Norman Stone

The People of the Pontus

Twice a Stranger: How Mass Expulsion Forged Modern Greece and Turkey

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There is in the Ashmolean in Oxford an Orthodox iconostasis from an ancient Byzantine monastery now called Sumela, on the Black Sea, not far from Trabzon (Trebizond). Sumela – a Turkish corruption of the original Greek for ‘black virgin’ – is often used in illustrations promoting Turkish tourism; it is a huge construction, hewn into rock-cliffs generally shrouded in the mists and rain that distinguish this part of the coast. In 1923–24 that whole area, the Pontus, lost its Orthodox population, or at any rate those who were not tucked away in remote and high places. Even now, if you ask the bus driver about them, he will tell you that there are ‘locals’ who speak something that is not Turkish, though he might not know what it is.

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