By: | Post date: August 27, 2009 | Comments: 15 Comments
Posted in categories: Greece

Anon, commenting on my post mentioning the προσκυνημένοι, “those who have Bowed Down” (converts to Islam), responded:

> Φωτιά και τζεκούρι, ε;

Yup. And that made me think of Hamidiyah.

For those not fortunate enough to be Greek, Anon is referring to what a fighter ordered during the Greek Revolutionary War (was it Kolokotronis?): “Fire and axe to those who have bowed down!”

… yes, it was. From an online copy of Kolokotronis’ Memoirs:

Εγώ, οντας εβγήκα εις τον Αγιoν Γεώργιo, έγραψα γραμματα εις το Γενναίo καί εις τον Κoλιοπoυλoν, οπού ήτoν συναγμένoι, καί επεταχθηκαν εις το Λιβαρτζι, την επαρχία την προσκυνημένη (Καλαβρύτων) καί τούς διέταττα: «Τζεκούρι καί φωτιά εις τούς προσκυνημένoυς». Καί έτζι επέρασαν εις το Λιβαρτζι. Τοτε έστειλεν ο Μπραΐμης καταπατηταδες νά ιδεί πού είμαι καί τί ασκέρι έχω, καί έδωσε ενος Ρωμηού 300 μπαρμπούτια διά νά μαθει πού είμαι νά μού ριχθεί επανω, καί εγώ τον έπιασα καί έστειλα εις την δημoσιά καί τον εκρέμασα εις τά Καλαβρυτα, δύο ώρες απέξω. Τον εκρέμασα μέ ένα χαρτί πού έλεγε το φταίξιμο τoυ «προδοτης τού έθνoυς» καί τούς άλλoυς δύο τούς έστειλα εις το μoναστήρι, εις το Μέγα Σπήλαιoν, διοτι δέν ήτoν βεβαιωμένoι προδοτες, καί επήγα καί εγώ εις το Σπήλαιoν.

When I went out to Hagios Georgios, I wrote letters to Gennaios and Koliopoulos, who had gathered, and they advanced to Livartzi, the district that had Bowed Down [= Kalavryta], and I ordered them: “Axe and fire to those who have Bowed Down”. And so they passed over to Livartzi. Then Ibrahim sent “squatters” to see where I am and what sort of an army I had, and he gave a Greek [Romios] 300 guns [coins?] to learn where I am and attack me. And I seized him and sent him to the public road and hanged him, two hours out of Kalavryta. I hanged him with a piece of paper that spoke his fault, “traitor to the nation”. The other two I sent to the monastery, to Mega Spilaio, for they were not proven traitors; and I went to Spilaion too.

The Greek Revolutionary War was a war between millets, credal communities, not ethnicities; so there were Albanians on both sides, and Greek Muslims were an especial target. I don’t know if the Romios he hanged was Muslim or Christian—the choice of word suggests Christian. And Christians fighting with the Ottomans would have gotten even more wrath.

OK, that’s some context. Let’s turn back to my blogging propensities now.

There are of course personal reasons as well as intellectual for why Quebec and Acadia intrigue me: not just the rationale behind how to construct identity in Australia, but also how I reflect on the construction of Greek identity. As I’ve said many a time, I see the world through Australian rather than Greek eyes; so I occasionally think wistfully, as a multiculturalist ideologue, on what a Greece might have been like in which Those Who Have Bowed Down were allowed to stay, and could contribute to Greek national life. Because through Australian eyes, that is righteous and proper.

There are at least a couple of Greeks guffawing at what they’ve just read, and I’m also Greek enough to know why. Greek Muslims before 1922 could have participated in national life in an ideal world, but didn’t; same goes for the remaining minorities in Thrace and the Dodecanese. With fault on both sides, and even more fault on history’s side. I said discourses of purism are no way to run a North American country; but they are how you run a Balkan country.

And this stuff isn’t just cooked up by the politicians, and “if only we could talk like brothers and sisters all would be well”. This stuff is bred into you. I recall my own bewildered reaction, the one time I met a Greek-Australian convert to Islam (complete with skullcap, at a Muslim wedding). I was thinking as we talked: “But, but… we’re talking in Greek, he’s come from where I’ve come from… but he’s The Other! What do I say to him?!”

I’ve talked to ethnic Turks, and have felt no awkwardness: it’s been fun in fact to ferret out the cultural commonalities. But in this case, the awkwardness was precisely in that there was too much cultural commonality.

It’s the same awkwardness when a Cretan Christian sees footage of the Cretan Muslims of Al-Hamidiyah, in Syria. (Right on the Lebanese border, and they’re usually spoken of as being in Lebanon.)

Crete had a substantial Muslim population, and from what we can tell they were converts, who kept speaking Greek. (This inevitably is disputed at Wikipedia, which is why the article is currently redirected to “Cretan Turks”.) There’s a guesstimate that in 1800 they were half the population. By the end of the century, they were more like a third: Crete had become autonomous after the latest rebellion, with the successor to the Greek throne as regent, and some Muslims were seeing that staying Muslim was not a good long-term strategy in Crete.

Crete was united with Greece in 1913, and the Cretan Muslims left in 1923, with the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey. (The population exchanges were run on credal rather than ethnic grounds, because that’s how identity worked in the Ottoman empire.) But twenty-six years before that, when autonomy was granted, things were already uncomfortable enough that (apparently) a group of Muslims had already petitioned Sultan Abdülhamid to let them settle elsewhere in the empire. The settlement they founded in Syria, they named after the Sultan.

I don’t know enough about intercommunity relations in Ottoman Crete. Diver Of Sinks does, but he shouldn’t have to read the books on my behalf. Kazantzakis’ novel Freedom and Death, which I have read, weaves his childhood reminiscences of Ottoman Iraklion into a grand nihilist epic. His Muslims are human, they are neighbours, they talk to his heroes in the street. But they are not his heroes, and they are not his brothers. There’s an awkwardness to their relationship. And as Cretan Christian identity has become Hellenic, and Cretan Muslim identity has become Turkish, that awkwardness has been compounded. It’s even more compounded with Hamidiyah, because the footage does not show them acting like Syrian Muslims.

That awkwardness that Cretan Christians feel (or at least, that I feel) when they see such footage goes something like, “They speak my dialect better than I do, they have maps of Crete on the wall, they long to be allowed to return home, they’re obviously my countrymen”—and the Greek researchers who’ve been over to Hamidiyah approvingly note that at this point that they have remained monogamous, and have not assimilated into the Arabic culture around them…

“…but they’re The Other!”

That’s the best reaction you’ll get out of a Greek Christian, btw. A couple of comments at the YouTube video were like that. Notably the one Cretan saying the Hamidiyah Muslims were more his countrymen than the damned Athenians, Vive la Crete Libre!

Most of the comments at the YouTube video, on the other hand, were variations of “Fire and axe!” Like I say: This stuff is bred into you.

Infuriatingly, the YouTube videos that I’d seen (and read the comments on) are already offline. There is another thread about the same video, and “Fire and axe” does make it to the comment thread there too.

The original poster claims that according to them and their documents, the Hamidiyah Cretans were Christian rebels exiled, not fleeing Muslims, and they converted when in Syria. A Cretan online journal claims they were Muslims beforehand, but had joined the Christians in rebellion. I’m skeptical about that, especially if they left after Cretan autonomy in 1897, and this could be the Hamidiyah Cretans reinventing their past (which everyone gets to do), to idealise their homeland.

There’s complexities galore if they were Muslims and have convinced themselves they had been Christians. But even if they did only convert in Syria as dispossessed exile—they’re The Other now. And even if the Hamidiyah Cretans aren’t the Other, the Muslim Cretans of Turkey certainly are. So the awkwardness does not go away.

It doesn’t get resolved either; it just gets forgotten, as nation-building goes about its work. But when Greeks express satisfaction that they did not become ’90s Yugoslavia because they are ethnically homogeneous—it’s a useful reminder that homogeneity came at a cost. And just like me at that Muslim wedding, that homogeneity doesn’t quite know what to do with challenges like Hamidiyah.

Other than refuse to grant them tourist visas.


  • […] that developed, I made a glancing mention of the Cretan Muslims, a topic I’ve already brought up on this blog. My reference was to the apparent conversion of some Cretan Muslims to Christianity in the 19th […]

  • John Cowan says:

    Very belated link to a Language Hat conversation that bears on this. I quote the (edited) relevant bits here:

    Minus273: A very strong identity still seems to work, to the benefit of Tibetan dialects and Uyghur. Uyghur I worry not, but for Tibetan, I have a very strong suspicion that their speakers will become Irishmen: still pursuing a national goal, with a strong attachment to their language, but slowly abandoning it, starting from the educated elite, for Chinese at home and English at exile.

    Language Hat: If they can learn to brew Guinness and raise Joyces and Becketts, it will all have been worth it.

    —He's Chinese, Buck Mulligan said, and he thinks we ought to speak Tibetan in Tibet.

    —Sure we ought to, the old woman said, and I’m ashamed I don’t speak the language myself. I’m told it’s a grand language by them that knows.

    Xyzzyva: In my mind butter-tea has properties not unlike those of Guinness.

    Z. D. Smith: Man, I love butter tea. If the Tibetan orthography wasn't so fucked, I'd learn it just for the butter tea.

    John Cowan: I grant that Arthur Guinness's family had been resident in Tibet for a long time, but they were undoubtedly ethnic Chinese. And "yer only man", as they say in Lhasa Apso, is definitely a Pekinese type of beer.

    Zythophile: Mongolian, surely – descended from the great Guinnghis Khan, as mentioned by Joyce himself.

    David Marjanović: Hence, no doubt, the butterbeer of Hogwarts.

    John Cowan: I feel bad for all those Tibetan wizards on sbgDiagon fqxzmrpAlley, drinking the butter beer of exile.

  • cretanmuslim says:

    hi bash, there are hundereds of towns, cities that were dominated by the immigrants- cretan muslims- of 1898, in turkey. in other words, there are hundreds of hamidiyas in turkey. But just like you the new generations dont speak cretan dialect. We just speak turkish but we know and proud of being cretans..

  • Anonymous says:

    So good topic really i like any post talking about Ancient Greece but i want to say thing to u Ancient Greece not that only … you can see in Ancient Greece Oikos and Polis and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that …. thanks a gain ,,,

  • Bash says:

    hello opoudjis !..
    thanks for ur reply,
    Of course I'd like to talk about alhamidiyah, also I want to hear any new information,or opinions from u!
    I've heard many times from my oldparents that some of thier families members stayied in crete, while the other members went to Alhamidiyah!!
    I would like to know what happining with them now? and fo they know that they have an old relatives in Alhamidiyah!

    Also I'm wondering about what the cretans say about us !?

    thanks ..

  • opoudjis says:

    Bash, thank you for your comment, and I'd be very happy to hear more from you about Al-Hamidiyah!

  • Bash says:

    I'm a 22 GREEK male form al-Hamidiyah, and I really like what you write, we really still put the map of our lovely Crete on our walls, you can see our old generation still speak the old creten delicate strongly every day .but unfortunately our young generation is going to forget this language, Because it's 1 hundred year far away from our land !!!
    You are right about that our Creten hot blood still flowing in our hearts !!

    but any way I'm really glad to see someone like who tells the truth about us here in this SMALL OLD CRETE( AL-hamidiyah)

  • opoudjis says:

    @ William: I think in this case it is closer to you than the indignant Greek, and not everything has to be a Teaching Moment or an Opportunity to Reflect. Greeks in Hesperia have to acknowledge Hesperian pronunciations of Ancient Greek. As always, it's all about tone.

    Not that you're not right, you are (at least, you're closer than they are to the reconstruction—although I want to take a pickaxe to the Germans who pronounce ευ as [oj]). But just a disclaimer about what you're doing and why.

    That won't placate them, from experience, but you'll have done your bit. (It sounds like you've already attempted it anyway.)

  • Wm says:

    Thanks for translating the Cavafy reference.

    Regarding the golden middle, I'm not sure where that is to be found except somewhere deep and scary in a very high-dimensional Hilbert space. On the one hand, we have Greece's use as a pawn in the Great Game and then later in the Cold War; on the other, how to pronounce "ω." Where is the middle between politics and phonetics?

  • opoudjis says:

    I'm appointing myself Translator To The World, so: Anon's allusion in στάσις, νοιώθεται ("that's a stance, it is appreciated") is to Cavafy's poem on the Spartans refusing to claim a share in Alexander's victories. It's a respectful agreement to disagree.

    It's tedious to try and find the "golden middle"; but, while there is a loaded history between Greeks and Westerners about antiquity, William is right to read Greek poetry in reconstructed pronunciation, and it is his right. His Greek interlocutors' anger is understandable, but not vindicated.

    A reconstructed pronunciation is not right in all contexts to all people, and probably not helpful to a Greek audience. But Greeks are not, after all, William's primary audience; and (here's the rub) Ancient Greek poetry is not just *their* inheritance…

    That's the rational response. The less rational response (which I partake of as a cultural Brit) is, a perception of victimhood is not an excuse to disengage. Greeks are grownups too—Greeks, now, are Westerners too: they have a responsibility to react more thoughtfully to this kind of challenge than "keep your hands off our goddamned vowels".

    (Actually, that's not the less rational response, but my rationalisation of the less rational response—which is "not this shit again!" 🙂

    That said, remember the first chapter of Joyce's Ulysses? (All I've ever read of it.) Daedalus' reaction at the Englishman speaking Irish to the Irish maid who didn't know a word of it ("Oh. I hear it was a grand language…"). It's cool that the Englishman learned Irish, it's potentially cool that he tried it out on the locals. (Depends why and how though.) But Daedalus' freakout at that happened for a reason too…

  • Anonymous says:

    "participating in an Anglo-German plot to repress Greece"

    Repress Modern and Usurp Ancient, I assume. 😉

    This argument shouldn't be dismissed so lightly though, unless you don't happen to care at all which is α στάσις, νοιώθεται.

    Colonialism, Classicism, "Neo-colonialism" and various other "-isms" have left Greeks with some bitterness towards "the West".

  • Wm says:

    I'm curious though, about what exactly in my post illuminated the Modern Greek conflictedness for you: the Burden Of The Ancients, or something else?

    Well, the two posts together basically showed me that the formation of modern Greece was a great deal messier than I had thought.

    An early, aversive exposure to post-modernism has left me with an instinctive hostility to most "identity" talk (plus, I'm from the US). However, since I've been on the receiving end of modern Greek attitudes about ancient Greek which I find odd and alarming, I have some interest in trying to figure how the ancient language plays into modern Greek identity.

    I don't really care how anyone pronounces Greek, and there are all sorts of good reasons for moderns to pronounce the ancient language as they do. I would love to find a way, however, to explain why I prefer a different pronunciation without being accused of participating in an Anglo-German plot to repress Greece, say, or that I'm an misguided idiot for not seeing that Modern and Ancient Greek are really the same language. Of course, not all Greeks believe this — perhaps very few — but I've encountered enough of this sort of thing to wonder what's going on.

  • opoudjis says:

    @William: we're entering terrain I have more opinions about than facts 🙂 — but my impression is, language rather than millet as a rallying point is *mostly* a 19th century thing, a creature of Herderian nationalism. I say mostly, because there were people in the 18th century urging the non-Graikoi Romii (the Aromanians and Arvanites and Slavs) to assimilate linguistically to Greek: notably Cosmas of Aetolia.

    But while archaic Greek was unquestionably the language of the church and administration and officialdom, and modern Greek just as unquestionably the language of trade and diplomacy (as used by Mehmed II), I think the language focus of identity is a recent thing.

    Just because it's only 200 or 300 years old a notion doesn't make it any less vehement of course. School grammars do mention now that Ancient Greek wasn't pronounced the same as Modern, but they only whisper it, and there's a straightforward reason why. If you pronounce Ancient in Modern, what with the work Puristic Greek has done in reviving or refamiliarising some forms, and the eye recognition of text, you can… well, you can't *understand* Ancient Greek as a Modern Greek speaker without special study, but you can get at least a vague gist.

    If you pronounce it Erasmian (or whatever else), that goes out the window. And that's a big deal to Greeks. It's nationalism, but it's a little more than it too: it's access to their ancestors, and what they feel is Westerners getting in the way of that access. Wrongheaded, but you can see why they'd feel that.

    (My favourite Greek humorist Nikos Tsiforos penned a large serialised serious retelling of all of Greek Mythology; my favourite book as a child. In the end he explained why: he was explaining the antiquities to his friends when in Olympia once, and overheard someone else talking much more knowledgeably. He was shamed that the other person was Swiss, and knew Greek mythology better than a Greek did.)

    I'm curious though, about what exactly in my post illuminated the Modern Greek conflictedness for you: the Burden Of The Ancients, or something else?

    I'm with you on reading out Ancient Greek with more than five vowels, four of which are /i/ 🙂 ; of course, I'm "culturally British". But if I'm straining to make sense of an ancient passage and end up reading it aloud to myself… well, you can guess what pronunciation I use, and why I do it.

    Did not know of Mousouros. (Ottoman ambasssador *to Greece*. Ouch.) A topic which generally doesn't get much press (because it's against the dominant ideology) are those ethnic Greeks who did come to an accomodation with the Ottoman Empire, especially after 1821. The Phanariots were big in their number, of course, and have been judged by historians perhaps more harshly than they should have been.

    I do remember that one of the criticisms against Demotic in the 19th century was that Demotic was the language of Ottoman oppression, and Puristic the language of a Reborn European Greece. (The language ideology battle lines were *very* different back then.) To refute that, Psichari, in the first print defence of Demotic (his 1888 manifesto My Voyage) cites Sapphic Odes recently penned in praise of Sultan Abdülhamid: *that's* the language of Ottoman oppression, he smirked.

    (Of course, language is just language, and its politics is what its speakers choose it to be. But noone in the Greek language dispute wanted to hear that…)

    At any rate, if any readers know their identity and/or Ottoman history better than me, I welcome better informed input than mine…

  • Wm says:

    I have to say, it's a bit of a surprise to me that language didn't play a more important role than millets. Because I not only to have web sites entirely devoted to (a particular period of) the Greek language, but also make bold to recommend a certain style of pronunciation, for verse at least, I sometimes get serious hostility from self-identified Greeks. This, in turn, has burned through any good will I used to have about the subject.

    I have until now assumed this insistence that Ancient and Modern Greek are not merely (inter)related, but identical, was the result of nationalist cultural anxieties. Now I see it's even a bigger tangle than that.

    Regarding the circles of identity in your other post, I can't help but wonder what the Venn Diagram of Oikeiosis looks like for Constantine Mousouros, the (ethnically?) Greek ambassador for the Ottomans in the 19th century. I only know about him because I recently discovered his strongly Atticist (“γλώσσῃ δ’ ἐχρησάμην κεκανονισμένῃ Ἑλληνικῇ”) translations of Dante — in a Byzantine meter — published in England (here).

    In any case, your perspective on this has been interesting. I don't know yet if it will help me keep my cool the next time someone tells me I must, when reading Sappho, pronounce the Greek like, say, Charis Alexiou would.

  • opoudjis says:

    I misread μπαρμπούτια in Kolokotronis' passage; Nikos Sarantakos has pointed out to me it must mean something like "coins". I've confirmed parallel usage in other Greek texts of the time that are googlable; but I find no comparable denomination in accounts of Ottoman currency, and barbut > μπαρμπούτι in Modern Greek, cognate to English and French barbotte, is a dice game. The paperback edition of the Memoirs I own doesn't have it in its glossary, and it's not in the big dictionaries in the non-gambling sense.

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