Copyright © The Malta Historical Society, 2010.

[p.356]

MALTESE SURVIVORS OF SMYRNA

Henry Frendo*

To the Greeks, Smyrna represents the ‘Hellenic Genocide’; to the Turks, the ‘National War of Independence’. Independence, or ‘liberation’, this may certainly have been, an achievement now fully-ingrained in the mythology of secular Turkish nationalism, symbolized by the steely-eyed portrait of Kemal Ataturk in military uniform staring down at you from every public and not-so-public edifice throughout modern-day Turkey. But it was, nevertheless, a ‘liberation’ born of a tragedy so riveting that it is as difficult as it is disturbing to perceive or to portray. Some historical film footage and photography survive in the public domain of the Smyrna shore-line bellowing smoke like a colossal furnace, almost completely destroying what was for millennia a prime centre of Hellenistic, later Roman and Christian culture, before the advent of Islam, the crusades, the fall of Constantinople and the rise of the Ottoman Empire, at its height in the sixteenth century. The ancient sites of Pergamon and Ephesus still partly stand, and are not too far.[1]

During a maritime history colloquium in what is now called Izmir[2] in May 2010, one Turkish scholar, basing himself on archival materials from the Prime Minister’s Office in what became Istanbul, outlined what a priority the taking of Malta in 1565 had been for the sultan, the attempt to take it negatively affecting other Ottoman foreign policy interests in the Balkans and North Africa.[3] But as that empire slowly declined and then disintegrated following the defeat of Germany, and Turkey with her, in the First World War, there was a rush for the spoils. Turkey proper got the lands around Ankara but much else was split up, including the Western shore with Smyrna at the heart of it. By international treaty, this was delegated in a four-power administrative sectoral arrangement to Britain, France, Italy and the U.S.A. In Asia Minor there was, as always, a large Greek presence which, egged on by some of those Western powers, made bold to seize more land, venturing out of the perimeters assigned to it. It was a strategic blunder which led to the most dire consequences, not least for the Greeks themselves. For if the newly-emergent Young Turks battling the humiliation of disintegration and defeat had a priority this time, it was the consolidation of Turkey into a modern independent state. That, to them, meant getting rid of the Greeks, the Europeans and Christians, one of whose last remaining Near Eastern strongholds, and the most thriving one, centred around Smyrna. The Turkish army routed the Greeks and proceeded to ensure that their presence on the now Turkish mainland would be erased beyond the possibility of restoration.

The Turkish cavalry rode in ferociously and victoriously on 9 September 1922. On a moodily windy day, petrol was poured over houses and edifices, including imposing historic buildings such as the Customs House. Starting from the Armenian quarter, the fires spread. Soldiers rushed up the steps of the Greek consulate, replacing the Greek flag with a Turkish one. As thick clouds of smoke bellowed to the heavens, Western European and American ships moored in the Gulf of Smyrna tried frantically, in the ensuing chaos, to take on as many passport-holding European Christian refugees as could make it to the boats in the choppy waters and clamber up to safety from incineration. An estimated 100,000 died in the flames or were otherwise slaughtered on that fateful day, but this figure goes up and up for Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and others. The Greek Orthodox metropolitan Chrysostom, who had supported a Greek return in 1919, was brutally tortured to death by a Muslim mob. Innumerable instances of rape and pillage

[p.357]

Refugees from Smyrna walking on the quay-side trying to obtain transportation from the city in September 1922. (Photo by courtesy of Dr A. Abela Medici)

8 September 1922: Refugees leaving Smyrna on HMS Maine. Overcrowding was the order of the day. (Photo by courtesy of Dr A. Abela Medici)

[p.358] were reported but nobody has exact figures. That was neither the first nor the last pogrom in Turkey but it was certainly the most dramatic and definite.

‘The sea was red, red with human blood’, recalled one Smyrna-born Maltese resident and eye-witness re-evoking the terrible day seventy years later at his house in Birgu. ‘I saw bodies floating all around.’ A third-generation Maltese of Smyrna, Vincent Cilia La Corte was 11 years old in September 1922. Understandably, he retained very vivid memories of the Smyrna fire and evacuation that changed his life, traumatizing a generation or two, so soon after the Armenian genocide during the Gallipoli campaign. Cilia’s family made it aboard a British ship in Smyrna Bay (from the Valletta-based Mediterranean Fleet) and ended up in Malta, whose language the young lad barely spoke beyond ‘iva’, ‘le’, ‘ejja’, ‘mur’…[4]

When I proposed the figure of 1,800 Maltese in pre-1922 Smyrna to the British consul at his office in Izmir on Thursday 6 May 2010, he shook his head. ‘No, there were more,’ he said; ‘about 3,000.’ The British consul, Willie Buttigieg, was another third-generation Maltese of Smyrna. Contrary to a widespread general impression that there are no more Maltese left in Turkey after all that had happened, and so many years later, it transpires that, in fact, there still survive tiny communities in Izmir as well as in Istanbul. They are individuals and families without the communal networking that had existed earlier, too few to get organized, but they know of each other and still identify Maltese ancestry. ‘We have Calleja, Buttigieg, Micallef, Ellul, Cassar, Portelli… Cassar passed away recently…’ Buttigieg added that, to facilitate survival in 1922, some Maltese exhibited the Union Jack on the roofs of their houses.[5]

We also have Vassallo’, Dr Ahmed Calik, the Maltese consul in Izmir, added on another occasion. I first met him on Friday 7 May 2010 – the British and Maltese consuls came together to the conference session I was chairing that morning – and again, for dinner with his wife at the Commercial Club overlooking the Gulf of Smyrna, on Saturday 8 May. I mentioned a Micallef who, I had learned, was the president of the Church of the Virgin Mary Association in Ephesus, where St Paul once tried to preach in the huge amphitheatre. ‘Yes, Noel Micallef’, he said; ‘I have been there; he invited me.’[6] According to Professor Akif Erdogru of Ege University, some Maltese in Izmir today tend to speak Italian and are close to the Italian consulate. Other Maltese had arrived from the Ionian Islands so they ‘were closer to the Greeks than to the Italians’.[7]

As a rule, none of these survivors in Turkey spoke Maltese. The ones in Malta did, because they had learnt or improved it, and these had occasion – and the need – to practice it in their daily lives or professions. However, when I met  [p.359] Patri Alphonse Sammut at the Franciscan convent in Birkirkara on Thursday 14 January 2010 – he spent the best part of the last thirty years in Turkey – he told me that at least one of his parishioners in Istanbul, Mrs Gauci, spoke fluent Maltese.[8] She was one of those who had returned to Malta but then, in spite of everything, gravitated back to Istanbul, where several Maltese used to have property, relatives, business interests and evidently fond memories. Typically, the meeting places mostly centred around the Catholic parishes, in this case around Galata and Pera, where Count Amadeo Preziosi had his famous atelier in the nineteenth century. There are still two or three antique/art shops in the Pera district where, if you are lucky, you might still land a good Preziosi. (If you are bargaining, don’t say you’re Maltese.)

Finding any tangible traces of the Maltese presence in Smyrna is a very tall order. Fr Sammut told me that there had been a few of the typically wooden balconies, similar to the Maltese ones, which had Maltese crosses – the eight pointed cross – inscribed on them. Search as you might, however, there was no sign of these. ‘I have never seen one’, the British consul Buttigieg replied when asked about this.[9] Many of the still surviving wooden balconies in the northern tip of Smyrna, known in the past as La Punta, which escaped the fire, are in a bad state, although a few are being repaired. Others are still as imposing as ever, an eloquent testimony to the artistry and elegance of times past. The familiar sight of scaffolding alongside some of these old houses bodes ill if demolition, rather than restoration, is what lies in store for them.

There are Catholic and other Christian churches, a monastery, a convent, St Polycarp in particular – St Polycarp was Smyrna’s first bishop in a tradition linking up directly to apostolic times. But this artistic gem seems to be generally closed except on special occasions, probably when there are services. It was sad to see it not only surrounded by iron fencing but also wood-barred throughout for security, so that even its once socially vibrant internal garden surroundings are barely visible from the streets encircling its modest, detached confines. Another onetime Catholic church called St John’s Cathedral, not far from the American consulate, is contracted out to some American sect, again with strict security arrangements and restricted entry permits. However, two or three other Catholic establishments, with some Maltese connections, survive, the most easily accessible being that of a mainly Italian-run one dedicated to the Holy Virgin of the Rosary, where Mass is said regularly, usually but not necessarily in Turkish. On Sunday, 9 May 2010, it hosted a respectable congregation with a fair sprinkling [p.360] of younger people and couples. In the grounds of this then Dominican-run church is where hundreds of Maltese and other Europeans huddled, inside or outside, as they sought some kind of refuge or sanctuary in escaping the 9 September 1922 carnage. Attard claims that ‘more than 3,000 people, mostly Christians, sought refuge with the Dominicans … (who) at Holy Rosary Church were the only hope for those with nowhere to go. Many were placed inside the church itself while the Red Cross put up tents in front of the same church.’[10] This church in its present condition is not so big but it is a detached building and recessed from the street, with a sizeable pathway and front garden leading up to the main door, although 3,000 persons still would have had to cram like sardines to fit in such spaces.

Books on Smyrna’s history which pre-date Young Turk days are impossible to come by in Izmir’s leading bookshops. The year 1922 tends to be commonly passed off as ‘the Great Fire’, abracadabra, and there is a general reluctance to engage in historical discussion, an induced amnesia or a preference to forget. Turkey still does not recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915, although when the editor of an Armenian newspaper was assassinated a few years ago, thousands marched in protest saying ‘We are all Armenians’. Post-independence Izmir is a modern city of four million inhabitants, with high-rise buildings and plenty of business enterprises and restaurants. The past indeed seems far removed; except in a few peripheral enclaves, it is nowhere to be seen. As a ‘futurist’, Marinetti would have liked it here. Contemporary Izmir, above all, is a free and functioning metropolis with a leisurely hustle and bustle in the bazaars, modern shopping arcades, organized traffic, and the extensive, beautifully landscaped seaside promenade that once was in flames. In the secular Kemalist legacy, Islamist fundamentalist characteristics are absent; there are less veiled women in Izmir than in Valletta.

Smyrna, while it lasted, was a different world. One has to re-create it, relying in part on largely oral inter-generational flashbacks. Many documentary sources have gone missing in Smyrna itself or were destroyed under statute in London, as indeed were many Maltese petitions for subsidies and other forms of assistance after 1922.

As may be seen from an old map being partially reproduced here, Smyrna was practically a non-Turkish city. Politically divided into sectors, it was socially divided into quarters. The Maltese were too small to have their own quarter, such as the French, Armenians or Italians; but they generally integrated with the Catholic parish communities, although many spoke Greek, French and Italian, frequently in addition to Maltese. Above all, they were Roman Catholics and British subjects, registered at the British consulate (which lost practically all its records in and after 1922). Smyrna here would resemble Alexandria: that would make for a [p.361] fascinating comparative study. In Alexandria, the Maltese were much more numerous, they may have started going a little earlier, and stayed longer, until the 1950s, and they were rather closer to home. Their hinterland was Africa, not Asia Minor, although both these cities were European-settled Mediterranean ports. In neither one nor the other were the indigenous religious surroundings by any means exclusively Muslim, not historically. In both, sizeable locally-rooted Christian communities - be they Copt or Armenian - predated Islamization.

In May 1919, the supreme council of the Paris Peace Commission had endorsed the Greek army’s landing at Smyrna in western Anatolia but not in Constantinople; other former Ottoman territories, including Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, the Dodecanese Islands and Antalya, were ceded to France, Britain and Italy. Out of Smyrna’s population of some half-a-million until1922, Turkish Muslims were in a minority of about 43%. Greek and Armenian Christians, whose connections there went back millennia, were somewhat more numerous, about 6% were Jews and 5% ‘foreigners’. In Smyrna, as in Alexandria and elsewhere, Christian Europeans could live and trade in the Ottoman Empire by means of capitular treaties entered into between the sultans and European Christian states giving extra-territorial rights to their subjects, mainly for purposes of trade and commerce.

The social divisions of Smyrna into sectors (or quarters) in 1922.

From what could be garnered mainly from interviews, what follows is a modest attempt to identify a skeletal history and an occupational lifestyle of the Maltese of Smyrna prior to 1922, and then briefly to trace or at least to indicate their fate [p.362] afterwards. This has been a largely neglected research area of Maltese history; so much remains to be done, preferably on site.

Immigration to Smyrna generally followed the Mediterranean pattern of Maltese overseas settlement. Persons who were unemployed or under-employed, or who saw opportunity knock outré mer, started to leave in the first half of the nineteenth century. They travelled by boat – the speronara – or by ship to coastal ports within the Mediterranean basin. These expeditions started on an individual basis before the period of European colonization but were greatly accelerated by it. Most conspicuously, in the Ionian Islands, this settlement, difficult as it was in some areas, was facilitated by the British presence between 1814 and 1864: the settlement lasted well beyond it, and survives to this day especially, but not only, in Corfù. Turkey, or rather the Ottoman Empire, was an exception in that neither Constantinople nor Smyrna were colonized as such, but considerable European activity flourished and, in spite of occasional disruptions, continued. This is brought out by Giles Milton in his book Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of Islam's Capital City of Tolerance (2008) where some of Smyrna’s European families are mentioned.

Turkey’s siding with Germany in the First World War owed something to the increasing German investment in Turkish development and modernization, such as railway construction. What this meant, too, was a demand for labour, always an attraction to Maltese workers, skilled and unskilled. Smyrna, like Valletta, was a thriving entrêpot port, bordering the Mediterranean; hence, it was a choice location although somewhat further removed than the North African ports. Maltese settlers earned a living usually doing what they had best been accustomed to do in and around the Grand Harbour. Quite unlike the Maltese experience in the Ionian Islands, there was no Maltese agricultural activity in Smryna – Willie Buttigieg excluded this outright; many Greeks and Italians, however, were engaged in agriculture. Buttigieg’s father was a boat builder working on the wharf in the area then known as La Punta, and I could have a guided look at where he used to moor his boat, but the son recalled the Maltese of Smyrna performing a wide variety of jobs, as tinsmiths for example. From other interviews with two Smyrnaborn Maltese, who had returned to Malta and whom I could locate through the grapevine in the early 1990s – another, Mary Borg, had unfortunately just passed away – one can surmise Maltese occupational trends.[11]

In public works, the unskilled workers were involved mostly in road building and in railway construction. Others who had a craft or a technical background derived from Malta’s particular orientation, such as the dockyard, found jobs as, [p.363] for example, boiler makers and mechanics. Still others went into commerce, be that transport or shop-keeping. Dr Henry Stabile, who was born in Smyrna on 3 September 1922, just before the genocide, knew that the pilot at the port of Smyrna was Maltese.[12] This was a position of considerable responsibility and reflected a marked degree of integration through ability, by dint of expertise and hard work, within Smyrna society.

Once again typically, Cilia La Corte’s father was a chargeman or stevedore, responsible for heavers loading and unloading merchandise in the port. His elder brother, Freddie, who was a polyglot, became a clerk at the British consulate in Smyrna. The grandfather, Johnnie, who had first moved to Smyrna, had been a Valletta sculptor with much custom in the churches. Around 1865, he had been invited by the Dominican priory there to do some work for them in the church – they had even paid for his trip – and he never returned to Malta. Inevitably, church and religion were central to Maltese migrant life, as they were back home and generally everywhere else in Maltese overseas settlement. In Smyrna, as a child, our interviewee remembered two priests, a Fr Camilleri from Senglea and a Fr Caruana from Hamrun. As in cosmopolitan Egyptian, Tunisian, Algerian and other predominantly Muslim cities within a European sphere of influence, there were Catholic schools. Stabile went to the French-run Jesuit College, Cilia La Corte to the Italian Salesians. In 1927-1937, Smyrna – Izmir by then – would have a Maltese archbishop, Fr Edward Tonna, former parish priest at St Helen’s and, from 1950 onwards, a Malta-born Franciscan, Leonard Testa, running St Helen’s parish.[13] Both Willie Buhagiar, a Catholic, and Ahmed Calik, a Muslim, attended St Joseph’s school in Izmir: they were class mates.[14]

Not all jobs held by migrant settlers in pre-1922 Smyrna had a Maltese pedigree. Smyrna had tobacco factories, of which there had been a whiff in Malta (such as Howard’s Atlam cigarette factory), but more important was the fig factory. Figs were a main product and export, so several Maltese gravitated into this kind of employment where figs would be selected and packed mainly for export. Stabile’s father and uncle knew Smyrna’s fig export industry well. In [p.364] research conducted at the Jesuit College, together with a Frenchman, Herr Jung, they had discovered a method to preserve figs from rotting during out-bound journeys in the train wagons. This Stabile-Jung method, which consisted of temperature regulation and sterilization, was sufficiently acclaimed for Stabile’s uncle to be invited back later by the Turkish government in order to pursue his research, Dr Stabile recalled with pride.

The commercially bustling and culturally alive European milieu in Smyrna clearly permitted social mobility and self-improvement. Our interviewee’s mother was a Greek who taught classical Greek and music at the Jesuit College and spoke fluent French; his uncle was a music professor, his grandfather a classical guitar player. There was no inter-marriage between Maltese and Muslims, but among the European communities inter-marriage was not uncommon. Many of the Maltese in Smyrna, as in Alexandria, came to speak other languages such as Greek, French and Italian, even Turkish, sometimes retaining Maltese. As in Algeria and Tunisia, English was less well-known in Smyrna than in Alexandria or Cairo, where Lord Cromer and Lord Lloyd strove to foster it partly to deter British subjects – read Maltese – from attending French and Italian schools in a British-dominated territory. Most Maltin ta’ Smyrna, arriving in Malta usually for the first time in the 1920s, had problems with English until they could acclimatize themselves to colonial conditions. Dr Stabile had to wait another three years before he could start his course in medicine because he had matriculated with an ‘A’ in every subject except English.

From what Stabile remembered, through the many reminiscences and conversations mainly with his learned mother, the Maltese in Smyrna tended to be a rather closed community, with some exceptions; but, in spite of the pettiness and gossip and class differences, they would always lend a hand to help one another, especially in matters of health. There was no Maltese ghetto. Although Mr Buttigieg said that there was no one Maltese ‘quarter’ as the Maltese were spread all around, he must have meant around the European area, which itself was concentrated close to the port, mostly in the streets running parallel to the shoreline. La Punta, where he has his office and where his family lived, is in the northern tip which was largely spared the fire, hence the still surviving wooden balconies. Lawrence Attard has noted that the Maltese in Smyrna were mostly settled in Karsiyaka (Cordelio) and in the old quarter of the city. Most Maltese in Smyrna – as in Australia today – owned their own houses. Both the Stabile and Cilia La Corte families in Malta would eventually receive a few hundred pounds each, by way of war compensation, through an accord with the British government, for property lost in the fire/genocide.

Tremendous demographic movements took place as a result of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and other Greco-Turkish accommodations. Hundreds of [p.365]

Mr Willie Buttigieg, the British Consul at Izmir, is a third-generation Maltese of Smyrna. Cf pp. 358 and 342.
(
Photo: Prof H. Frendo)

Wooden balconies in the area formerly known as La Punta in Smyrna. These balconies have survived mainly because this area was largely spared the fires which accompanied the Turkish violent occupation of the city in 1922.
(
Photo: Prof H. Frendo)

A closer look at one of the wooden balconies at the former La Punta, Smyrna.
(
Photo: Prof H. Frendo)

[p.366] thousands of Greeks in Turkey and of Turks in Greece were transplanted in a massive population exchange. For example, Calik’s family came to Turkey from Crete; his wife’s from Bulgaria.

For the Maltese of Smyrna, life was not rosy at all. Those who could not get out on British ships at the time of the evacuation in September 1922, had to survive by whatever means they had or could have access to. Stabile and Cilia La Corte made it on HMS Maine and went through the rigmarole that awaited those initial four score Maltese refugees in a home country they generally did not know and whose language they did not speak. They were housed, for years, first at Lazzaretto, then at Ricasoli Barracks, in three blocks. Cilia La Corte remembers many of them – Bonnici, Darmanin, Pullicino, Cilia, Stabile, Fenech, Buhagiar … and a few Englishmen too. These were offered accommodation ‘at Strickland’s College’ (St Edward’s). Until 1929, the Smyrna refugees in Malta depended largely on rations and handouts, which were generous, but they could not go out to work. Eventually, this restriction was eased. Henry Stabile’s father Salvu, who was a special fitter, found employment at the dockyard. One Buttigieg opened a confectionery shop, another started as a barber. ‘It was up to you to find your own way.’

For the Maltese descendants back in Smyrna, however, conditions went from bad to worse. In 1932, President Ataturk’s regime made it illegal as a rule for people with foreign passports to work in Turkey – and that included occupations such as barbers, porters, waiters, etc. This meant that life became so much more difficult for Maltese engaged in clerical work, on the railways, as stevedores or in any small service-related enterprise. In 1934, a law on settlement permitted permanent settlement in Turkey only to ‘persons of Turkish culture and descent’. The Treaty of Lausanne had not even granted minority status to Catholics or Protestants, though what that was worth in real terms is questionable because Greek Orthodox and Armenians had it [sic].[15] According to a petition from Antonio Borg in 1937, seventy-five per cent of the Maltese were ‘skilled manual workers’, a few were professionals or in business, others were blue collar workers.[16] Two hundred more refugees managed to get out and make it to Malta at this time. The Sunday Express in London carried a report about ‘two hundred Maltese crosses’ who had been ordered to leave Turkey within a week, forcing several to disperse to the Greek islands in the Aegean. Already, during the First World War, several had left Turkey and, to escape internment, moved elsewhere, particularly to Egypt, noted Ivan Magri-Overend, who lived in Cairo. ‘Others preferred to stay.’[17] But it was [p.367] not easy – after 1922, most were now destitute. As amply shown by the copious, pathetic Maltese petitions from Smyrna begging Britain for help, transmitted via the British consulate to the Foreign Office, most Maltese were living in misery, some were on the verge of starvation.[18]

The figures of Maltese still in Istanbul and Smyrna varied but seemed to average at 1,500, of whom 500 were in Izmir. Relief allowances also varied, sometimes including road taxes and school fees, but generally these were the barest minimum possible for literally keeping body and soul together. In the late 1930s, before the Second World War, this aid was on a 50%-50% arrangement between the imperial treasury and the Malta government. Maltese petitioners from Smyrna asked for refunds for road taxes and school fees for 16 Maltese girls attending the école française: the parents were having to sell their clothes and their few possessions. The British preferred Maltese children to attend a school such as St Joseph’s rather than French or especially Italian schools, but Maltese complained that the Italians were doing much more to help their nationals in distress than the British. British prestige was at stake as other ethnic groups often jeered and looked down on the Maltese who were reduced to an abject state, the more so when a life of acute dependence mixed with an enforced idleness.[19]

The Maltese were afraid to let go of their British passports whatever the cost but British assistance apparently remained the easiest way out – periodic minimal relief handouts. Prospects of resettling the Maltese in Cyprus, or Australia, or Brazil, or in Malta, all proved unfeasible. When war broke out again in 1939, the situation became still more desperate, as some two hundred others were advised to leave for the U.K., Australia or wherever. According to Nicholas Chircop, some of the ethnic Maltese who had retained their British citizenship in Turkey were evacuated from Greece and Turkey and some admitted to Egypt, where young men of military age joined the Services:

‘I remember some of them going through, as myself, their training at the I.T.D. (Infantry Training Depot) at Fayed, 182 km from Cairo, a desert locality east of the Suez Canal. In Alexandria, some of their children joined the “Maltese Scout Group”, and as their elders all spoke Greek and Turkish as a primary language.’[20]

[p.368] In the general evacuation of 1942, as the world war spread eastwards, some 1,000 men, women and children of Maltese descent from the Balkans, including Turkey, found themselves in a camp in India until, no less than six years later, many of them resettled in Australia and elsewhere. Their plight has been well detailed in an MA thesis by a Canadian scholar and librarian, John Darrich Crawford, of which at his behest I had a copy deposited in the University of Malta’s Melitensia section. In his words:

‘As the Germans advanced into the Balkans in 1941, the British government decided to evacuate all British citizens in the area. Somewhere between 700 and 1000 persons described as Maltese were evacuated to India in January, 1942. The nucleus of this group remained in India until 1948 when they moved first to Eritrea in East Africa and then to Cyprus before their final dispersal. Everywhere during this journey, individuals or small groups made alternative dispositions. When the main party left India, a group of some forty people stayed behind, having made arrangements to travel to Australia or New Zealand.’[21]

Crawford called it ‘the Maltese Odyssey’. Truly it was more in the nature of a Greek tragedy. What this disorienting chimeric quest for a decent family livelihood in a civil society in peace meant is: that for several among the hapless surviving Maltin ta’ Smyrna, after so much misery and suffering that knew its origins to September 1922, it would be 26 years before they and their families could find a final resting place. Some no doubt would have already found one, of a different kind, along the way. A specimen of intolerance, exclusion and indifference, as well as of perseverance, survival and faith, here is a story of greater woe than that faced by any other Maltese migrant community in the whole history of Maltese overseas settlement since the eighteenth century.

And yet, nationality dies so hard that it still flickers on even in today’s Izmir and through the memories and records passed on to us by other Smyrna survivors such as Henry Stabile and Vincent Cilia La Corte.



* Henry Frendo is Professor of History at the University of Malta and has been a visiting professor at Florence, Salzburg, Cambridge, New Orleans, Indiana, Enna, Urbino and Melbourne. He is the author of several seminal historical works covering a variety of aspects especially about Malta, is consultant to three encyclopaedias, and has been an International Visitor to the UK, USA, Germany, the EU, and a member of the European Intellectual Summit in 2004. He has also edited, produced and presented radio and TV documentary or discussion programmes. His writings have been published in Malta, Britain, Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Egypt, the USA, Australia and India with his main research and teaching interests being imperialism, nationalism, decolonization and post-colonialism, modern European political and cultural development, European historiography, migration, the press and media, and a special interest in political parties and the relationship of language-culture to nationality-statehood. Professor Frendo currently chairs the University of Malta’s Editorial Board/University Press and directs the Institute of Maltese Studies. He also chairs Malta's refugee appeals Tribunal.

[1] Visit, for example, the website by Roberto Lopez (Sao Paolo, Brazil) on http//www. HellenicGenocide.org. and the photo album on Smyrna (http://smyrni.5) by Konstantinos Chatzikyriakos, including a zoned map of Smyrna before the fire. On all this see, inter alia, M. Housepian Dobkin, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of a City, Newmark Press, New York 1989; G. Milton, Paradise Lost: Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance, 2008. A period account and testimony would be that by Rev. Charles Dobson, ‘The Smyrna Holocaust’, in L. Oeconomos (ed), The Tragedy of the Christian Near East, The Anglo- Hellenic League, London 1923.

[2] Smyrna was an Anatolian word from the place-name Tismyrna in the ancient Ionian dialect, written ‘Smyrna’ in Attican, centuries before Christ; Izmir is said to be derived form it.

[3] Akif Erdogru, ‘The Great Siege of Malta (1565): New Information from the Ottoman Perspective’. Rather than the dismissive ‘Malta yok’ anecdote, he held the Great Siege to have been ‘one of the most cumbersome and large-scaled campaigns led by the Ottomans in the Mediterranean during the 16th century’. He was unaware of Professor Arnold Cassola’s book on the subject (to which I referred him) which seems to have tapped the same or part of the same sources (the proceedings of the Ottoman High Court – Muhimme Defterleri) of 1564-1565.

[4] 4 Interview with Vincent Cilia La Corte, 82, by Jesmond Saliba (Malta, 1992).

[5] Interviews with the Hon. Willie Buttigieg (Izmir, Turkey, 6 and 7 May 2010).

[6] Interviews with the Hon. Ahmed Calik (Izmir, Turkey, 7 and 8 May 2010).

[7] Interviews with Professor Akif Erdogru (Izmir, Turkey, 5 and 7 May 2010).

[8] Interviews with Fr Alphonse Sammut (Malta, 2010)

[9] This fact, mentioned to me by Fr Sammut when I met him at his Birkirkara convent in January 2010, was also mentioned in 1991 by Fr Joe Calleja (after being in Istanbul and in close touch with Fr Sammut): ‘The Maltese cross, worked in stone, is still visible in some balcony.’ See infra, fn.13. The reference appears to have been to ‘some balcony’ in Istanbul, not Smyrna.

[10] L.E. Attard, ‘Maltese migrants in Izmir (1840-1940)’, The Sunday Times (of Malta), 7 July 1996, 42-43.

[11] Mary Borg was 17 when she arrived in Malta from Smyrna together with her sister and widowed mother; they took up residence in Cospicua Road, Paola. The father had died during ‘the occupation’ (l-okkupazzjoni). Her younger brother had also died. The elder brother emigrated to the Belgian Congo, returning to Malta forty years later but, as he could not settle here, he quickly left again.

[12] Dr Stabile was interviewed in 1993 by one of my migration students at the time, Jesmond Saliba; he also let us have various family documents which he was keen to share, including Smyrna baptism and marriage certificates as well as a personal/family account of goings-on in Smyrna and Malta upon arrival, and an exchange of letters.

[13] Attard, supra, fn. 10. This article made reference to various parish archives and the assistance of Fr Leonard Testa, indicating a practising Maltese Catholic presence since 1840. Complementary to this is another researched article, including other even earlier parish archives, by Fr Joe Calleja ‘Maltese buried in a Christian cemetery in Istanbul’, The Times (of Malta), 31 Mar. 1991, pp. 36-37, when the parish priest at St Antoine in Galata Saray was Fr Alphonse Sammut, noting, among others, the following names: de Brockdorff, Pisani, Preziosi, Portelli, Orr, Ferry, Calleja-Violi, Griscti, Spiteri, Dandria, Falzon, Schembri, Grima, Caruana, Buhagiar, Filletti, Testa… See also Michael Galea, ‘Dr Lewis F. Mizzi (1848-1935) – a profile’, The Times (of Malta), 14 Oct. 1990, p. 32.

[14] According to Calik, a maritime lawyer, there still is another operational St Joseph School in Istanbul.

[15] See Ibrahim Kaya, Circular Migration and Turkey: A Legal Perspective, European University Institute, Fiesole 2007.

[16] Antonio Borg petition, Smyrna, 24 Jan. 1937, consular enc. k 9641, cited in Theuma, f. 3. Refer to fn. 18, infra.

[17] I. Magri-Overend, ‘Notes on Maltese Migration to North Africa and Turkey’, unpublished mimeographed paper, Maltese Migrants’ Convention, Valletta, 4 Aug. 1969, f. 5 (by courtesy of Dr Pierre Dimech in Salon-de-Provence, France).

[18] In 1993, I had given a batch of such petitions and exchanges, which I had copied at the then Public Record Office, to one Frank Theuma, who was reading migration studies with me, to look at, as he duly and diligently did. I had no recollection of this had he not reminded me of it himself at the maritime history conference in May 2010, which he attended and addressed, in Izmir. Now teaching in Copenhagen, he is furthering his post-graduate studies but this Smyrna affair had obviously and understandably made some impression on him as an under-graduate. I have even retraced a copy of his essay with references to the consigned original correspondence papers.

[19] On the schools question, see the petitions of 28 January 1937 and 10 March 1937 forwarded to the Foreign Office from the British consulate on k7961.

[20] N.D. Chircop, The Maltese Levantine Experience, Melbourne 1994, 90.

[21] J.D. Crawford, The Maltese Diaspora: The Historical Development of Migration from Malta, unpublished MA dissertation presented to the University of Victoria, Canada, 1984, 68-69. See also J.D. Crawford, ‘The Maltese Odyssey’, The Maltese Herald, Sydney, 14 Feb. 1989; and Chircop, 99-104.