Sep 13, 2011

Population Exchange Museum: A tribute to Balkan people in move

Rakı glasses, sewing machines, table clothes, newspapers, music notes, photos, voter cards, diplomas and exchange documents issued in Greek…these were the items brought by those who left their homes in the Balkans at the end of the upheavals of the twentieth century. Their grand children donated these to the Population Exchange Museum, established in their memory. They were forced to leave their homelands when a convention was signed between Turkey and Greece on Population Exchange which led to 650.000 Turks and 1,2 million Greeks to being re-settled. The museum is dedicated to the process, for more click here

The museum building in Çatalca was a Greek tavern before the Population Exchange.

Despite its out of way location in Çatalca (60 km west of Istanbul), it is said to attract a lot of people. One can see why. It is cosy and informative. For instance, one learns about famous people in Turkey who were born in  Macedonia. For instance, Necati Cumalı, the poet, was born in Florina. This is the very spot Greek director Angelopoulos' "Macedonia border" film Suspended Step of the Stork was shot. Or, the artists Serezli are from Serres in Greece. Atatürk himself was born in Thessaloniki (Greece) as were many who established the republic. As we learn, many emigres were speaking Greek, Bulgarian and Macedonian when they came to Turkey after the Exchange. Funny enough, the appearances of some are very Slavic with blue eyes and blond hair, not surprising given that Macedonia was a cradle of different ethnicities. The garden of the museum has a board that shows the settlers in Çatalca, where they are hailing from, the original name of their town and in which country the town is located today. Once Ottoman, they are today Greece, Bulgaria and FYROM.  

The boards in the garden explain many stories about the population eschange.

The Museum also hosts a special corner for the vessel Gülcemal. She was named after one of the last sultan's mother and carried migrants from Thessaloniki to Istanbul and Izmir. Later, it was used as a cargo carrier in Blacksea and was then scrapped in Messina, Italy in 1950. I read poems in the Museum about "the evil Gülcemal" which took loved ones away.

Poems about the vessel Gülcemal that carried migrants.

Uprooting people is never only about changing location. It is about tearing communities apart. Indeed, the garden of the museum has a list of those who were settled in Çatalca some of which called each other as “patriot” in their mother tongue. We read that they still cook Balkan dishes and sing songs like Samiotissa (girl from Samos). It is time for  Angelopoulos, himself truly obsessed with the Balkans, to shoot a movie about the Population Exchange:-)

Texts of Greek songs or recipes of dishes from Macedonia
at the population exchange museum in Çatalca.

And a tribute to first generation emigres settled in Çatalca
after the population exchange.

For a truly interesting analysis of Angelopoulos films and the Balkans, click here.