Did you say « Pontic Greek »?

The Greek community of Georgia makes up a national minority which originally came from Turkey – and not directly from Greece. Their home region is called “Pontus”, hence their own designation as “Pontic Greeks”. Today, the Pontic Greeks of Georgia boast a Union of Greek Youth which organizes youth meetings every weekend to try and keep the Greek spirit alive. Violeta, Nika and members of the Union explained to me the particularities of the Pontic Greek culture during a meeting on Saturday, March 19, 2011.

“Pontus” (or “Pontos”) is a coastal region located in northeastern Anatolia, today in modern Turkey. In the antiquity already, the Greeks colonized the area. They remained there until a violent campaign of the Ottoman Empire forced them into exile in the beginning of the 19th century, as they refused to convert to Islam. Some Pontic Greeks traveled back to Greece while others settled in Ukraine, in the modern Russian Federation or in Georgia. A few Pontic Greek families still live in the first Pontic Greek villages of Tsalka, Gora and Tsikhisdzhvari in Georgia.

What is the difference between “Greeks” and “Pontic Greeks”?

The Greeks from Greece are called “Hellines”. They speak Greek, also called “Hellenica”. Pontic Greeks, however, come from the region of Pontos in Turkey. They speak either “Pontic Greek”, which is a variant of “Hellenica”, or a Turkish dialect called “Urum. Today, the name “Urum” specifically applies to the Turkish-speaking Pontic Greek population who fled from the Ottoman Empire and settled in Ukraine, Georgia and Greece. Pontic Greeks of Georgia like to call themselves “Georgian Greeks”.

So the Pontic Greek community in Georgia mainly speaks a Turkish dialect, “Urum”?

When Pontic Greek families settled in villages in Georgia, they divided themselves according to the language which they spoke, “Pontic Greek” or “Urum”. Even though many Pontic Greek families do not speak any of those two languages anymore – for parents stopped teaching the young generation – they still bear Greek names, celebrate Pontic Greek traditional events and use some Greek words connected to those specific events. Georgia has its own national variant of “Urum” which incorporated a lot of Russian words during Soviet times. “Urum” is the language to which the Greek community refers as “being theirs”.

What does it mean for you to meet every weekend to learn Greek and Greek traditional dances? Today, as descendants of Pontic Greeks, what is your relationship to Greece?

Georgian Greeks are very patriotic. They are eager on preserving their Pontic traditions and dances, originally from Greece. Some Pontic Greek organizations based in Greece, for example, regularly organize meetings with Pontic youth from Greece and abroad. Each year, 3-week summer camps for Greek children living abroad are organized for free, as well as summer camps for adults provided they can pay for their travel expenses. Greece has suffered of the economic recession, though. Consequently, this support is now provided to a lesser extent.

Many thanks to Violeta, Nika, Lisa and Giorgi who took time to answer my many questions on the topic – Photo: Ilios Dance Troupe of the Greek Youth Union

Source: Pontus Map. Available at: < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pontus.png> [online]

THE UNION OF GREEK YOUTH OF GEORGIA

The “Union of Greek Youth of Georgia”, founded in 1996, is part of the “Greek Federation of Georgia”, a federation made up of 24 different organizations. 200 young members are registered in the organization which aims at keeping alive the spirit of the Greek community in Georgia.

To do so, the Union organizes weekly classes of Modern Greek (for beginners as well as advanced students), Greek dance classes and film screenings. A cultural program offers additional opportunities for members to discover the Greek and Pontic Greek cultures and occasions for its dance troupe “Ilios” to participate to various shows.

>> URUM DOCUMENTATION <<

The “Urum Documentation Project” is a German-Greek-Georgian project whose goal is to help preserve the Urum language as it is still spoken in Georgia. Violeta Moisidi, vice-president of the Union of Greek Youth of Georgia, has been working for the past 6 months on the collection of testimonies from Pontic Greeks living in Georgia. Her mission is to travel to various former and/or current Pontic villages and meet the few people who still speak Urum.  She records voices, translates those records into English and updates a website which gathers most of the results obtained.

The Urum Documentation Project website is available in English, Russian and Greek at:

< http://urum.dyndns.org/ >

This website is still under construction. Check it out on a regular basis to keep up with its improvements!

LINK

Source (Photo): URUM. Available at: <http://www.christusrex.org/www1/pater/JPN-urum.html&gt; [online]

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About Méline

I am an EVS volunteer working with minority youth in Tbilissi, Georgia, during 12 months. This blog aims at presenting Georgia's minority groups and their youth initiatives. The development of joint-action strategies is the work in process which we are conducting together. Let's see what will be achieved in 2011 !
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