My name is Mihalis Veziris and I was born to Greek Smyrniotes parents: Manolis and Aphrodite Veziris (nee Papadakis) in 1900. Our Father and mother were born in 1860 and 1865 and married in May 1885. My three siblings George Maria, and Alexandra were born in 1890, 1906 and 1905 respectively. Manolis inherited a carpet factory from his father, Iacovos who died in 1900 which he ran until 1922.
We lived in Bournabat, a suburb of Smyrna, where wealthy Greek and Levantine families lived in beautiful palatial homes with fine gardens, manicured lawns, and also hosted their famous garden parties. These parties were attended by the prominent Greek, Armenian, Levantine and Turkish families of Smyrna. I remember our family was always invited to these lavish functions where I got the chance to mix and play with the children of these elite families.
I asked myself why were we invited to these wealthy houses? It all had to do with our grandfather who sold carpets to these rich people. He had become very good friends with some of the Levantine families who invited him into their inner circle. It was considered a privilege to be part of this elite group which also raised the status of our family’s carpet business. It opened doors to develop his business interests.
Our carpet factory had fierce competition from the Oriental Carpet Factory but always managed to do good business in Smyrna and beyond. My father was very proud of the quality of the carpets he produced and exported them to Athens, London, Marseilles, and Constantinople. We were about to fulfill our first order from the United States but couldn’t complete it because of the intervention of the great war.
Our family wasn’t as rich as the Whittal, Paterson, Woods, Papazoglou, Balatzis, Matirosian and Edhem families. Nevertheless, we were very comfortable with servants to do the shopping, cleaning, washing, and gardening. Our mother stayed home took care of us and supervised our household. She made sure that every task was performed promptly and treated the servants with respect and kindness.
Manolis had two very good close friends named Stefanos Manos and Christos Papadoukas who were involved in the import/export business. My father grew up and went to school with them establishing a lifetime friendship that was curtailed in September 1922. I also became very good friends with the Manos and Papadoukas children. Our families spent wonderful family summer picnics at Lake Tantalus.
The scenery was simply breathtaking with crystal blue water and surrounded by a wooded forest. Oh! the mountains formed a fantastic backdrop to the lake. We would go rowing and swimming in its crystal blue waters. Many of the rich families would spend their day of relaxation here. They were wonderful times full of nostalgia and innocence.
My parents enrolled me in the Evangelical School of Smyrna in 1906 and graduated in 1917. This school was open to all children irrespective of race and religion but was mainly attended by Greeks. I studied foreign languages, history, geography, writing, and geometry. My favorite subject was learning foreign languages such as English, French, Turkish and German. These languages would stand me in good stead in the coming years. I remember in 1909, the Young Turks in Constantinople passed a law that made the teaching of Turkish compulsory in all schools across the Empire.
The Evangelical school possessed a fine museum full of archaeological artifacts and a library of some 50,000 volumes. This school rivaled some of the best schools in Athens and also its graduate certificates were recognized by the Greek Ministry of Education. This recognition allowed rich Greek Smyrniot families to send their sons to study at the University of Athens without having to undertake the compulsory university entrance examination.
My sisters attended Homer School for Girls which had been established by a wealthy Frenchman in 1882. They wanted to become teachers. Of course, that was a noble profession but the poor things never graduated due to events beyond their control. If my sisters had graduated, they would have been able to teach in Greece as well.
In 1908, two important events happened in my life. The first was the Young Turk revolution in the summer of that year and George migrating to America. I remember my father feeling so happy when the Young Turks seized power in Constantinople promising to treat all the Greeks and Armenians equally. He thought that good days were coming at last. However, things changed quickly within a year with the slogan “Turkey for the Turks.” My father felt he had been deceived and had some apprehension about our family’s future in Turkey. However, the Turkish Governor, Essad Pasha reassured the Greeks and Armenians that they had nothing to fear so long as he was in charge. That proved reassuring for my father. In fact, our father managed to become good friends with Essad which also helped our carpet business. Essad was able to get his rich Pasha friends to buy from us. I never found out how our father established his friendship with Essad.
George’s decision to go to America caught my family by complete surprise. He had been planning this for some time. A Smyrniot friend who had migrated to America in 1902 convinced George that this was the land of golden opportunity. Apparently, this was the clincher that got George motivated to leave us. George was a restless soul who found it difficult to work in our carpet business. He was the adventurous type who wanted to prove that he could make his own luck far away from Smyrna.
On the other hand, I don’t know if other reasons may have caused him to go to another country. I can’t recall whether his relations with our father were good or not. I knew that he loved and was close to our mother. My mother adored George,
I remember when I saw him leave Smyrna. I was devastated that I had lost my best friend to whom I always looked up too. We got on well but like brothers, we had our fights sometimes over silly things. I knew that someday that I would see him again. Our sisters were too young to remember him. They only knew him from family photographs. My mother was heartbroken when he left but our father’s position was ambivalent. I shall continue my story with war clouds building up in the Balkans in 1912.