In the footsteps of Digenis Akritas: Melbourne exhibition celebrates Hellenic unity

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A new Melbourne exhibition fosters a deeper understanding of the shared history and culture of Greeks from Cyprus, Pontus, Cappadocia, and Asia Minor.

“In the Footsteps of Digenis Akritas” opened its doors on Monday, May 20 and runs until May 29, offering a vibrant exploration of Hellenic heritage.

*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
In the footsteps of Digenis Akritas. *All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.

The display, organised by Hellenism of Anatolia, showcases the elements that unite the Greek communities of Greece and Cyprus with the legend of Digenis Akritas, a bold warrior of the Byzantine empire.

Valia Gianinska, a Bulgarian visitor and Greek interpreter who obtained Greek citizenship after living 18 years in Greece, carefully perused the wedding garments, photos and traditional furniture, and was moved by the displays honouring missing people following the Cyprus invasion.

“I came specifically to see this rich tapestry of traditions,” she said.

Valia-Gianinsja-is-a-Greek-interpreter-in-Australia.-Originally-from-Bulgaria-she-lived-in-Greece-before-coming-to-Australia
Valia Gianinsja is a Greek interpreter, originally from Bulgaria, who lived in Greece before coming to Australia.

A journey through time and culture

The exhibition offers a multifaceted experience for visitors. Guests can explore displays of tangible and intangible cultural artifacts, delve into informative materials and historical photographs, and even participate in engaging educational programs.

“It’s thoughtfully done, making this display a powerful educational tool,” Chris Damatopoulos, President of Oakleigh Districts Community, told The Greek Herald.

*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.
Chris Damatopoulos, President of Oakleigh Districts Community (L) and MC for the event, Kostas Pataridis.
The-family-of-the-first-principal-of-Oakleigh-Grammar
The family of the first principal of Oakleigh Grammar.

The programs themselves range from dance classes and storytelling sessions to numerous demonstrations and guided recordings created by students.

Remembering the past and celebrating the present

The exhibition coincides with two significant anniversaries for the Hellenic community: the 105th anniversary of the Greek Genocide and the 50th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus.

The success of coupling this display with the other two anniversaries depended on careful execution. One of the organisers, Simela Stamatopoulos, said, “This exhibition achieves that thoughtfully, ensuring a respectful and informative presentation of these historical events. Behind the scenes, we worked carefully, everyone pitching in harmoniously.”

Kostas Paterakis.
MC Kostas Pataridis.

Emcee during opening night was Kostas Pataridis. High Commissioner of the Republic of Cyprus in Australia, Antonis Sammoutis, appeared on a video wall. Representatives of the Cyprus community, including SEKA Victoria President Pavlos Andronikos, spoke about the ongoing situation.

Mr Andronikos said, “When we think of an invasion, we think of soldiers fighting soldiers. The invasion of Cyprus was not like that.”

He pointed to the visit of the leader of the Turkish-occupied part of the island to Australia on May 22.

“What is happening is that they are pushing to be recognised as a separate state in Cyprus. At the moment, no country recognises them, but time is not on our side,” Mr Andronikos added.

Pavlos Andronikos
SEKA Victoria President Pavlos Andronikos.

On the 50th anniversary of the invasion of Cyprus on 21 July, Mr Andronikos invited all Greeks to protest in a march from the Victoria State Library to Federation Square, where there will be flag raising, poems, and music.

“We need to fill Melbourne with Hellenism or else we will fail,” he said. “This exhibition is a beautiful testament to the enduring spirit of our communities.”

Despina Kostopoulou from St John’s College read her essay, and there was live music and a presentation by La Trobe University Lecturer Stephie Nikoloudis.

Despina-Kostopoulou-from-St-Johns-College-reads-a-story-she-wrote
Despina Kostopoulou from St Johns College reads a story she wrote to those in attendance.
La-Tribe-University-lecturer-shares-a-presentation-about-Digenis-Akritas
La Trobe University lecturer shares a presentation about Digenis Akritas.

Cultural exchange

Dressed in Pontian costume, young audiologist Stavroula Loura has a Kalamatan background, while Simela Stamatopoulos’ nephew Paul Eleftheriadis is Pontian.

Loura said, “Dating a Pontian man has been lovely. I’ve enjoyed learning from the culture. I enjoy the regional dialect. It is interesting to hear different words. I studied linguistics in my undergrad and I enjoy listening.”

Simela-Stamatopoulos-right-says-Christos-Anesti
Simela Stamatopoulos (right) says Christos Anesti.
Stavroula Loura
Stavroula Loura in Pontian costume.

“I knew about the genocide before meeting Paul, and I was excited to learn more with our relationship,” Loura added.

Paul said, “I grew up in this tradition. My aunt has helped me. Anyone interested in culture should take a look at the Pontian community.”

Stavroula-Loura-and-her-boyfriend-Paul-Eleftheriadis
Stavroula Loura and her boyfriend Paul Eleftheriadis.

“Pontians are very friendly, and it is enjoyable being with other Pontians,” he said.

The Pontian community utilised an empty house filled with folklore. Displays include photos of missing people who disappeared during the invasion, an art display, traditional furniture, icons, and other household items. Visitors can experience a unique glimpse into Pontian life.

Greek-Consul-General-of-Melbourne-Emmanuel-Kakavelakis-enjoys-the-display
Greek Consul General of Melbourne Emmanuel Kakavelakis enjoys the display.
Those in attendance including Bill Papastergiadis OAM (R).

“In the Footsteps of Digenis Akritas” is a captivating journey into the heart of Hellenic culture. Whether you’re interested in learning about the legendary hero Digenis Akritas or simply want to experience the rich tapestry of Greek traditions, this exhibition is a must-see.

Exhibition details

The display offers an opportunity to explore the shared heritage that binds these Hellenic communities together.

Program highlights include:

– May 23rd: “Games of Asia Minor and Cyprus” at 6:30 PM

– May 25th: Dance Lesson by Sotiris Sotiriou at 2:00 PM

– May 26th: Award Ceremony for “Stories of Asia Minor” student competition at 6:00 PM

– May 29th: Closing Ceremony at 6:30 PM

The Exhibition runs from May 20 – May 29 and is open daily from noon to 6pm at the Community building across from Sts Anargyroi Church, 62 Willesden Road, Hughesdale.

*All photos copyright The Greek Herald / Mary Sinanidis.

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