Vassilios and Panagiota Kapanikas with their children in Kalamata (c. 1930).
The following testimony relating to Vasilios Kapanikas (1907-1960) and Panagiota Kapanikas (nee Asprakis, 1908-1993) was submitted through our online questionnaire by their grand-daughter Penny.
1. From which region of the Ottoman Empire were your ancestors from?:
My ancestors were from Smyrna (today İzmir) in Asia Minor.
2. How did their life change when the Neo-Turks and/or the Kemalists came to power? :
They were forced to flee. They left everything behind and lost many relatives.
3. Were they deported during the genocide? If so, when, where to, and describe their experience:
No. They fled prior to 1919 because anti-Greek sentiment and discrimination had created a hostile environment in which they were unable to make a living or live peacefully without fear of violence. Both of my grandparents were very young when they fled. They ended up in Kalamata.
4. Were they held in a concentration camp or labor camp? If so, where was it located and describe the conditions :
Not that I know of.
5. Did they lose family and friends? If so, how did they cope?:
My grandparents never, ever spoke about their losses and how/why they occurred. They just said that they were bad memories and better kept to themselves. But we do know that they lost family and friends.
6. Did anyone within Turkey including Turks try to help them during the genocide? :
Not that we know of.
7. How did they cope emotionally with their genocide experience? Did it affect the remainder of their life? :
When they arrived in Kalamata, my grandparents and their fellow Asia Minor Greeks (Mikrasiates) stuck together, bound together by what they had gone through both in Smyrna and upon their arrival in their adopted city. This is why my great-grandparents wanted their children to marry from within the community of the Asia Minor Greeks. From all accounts, the Asia Minor Greeks had been educated and financially successful in Smyrna, but when they arrived in Kalamata, there were few economic opportunities and most had to take low-paying jobs. Most never recovered financially, as World War I hit not long after their arrival. My grandparents' respective families came to Kalamata with nothing. My grandmother couldn't go to school as she had to work, her family couldn't afford it. She never learned how to read and write. My grandfather from all accounts was a good person but from his behavior it sounded like he suffered with depression. He was a drinker and when he wasn't working on the docks (only work he could get when he came to Kalamata) he was in a bar.
8. Did the denial of the genocide by the perpetrator (the successor state of Turkey) affect their ability to form closure?:
They were definitely angry and passed that anger at Turkey down to my mother, aunts and uncles.
9. How did they feel about Turkey after the genocide? :
We were raised to believe that the Turks were our natural enemies. To call someone a Tourko was a big insult in our family. Only now that they are much older will they even consider my comments about wanting to visit Smyrna to see what's left of our ancestral home.
My attachment to Smyrna and drive to know more about my heritage and legacy has brought my family in the States full circle. My grandparents and their families left Asia Minor/Smyrna and tried to forget their old home for many reasons - for fear that if they didn't - they would never acclimatize to their new lives in Kalamata, and, I suspect, because they were afraid of the bitterness that would consume them if they failed to let go of all that they had endured and lost. My mother left Kalamata and came to the States at 19 with nothing, and strove to assimilate because that was what was expected of immigrants at that time (henceforth why I've gone by Penny since I was a child, and not Panagiota). She also left behind her life in Kalamata as she struggled to create one here. She was the youngest in her family and learned very little from her parents about their experiences in Smyrna. I didn't know anything about my family history in Asia Minor until I started following my older cousins on Facebook and noticed that one was the president of her Asia Minor society. I now learn what I can from her and my surviving aunt and uncle when I visit Kalamata. After two generations - who had their respective reasons for leaving the past in the past - I am now trying to make sure that I piece my roots together as best I can so that my children know what their ancestors went through, and so that I can make sure our struggles are not forgotten by the rest of the world and by our own people. I myself hold no enmity or bitterness for the Turkish people, but as a history teacher, a Greek, a descendant of Asia Minor Greeks, and a human being, I continue to be angered and upset by the fact that there is still, after all of this time, this refusal to admit to what was done to my people (although we have modern Turkish politicians bragging that "the seas are littered with the bones of (our) ancestors"). Genocide is genocide and to whitewash, deny or explain it away is tantamount to denying the existence of those who perished and the suffering, pain and loss of those who survived.
Vasilios and Panagiota Kapanikas with their son Yianni.