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I feel Minor Asian and I am Minor Asian and I say that I both am and feel because I happened to be raised in a certain place, Xanthi in this case, but I could have been raised anywhere, Mytilini, Crete, anywhere. What truly doesn’t change is the roots, and to me that’s a really important thing. So, ever since I was a child, I would ask my grandparents to tell me stories, from their lives, from the catastrophe, about how they found themselves in Greece. I would record them on audio tape. I never managed to listen to some of them, I must have done something wrong.

Elisavet tells us that both her father’s and her mother’s families originated from Kütahya, near Sakarya river.

My grandfather fought there. I have narrations of my father on tape, about how it was at Sakarya. My father wasn’t there, but he would hear the stories from his father. All this really moves me emotionally, it has sensitised me a lot towards refugees and that’s why I contribute as much as I can at Tavros Solidarity School and anywhere else I can, because I feel that, at the end, there are no real borders for humans, someone puts them there.

At the time of the Minor Asia catastrophe, in the summer, in August, my grandmother was 15 – 16 years old, and she told me that she was in Ilica. Ilica is near Kütahya and it had mineral springs. My grandmother’s family, from my father’s side, was quite prosperous, because her parents, Nikos and Polyxeni Tokatli, were mohair merchants. Mohair was the best quality of wool then, something between wool and silk. I’m not sure what kind of sheep it was produced from. So, my grandfather was a mohair merchant and was travelling to many Turkish provinces, and he had made a lot of friends, among them Turkish people and rich people. Kütahya was famous for its textile industry. It was very developed and I actually have two handmade rags that came here after the Minor Asian catastrophe, loaded on a cart, and I’ve photographed them and sent them to a man who is doing his PhD on the textiles of Kütahya.

Regarding “Akpapa”, on my grandfather’s and grandmother’s wedding invitation, which I of course have, it says that “Elisavet Tokatli is getting married to Kyriakos Akbaba”. I started learning Turkish here, with Tsintem, and I know that “akbaba” means something like “fowl” or “hawk”. What I’m trying to say is that when refugees from Minor Asia would come here, many of them would try to hellenise their surnames. For instance, my mum’s parents were named Hotzoglou, “the teacher’s son” and they changed it to “Daskalopoulou”, which also means “the teacher’s son”. And “Akbaba”, perhaps because it sounded very heavy and wasn’t that euphonic, became “Akpapa”. “Ak” means “white” in Turkish, it’s the opposite of “kara”, which we find very often here in Greece, in surnames like “Karagiannis”, “Karagiorgos”, and so on.

So, they were a wealthy family, and they were able to visit the mineral springs, or buy rags, or whatever else they wanted. I think that’s how everything I found of theirs survived, because, being in Ilica while the catastrophe was happening, they came directly from there. They loaded everything they had with them on a cart and that’s how it reached me. Some other belongings were brought here by my grandmother’s brother, who must have been around 25 at the time, very well-educated and also my godfather. He wrote a book about Kütahya, Klimis Tokatlis was his name.

Elisavet talks to us about her godfather, and about how, because he belonged to a wealthy family, he wasn’t sent to the labour battalions. He explains that he was the one to inform the family at the mineral springs, telling them not to go back to Kütahya, because the Greek army had retreated from Sakarya and the Çetes were invading the city. She explains that he entered their house and took the first chest he saw, not knowing what was inside each. Thus, the family ended up with the one including linen, instead of the one with the money.

He told us that he found his grandmother impaled on the wooden door. The Çetes had already passed through there and I know from my father that seven members of the family were brutally killed. I also know, from the testimony of a family friend, that I called “aunt” when I was in Xanthi, because she was my grandmother’s friend, that her dad, who was at the labor battalions, had left his family behind, namely his wife and three little kids, and his wife couldn’t go find him, and so a Turk that happened to see them, a coppersmith, who had good relations with other Turks, because he was enlisted in the army and had acquired a rank, told her that he would take her to see her husband. He told her to remain silent in the train, so that no-one would understand who she was, and that he would introduce her as his wife and would take her to see her husband. There were these kind of people as well.

Elisavet brought with her her grandmother’s photograph, where she is seen wearing local clothing, as well as the belt seen in the photograph. She tells us that she still has the pendant in the photo and that it was taken in 1922, when her grandmother was 16 -the age when she arrived in Greece. She also brought a tobacco container -a gift from a Turkish merchant to her grandfather- in which one can still discern the inscription in Arabic.

It was before Kemal, who, you know, brought the Latin alphabet and changed the Turkish alphabet, which was Arabic until then. It’s a gift that proves the friendships between people then.

My soul is there, I mean I remember my grandmothers, both of them. I never met one of my two grandfathers. They never really learned Greek, they would change the articles and they would still speak Turkish when they moved to Xanthi.

The neighbourhood where my mum was born was a Turkish quarter, “Asa Mahalle”, which means nether neighbourhood, and there were turkish houses there. The residents were turkish-speaking people who never left, they’d been in Greece for many generations and they had these houses that had very high walls, like the houses in Mani, the tower houses. They had very high fences, four metres high, and then the walls of the house were also very high, with small windows at the top and an inner courtyard, and all that so that people wouldn’t be able to see the women. There were no balconies, no big windows, so that they wouldn’t be visible from the street.

Elisavet explains that the belt she had with her was worn by her grandmother during the early 1920s and was given to her by relatives. It originates in the 19th century.

These are heirlooms, pieces of clothing that would pass from one hand to the next.

Before closing, Elisavet mentions her father.

He was really racist towards the Turks, he was afraid, he would tell me not to say “halkas”, because it’s originally a Turkish word, not Greek. Meanwhile, his parents would speak Turkish inside our house.


Creator of object:
Place / Country of creation:
Minor Asia (Kütahya)
Year / Era of creation:
Elisavet Akpapa
Type / Description of object:
Photograph of Elisavet’s mother
Object route:
Minor Asia (Kütahya) – Xanthi – Moschato
Year / Era of movement:
1922 – present
Reason of movement:
Minor Asia Catastrophe
License of digital image:

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