‘I touched the mausoleum walls and began to weep’

He had heard tales of his ancestors from his grandparents. «They were like a legend that was passed down from generation to generation,» Ozer Gazi Ervenosoglou told Kathimerini. The hero of the stories was Gazi Evrenos Bey, a noted figure in the Ottoman Empire, who lived in the fertile plain of Yiannitsa. «I saw his photographs in the mosque and the mausoleum that bears his name in the center of town. I thought it had been demolished in 1912, then suddenly, two years ago, I read on the Internet that it had survived, along with other Ottoman monuments, and was soon to be restored and opened to the public.» Sixteen generations later, Ervenosoglou wept as he told his story. When he was a child, Greece seemed like a remote, fairy-tale land. Now, alone among all his family, he has been able to visit the place where his forefathers once lived. He left Istanbul last week, armed with photographs and his family tree, to follow the trail his ancestor took when Sultan Murat I gave him land in Macedonia and elsewhere in Greece. His primary destination was Yiannitsa. General Gazi Evrenos Bey settled in 1385, and left his mark on Edessa, the largest city in the area. «I entered the mosque, carrying family photographs and heirlooms, and looked around the monument. On an impulse, I touched the walls. I couldn’t help myself; I began to cry like a child. I have never experienced such emotion in my life. I was in the mausoleum of the person whose name and blood I have.» The yellowed photographs, taken by a family member around 1920, show that the building was used both as a place of prayer and one of pilgrimage. Ervenosoglou, his wife and their 17-year-old son, had a guided tour from archaeologists, met the local mayor and visited other Ottoman monuments he thought had been demolished. Most bear the name of his ancestor. Not far from the mausoleum is a clock tower built in 1753-54 by Sherif Ahmet, the 15th-century Kaifa baths, Iskender Mosque (1490) and the Ahmet Bey Mosque, which a grandson of Gazi Evrenos Bey founded in the second half of the 15th century. «My grandfather, Sabri Ervenosoglou, was born in Thessaloniki. His father, Iskender Bey, was a rich resident of Yiannitsa. In 1910, his son married the daughter of the Turkish mayor of Thessaloniki, Tewfik Bey,» explained Ervenosoglou. He had hoped to find the tomb of his ancestor at the mausoleum. The bones that are believed to belong to his ancestor are being kept by the Eleventh Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities for DNA testing. «I explained to the mayor how important this city was to me and my country, and that it could attract thousands of Turkish tourists. I also voiced my objection to the bones being displayed at the monument. That goes against Turkish tradition. We believe that we come from the earth and must return to it. So the bones must be buried.» Yiannitsa Mayor Nikos Papanikolaou assured him that Muslim tradition would be respected. The monument will house a collection of items excavated in Yiannitsa and will be opened later this year.