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Pontian Greek Representative Detained in Turkey on Eve of Feast of Panagia

George Varythymiadis, the head of the Pan-pontian Federation of Greece, was detained at the airport in Istanbul today just ahead of the Feast of the Panagia on August 15. Credit: Facebook/Pan-Pontian Federation of Greece

George Varythymiadis, a representative of the Pontian Greeks, the president of the Pan-pontian Federation of Greece, was detained at the Istanbul airport by the Turkish authorities on Friday, and he is reportedly currently being deported as an “undesirable person.”

Information on the disturbing event was shared on the Facebook page of the Pan-pontian Federation.

Varythymiadis is currently being held at the Istanbul airport and is not being allowed to enter the country in order to attend tomorrow’s annual Patriarchal Divine Liturgy at Panagia Soumela Monastery in Trebizond, the spiritual home of the Pontian Greeks, who were driven out of their homeland by the Turks.

However, the other members of the mission were released to continue the journey, among them the President of the Federation, Maria Antoniadou, according to the organization.

Protests Today at Greek Embassy in Ankara

At the instruction of Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, the Embassy in Ankara held an emergency protest at the Turkish Foreign Ministry regarding the abusive detention and deportation order against the President of the Pampontian Federation of Greece earlier today.

“They can not make us suffer, our ancestors had a much worse time,” Varythymiadis stated in a brief communication with

A similar incident took place in early June of this year, when a Greek academic belonging to EKPA was detained for almost two twenty-four hours at the Istanbul airport, as the Turkish authorities barred her from entering.

The Doctor of Folklore at EKPA, Myrofora Efstathiadou, together with her 15-year-old son, was forced to spend 43 hours in the airport detention center after Turkish authorities said she was not welcome in the country.

In a later interview she had with Open TV, she described her experience at that time, involving long interrogations in a cell without light, with the men from Turkish security trying to exhaust them with their questioning. Shortly before having her mobile phone, she was able to inform her husband about what had happened.

“Unacceptable and Offensive”

At press time, efforts are being made to find a solution to  what the group calls Varythymiades’ “unacceptable and offensive problem created by the Turkish authorities.”

The descendants of Greeks who were forced to leave Pontus have an extremely strong attachment to the home of their ancestors, forming Pontian societies all over the globe which keep the memory and the culture of the Pontian Greeks alive.

The upcoming Feast of the Panagia, which celebrates the Dormition, or the Falling Asleep, of the Virgin Mary, is the most important annual celebration of the descendants of the Pontian Greeks.

The Panagia Soumela Monastery, which their ancestors were forced to abandon, remains the symbol of their history in the region, which stretches back to time immemorial.

The holy icon of the Panagia Soumela, located in the homonymous Church in Vermio, northern Greece, is the symbol of Hellenism in Pontus and a poignant reminder of the Greek Genocide.

According to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, the icon is a work of the Apostle and Evangelist Luke.

Etymologically, the name of the icon and the monastery derives from the name of the mountain, on which it is built, which is called Mela.

In Greek, “stou mela” means “at Mel,” and in the Pontic dialect it is pronounced “sou Mela.” Therefore, it is the Panagia at the Mountain called Mela.

In 386 A.D., two Athenian monks, Barnabas, and his acolyte Sophronios, founded the Monastery on Mount Mela in Pontus in Asia Minor, a region located in present-day Turkey, after they were called by the Virgin herself to do so.

The icon was found at the end of the fourth century A.D. in a cave at Mt. Mela, and the monastery was built on this very place for the glory of God. The icon was renamed Panagia Soumela.

According to tradition, the Holy icon of Panagia Athiniotissa, which was iconographed by Luke the Evangelist, was transferred there by angels.

In 1922, when the Greeks of Asia Minor and Pontus were driven from the lands of their ancestors, the monks hid the icon of Panagia Soumela painted by Luke the Evangelist, the handwritten Gospel copied on parchment by St. Christopher, and the Holy Cross made with the wood donated by Emperor Manuel Comnenos, in the chapel of Saint Barbara.

At the time, the holy icon was buried for safety– and it remained buried or approximately thirty years in the ground beneath the monastery.

Greece requests return of Panagia Soumela icon

In 1931, Metropolitan Polycarp of Xanthe and Minister Polycarp Psomiadis asked for the intervention of the Greek Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos, in order to liberate the icon from its earthly grave in Asia Minor.

The request was approved by Turkish Prime Minister Ismet Inonu, after Venizelos asked for his permission to send monks to the Mt. Mela monastery to retrieve the icon and the other sacred treasures.

Father Ambrosios, who was one of the monks of Panagia Soumela, was chosen by Metropolitan Chrysanthos of Trabzon to undertake this special journey. Father Ambrosios set out to go to Turkey on October 22, 1931. Turkish soldiers and Greeks collaborated closely together so that the priceless items would be found.

Soon the hidden icon was unearthed along with the other sacred objects that had been buried for safety. They were all returned to Athens and given to the Byzantine Museum of Athens, until 1951, when the Panagia Soumela Foundation was founded in Thessaloniki in 1951 by Dr. Philon Ktenides.

In 1952, the holy icon was officially enthroned in the Church which was built in Her honor on a site amid the Macedonian mountains in Greece, in Kastania, Vermio.

The president of the Pampontian Federation arrived at the Istanbul airport on Friday morning (13.08.2021) but could not travel to Trabzon, where he wanted to attend as a representative of the Federation at the hierarchical service of the historic Panagia Soumerelia, , which is considered “persona non grata”!

The news about Varythymiadis was made known to the honorary president of the Pampontian Federation of Greece, the well-known cardiologist of the Inter-Balkan Medical Center of Thessaloniki, George Parkharidis.

In his remarks about Friday’s incident, Parkharidis wrote: “I called the president of the Pan-pontian Federation of Greece, who is being held at the airport in Istanbul by the Turks…  I immediately called the director of the Foreign Ministry’s political bureau and informed him and asked him to mediate so that the president would not be detained.

“The president is known for his courage, but the neighboring Turks are also known for their unjust and often barbaric actions.”

This is a developing story.

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