Leonidas Kalpaktsoglou in Yiannitsa, Greece in 1925.
Leonidas Kalpaktsoglou was from the Bafra region of Turkey. The following testimony was submitted by his son via our online questionnaire.
1. From which region of the Ottoman Empire were your ancestors from?:
My father was born in Bafra which was in the Pontus region of Asia Minor.
2. How did their life change when the Neo-Turks and/or the Kemalists came to power? :
Even though they had friendly neighborly relations with Turks, they suddenly began to avoid them.
3. Were they deported during the genocide? If so, when, where to, and describe their experience:
My grandfather Paraskevas Kalpaktsoglou (or Kotsambasis) was involved in the brokerage of tobacco and represented the German company Reemtsa and the French monopoly Regie des Tabacs. He was deported to an unknown location in 1920 and never returned.
4. Were they held in a concentration camp or labor camp? If so, where was it located and describe the conditions :
My father Leonidas Kalpaktsoglou served in the Kemalist military in a forced labor battalion (Amela taburlari) in a coal mine at an unknown location. He was called to serve in the military in 1921 and was released from duties in 1924. In that same year he arrived in Greece where his mother Euphemia and two sisters, Polimni and Konstantina had already been transferred to.
5. Did they lose family and friends? If so, how did they cope?:
Aside from losing my grandfather Paraskevas who vanished after being deported, his two sons George and Kyriakos Kalpakstsoglou were also murdered. They were called to serve in the army. But they later paid the bedel (exemption tax) and were thus excused from duty. The bedel was paid by my grandmother. His sons were murdered during my grandfather's exile. Their murders must have occurred around 1920 or 1921. My grandfather's 16 year old daughter Despina was held in Turkey by a wealthy older Turkish widower who married her. She later became a widow herself and married again with another Turk who she had two sons with, Bulent and Fikret. Despina became a Muslim and as a result all communication with her ceased in 1960.
Leonidas Kalpaktsoglou in Greece in 1975.
6. Did anyone within Turkey including Turks try to help them during the genocide? :
7. How did they cope emotionally with their genocide experience? Did it affect the remainder of their life? :
My father completely avoided making mention of anything to do with his life in Turkey. Even the good moments. It gave us the impression that he witnessed many horrible things there.
8. Did the denial of the genocide by the perpetrator (the successor state of Turkey) affect their ability to form closure?:
In terms of work no. Psychologically yes, a lot.
9. How did they feel about Turkey after the genocide? :
My father never spoke about Turks. I tried to convince him to visit his homeland, the place where he was born and raised but he stubbornly resisted. I think he resisted because he was afraid.
Here is one of the few stories my father told me: One day in Bafra, a Turkish bey who was a very well-off man and an acquaintance of my grandfather's, called him and announced that the following night he would have at his home as a guest, a very important Turkish military person who had a European mindset and that he would be providing dinner for him. He asked my grandfather to send one of his sons to take charge of the serving of dinner after explaining that the members of his family were not allowed to serve (he had no sons, only daughters) and the male help staff didn't have the required western style in serving food. He had to impress his guest.
My grandfather accepted and told him that he would send his son Leonidas, my father. So my father went the next afternoon to the Turk's home and supervised the setting of the table on the upper floor. As evening set in, four people dressed very neatly in official uniforms arrived at the house. The three of them hurriedly went upstairs to the dining room but the fourth person visited the kitchen and began inspecting and tasting the dishes. From this man, my father learned that they were all military men and that he was the driver. He stayed just outside of Bafra because he couldn't pass over the wooden bridge of the river and so they arrived at the house on horseback which they had left on the side of the road.
The time had come to serve the food and my father, who was holding a large tray full of plates that had chicken soup in them, went up stairs to the upper floor where dinner was to be served. The door of the dining room was closed and from inside he could hear people talking. Since he was unable to knock on the door, because his hands were holding the plates, he moved the handle with his elbow and walked in. The Turkish bey who was hosting the dinner immediately interrupted the man who was speaking by telling him something in a very shallow voice which my father was not able to hear, but which included the word giaour (infidel). In the dining room, eight people were present (as obviously others were invited) and my father began serving. When the time came for my father to serve the speaker, he turned around and looked my father directly in the face. My father noticed two eyes, one of which was looking at him with incredible hatred and the other which was looking in another direction. The eye which was looking at my father made him shake with fear. My father quickly went downstairs to the kitchen and asked that they advise the Turkish host that he could no longer serve for them. The Turkish host had actually followed my father down and after thanking him kindly told him that he did not need him any longer. Obviously the invited guest had asked that my father no longer serve them. My father removed his apron and left.
He could never forget the piercing and hateful stare he received by the one-eyed guest. Much later, when he served in the Turkish military and saw some photo hanging in the barracks, he realized that on that night he had actually served the person responsible for the genocide of Greeks in the region of Pontus, Kemal. So Kemal was one-eyed, something the Turks are careful to hide so that it does not show as though their national leader and reformer had an imperfection. It must have been some time after May 19, 1919, the day which Kemal had visited Samsun.