by Lito Seizani
«Number 31328» by Elias Venezis is a book I read as an adolescent. During those years I read all the other books by the same author who belonged to the so called greek “generation of the 30’s”. They were published in small hardcovers by Hestia publishing house and were masterpieces. One can still find them in the bookstores.
I found the courage to start reading “Number 31328” again some days ago and after the three first pages, I realized that I couldn’t go on. Suddenly I was reminded of all that I had pushed far into the unconscious, in desert areas very much alike the ones described by Venezis in his book where he himself and his comrades were taken prisoners, or “slaves” as he puts it, by the Turks. They were led by force to walk in the interior of the country, walked for days on end, months on end, in order to reach the cruel “Amele taburu” or “Labour Battalions”.
Finally, I decided to read the whole book again. After all my grandfather and his brother, young greek boys of Smyrna at that time, had undergone the same. So far I thought that the limits of violence had been investigated by Solzenitsyn in “One day in the life of Ivan Denisovits” and by Jung Chang in “Wild Swans” but no. The limits of violence among humans, or rather among wild fierce animal to helpless animal, are better described by Venezis.
It’s not in my intentions to shock the sensitive souls with the most violent and cruel details. Just one brief and harmless sample:
«They’ve started giving us half a loaf of bread every day. But we begged, too, as we passed in front of the houses. Some people gave us something, others stuck out their tongues and made fun of us.
I didn’t feel like begging, because the first time I extended my palm, a man beat me hard and spat on me. During our marching days, I didn’t care at all for things like that. But now it’s hard. With the time we are resuming our human habits. Still, it doesn’t matter. Charge me with two cents less of human dignity”.
In my opinion “Number 31328” is a book that every Greek should read so that we won’t forget our history and be involved again in new adventures.
After this book, I decided to read another one with the title “Land of Pontus” by Dimitris Psathas. This Greek author is mostly known for his humourous short stories and newspaper articles. In this book, however, he recounts his childhood memories from his native city Trabizond, giving us also many eye witnesses’ texts from people who survived the Greek genocide of Pontus. The Greeks of Pontus resisted the Turks with all their might, some even after 1922, in brave guerrilla groups, but met with the same fate as the rest of the Greeks in Turkey.
This book may appear tiring to those who aren’t interested in reading all the details of the fights on the mountains of Santa, or by the ancient river Thermodon, the mythical place of the Amazons, but it will appeal to those interested in the greek history as they will be mentally carried to these faraway lands with the strange names. It was there that the Greeks lived under a very cruel Turkish rule, waiting for the Russians to come and save them. They never did. It’s proven ever so often in our greek history that the Russians always promised to save us and never did. The author tells us also of the English and the French who, according to their interests, either supported the solution of an independent greek democracy in Pontus or took Kemal’s part when he appeared to be stronger. Like Venezis, Psathas also describes the deportations and death marches, the long useless walks in the interior of Asia Minor that aimed only to the extermination of the Greeks.
Finally, he reminds us that Mother Greece, herself, with only a few exceptions never helped her children in faraway areas. She proved to be indifferent aka ridiculously self-destructive during these extremely dangerous times.
But let us now go back to Trabizond as described by the author himself:
“Here is Trabizond, the historical capital of the Komnenes, a city full of churches, byzantine castles, mosques and orthodox religion. On one side it climbs the hill of “Poz Tepe” and on the other feels the fresh breeze from the Pontus Euxeinos that with its blue colour strokes the sand beaches and at other times breaks in anger its enormous waves that thunder on the rocks”.
So, these are two very important books that I happened to read as today we are reminded of the Armenian genocide. I’m not sure why people just remembered the Armenian genocide at this particular moment in time. The only thing I know is that 2012 marks 90 years after the black 1922, the most terrible year in Greek recent history.