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Images of the Turk in Greek Fiction of the Asia Minor Disaster Marianthe Colakis "It is a curious fact that the image of the Turk in Greek fiction is at once so contradictory and so vague . . . [often] he is absent, in a void somewhere, unseen in fiction, faceless . . ."' Thus Thomas Doulis in Disaster and Fiction described the people who are the subject of this paper. It is true that Turkish characters tend to be minor figures in Greek literature concerning the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922. Yet their portrayal in early novels and the development of character in later ones create a poignant study. One might expect Turks to appear as totally unsympathetic, the "others" whose actions, character and customs are totally foreign and reprehensible to Greeks. Yet this is far from the case, even in works published immediately after the Disaster. The first novels to emerge were memoirs of imprisonment in the Turkish labor battalions. Of this form Doulis has remarked: It has severe limitations in the hands of the less able . . . instead of probing the complexity of man, who is both perpetrator and sufferer, these narratives by their very definition are compelled to divide characters neatly according to the roles of tormentor and tormented and, in the less ambitious literary efforts, to employ lurid and melodramatic incidents to support moralizing of a smug, simplistic, and nationalistic sort.2 Indeed, the Turkish soldiers in these novels usually treat their captives with unremitting viciousness. In the first chapter of Elias Venezis ' The Number 31,328, they force a one-eyed, consumptive violinist to stand on a high rock and play until he drops from exhaustion. Much of the book is taken up with similar incidents: day-long forced marches without rest or water, rape of women and boys, plunder of corpses for the gold in their teeth, manual labor of the most strenuous sort on the most meager of provisions. Similar scenes occur in the other novels of captivity; we realize the truth in Doulis' statement on the limitations of the subject. 99 100 Marianthe Colakis Yet even in these raw chronicles of cruelty, Turks are not condemned as a race. In The Number 31,328 they are shown as capable of kindness as well as brutality. The hero, Ilias, is helped by an old woman who brings him bread and quinces and is nursed through an attack of fever by a doctor who finds him work as a translator. After an elderly man prevents the beating of one of the prisoners, Ilias comments, "Yes. A litde old man in Kirkagatz, a little old woman in Bakir, this aged ox here in Axar: God's people. Does kindness flourish then in advanced ages?"3 At Magnissa, the Greeks are friendly with the Turkish guards: At night they come more often and keep company with us. We talk about our troubles together. And in their conversation they no longer say 'yesir' to us. With their heavy Eastern voice they pronounce full of warmth and kindness: 'Arkantas' (comrade). During our labors they no longer beat or curse us. When there is no Greek tsaous around they pretend not to see and let us sit down ... at noon ... we sit down together under the sharp sun and eat our bread. We speak amicably, and often the time allocated for rest passes. Then they, frightened, get us up gently gently, as if begging us, 'Come on, comrades, get up.' We get up with a heavy heart to start work again. And they, as if afraid we would hold a grudge against them, pat us kindly on the shoulder : 'What can we do, arkanda? God pity us, both you and us. Pity us. 'Both you and us.' They say it almost steadily by now. They began to be unable to separate the two fates, theirs and ours. They tremble at their officers and our tsaousades. We hate those same ones. They pray for the 'memleket, ' a cottage somewhere. So do we. So then? They are all poor wretches.4 Not only do these men become friends, but they are both victims of the tsaousades, Turkish-speaking Greeks who act as overseers. Later, Venezis creates another...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 99-106
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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