EMBCA Presented Hellenic Orphans Taken Abroad 1821-1960s

February 1, 2021

NEW YORK — The East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) presented the Hellenic Orphans Taken Abroad from 1821 through the 1960’s Panel Discussion Webinar on January 31. The fascinating discussion was moderated by EMBCA President Lou Katsos.

The distinguished panel included Professor Gonda Van Steen, the Koraes Chair of Modern Greek and Byzantine History and Director of the Centre for Hellenic Studies at King's College; historian, educator, author Constantine Hatzidimitriou; and Dr. Theodosios Kyriakidis, the Chair of Pontic Studies in the School of History and Archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Greek-American Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who noted that his grandparents came from Kalymnos and his wife’s family is from Epirus, also participated in the event. He said that he is fascinated by anything to do with Hellenes and the history of Greece and was eager to hear from the panelists.

As noted by Katsos in the event description, the etymology of the word orphan is Hellenic (orphanos) and refers to a child whose parents have died, are unknown or have permanently abandoned them. Wars, genocide, economic problems, cultural stigmas, social chaos, natural disasters, and plagues are just some of the factors that have left tens of thousands of orphans behind through the last two centuries.

Katsos noted the April, 1822 Chios Massacre as an example.

As Katsos said, “We hope this panel discussion and conversation contributes to a wave of research and continuing discussions on this very important but not often, and by most rarely, discussed topic.”

He added, “This event and others we have had, and are being planned are part of EMBCA’s American Hellenic Revolution of 1821 Bicentennial Committee series of events focusing not only on the Revolution but also importantly on the American, Diaspora and International aspects and influences of the Revolution for its upcoming 200 Year Anniversary.”

Dr. Constantine Hatzidimitriou described how he first became interested in the subject while working on the book Founded on Freedom & Virtue: Documents Illustrating the Impact in the United States of the Greek War of Independence, 1821-1829. He cited The National Herald contributors Steve Frangos and Dan Georgakas for their help, support and insights into history which encouraged him in his research. Hatzidimitriou also noted that many of the earliest “orphans” brought to the U.S. in the 19th century were not orphans who had lost both parents. He mentioned an unpublished manuscript in the New-York Historical Society by Christos Evangelides from his diary of the 1830s about his experiences as one of the children rescued from war-ravaged Greece and brought to the U.S. Evangelides recorded, among other things, going to the post office to mail a letter to his mother and sister in Greece. Another example, Christophorus Castanis, wrote a book about his captivity and escape as a young survivor of the Massacre of Chios, titled The Greek Exile. He also recounted visiting his mother in the homeland. Evangelinos Apostolides Sophocles, who became a Harvard professor and championed Demotic Greek, and John C. Zachos, physician, literary scholar, elocutionist, author, lecturer, inventor, and educational pioneer who was an early proponent of equal education rights for African Americans and women, were also mentioned.

Dr. Kyriakidis spoke about the Pontic orphans who were orphaned as a direct result of the Genocide against Christians in Turkey. His own maternal grandfather was one of the survivors and recalled escaping as a child with his grandmother and hearing the cries of dying children calling for their mothers along the road on a death march. The orphanages, Orthodox Christian, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic, took in many of the orphans with many relocated to orphanages in Greece, but others were sent to Muslim orphanages or Turkish families and forcibly converted to Islam under threats of starvation and worse. The role of American organizations was highlighted including Near East Relief and the Red Cross in saving 132,000 mainly Greek and Armenian children’s lives. Dr. Kyriakidis also mentioned the stories of islamized children who grew up to share their stories and find their Greek relatives in Greece. He mentioned Tamama, a book by author George Andreadis, which was adapted into the film Waiting for the Clouds by Turkish director Yesim Ustaoglu, and a Turkish scholar, whose grandfather was one of the converted children, who is researching the subject. 

Prof. Van Steen spoke about the more recent adoptions of Greek children during the Cold War era. She noted that 3,200 Greek children came to the U.S. through adoptions in this period as well as 600 sent to the Netherlands, and invited anyone who was one of those adopted children to contact her since her research is ongoing. Her presentation, based on her most recent book, Adoption, Memory, and Cold War Greece: Kid pro quo?, highlighted the role of AHEPA and others in facilitating adoptions, and also the need for Greece to help make it easier for the adoptees, now in their 60s and older, to access their records since many would love to regain their Greek citizenship. Some of the “irregularities” were also noted as well as the recent books by the now adult adoptees in the U.S. and the Netherlands who searched for and found their Greek families.

Katsos concluded by thanking the panelists and all those watching, pointing out that further discussions will be scheduled, adding that EMBCA’s next online event takes place on Feb. 7 with many more upcoming events on the Hellenic Revolution scheduled for March.

More information is available online: https://embca.com.

The video of the presentation is also available on YouTube: 


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