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Greek Foreign Minister in the Heart of Pontic Russia


Dendias visits southern Russia to meet with Greek diaspora
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias meets with members of the Greek Pontic diaspora on Tuesday. Credit: Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited the very center of Pontic Russia during his trip to Russia, which included a Monday meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Sochi.

The top Greek diplomat traveled to Anapa, to meet with members of the Greek diaspora who reside in the southern regions of Russia.

Dendias Visits Greek Diaspora in Russia

The Greek Foreign Minister began his tour in the cities and the surrounding villages with large, thriving Greek populations. He landed at the Anapa airport, which was named after a legend of the Soviet Air Force, Vladimir Kokkinakis, who was of Greek origin. Anapa is a town in Krasnodar Krai, Russia, located on the northern coast of the Black Sea.

Dendias laid a wreath at the bust of Kokkinakis at Anapa’s airport. Last June the airport was officially named after the pilot.

Russian Airport Named for Pilot with Greek Roots

Born on June 12, 1904 in Novorossiysk, Black Sea, USSR pilot Kokkinakis broke 22 world records in international aviation while serving as president of the International Aeronautical Federation. He was the son of railway employee Konstantinos Kokkinakis. The family came to Russia from Chios.

Vladimir was recognized as an excellent pilot, specializing in high-altitude flights. In 1938 he flew a direct flight from Moscow to Vladivostok, in Russia’s Far East, lasting 24 hours and 36 minutes.

He earned the title “Hero of the Soviet Union” for this daring exploit. Kokkinakis visited Greece in 1962. The pilot died in 1985, having celebrated his previous birthday — his 79th — flying at an altitude of 8,000 meters (26,246 feet) above the earth.

From the Kokkinakis Airport, Minister Dendias will travel by motorcade to the town of Gelendzik and the surrounding villages. Dendias posted on Twitter “Ι begin my visit in Gelendzhik, a Russian city with a long-standing Greek presence, meeting with members of the Greek diaspora.”

“We look forward to the visit of the Greek Foreign Minister, and the fact that this visit is dedicated to the meeting with the Greeks of the Southern Russian Regions of Krasnodar and Stavropol,” stated the president of the Elliniko Center of Gelendzhik, Aflaton Solahov.

Russian Diaspora has Great Love for Ancestral Homeland of Greece

Solahov stated in response to what he and Dendias would discuss “only the love of Greece. We ask for nothing but to be close to you and useful for the country, which we feel we belong to mentally and spiritually.”

Gelendzhik was recorded in the history of the Greek Diaspora as a city where on March 29-31, 1991, before the collapse of the USSR, the first (and only) Constituent Assembly of the Greeks of the Soviet Union was held, which attracted 224 delegates.

These delegates represented 56 Greek communities in the USSR. According to the latest census, about 10,000 Greeks were registered in the current urban center of Gelendzhik, where a Greek Cultural Center was established in 2017. The center houses a museum with objects from the daily life of the Greeks in the area.

Solakhov is one of the pioneers in promoting Greek cultural heritage by the learning of the Greek language in Russia. The president of the Hellenic Center stated that “Mirroring our school curriculum helps our children to be educated in their Greek heritage.”

 Dendias Meets with Russian Wine Tsar

During his tour, Dendias will meet in Anapa with the president of the local Pontian Association, and distinguished winemaker, the “tsar of wine,” Valerios Aslanidis. The iconic figure of Pontic Hellenism in the Black Sea stated, “The visit of the head of the Greek Foreign Ministry is a great event for all of us.

“It is necessary for Greece to support the centers of Hellenism everywhere, especially in Russia, a country where the Greeks in the course of the last two hundred years have created and left their traces in all sectors, ” Aslanidis added.  “We just want to be close, because although citizens of Russia, our eyes are always on Greece.”

Aslanidis also discussed the rebirth of Greek communities on the Black Sea coast of Southern Russia, with priority placed on learning  Greek language, history and culture. “Our children and young people now speak modern Greek as well as the Pontic language,” he stated.

“This gives us the greatest confidence that we can maintain our national identity. We are Greeks and we speak Greek.

“Even far from Greece, we hold strong and proud the reins of Hellenism here, in the Black Sea,” Aslanidis added. Youth from choirs and dance troupes prepared a short program to welcome the minister and demonstrate their ties with Greece.

Greeks have been present in southern Russia as far back as the 6th century BC. Settlers assimilated into the indigenous populations there.

The vast majority of contemporary Russia’s Greek minority populations are descendants of Medieval Greek refugees, traders, and immigrants, including farmers, miners, soldiers, and churchmen, from the Byzantine Empire, the Ottoman Balkans, and Pontic Greeks.

Also included were individuals from the Empire of Trebizond and Eastern Anatolia who settled mainly in southern Russia and the South Caucasus in several waves between the mid-15th century and the second Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29.

Pontic Greeks have Greek ancestry and speak the Pontic Greek dialect, a distinct form of the standard Greek language. Because of the remoteness of Pontus, the dialect has undergone a linguistic evolution distinct from that of the rest of the Greek world. The Pontic Greeks had a continuous presence in the region of Pontus, today’s northeastern Turkey, Georgia and Eastern Anatolia from at least 700 BC.

Prior to that, during the second half of the nineteenth century, a large number of pro-Russian Pontic Greeks from the Pontic Alps and the province of Erzerum resettled in the area around Kars, which together with southern Georgia already had a nucleus of Greeks.

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