Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yelled, “Greeks, don’t forget Smyrna!” Beyond a shadow of a doubt, how could Greeks ever forget not only Smyrna, but the whole of Ionia; not just 1922 and the catastrophe of glorious Smyrna where Erdogan directed the attention, but the whole history of this city and region?
We strive to never forget. As an example, this year saw the revival of the historic Panionian Games of Smyrna to carry on the heritage, to honor ancestors, to inspire youth. Alongside athletics, a writing competition encourages youth to write stories or poems on the “past, present and future of Smyrna.” Why the past, present and future?
The wisdom of the past. Our youth learns about the Ionian philosophers of the 8th and 7th century BC, explores the work of wise men such as Thales of Miletus (modern-day Aydin province), “the first scientist,” or Herodotus, the father of history, from Halicarnassus (modern-day Bodrum). What is there to forget?
The Hellenistic connections throughout the centuries. How fascinating it is for our youth to discover that Alexander the Great helped the Ionians revive their festival and games at the Ionian sanctuary called Panionium, a few kilometers south of Smyrna.
The culture in modern times. Our youth might explore the facets of multiculturalism when boys and girls identifying as Armenians, Greeks, Jews, Levantines, Turks, lived together. Lest our children forget the rich culture of this region, including the greatest school of Smyrna and arguably the most important in Asia Minor, Evangeliki Scholi, founded in 1717, as well as Homereion, where students were taught six languages.
Women breaking stereotypes. How could we possibly forget that women in Greece were first allowed to participate in athletics by the sports club Panionios of Smyrna? Honoring the women of Smyrna, who supported their families, endured their own hardships, while mourning their losses, we encourage Greek youth, also in the diaspora, to write stories about them.
This year saw the revival of the historic Panionian Games of Smyrna to carry on the heritage, to honor ancestors, to inspire youth
And the future? Let the children imagine the future. I wonder how a child in Smyrna imagines the future. Away from nationalistic cacophonies, we echo the values of prolific composer Mikis Theodorakis, who fled with his family from Smyrna and inspired Greeks to embrace the country and the world in harmony.
Surely, we will never forget Smyrna, we will never forget Ionia, and we will never need a reminder.
Konstantinos Tasoulis is an associate professor at the American College of Greece.
Girls and boys aged between 12 and 18 are warmly encouraged to write stories and poems in Greek about Smyrna and Ionia. More information at panioniangames.gr and Instagram @panioniangamescontest.