Speaker: Huw Halstead (University of St Andrews)
Discriminated against in Turkey on the basis of their ethnic and religious identity, the Greek-speaking Orthodox Christians of Istanbul and Imbros (Gökçeada) overwhelmingly left their places of birth in the years c.1950-1980. Most settled in Greece, where they received a lukewarm reception from a government that saw them as abandoning historic Greek territories, and from segments of the population who viewed them with suspicion due to their Turkish birthplace. I explore the means through which this displaced community sought to (re)construct their understandings of home and national identity. Drawing parallels between the historian Alon Confino’s discussion of the Heimat idea in German nation building and the Greek concept of patrída – both of which can interchangeably refer to an abstract national homeland and a familiar local one – I demonstrate that the expatriated Greeks of Turkey respond to domestic Greek challenges to their legitimacy as ‘Greeks’ by emphasising rather than downplaying the particularities of their own local heritages. By claiming descent from the Byzantines or from ancient Athenian colonists, by casting themselves in the likeness of exemplary heroes from the Greek national past, and by professing a privileged lived knowledge of Greece’s Turkish Other, the Greeks of Turkey can simultaneously differentiate themselves from their detractors in Greece and portray themselves as particularly Greek. This ‘inclusive particularity’ indicates that national belonging may be constructed through attachment to the local rather than simply in opposition to it, thereby providing a conception of national identity that allows for its malleability in local contexts whilst also accounting for its capacity to sustain claims of national commonality.
Huw Halstead is a Research Fellow in the School of History at the University of St Andrews. He was previously the Macmillan-Rodewald Postdoctoral Student at the British School at Athens, and an Associate Lecturer in Modern History at the University of York. His research focuses on memory, displacement, and public history in the Mediterranean world and former Ottoman territories. He is currently working on the history of everyday life during the Greek dictatorships as part of the ERC-funded project “Dictatorship as experience: a comparative history of everyday life and the ‘lived experience’ of dictatorship in Mediterranean Europe (1922-1975)”.