Academic’s quest to bring the truth to the outside world
Born in Tennessee 77 years ago, Vryonis spent his childhood boarding at a military academy. Classmates made life difficult for him, but the experience sharpened his will. By 1956, Vryonis had finished his doctorate at Harvard. He went on to work at various universities in California and Chicago and take up several leadership posts, including one at the Alexandros Onassis Hellenic Studies Center at New York University. Since the mid-1990s, Vryonis has been the director of his own foundation, the Spyros Vryonis Center for the Study of Hellenism. He has written some 30 books as well as hundreds of articles and lectures. A longtime interest in the events of September 1955 powered his latest work, he told Kathimerini. While at Harvard, for example, he studied the origins of the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor. He said that the 1955 events in Istanbul were reported by the Washington DC media and were discussed by him and other scholars at the Dumbarton Oaks Center for Byzantine Studies. But he noticed there was a general attitude of indifference and even hostility toward the victims of the pogrom. As Vryonis more closely examined the reports in the British and US press, he noticed that they reflected the official views of their respective governments. The articles treated what was a mass murder lightly and praised Turkey for taking drastic measures against «disorderly elements.» The young student filed these reports away. A few weeks later, as he listened to an address on the subject by Archbishop Michail of North and South America in Washington’s Saint Sophia, he thought he must have been hearing about a different event. In the six years Vryonis spent at Dumbarton Oaks and Harvard, he had the opportunity to delve into the history of conflict in Turkey, Greece, Armenia, Israel and Palestine, as well as US foreign policy in these areas. He focused on the stance of the American media and politicians toward events such as those in Istanbul in 1955. He returned to his files on the pogrom when, in the 1980s and 1990s, tension between Greece and Turkey entered a new phase because of the Cyprus issue and the Aegean Sea conflict. He said he wrote his latest book because of his astonishment at the readiness of the US governments and academics to «prostitute the truth for money, recognition and/or political acceptance.» Vryonis likens this political and academic amoralism to situations such as the Jewish Holocaust or the Armenian genocide. But he says he also recognizes that it’s difficult to get at the «absolute truth.» «In the end, compliance is easier than the truth,» Vryonis said, adding that his book is intended to address the distortion of history. A study of the 1955 pogrom, he claims, provides a clearer image of the Turkish, Greek, British and US interests within a broader spectrum. Above all, it is an attempt to seek the fundamental historical truth of an event rather than the «truths» of political expedience.