Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Cretan Black Lives Matter


There is an interesting intersection between Black Lives Matter and Greek refugee camps. The exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey after the 1922 Asia Minor disaster, lead into the massive deportation of Greece's African population. Having been brought to Greece as slaves during the Ottoman Empire, many became free and congregated in urban enclaves in Greek cities. One such enclave was "The Black Caves" on the slopes of the Acropolis in Athens. Thanks to Michael Ferguson's research, we know a lot more about the African neighborhood of Chania, Crete. During the 2009 Modern Greek Studies Association Conference in Vancouver, Ferguson presented one of the most interesting papers, “The Subsaharan Africans of Chania Crete in the 19th Century: A Comparative Perspective.” 

The published version of the paper appeared as “Enslaved and Emancipated Africans on Crete,” in Race and Slavery in the Middle East: Histories of Trans-Saharan Africans in Nineteenth-Century Egypt, Sudan, and the Ottoman Mediterranean, ed. Terence Walz and Kenneth M. Cuno, (Cairo, 2008), pp. 171-195. [I have PDF]

It is from this paper that I take the photo above, which is of an African refugee camp in Chania from ca. 1900. Why would Africans in Crete live in a refugee camp? Documented as late as the 1880s, freed African slaves had established their own quarter in Chania. We know very little about the architecture of this settlement, only that the houses were square and that they had flat roofs (very much like North African adobe houses). After a long series of wars, Greeks liberated Crete from the Ottomans in 1898. Neither Greek nor Ottoman, the freed Africans found themselves in the mercy of ethnic binaries. Their quarters were burned down by Greeks who saw them as Muslim. The picture above, shows the African Greeks as internally displaced peoples within the island that they had once called home, living in tents, around 1900. 

I do not know much about the topography of Chania to figure out where this might be. In the distance, you see the barracks that were taken over by Italians after the Ottomans were expelled.

During the 1922 exchange of population between Greece and Turkey, these Africans were displaced to Turkey (where they had no connection). A very small number defied the deportations and staid in Crete. They were studied by Charidimos Papadakis, The Africans of Crete: Halikoutis (Athens, 2008)

Papadakis reports on the last Afro-Cretan survivor whom he met, Salis Chelidonakis (1884-1967), pictured here. Once again, this is all from Michael Ferguson's research. What I'd like to do is add some archaeological specificity to the photograph above. And I need help from friends with Cretan topographical credentials.

3 comments:

Richard M. Rothaus, PhD said...

Hmmm. What can you say about the tents. Those are some pretty sizable fabric coverings. So big they appear made for the purpose. Where did those come from?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a fascinating post Kostis. Good luck in sorting out the topographical issues. Jack Davis

MariaAk said...

Is it possible that this is a pre 1890 photo? In the last wears of Ottoman rule there was a new inflow of workers from Benghazi (Benghazians were the ones mainly called Halikoutes, a derogatory term) that set up tent temporarily near the Government and Court Houses.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States