Melbourne’s Greek community marks 100 years since the Asia Minor Catastrophe

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By Mary Sinanidis.

Several groups pulled out of the commemoration of the 100 years since the Asia Minor Catastrophe at the Australian Hellenic Memorial on Saturday, September 24.

The sunny weather, school holidays, Melbourne’s AFL Grand Final and an even longer public holiday with the addition of the Queen’s Day of Mourning resulted in a depleted attendance, meagre when compared to the 103-year anniversary of the Pontian Genocide at the same memorial last May.

It was timed to coincide with Archbishop Makarios of Australia’s visit to Melbourne. As the first Greek Orthodox church leader to visit the 21-year-old Australian Hellenic War Memorial, the Archbishop received a tour, certificate and was named patron.

Archbishop Makarios was named patron of the memorial.

Other patrons are Greek Consul General Emmanuel Kakavelakis, Victorian RSL State President Dr Robert Webster OAM, John Pandazopoulos, Murray Thompson OAM and Pantelis Kalimnakis OAM, the latter having been pivotal to pushing for the Memorial to be created – the first monument established for a migrant group at the foot of the Shrine of Remembrance.

Steve Kyritsis, Australian Hellenic War Memorial President, gave the Archbishop a tour of the Memorial, steeped in symbolism. One symbol, however, was missing – a cross. Archbishop Makarios asked for one to be added.

“He mentioned it and we will have a discussion with the committee to add a cross to the monument,” Mr Kyritsis told The Greek Herald.

“The fact that the Archbishop is a patron means, as he told me, that he will make every effort when he is in Melbourne to attend the memorial should we have an event. It is an honour.”

Archbishop Makarios said: “Both Australia and Greece gave unselfishly the best and their bravest and it is in this honour that this Memorial has been erected and was unveiled exactly 21 years ago.”

He added the role of the Church in their decision to enter the fields of battle and sacrifice their lives during two World Wars, doing so “willingly and joyously”.

“I pray that we renew our commitment to Christ through the memory of those who followed in his lead and may we pursue a peaceful coexistence in a multicultural society with a shared respect for our cultural diversity,” Archbishop Makarios said.

Mr Kyritsis referred to the ordeals of the Greeks, Armenians, Jews and other nationalities where half a million lost their lives and even more lost their homes, churches, schools and other buildings in fallen Smyrna.

He also remembered the early days of the Memorial when “a group of dedicated people with a lot of passion and a lot of enthusiasm wanted to honour the Anzacs.” It was thanks to their efforts that events such as the anniversary of the destruction of Smyrna have a special place to be commemorated.

Consul General Kakavelakis’ speech was in Greek, an obituary and eulogy for those who died in Asia Minor – a story which he said began with the fall of Constantinople on 29 May 1453, but he did say a few words about the Memorial.

Official guests at the event.

“His Eminence describes the significance of this memorial. It is not only a tribute for those fallen in countless battles where Australian and Greeks fell side by side, but it is a contemporary testimony and witness as to how those bonds between the two countries have evolved and have become indelible,” Mr Kakavelakis said before expressing the Greek government’s gratitude for these Greek Australian bonds of today.

Other speakers included Maria Vamvakinou MP representing Anthony Albanese, Nina Taylor MP and David Davis representing Matthew Guy. Kingston Mayor Steve Staikos was present along with other visitors making strong points about Greek history and the bonds that go to the past.

Everyone mentioned the importance of passing the lessons of history onto the younger generation, but there were few youngsters present.

Dressed in a traditional Pontian Costume, Haroula Karapanagiotidi, from Akrites tou Pontou said: “It has become an integral part of our identity and it becomes embedded generation-to-generation. Even though we weren’t there, and our grandparents weren’t there, to honour [the anniversary] is to honour a part of our identity as well.”

*All photos by Mary Sinanidis / The Greek Herald.

READ MORE: ‘We must remember and speak the truth’: NSW marks 100 years since the Smyrna catastrophe.

Haroula Karapanagiotidi (centre).

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