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Wednesday, September 26, 2012




Split Between Ethnicities, Cultures, and Religions Continues to Resonate Today

September 25, 2012 (New York, NY) – SMYRNA: DESTRUCTION OF A COSMOPOLITAN CITY 1900-1922, a new documentary from filmmaker Maria Iliou in collaboration with historian Alexander Kitroeff explores the vibrant mix of cultures that made Smyrna one of the great cosmopolitan cities of the Ottoman Empire during the early 20thcentury, and the brutal clash of nationalism that ultimately erupted in the violence that destroyed the city in 1922.  The film, which opened to great acclaim earlier in Athens drawing great crowds, will have its American premiere October 10th at the Sixth Annual New York City Greek Film Festival (Paris Theater 7 and 10:00 p.m.), and will have a theatrical release in Spring 2013.

“Smyrna is one of the great tragedies of the 20th Century, and the fallout from the catastrophe reverberates today,” said Iliou.  “Smyrna was a place of tremendous hope and promise.  People of different ethnicities, nationalities and religions mingled together in the shops and cafes in a remarkable cultural exchange.  But then it became engulfed in the rising nationalism movements, and the scars of that rupture have never fully healed. ”

More information, including a clip, is available at

With rarely and never-before-seen footage of Smyrna during its heyday, and interviews with some of the city’s last survivors, SMYRNA paints a vivid portrait of cosmopolitan life in the last years of the Ottoman Empire.  Located on the western Mediterranean shores of Turkey, the ancient city played an important role in the region’s history dating back to Biblical times.

By the 19th century, the eastern Mediterranean became a major center of commerce between East and West.  Cities such as Smyrna, Constantinople and Alexandria were flush with money and people from all over the world, giving rise to an era of cosmopolitanism in the Ottoman Empire.  Smyrna’s largest and wealthiest non-Muslim community was Greek, which grew from 80,000 people at the turn of the 20th century to 120,000 by 1918.  Other prominent groups included Armenians, Jews, Europeans and Americans.  Jacques Nalbantian, whose father owned a department store in Smyrna, recalls in the film his idyllic memories of the city as a boy.

Against this backdrop, however, tensions began developing in the outlying regions between the Balkan states, which were expanding and exerting their independence, and the shrinking Ottoman Empire, which saw its first wave of nationalism with the rise to power of the Young Turks in 1908.

World War I broke out in 1914, and with the Ottoman Empire siding with the central powers of German and Austria, and Greece with the Allies, conflicts between Muslims and non-Muslims escalated.  Yet, Smyrna remained largely insulated from the tension and violence surrounding Turkey.

Following the war, the Allied powers parceled out the Asia Minor region among themselves, and the Greek military was tasked with keeping the peace in Smyrna.  A movement began among the Turks to reclaim Smyrna and oust all Christians and non-Turks.  Battles broke out in the surrounding areas between the Turkish and Greek armies until finally, in September 1922, the Greek army retreated and the Turkish army entered Smyrna.  This led to the horrors of the expulsion of Smyrna’s non-Turkish population—widespread civilian murders, a waterfront clogged with the corpses of those who tried to escape, and a fire that destroyed the city. The memories of those tragic events remain alongside the  legacies of  Smyrna’s cosmopolitanism and diversity.

“Smyrna is a story of hope and less, of promise and destruction,” Iliou said. “And it is a story that should remind all of us that the past is not really reflective of the present and all too often not a harbinger of what is to come. Smyrna –present day Izmir- was the last of the great Cosmopolitan cities of the Middle East.  It is a world that has very quickly faded away but its legacies live on.”
The film and the preservation of the archival materials was made with funding from: Αrgyros FoundationBodossaki FoundationNicholas J. Bouras & Anna K. Bouras FoundationJames Chanos, The J. F. Costospoulos Foundation, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation S.A. and Marianthi Foundation.
Commentators in the documentaryGiles Milton (author of the book Paradise Lost, Smyrna 1922: The Destruction of Islam’s City of Tolerance and the film’s basic commentator), Alexander Kitroeff (Haverford College), Thanos Veremis (Athens University)Victoria Solomonidou  (FellowKings College and second generation descendant from Smyrna), Eleni Bastea (New Mexico University and third generation descendant from Smyrna), Leyla Neyzi (Sabanci University), Jack Nalbantian (born in Smyrna).
Production credits: Screenwriter, DirectorMaria Iliou; Historical consultant: Αlexander Kitroeff; Μusic: Νikos Platyrachos; Editing: Αliki Panagi; CinematographyAllen Moore; Sound recordingJohn Zecca; Sound MixGiorgos Mikrogiannakis; Production ManagerMelissa Hibard; ProductionProteas and Proteaus NY Inc.

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Thank you Gabriella for submitting this story for our attention :-)


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