Asia Minor Ancestry

Spent these last two mornings at the General State Archives of Athens searching through the Archive of the Evaluative Commissions of “Exchangeables”. I had recently heard that this archive is helpful to those searching their Asia Minor ancestry… and indeed, it proved it is!

We would have never imagined that this not very well known archive would give us so much information on the Spinos & Haratsis families of Alatsata, a town near Smyrna!

Alatsata was a flourishing town in the 19th and early 20th century, inhabited almost solely by Greeks! Flourishing… until the Catastrophe! In 1922 its population abandoned the land hastily and fled to Greece to be rescued from the Turkish hordes. The Spinos and Haratsis families were among those who fled to Samos and Athens.

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The Restitution

The Catastrophe followed the Treaty of Lausanne (1923). On January 30th 1923 both sides agreed on a Population Exchange. It was the first time in history that a obligatory massive population exchange was agreed. Greeks, residents of Turkey, now had to leave their lands and settle permanently in Greece, while Muslims of Greece had to move to Turkey. About 1,500,000 Greeks arrived to Greece. According to the treaties, these people could take their entire chattel with them and they would be compensated for the real estate they were leaving behind. Special commissions and organizations would take up their movement, restitution and compensation.

The refugees that came to Greece could receive either a rural or an urban restitution and compensation. In the rural restitution, they were given land, animals, seeds, tools, etc. and accommodation to live and cultivate the land. In the urban, they were given compensation, based on the property they had left in Turkey, and accommodation. In 1924 the Exchange Directorate was founded, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, to evaluate the property left in Turkey. Special commissions were founded for the completion of the huge work.

The Archive

The Archive of the Evaluative Commissions of “Exchangeables” is the archive exactly of these commissions and directorates described above. We could say this Archive is consisted of two parts: a) an alphabetical Index of compensated people, and b) the resolutions of the commissions regarding the people’s applications for compensation.

The Archive is huge! There is at least one really big index volume for each letter; the index is alphabetical, in general, but one has to be careful not to miss any mis-placed entries. The resolutions folders are filed by place of origin and place of settlement of the refugee. Regarding Alatsata, for example, there were some 5 “sub-archives”, each containing about 3-4 folders; there were two sub-archives for people from Alatsata who settled in Athens, another for those who settled in Chios etc.

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General State Archives of Athens, Ministry of Agriculture, Evaluative Commissions of Exchangeables

The Results

What was found was unbelievable! Except for the dozens of family names, we found lists of all the property the families owned back in Alatsata, even how many olive trees they had! All this property was evaluated in golden Turkish liras by the commissions for the determination of the compensations!

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General State Archives of Athens, Ministry of Agriculture, Evaluative Commissions of Exchangeables

The Feeling

Searching through that archive created special feelings. It was definitely a lot different to any other archive… It feels weird having lists of evaluated property of refugees in front of you. These people had no choice! They were obliged to leave their homeland and then they were requested to evaluate their property as if they wanted to sell it… Of course, they wouldn’t sell it! They lost their paradise and became poorer than they could even imagine!

But, in their collective and personal catastrophes, they were a bit lucky at the same time. Those refugees fled to a state which was in general friendly to them! They soon readjusted and intergrated! It’s more topical than ever to cogitate about the current refugee flows and try to better understand these people’s feelings and lives through the research and study of our refugees in 1922… The Spinos’s, the Haratsis’s and all the refugee families’ stories must make us think and empathize with feelings of people who might live in different eras or are of different ethnicity, but experience similar situations!

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