Waiting for the clouds

Pontic Greek musicians

Georgos Xylouris: Ποντιακό μου γιασεμί (My Pontic jasmine), from the CD Ανατολή, ανατολή μου (Anatolia, my Anatolia [or my sunrise]) (2005)

Of the Pontic Greeks I first got to know the music. An implausibly archaic music, with ancient Persian modes and Caucasian, Iranian and even Celtic melodies. Its freely recited melancholic songs and its sword dances of a rugged rhythm, already mentioned by Xenophon in the Anabasis are accompanied almost exclusively by the three-stringed Pontic lyra, a small proto-fiddle of Persian origins widespread all over the Caucasus region, whose round-bodied version is known as kamanche by the Turks, Armenians and Azeries. A music radically different from the folk music of the Balkan and Peloponnesos Greeks or from the rebetika originating from the former Ionian shores. Just as the history, language, culture and identity of the Pontic Greeks is radically different from that of modern Greece.

Pontic Greek lyra/kamanche player on a wedding car
The ancestors of Pontic Greeks settled before the first millennium B.C. on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, the land of the Golden Fleece – the Argonauts were modelled after them some centuries later. Due to the regular migration routes of Black Sea fishes and to the fertile sea shores, this region could feed a large population, so that for some centuries they even provided with food the city state of Athens. Map of PontusIn some periods there lived more Greeks here than in Greece itself, and from time to time they also established an independent state of their own. The first time the Persian dynasty that fled here from Alexander the Great, and whose last king Mithridates fought three sanguinary wars against the Romans before surrendering in 65 B.C. Then in 1204 the Byzantine ruler who fled here from the crusaders invading Constantinople, and whose „Trapezunt Empire” was the last independent Greek state to be conquered in 1461 by the Turks. Finally during WWI the local Greeks left alone by the retiring Russian army and standing up against genocide, who proclaimed “the Pontus Republic.” The seven hundred thousand survivors of it – three hundred fifty thousand died – were “repatriated” in 1924 to Greece – which had never been their patria, and whose very language, after three thousand years of separation, was largely unknown to them.

Pontic Greek warriors, Trebizond/Trapezunt/Trabzon
The archive footage of this exodus opens the beautiful and courageous film of Yaşim Ustaoğlu Bulutlari beklerken (Waiting for the clouds, 2003), the very first one in Turkey that, after ninety years, revived the memory of the ousted Pontic Greeks.

In the Cinemas of the Other (2006) written by Gönül Dönmez-Colin on Middle Eastern cinema, the director speaks in detail about the inspiration and the figures of her film.

2 comentarios:

NOCTOC dijo...

Excellent article about the Pontic Greeks who by the way also call their lyra kamanche.

Studiolum dijo...

Really great praise from a Greek! Thank you very much. I will also write more later about this wonderful region and culture.