Asia Minor

Map of Greece and Asia Minor

Prior to the population exchanges of 1922, there had been Greek villages in Anatolian Asia Minor for over three thousand years. Until its fall to the Ottoman Turks, Constantinople was the capitol of the Byzantine Empire. As late as the 1920s, Smyrna was a predominately Greek center of culture.

Old Photograph of Constantinople
The crossroads city of Constantinople (Istanbul) in an early photograph

Constantinople, long considered the meeting point between East and West, Europe and Asia, was a bastion of Western civilization from the end of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. Founded by Constantine the Great in 330 AD as "New Rome" on the site of the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, it was the Eastern Capital of the Byzantine empire, and survived its downfall. It served as the eastern boundary of what is now considered Europe until it fell at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1453. The Greek influence in Constantinople continued to be very strong right up the treaty of Lausane of 1922, which provided for the exchange of ethnic Greeks living in Turkey with ethnic Turks living in Greece.

Photo of Smyrna
A hand-colored photo of the port city of Smyrna (Izmir)

Smyrna, prior to the 1920s, was a beautiful and cosmopolitan port city on the Aegean Coast of Asia Minor. The population was composed of Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and Turks, and the cultural life of the city reveled in the influences of all the groups. An important aspect of life in the city was the music know as Smyrneika, a soulful style with elements of all of the city's ethnic groups proudly in evidence. Following the burning of the city in 1922, a pivotal event in what is known as the Asia Minor Catastrophe, the non-Turkish citizens fled the city, taking their music with them. Many of the best musicians arrived with the flood of refugees into Athens and Thessaloniki, with some continuing westward to the US.

Michalis and Domna Bilides wedding photo
Michalis and Domna Bilides,
in Athens around the time of their wedding

Permata, a small village in central Asia Minor,
was home to generations of ethnic Greeks who
wove Oriental carpets and harvested poppies.
When the catastrophe of 1922 forced the exchange
of populations, the village was uprooted.
Many of the villagers relocated to
Thessaloniki, Athens, and Piraeus,
but a sizable group, including the
paternal grandparents of Sophia Bilides,
Michalis and Domna (Potioglou) Bilides,
continued on to the United States,
eventually settling in New Haven, Connecticut.