The Memory of the Refugees Today

Remaining refugee houses nowadays at Vlaxernon street in Garitsa. 

“Memory hurts wherever you touch it”

George Seferis Μνήμη Α΄, 1955

Memory is closely associated with History. It is dynamic, changing, and it conveys emotions. More precisely, memory usually reflects the way in which the protagonists perceived the events, not only the events themselves.

In this context, this exhibition concludes with the quest for the memory of the refugees in Corfu today. 

The 1922 refugees remain ‘alive’ in the memories and in the narrations of their children and grandchildren who live on the island today. Their families remember them with love and recall the moments they lived with them, the songs, the smells, and their stories.

"She was a very good grandmother... what else can I say! ... I only have good memories from my grandmother. She was the best person I have ever known."
Daniel Fokas, third generation descendant, (Tekirdag, Eastern Thrace), Corfu 2021,
The Corfu Reading Society Archive.

Some refugees never spoke of the traumatic events they experienced. Others raised their children and their grandchildren with stories about life in their homeland and the flight from there, instead of fairy tales. Stories that left an imprint on children’s minds… The trauma of a memory that passes down from generation to generation…

Σοφία Λινάρδου – Καραγιαννοπούλου, Κέρκυρα 23/06/2022, Αρχείο Αναγνωστικής Εταιρίας Κερκύρας.

"We listened to the stories of the Greco-Turkish War like fairy tales. They may have been a little depressing, but they needed it... They needed to tell them."
Ekaterini Orphanidou - Kyriazopoulou, third generation descendant, (Tigeltzik-Bafra-Amasya, Asia Minor),
Thessaloniki 2022, The Corfu Reading Society Archive.

It wasn’t just the stories that they were told in their childhood; it was also the songs they listened to hummed by their families. Melodies, rhythms, and lyrics that are sung time and again by the descendants.

Σπυριδούλα Ματθαιοπούλου, Κέρκυρα 17/11/2021, Αρχείο Αναγνωστικής Εταιρίας Κερκύρας.

"She would sing to us, in Turkish. She lulled us with Turkish songs! That song "Bekledim De Gelmedin" that still exists today."

Similarly, the smells of the East remain indelible in the memory of the descendants. Favourite food, the taste of which does not fade away regardless of the years that have passed. Besides, as many descendants point out in their interviews, meals were a ritual.

Semolina Halva. Erifili (Eri) Hytiri Private Collection.

Apart from the childhood memories of the descendants, the presence of refugees on the island is also reflected in the few objects they managed to bring along from their homelands. Those that have survived until today, even the simple objects of everyday use, have unique stories about the families behind them. They are priceless heirlooms that remind the descendants of their ancestry.

"Everyone carried on their backs a bag with the most essentials. It was forbidden to carry valuables such as jewellery, except what they were wearing. What they were allowed to carry were icons of Orthodox saints. So everyone carried at least one icon."
Ioannis (Yiagos) Kalaitzoglou, second generation descendant (Megalochori, Sille & Aydincik, Silifke),
Corfu 2022, The Corfu Reading Society Archive



"My grandmother had ordered a carpet from a carpet maker right across the street from her house. This carpet was prepared. The carpet-maker gave it to his son (a little boy of about ten or twelve years old) to take it to Mrs. Barbara and be paid. This was done; the boy received the money, and on his way home, the Cetes slaughtered it in the middle of the street. My folks were scared and, as soon as my grandfather went home and they told him the incident, he told them: "Get up, we're leaving tonight! He had a boat, it must have been quite big. And on this boat, sixteen people got in at night. His own family and two of his relatives. They also took with them... the new carpet. And in the carpet they wrapped my father, only two years old! ...this carpet is still today in Corfu and my grandson has it. He plays on it!"

George Kagouridis, second generation descendant, (Chanakkale), Corfu 2022, The Corfu Reading Society Archive.

Carpet from Canakkale. Carpet, in which Georgios Kagkouridis's father was transferred from Asia Minor to Greece, kept as a family heirloom in Corfu. Georgios Kagkouridis Private Collection.

The need to return to their ancestors’ homelands, in other words, the quest for the places, the houses, and the environment in which their family was born and raised is considered by many descendants a moral obligation and at the same time, a personal need. Some managed to go, others not yet. There were, of course, many who never wanted to make such a journey for sentimental reasons.

Αναστασία Παπάζογλου, Νεοκαισάρεια Ιωαννίνων 17/05/2022, Αρχείο Αναγνωστικής Εταιρίας Κερκύρας.

Σπυρίδων Μουρατίδης, Κέρκυρα 22/07/2022, Αρχείο Αναγνωστικής Εταιρίας Κερκύρας.

Εριφύλη (Έρη) Χυτήρη, Κέρκυρα 29/11/2021, Αρχείο Αναγνωστικής Εταιρίας Κερκύρας.

The memories, the heirloom, the return to the ancestral homelands, preserve family memories and traditions. 

But how do the descendants feel about their ancestry today? Their surnames point to ancestry from Pontus and Asia Minor, but do they sense their refugee origins or are they fully assimilated into the Corfiot society? The sense of ancestry is a dominant element in preserving memory.

The historical trauma is sometimes transformed into art. Descendants are inspired by their family stories and express their feelings through art.

Spyros Mouratidis "With the hope of return" (2022), watercolour, 38 x 56 cm. Refugees, leaving their places of origin, buried valuable objects, thinking that, at some point, they would return and find them again. They continued to believe this for several years after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Spyridon Mouratidis Private Collection.
Erifili (Eri) Hytiri "Xerizomos" (2022). Erifili (Eri) Hytiri Private Collection.

It is not only the family memories of the descendants that keep the presence of the refugees of the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922 in Asia Minor alive on the island. Public memory, although not so distinct, still remains strong. 

The refugee clubs, established in the early years, ceased to operate decades ago. Today, the Corfu Pontian Black Sea Club, although not established by descendants of refugees that settled on the island, is the only association in Corfu whose purpose is to preserve the traditions and customs of the refugees.

Χρήστος Χαχαμίδης, Κέρκυρα 21/06/2022, Αρχείο Αναγνωστικής Εταιρίας Κερκύρας.

Incorporation statute of the Red Club of Corfu. Archive of the Pontian Black Club of Corfu.

A stroll in the refugee quarters of Corfu reveals some of the remaining ‘humble’ houses that have not yet given way to blocks of flats, reminding that the refugees, who permanently settled on the island, built their lives there. The designation of the areas where the refugees who came to Corfu from Asia Minor were given homes as ‘refugee quarter’ has now been abandoned, so people often pass by these streets, unaware of their history.

A few remaining refugee houses in Kyprou Str., Garitsa Corfu.



​​"The refugee houses were low ... Yes, they were ... They existed until recently, they were all low. Now there are still some, here there are still such houses, low."
Adamantia Makri, second generation descendant (Sille, Konya),
Corfu 2021, The Corfu Reading Society Archive.

Very few people also know that the cost for the construction of the fountain in Esplanade square, one of the most iconic places in Corfu old town, was covered by a refugee, i.e. the Corfiot Georgios Vaianos. To honour him, the Corfiots named a cantouni (small pedestrianised street) next to the Holy Metropolis, after him.


"A medium sized, chubby man, with his flat cap, rosy-cheeked. Smiley with his cane...that's how I remember Doctor Vaianos."
Spyridoula Matthaiopoulou, second generation descendant, (Sille, Konya),
Corfu 2021, The Corfu Reading Society Archive.
"Georgios Vaianos" Street Sign.
The central fountain in Spianada Square, Corfu Town. It was transferred there with the sponsorship of Georgios Vaianos.

The presence of refugees is also reflected in the burial monuments and cenotaphs in the cemeteries of the island, which in fact link Corfu with dozens of families who live today elsewhere, as they are the resting places of their ancestors.

The cenotaph of Saint Arsenios the Cappadocian in the First Cemetery of Corfu, is a typical example of this, as is the marble plaque in memory of the refugees that died in the 1923 Italian bombardment.

The cenotaph (empty tomb) of Saint Arsenios. It is noted that two recoveries of the bones of Saint Arsenios have been carried out. The first by St. Paisios in 1958 and the second in 1995 by the then Bishop of Corfu, Paxos and the Diapontia Islands Timotheos.




"The Priest of the Cemetery told me to either go again another time or stay until the rains stopped. I told him "I will come tomorrow morning to the Cemetery and the Father will help". The next morning I started with a deluge, but as soon as I reached the Cemetery, that heavy rain immediately stopped and the sun came out. His exhumation was done with kindness, the Priest also read the Trisagion, and leaving with the Relics, the heavy rain began to continue again. The priest then told me: "the Father performed his miracle".
Μοναχού Παϊσίου του Αγιορείτου, Ο Άγιος Αρσένιος ο Καππαδόκης,
Σουρωτή Θεσσαλονίκης 1994.

Next to the cenotaph of Saint Arsenios, there is also a marble plaque dedicated in memory of Father Germanos Kyriakidis, placed by his descendants who live in Volos today.

Marble plaque in memory of Father Germanos Kyriakidis. Ioannis Papadopoulos Private Collection.
"The older children - who were twenty years old - were told where father Germanos was buried. So my parents set out and went to Corfu on an excursion. They went to the church in the cemetery and because they knew that their priests were buried in the perimeter of the cemetery - in the perimeter of the church, I guess - they went there around the church and searched. How can you find anything in a grassy place, with graves, with railings... And they started at random with various sticks and with various stones to remove the soil that was above the graves; to see if they could find any sign. And at dusk, after a whole day, after they had dug the upper part of various graves, they found a plaque that read "Father Germanos"... all the bones of the clergymen that were there before the construction of the monument of St. Arsenios, they seem to have been placed in the cenotaph... In the perimeter of the wall, I also fixed a memorial plaque in memory of my grandfather, father Germanos."
Ioannis Papadopoulos, second generation descendant (Karacaoren),
Volos 2022, The Corfu Reading Society Archive.

There are also other burial monuments – unknown to the public – that have ‘silent’ stories of refugees to narrate. 

Σπυρίδων Μουρατίδης, Κέρκυρα 22/07/2022, Αρχείο Αναγνωστικής Εταιρίας Κερκύρας.

A search is all it takes to find everything reminiscent of the presence of refugees from Asia Minor on the island. 

After all, Corfu, being first place where thousands of refugees realised their new life, has also left a strong imprint on the memories of the descendants who live nowadays in other parts of Greece.

"In the little settlement house we used to have, my mother had a painting in the living room. A guest once asked her what it depicted and she said to him, 'Don't you see it? The procession of St. Spyridon, whom we had as our patron saint in Corfu! The Saint was in her heart and she told stories about miracles of the saint that he performed many miracles and that his shoes became worn out, she told my children that he protected them that is why they survived.'. She also said that 'In Corfu where we went - blessed place - they had prickly pears and we ate them and it was very nice.' We, in Macedonia did not know what kind of fruit it was and when we went on an excursion to Kalamata we saw prickly pears everywhere. I remember my children getting out of the car with such joy to pick them, to bring a souvenir to grandmother so that she could remember Corfu when she was young."
Sultana Christani, second generation descendant (Madytos, Eastern Thrace),
New Madytos 2022, The Corfu Reading Society Archive.

“Homeland is now inside each one of us”.

G. Chytiris, Το Μέγα Δρυ [The Great Oak], 2003

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