A half-finished bridal nightgown that was hastily and with trepidation put into a bag or a suitcase to take the road of refuge, a gospel “wet by the waves of Smyrna”, a diary that testifies to the horrors of the Asia Minor Catastrophe, or even a bit of soil from the “unforgotten homelands”, are among the heirlooms on display as part of the exhibition hosted in Saint Mark’s Basilica in Heraklion and ends on Sunday, April 30.

Theme of the exhibition “One century, one society, Heraklion: The place that united us 1923-2023” and through it, the possibility for citizens of the city that hosted more than 16,000 refugees from Asia Minor, to see up close authentic heirlooms given by descendants of the refugees, which carry a whole history on them.

Speaking to APE-MPE, the Deputy Mayor for Volunteering and Youth of the Municipality of Heraklion, Despoina Syngelakis, pointed out that this is an anniversary exhibition on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne.

“We can say that in Greece there was the biggest administrative act ever done, as the Greek state undertook to welcome and settle thousands of people per region, giving them from the temporary means to survive, to fields to be able to cultivate and houses to stay, in order to start a new life” said Ms. Syngelakis, noting that it is the first time that in Heraklion, the authentic heirlooms are gathered and displayed in the context of this exhibition which is divided into three sections.

The first relates to life before and during the Asia Minor Catastrophe. In addition to the bogus and suitcases kept as reminders, but also diaries in which historical moments are recorded, these days in the Basilica of Saint Mark, there has been a representation of an urban Asia Minor house and a rural house of the region, with objects of the time, embroidery, costumes, household utensils, etc.

The second part concerns the ecclesiastical relics and the third part, life after the settlement in Heraklion.

“Some of the items that were used to build these houses that represent homes in Asia Minor, are from those that our ancestors put in their luggage and brought,” said the president of the Alactian Association of Heraklion and Crete director of the Federation of Refugee Associations of Greece Christina Hatziadam, adding that “some others are from the objects they made from the very first years they lived in Heraklion, as, despite the fact that they had come to a new place, they maintained their own tradition”.

In fact, as Mrs. Hatziadam says, the connection of the first or even the second generation of refugees with the homeland they left is typical, to the point that “at the tables and feasts they held for many years, instead of clinking glasses they say “to health” they wished “good homeland” expecting that one day they will return”.

The bridal nightgown that was left half-finished

“One of the most important relics of the exhibition, which carry on them a whole history, pain and agony,” said Mrs. Syngelakis to APE-MBE, is located next to a traditional wedding dress from Cappadocia, a bridal nightgown, which was not finished and never been worn.

“It belonged to a young woman of the time when the migration of the population from Asia Minor found her preparing for her wedding. This nightgown has on it the marks that had to be filled in, the half-finished laces that she and her mother had woven and embroidered with such detail. A nightgown that was carefully put into a bag or a suitcase and that was never used by this young woman, who together with her family left their place.

The image of Saints Anargyri from the well and the testimony of Turkala

Speaking to APE-MBE, the president of the Association of Alactians of Heraklion and director of Crete of the Federation of Refugee Associations of Greece, Christina Hatziadam, referred to a special heirloom of her family. An image of the Saints Anargyri, which in the first persecution, as she emphasizes, her ancestors had hidden in a well.

“In the collection of images there is an image of Saints Anargyri from my grandmother’s family, from Cesme. Fleeing during the first persecution in 1914, they hid it in the well and returning in 1919 with the restoration, Turkala, who had stayed in their house, gave it to them. The shocking thing that the grandmother told us was that Turkala had told her that when her husband found the image in the well, he tried to break it with an ax and it turned towards him and killed him,” said Mrs. Hadziadam, who maintains as pupil of the eye this image, which for her family is miraculous.

“Every little thing that is here, the embroidery, the jewelry, the kitchenware, war memorabilia, photographs, tools, musical instruments, everything hides a holism,” said Mrs. Hatziadam, who concluded by reporting to APE-MPE: “Breathing in context of such exhibitions our culture, we cannot hide or not repeat that the request of all Asia Minor associations is to be able to have a center of Asia Minor culture in which a museum will also function. A place to hold conferences, to have a research role, to host libraries. And this so that our history is not forgotten.”