The Beginnings of the Modern Village

June Starr, an American anthropologist, carried out an ethnographic study in the village during 1967 & 1968[1]. The study contains one of the very few accounts regarding the history of the modern village which has been published in English.

In chapter one Starr documents a conversation with 73 year old local man who recounted his understanding of the history of the modern village.

In the mid 1800s a Greek tailor named Demetrius moved into the area with his daughters (5 or 6) at this time there were very few local Turkish families living in the valley or directly by coast. Although not specified in the report, it is assumed that the majority of the local Turkish families were still living at Karakaya but working the land down in the valley and around the seashore for only part of the year.

Rather than take money for his shirts Demetrius bartered for his wares saying “Don’t give money. Give me some land so that I can become your neighbour” and in this way he acquired 10 plots of land. Demetrius was followed by 2 other Greeks who also bought or traded for land in the valley, by the end of the century there were approximately 20 Greek households in the valley and the seafront areas which were permanently occupied. There were a number of other dwellings in the area but they were only occupied during the summer months. The study suggests that by 1900, based on genealogies, personal biographies, current landholdings and the ages of the houses that there were still only three or four Turkish families living in either the valley or by the shoreline.

During the period 1885 to circa 1900 one of the “Greek” properties was the residence of the Paton family. W.R. Paton (1857 -1921) a Scottish scholar, author and friend of Oscar Wilde, Paton had acquired the property through his wife’s dowry, his wife Irene nee Olympiti, was the Major of Kalymnos’ daughter.

A second septuagenarian interviewed during the study told how all the houses along the waterfront were inhabited by Greek families and there were at least two casinos on the water front which were frequented by the Greek men every night. He went on to describe “In these days everybody carried any weapon he wanted. We had long knives and double pistols with short handles, and we wore turbans on our heads”

The same man also spoke of an event between 1914 and 1918 when a warship had fired at the properties along the shoreline hitting the Greek Orthodox Church on the hill, causing the villagers to retreat to Karakaya.

It seems likely that the incident he was referring to took place in 1916. The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Scorpion was part of a small naval force which was patrolling the waters of the Dodecanese between Samos and Rhodes. Following a report that the Turkish forces were using the harbour at Gumishlu (Gümüşlük), HMS Scorpion dispatched a picket boat to approach the area under the cover of darkness and investigate, but sparks from the funnel gave their position away and the boat came under heavy rifle fire and was forced to retreat.

HMS Scorpion Leaving Malta Harbour
by Surgeon Oscar Parkes (Public Domain) IWM SP 592

The following morning, 19 June 1916, Scorpion anchored close to the shore and was engaged by the Turkish forces.[2] An extract from the ships log read:

11:07 Enemy opened fire with rifles

11:10 Hands to action stations. All guns engaged enemy and destroyed storehouses and enemy’s entrenchments. Casualties, 1 Seaman and 2 Stokers.

12:00 Ceased fire

Assuming that this was the same incident referred to above, the church was not the only building to be hit, WR Paton’s house was also damaged as a result of the shelling.

The intelligence regarding the Turkish forces activities in Gümüşlük came from Commander JL Myres RNVR who later described having to destroy the farm at Myndos. "At Gumishlu Mrs Patton’s house on the beach where I had stayed in 1893 was occupied by a Turkish platoon and had to be destroyed, as were various other structures suspected of housing petrol dumps.”[3]

The partitioning of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WW1 and the subsequent Greco-Turkish War & Turkish War of Independence from 1919 to 1922 brought about a great deal of upheaval and animosity between the Greek and and Turkish speaking populations of the Aegean. By 1922 it is believed that there were no Greek families remaining in the Gümüşlük area. 

Following the departure of the Greek families Turkish families from Karakaya and nearby communities on the Bodrum peninsula moved to occupy the vacated arable land and join the 3 or 4 Turkish households previously mentioned who were permanently settled in the valley or on the coast. A lot of these new settlers were subsistence farmers or semi-pastoralists who planted a few crops and grazed their livestock in the area but migrated between the newly acquired land and the mountain pastures. A few of these households took over the Greek fig and olive trees but still returned to their former homes during the winter.

Four households, described as members of the regional elite, were awarded Greek farms in reward for their efforts during the Turkish War of Independence.

From 1930 onward there was some progression towards the cultivation of cash crops e.g. spring and summer vegetables and later citrus fruits, and the families started to build permanent houses near their fields giving up the semi annual migrations between the valley & seashore and their previous homes further in land.

Turkey remained neutral during the majority of the Second World War entering on the side of the allies 23 Feb 45. Being neutral prior to Feb 44 the village was not directly involved in the conflict however there were a number of incidents after the Italian Armistice in September 1943, when the Allies and Germany were fighting for control of the Dodecanese Islands, where British & Greek sailors and soldiers came ashore at Gümüşlük seeking Turkey’s protection as a neutral country.

Interestingly, one report from this time by a young Greek naval officer describes how the villagers he met all spoke Greek.” Gumusluk was a small fishing village inhabited by Turko-Cretans who spoke Greek fluently”[4] June Starr comments that as late as the 1960s most of the older men could still speak Greek and a lot of the women over 50 could understand Greek.

By 1965 the records from the Bodrum Census Office show that the population of the village had risen to 1014 people residing in 247 households.

Starr described how during the period 67 to 68 the village consisted of two main focal points of activity; the village centre, by the Mosque and modern day Municipality offices, where there were two stores, two coffee houses, a recently built four room school house & village council room plus several other buildings. The second area of activity was the harbour area where there were two stores, two coffee houses an olive pressing plant and the Jandarma Station at the end of the harbour.

During Starr’s time in the village there were only four boats which were owned by local residents and one of these had been stolen and was being held in Greek custody, the second was used by the lighthouse keeper, the third was used as a pleasure boat and the fourth was used a pleasure boat and to ferry people to the islands and nearby coastal villages.

Although the village is perhaps best known today for its harbour and fish restaurants, back in the mid 60s most people earned a living from raising livestock, citrus orchards and market gardening; the first restaurant wasn’t built until the summer of 1968.

1. June Starr, Dispute and Settlement in Rural Turkey – An Ethnography of Law (Leiden E.J. Brill 1978)

3J.N.L Myres, Commander J L Myres RNVR (The Black Beard of the Aegean) (Leopards Head Press 1980)

No comments:

Post a Comment