Dimitri Soyler with his family, circa 1952.
The following testimony was submitted via our online questionnaire by a relative of the family.
1. From which region of the Ottoman Empire were your ancestors from?:
My father was born in 1912 in Samsun in the Black Sea region called Pontos. He was from a rich and large family of 60 to 70 persons including himself and his relatives. My grandfather was a teacher in his village and was responsible for any papers that had to be filled such as marriage certificates. He was like the mayor of his village. He owned tobacco farms. My father was a very private man and didn't discuss his past with people.
2. How did their life change when the Neo-Turks and/or the Kemalists came to power? :
On the 19th of May 1919, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk went to Samsun and hired Topal Osman, a militia leader and others like him, all Christian haters and racist bigots to take all the men. The men of Samsun were sent to do heavy work into exile. All their property was confiscated. During their march towards the interior of Turkey, all the men were slaughtered. None survived. Women, children and the elderly filled into churches and were burned alive. My father and his older brother went to hide on the mountains with some other Christians. Topal Osman, the militia leader and his people found my father's brother in his hiding place and killed him in front of my father's eyes. My father never forgot that till the day he died.
3. Were they deported during the genocide? If so, when, where to, and describe their experience:
Yes, see above.
4. Were they held in a concentration camp or labor camp? If so, where was it located and describe the conditions :
5. Did they lose family and friends? If so, how did they cope?:
60-70 of my relatives went missing. It was a lifelong struggle for my father who went looking for them.
6. Did anyone within Turkey including Turks try to help them during the genocide? :
My father was saved by a Muslim family who gave him a new first name and family name; Mustafa Soyler. That was until he married in 1946 and moved to Istanbul whereupon he changed his first name with the help of Mr Yakovos Bilek to the one given to him by his father and mother, but kept his family name which was given to him by his Muslim family. He became Dimitri Soyler. Keeping his Turkish family name was probably an easy option for him.
7. How did they cope emotionally with their genocide experience? Did it affect the remainder of their life? :
My father struggled all his life looking for answers. Until he died, he was looking for survivors from his family and why and how it all happened.
8. Did the denial of the genocide by the perpetrator (the successor state of Turkey) affect their ability to form closure?:
It affects me alot. Especially Turkey's president who accuses the Greeks and Armenians of burning Izmir before leaving, and that the genocide of Greeks and Armenians never happened.
9. How did they feel about Turkey after the genocide? :
My father felt negatively towards Turkey, but also towards Germany, England, France, Italy, America and partly Russia who he felt were also responsible for what happened at that time.
Likewise he felt that Greece was partly to blame. After the accord signing in 1923 up until today, the Government of Greece never looked after our rights. At the time, Venizelos and his government got 12 billion dollar value for the Turks leaving Greece for Turkey. However Greeks that had to leave Pontos, Smyrna, Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace left behind more then 100 billion dollars worth of goods, houses, lands, businesses, schools, hospitals and many more. They also lost the lands they were born, their country for 3000 years. No Greek Government has since ever tried to get answers from Turkey for what happened.
10. Additional comments
As mentioned, my father was saved by a Muslim family who gave him a new first name and family name; Mustafa Soyler. I have my uncle's name Athanasios. This is the name of my father's brother who was killed in front of my father's eyes. I was born in 1950. My older brother Georgios was named after my grandfather who we never met. My older sister is Despina who has the name of my grandmother who we also never met because of the genocide.
With the help of the Red Cross in 1964-65 my father was able to find 2 of his family members in Greece; his sister Kiriaki Georgiadou living at Haritomeni in Drama who he visited and stayed with for a month. He learned from her that there were no other survivors from our family other than one cousin living in Thessaloniki by the name of Theoharis Kalaitsidis. He visited him too.
I also lived through the Istanbul Pogrom of 6–7 September 1955. The Istanbul pogrom was a government instigated series of riots against the Greek minority of Istanbul in September 1955. It can be characterized as a crime against humanity comparable in scope to the November 1938 Kristallnacht in Germany perpetrated by the Nazi authorities against Jewish civilians. I was 5 years old when it happened. I was living across from the church. They burned the church. My father said these are the Muslim Turks. I was scared to death. It has affected me psychologically till today.
Then in 1964, Istanbul-born Greeks were forced to leave. What could you cram into a suitcase if you were forced to leave your birthplace only with personal items weighing 20 kilos and money amounting to 20 dollars? This might sound like a killer question, but thousands of Istanbul-born Greeks had to answer this in a very short time when they were exiled from the city in 1964.
When I learned that as a Christian in Turkey I can't be a police officer, this was the last nail in the coffin. After my obligatory army service I left Turkey and never returned. The thing that most bothers me personally is that I did not fall from the sky. I was never able to have a grandfather, a grandmother, an uncle, aunts, cousins, nieces, nephews, sisters in law, brothers in law because of Ataturk, Topal Osman and his group of people who killed 60 to 70 of my relatives. We lost our 3000 year old lands. Why? Over the last 50 years I've been looking for answers for closure. My father died in 1969 in Istanbul. My mother is from Tokat. She is Armenian. Her family also endured alot. She died here in Canada. My brother died in Greece. My sister died in Canada 3 years ago. I am the only living member of the real Tsokektsidis family. What's been done to my family, on both sides, is inhumane. How can one human do this to another human. I hope one day they answer to God.
The marriage certificate of Dimitri Soyler showing a line through Mustafa, his original name, replaced with the name Dimitri. His mother's name is listed as Bespina (Despina) and his father's name Yorgi.