ASTORIA – The documentary film Smyrna: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City – 1900-1922 by Maria Iliou was screened at the Stathakion Center in Astoria on September 23. The 2012 film highlighted the cosmopolitan character of the city, as well as the indelible mark the city in Asia Minor left on Hellenism and all those who called it home from the height of its period of prosperity to its tragic destruction in 1922.
Among the historians who appear in the documentary, Professor Alexander Kitroeff of Haverford College, historical advisor on the film, gave a brief introduction referring not only to the history of Smyrna, but also to the film production, Iliou’s directorial technique, and the various screenings including 22 at universities with departments of Modern Greek Studies across the United States.
Historical footage from the time period, along with photographs and testimony from eyewitnesses, descendants of Greek refugees, and the perspective of historians tell the story of one of the most definitive, if not the definitive moment, in modern Greek history.
Prof. Kitroeff spoke to The National Herald about the film, noting that in addition to the nightmare of the disaster, the documentary aims to focus on the cosmopolitan character and the great heritage of Smyrna, which is often overshadowed by the horrific destruction of the city in 1922.
“We brought the film here to Astoria, the heart of Hellenism in America, to show this side of a very historic anniversary. The Asia Minor disaster is a focal point in the history of Greece and Hellenism. We strive to show in the film precisely what happened objectively, but still respecting those who lost their lives and those who lived through those terrible moments, especially on the waterfront of Smyrna,” said Kitroeff, pointing out that the character of Smyrna was by no means lost in the flames.
“We conclude with an optimistic tone, according to which there is a tradition. Smyrna has left us many things. Yes, the Turks destroyed it, burned it, so many people were killed, but there is a history, a tradition of cosmopolitanism and the progress of the Greeks. These should not be forgotten,” the professor concluded.
Among those present were Consul General of Greece in New York Konstantinos Koutras, Consul of Greece Spyridoula-Ioanna Zochiou, Consul General of the Republic of Cyprus Alexis Phedonos-Vadet, Georgios Michailides- Head of Economic & Commercial Affairs at the General Consulate of Greece, Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York President Cleanthis Meimaroglou, former Federation president Petros Galatoulas, Dr. Ioannis Efthimiopoulos- the Director of the Greek Education Department of the Archdiocese of America, and Timoleon Kokkinos- former president of the Greek Teachers Association “Prometheus.”
The chair of the Federation of Hellenic Societies Cultural Committee, Avgerini Catechis, welcomed the attendees and gave a brief biographical note on Prof. Kitroeff, highlighting his academic accomplishments and his many books on the Greek diaspora.
Federation President Meimaroglou referred to the historical significance of the events and noted that the Turkish atrocities against the Greeks and Armenians should not be forgotten. He added that the 100th grim anniversary of the Smyrna Catastrophe is just four years away.
The audience gave a round of applause as the credits rolled and a Q&A session with Prof. Kitroeff followed. A Greek-American woman whose parents were from Smyrna commented that the film should be promoted to the wider American public, either on the big screen or on television, in order to make the historical truth more widely known.
According to Prof. Kitroeff, the film has been screened on PBS in Chicago, but the effort to promote it further, with respect to the film rights, distribution, and the cost, is difficult. The film has previously been screened in New York, as part of the New York Greek Film Festival, and also in Greece, through the Benaki Museum.
(Photo by TNH/Kostas Bej)