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Pontic Performance: Minority Theater vs. Greek Ideology Patricia Fann Pontic theater is alive and well and playing in Greece. Performances are staged regularly in Athens and Thessaloniki, and in towns and villages wherever a substantial number of Pontians have settled, primarily in northern Greece: Katerini, VerÃ-a, Kilkis, Drama. Popular among Pontians, the theater is little known outside the minority; most Greeks have little idea what it is, or often that it even exists. A definition , then, is in order: for the purposes of this article, and in accordance with usual Pontic definitions, modern Pontic theater is that which developed in Greece after 1922 written in the Pontic dialect, on Pontic themes, and performed in dialect in front of a Pontic (-speaking) audience. Pontic publications, organizations, and, in particular, theater are assertions of the minority's identity, the sense of which they seem never to have lost. Theater tends to be political, and as minority theater especially so. In opposition to the Greek ideology of ethnic integrity, Pontic theatrical performances contend their right to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Greeks. The People The Pontians are a Hellenic, Orthodox Christian people from the eastern half of the Black Sea coastal region of Asia Minor, known as the Pontos. As members of the Rum Kilue, or Greek-rite Orthodox, they were differentiated from the rest of the Turks and other peoples of the Ottoman Empire; the definition also geographically set them apart from the rest of the Ottoman Greeks. Today, in Greece, they define themselves by their ancestors' place of birth and see themselves and their history as originating within the physical bounds of the Pontos.1 They were dispossessed of their own homeland when they were forced to leave Turkey after the Lausanne Treaty of 1923. After the collapse of the Megâli Idea and the rout of the invading Greek troops, Journal of Modem Greek Studies, Volume 9, 1991. 107 108 Patricia Fann the new Turkish government declared that its secularized state had no room for religious minorities. It insisted on the compulsory exchange of populations. With a few exceptions, all the Moslems in Greece (about 350,000) removed to Turkey, the Orthodox Christians of Turkey (about 1.5 million) to Greece. Along with the rest of the Asia Minor Greeks during 192224 , the Pontians flooded into Greece as refugees. Pre-1922 Hutory Before the Greek-Turkish population exchange the Pontians were scattered throughout the Pontos in isolated villages on the mountains and in coastal towns and cities linked only by sea or the roughest of roads. Pontic scholars stress their unbroken line of ancestry from classical Ionian colonists of the region—though, as Bryer points out, it is impossible to determine how close their descent truly is (1976: 173). In any case, for the purposes of my argument, their actual blood lines are not important, while their emotional attachment to the place is. Their scattering throughout the region, then, was the result of a tumultuous history isolated from the rest of the Byzantine Empire, vying for pastureland with the Turkomans, invaded by Persians, Arabs , and the Laz, and finally conquered by the Ottomans. Once vanquished , Pontos, like the rest of Asia Minor, remained under the fading Ottoman Empire even after the Greek War of Independence of 1821. It would have seemed that Pontic culture might have faded with the Empire: "At the outset of the nineteenth century the future of the Pontic Greeks could not seem promising. Their introspective and conservative culture was more isolated than ever and their social condition , in an exceptionally lawless province, was poor" (Bryer 1976: 171). The Pontians had other problems as well. The poverty of the land often forced them into seeking their livelihoods in ksenitiá from as early as the last two centuries of the Byzantine Empire; by 1915 their persecution by the Young Turks had also begun (Samouilides 1986: 239). Since their lives were usually difficult in the Pontos, it seems paradoxical that one of the most notable features of Pontic literature is the way it dwells on their memories of a nearly idyllic life in the homeland. The intensity and duration of this nostalgia is impossible to fathom...


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