Greek Economic Migration and the Rediscovery of Hellenic Cilicia

By Polina Ivanova
Submitted to Session P4788 (Histories of Place Making in the Middle East, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Until the Greek-Turkish exchange of populations of 1923, Cilicia was home to numerous rural and urban Greek communities. As this paper shows, modern Greek Cilicia was not a remnant of the Byzantine past of the region but rather a product of nineteenth-century migrations of Ottoman Greeks who moved to Cilicia from other parts of the empire in search of economic opportunities. Initially, in the eyes of these settlers Cilicia was a region defined primarily by its economic promise. Gradually, however, they came to “rediscover” Cilicia’s Roman past and reinvest its geography and topography with symbolic meaning. This paper explores the history of the “re-Hellenization” of Cilicia drawing on records of interviews with Greek refugees from Adana, Mersin, Silifke and other town and villages in Cilicia, collected in mid-twentieth century and now preserved at the Centre for Asia Minor Studies in Athens. Many of these refugees never learned Greek until their arrival in Greece and remained strangers in their new homeland, clinging to the memory of Cilicia as an idealized patrida. Demonstrating that Greek presence in Cilicia was more than simply Byzantine residue, this paper complicates our understanding of the origins of Greek regions of the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, it exposes contradictions and compromises involved in place-making by showing how logic of economic migration, ecclesiastical geography, ideas of Roman past and encounter with Armenian human and built geography, as well as ultimate loss and dislocation, affected the ways Ottoman Greeks imagined and experienced Cilicia as a distinct region.