It has been almost a century since the day a Greek family was forced to leave Honaz, Turkey, entrusting their daughters’ dowries to the family of Turkish neighbor, Kemal Gatzaroglu.
The Moniglou left, believing that one day they would return to Honaz, but they never did.
Just as none of the refugees who were uprooted from the place they were born returned, after the signing of the Convention on Population Exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923.
However, the dowries of Minoglu’s daughter were to be handed over, decades later, to those to whom they belonged, by the grandson of the Turkish neighbor, Kemal Yalçın.
The father’s wish
In the 1990s, to fulfill his father’s last wish, Kemal Yalcin searched all over Greece to find the Minoglu family and return the dowries. He finally located their descendants in Volos and handed over the dowries. It was 1998.
Yalcin recorded this story in his book, entitled “A dowry unclaimed”, which was published in Turkish and later in Greek, while later it was translated into other languages as well.
The book has been awarded in Turkey and Greece with the Greek-Turkish friendship award “Abdi İpekçi” and was awarded by the Turkish Ministry of Culture as well.
The book to be made into a movie
Today, Turkish-born German director/screenwriter Gülsel Özkan, in collaboration with Kemal Yalçίn, plans to bring this story to the big screen, with a contract that has been signed on November 25, 2021.
As part of his research, Kemal Yalçın has visited parts of Turkey and on January 19 he will visit Greece and areas of northern Greece where population exchange refugees settled, to talk to descendants, historians and representatives of refugee associations.
Kemal Yalçίνn and Gülsel Özkan spoke to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA) about this fascinating story and the idea to make the film.
The great uprooting
Kemal Yalçίνn was born and raised in the village of Honaz in Turkey, which was called Kolossai during Byzantine times. He spoke to AMNA about his village and the Greek family.
“The real locals in my village were Greeks. We, the Turks, settled there much later. Until 1920, about 1,000 Greeks lived in Honaz. But then they started deporting them. Among those displaced were the Minoglu family, whom my father spoke about often.
“Father Minoglu was deported along with all the men of the village, while his wife and daughters were kept locked up in a haystack along with other Greek women in a haystack for three months.
“My grandmother, Ayşe, used to send bread to the Minoglu woman and her daughters every day with my father. When they were ordered to be evacuated, a scream was heard that shook the village.
“My father, who was a child at the time, got scared and ran home. Soon, the Minoglu woman came at my grandmother’s house holding a silk quilt and her two daughters were carrying a sack.
“My sister Ayşe,” said the Minoglu woman, “these are my daughters’ dowries. I leave them to you. We leave and we may not return. If we come back, you will give us the dowries. If not, give it to the poor.
“Then they hugged, crying. My father was upset that his friend, Sofia, was leaving. She had thrown him into the water from a bridge in Karakioprou one time. When they reached the stream, a lament broke out.
“Every time my father told this story, he cried. My grandfather, Kemal Gatzaroglu, and my grandmother, Ayşe , kept in their hearts the memory of their neighbors, the Minoglu family, along with the dowries they entrusted them before leaving forever for another homeland.
These memories, along with the dowries, they passed on to my father, Ramadan. And my father, expressing his last wish, said to me: “Kemal, my son, go find the Minoglu family and hand over the dowries to them.
“My father, was 10 years old when the Minoglu family left and he loved Sofia Minoglu. A love that was never forgotten.”
Looking for the Minoglu family
Kemal Yalçın visited Greece for the first time in 1994, searching for the Minoglu family among 10 million Greeks without having any information other than their name and origin.
On that trip he met the last survivors of the generation that came with the population exchange. He did not find his grandfather’s neighbors.
He returned to Turkey and started looking for the records of the refugees who had left with the Exchange. He found them and wrote down their stories.
Two years later he returned to Greece, but he did not find Minoglu family. The woman and her daughters had come to Greece, but had died by then.
However, some distant relatives lived in Volos. He went to Volos two years later and handed over to them the dowries of the Minoglu girls. It was 1998.
“What shocked me was the stories of the refugees I met while looking for the Minoglu family to return the dowries,” Yalçın said.
“I will never forget a horrifying story related to me by a man named Vassilis Vassiliadis. They rounded his fellow villagers and after stripping them naked, they put them in the church and burned them alive. He and his family were rescued by a Turkish friend.”
But the stories of the refugees he met in Turkey did not differ much. “What I was told was almost the same as what I heard and saw in Greece.
“They were all missing their homeland, they had an indescribable misery. I was ashamed, I was angry with myself that for so many years I could not see the sadness on the faces of my refugee neighbors.
“I was ashamed that I never asked them why, when and how they came. I was ashamed that I never heard the bitterness and misery of the Greeks, the Armenians, the Assyrians and the Jewish brothers and compatriots in the thirteen years I lived in Istanbul.”
Yalçın decided to use the testimonies he recorded in dozens of cassette tapes to write a book entitled “A dowry unclaimed”.
In the summer of 2021, he donated to the municipality of Honaz a plot of land he inherited from his father in order to found a Refugee Exchange Museum to start operating in 2024.
The dowries book to be made into a movie
Gülsel Özkanwas was on Chios island in 2007 shooting a documentary about a Somali illegal immigrant who was literally torn to pieces by a sinking boat propeller trying to save a woman from drowning.
“During the shooting of that film, I met a Greek woman who was responsible for managing the refugee population. She told me: “I owe it to myself to help the refugees because my family also came as refugees from Asia Minor.”
Shocked by the stories the Greek woman related to him he kept it in the back of his mind to learn more about the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey.
“In the summer of 2021, writer Molla Demirel invited me to a writers’ meeting in Germany, which was also attended by Kemal Yalçın. Knowing my interest in refugees, he advised me to read Kemal Yalcin’s book. I was shocked reading it.
“The beauty of the book about the dowries lies in the fact that it is not one-sided, it includes the stories of refugees from both Greece and Turkey. This is how the idea for the film was born and we signed a contract with Kemal Yalçın in November 2021.
“The screenplay will be based on the story of Sofia Minoglu and the dowries, but at the same time it will reflect the social and political conditions of the time and the drama of the people who were forced to be displaced. It will be a Greek-Turkish historical film.
“Our ambition is to have popular actors from Greece and Turkey and it would be a good idea for the protagonists to be of refugee origin.
“We are now in the research phase in order to have a personal view of the people and places so that I can proceed with writing the script. We have already visited areas of Turkey and talked to the descendants of refugees and now research will continue in Greece.
“We expect to start filming in 2023 and finish the film in 2024. But if we manage to secure sponsorships, filming may begin in 2022,” he said.