product will include English subtitles and will be available on the internet and on DVD.

“Thank you very much for your interest to help us raise the necessary funding so that we can complete this unique project,” Dr. Sarioglou concluded.

The Hellenic History Foundation also organizes the International Documentary Film Festival in Kastellorizo every August. Please see the link for more information: https://youtu.be/gpWg2wt1tUI.

More information about The Hellenic History Foundation (IDISME) is available online: https://www.idisme.gr/.