In recent years, there has been a growing interest in researching family history, especially among immigrant populations around the world. For those from the areas affected by the Greek Genocide, the deliberate ethnic cleansing of ethnic and religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire and during the founding of the modern state of Turkey, it can difficult to find sources in English to help with the search. History and Culture of Greeks from Pontos Black Sea by Sam Topalidis is a useful resource in English for those interested in the Pontic Greeks.
Topalidis who is from Canberra, Australia, acknowledges that history is written with an agenda, and he is proud of his Pontic roots, and has been researching extensively since the year 2000 when he began looking into his own family history. Inspired by his mother’s family stories, A Pontic Greek History, was published in 2007 and includes a summary of the history of Pontos.
Topalidis’ latest book is a collection of his articles and research from 2008-2016 which also appear online along with new chapters on family history. As he noted in his preface to the book, “There is a great need to record well-researched history and culture of these people from Pontos to pass onto our youth, before it becomes ‘air-brushed’ by national agendas.”
From the very first chapter, Topalidis writes that the focus of Pontic history should not be on the atrocities committed during the Genocide, but on the distinctive culture of the Pontic Greeks, the language, music and dance. The efforts by various Pontic associations around the world lobbying for governments to recognize the Genocide are also mentioned while Topalidis wonders whether Turkey’s refusal to recognize it stems from economic concerns, for example, that descendants will demand compensation for lost property.
Topalidis begins at the very beginning in this history, discussing the earliest settlements of Greeks in the Black Sea region from about the 7th century BC though Greeks were aware of the region from at least the 8th century BC, if not earlier. The development of trade routes and cities allowed many Pontic Greeks to thrive through the course of history and the rise and fall of various empires. Also included are sections on the history of the largest towns of Trabzon and Samsun, the Theoskepastos monastery, the Pontic Greek dialect, and on the Crypto-Christians, people who converted to Islam and publicly practiced that faith but continued to maintain the Christian faith at home in private. If Crypto-Christians still exist today in the Trabzond region is not known for certain, Topalidis writes, adding that “anecdotal stories exist of Pontic Greeks visiting Pontos and meeting Turks who speak Romeyka [the Pontic Greek dialect] and display the cross signifying they are Christian (or at least Crypto-Christian).”
The chapters on Pontic Society and Culture and on Musical Instruments are an especially valuable resource for the younger generations to learn and understand about the Pontic Greek customs and traditions. The bibliography included in the book is impressive and offers the reader a wonderful opportunity to further expand their knowledge and understanding through the more detailed works listed.
The maps and photographs in the book further highlight the history and rich cultural heritage of Pontos.
History and Culture of Greeks from Pontos Black Sea by Sam Topalidis is available online from Kyriakidis Publishers: https://www.afoikyriakidi.gr/el/history-and-culture-of-greeks-from-pontos-black-sea.