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             Xios, Chios, Scio or as many people know the Mastic Island. Herodotos mentioned about 2500 years ago, and the geographer Strabo 2000 years ago. Although it may seem like a small island, its history, architecture and mastic trees are important enough to be included in many important sources.I t is the fifth largest island in Greece and the tenth largest island in the entire Mediterranean. The birthplace and hometown of the Vafiadis and Akasi families, whose names are frequently mentioned in the 2mi3museum; until they immigrated to Istanbul in the 1880s. So why did these families leave this beautiful island and come to Istanbul? Moreover, at a time when they did not know each other and in the same years...

             Although the families mentioned in 2mi3museum met in Istanbul at one time, the birthplace of most of them was different. The Vafiadis family came from Chios, the Koulurgioti family from Imbros, the Sanzoni family from Palermo, the Çakıroglu family from Belgrade, the Akasi family from Chios just like the Vafiadis family. From the memories told in the family, we knew that only one member of the Vafiadis family, Stavros Vafiadis, and a part of the Akasi family came to Istanbul from Chios in the 1880s. In the beginning, these two migrations to the same city at the same time sounded like a good coincidence. We were thinking, did these families know each other before? We were even saying; 'how interesting, the grandchildren of two Chios families who came to Istanbul in the same years fell in love with each other and got married in the 1980s'. We could not learn from the elders of the family the reason for this migration to Istanbul. All we know is that Stavros Vafiadis was born in the Tholopotami village of Chios in 1871 and came to Istanbul at a very young age in the 1880s. Again, one of the Akasi family members, Sofia used to say that her mother, aunts, uncles and grandmother and grandfather came from Chios.

Stavros Vafiadis and Akasi Family from Chios.jpg

Stavros Vafiadis & Akasi Family from Chios

             As we researched the family history, this beautiful coincidence started to sound strange to us. There must have been a reason for this migration from Chios Island to Istanbul in the 1880s, at least from two families we know closely. Although we started working thinking that it would not be an easy research, it was not difficult to find the reason for the migration. Because when we looked at Chios in this date range, there was only one reason: 1881 Chios Earthquake.

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1881 Chios Earthquake:

             A lot of important information about the earthquake in Chios, which forced the families of Vafiadis and Akasi to migrate, we found it in Selahattin Satilmis' article titled 'A Great Disaster in the 19th Century: The Chios and Cesme Earthquake of April 3, 1881'. We share with you our notes that we have compiled from this article and from different sources and archives.

             On Sunday, April 3, 1881, around 14:00, Chios experienced the worst disaster in its history. After the earthquake that lasted for 45 seconds and was accompanied by a loud noise, around 5000 people lost their lives in Chios and two-thirds of the island was devastated. Many important houses, castles, towers and churches were destroyed in this earthquake. The Aydın Governor of the period, Mithat Pasha, spoke of this earthquake as follows: '' The degree of this calamity is at a level that has never been seen or heard in any history, and the buildings began to collapse immediately with sada, like hundreds of thousands of cannons exploded. '' The aftershocks of the earthquake, which started on April 3, 1881, continued until the end of the summer season. The most severe of these aftershocks took place on April 11, and the places that were not destroyed on April 3 were destroyed by this earthquake.

The Chios Earhquake 1881

The Effects of Earthquake in Chios, 1881

             In addition to the shock and fear created by the earthquake, the rumors that the destruction would grow even more in the panic environment caused great panic among the people and therefore migration. Half of the population, which was around 70,000 on the island before the earthquake, was halved due to deaths and migrations. It is estimated that around 28,000 people migrated from the island during and after the earthquake. April 3, 1881 Chios earthquake was the second largest earthquake in the Ottoman geography in the 19th century in terms of loss of life and damage.

             The psychological effects of the earthquake were also severe. Doctor H. Schwarz, who was mentioned in the article of Mr. Selahattin Satilmis, who lived in that period, stated the following in his report:: “frequently repeated violent concussions led to many nervous diseases. Most of the young women fell ill after the earthquake, some were confined to the palace, and some began to experience spasms.''

The Chios Earthquake 1881_2

The Effects of Earthquake in Chios, 1881

             Due to the fear and panic they experienced after this earthquake, the survivors found the solution to escape from the island. In every period, as everywhere else, those who spread rumors that made the public even more uneasy in such moments of fear and panic were also on Chios in April 1881. When a priest named Patrinus claimed that 'the island would completely sink', the people became even more frightened and the flight from the island increased with chaos. The efforts of the statesmen to persuade were not enough.

             While examining this important article by Selahattin Satılmıs, we also reached the names of the villages on the island and the number of people who lost their lives and were injured in these villages. According to the conclusion of the article, Kalimasya (Kallimasia) 448, Nenita 310, Tiymina (Thymiana) 211 and Tolopotami (Tholopotami) lost 200 lives, and these villages were destroyed.

1881 Chios Earthquake in the Press:

             The Chios Earthquake was also widely covered in the world press of the period. As we learned, 'The Constantinopole Messenger', a British newspaper published in Istanbul, regularly shared news about the earthquake. The Inverness Courier newspaper, dated April 5, 1881, covered this disaster with the headline 'Heavy Shocks of Earthquake At Chio'. In The Illustrated London News, which was also published on April 11, 1881, the news was shared with the headline ' The Earthquake in Chios'.

The Chios Earthquake in the Press

The Chios Earthquake News in Press

             The Maitland Mercury newspaper mentioned this disaster with the headline ' The Late Fatal and Terrible Earthquake at Chios' in its issue dated June 4, 1881. The Clarence and Richmond Examiner and New England Advertiser newspaper, in its edition dated June 11, 1881, described this earthquake on its third page with the headline 'The Last Disastrous Earthquake at Chios'. When we look at the dates of the newspapers, we see that the earthquakes really lasted from the beginning of April until the summer.

THE DETROIT FREE PRESS, April 11, 1881 A_edit_1054030618926146.jpg

The Detroit Press, 11 April 1881

             The news of The Detroit Press newspaper dated April 11, 1881, with the headline 'The Scio Earthquake: A Terrible Condition Of Affairs', quoted a witness who experienced the earthquake. The witness began his narrative with the following words: 

              ''... I have just arrived here from Constantinople and find a picture of desolation. Such as is rarely witnessed. The town looks as if it had been terribly bombarded. Hundreds of houses are transformed into shapeless masses and ruins, under which lie buried an unknown number of victims. A majority of the remaining houses are already cracked and roofless and may fall at any moment. Nearly every building in town suffered more or less. The inhabitants wander about anxiously searching for missing relatives or lost property, but afraid to risk their lives in the perilpus work of clearing away the rubbish. Many who are willing to expose themselves to the danger are prevented by friends or by the police. Fear, grief and despair are depicted on nearly every face. All have some sad of tragle tale to tell...'' ( 11 April 1881, The Detroit Press )

             The testimonies of the same witness were also featured in The London Illustrated News on April 16, 1881. In addition, it was mentioned in this newspaper that a pregnant woman was rescued from the dent fifty-two hours later, during which she gave birth to her baby, but the baby did not survive and the mother was in good health.

London Illustrated Castro

The London Illustrated, 30 April 1881

             The London Illustrated News frequently included the Chios earthquake in its news in 1881. In the edition of the newspaper dated April 30, 1881, the statements of another witness who revealed the tragedy people experienced were as follows:

             '' A witness of the disaster at the seaport town of Castro says he had finished dinner, and was without his coat, just about to take a nap, when hearing an awful booming sound, and feeling the house, which was one story high, beginning to shake, he placed himself in a doorway. The walls fell down, and the roof, which was a flat terrace, opened, and through the cloud of dust which rose he dimly saw the open heavens above him. Disengaging himself from the stones and mortar, which reached nearly to his knees, he clambered up on to the top of the ruins of his dwelling. No sooner had he emerged than a girl called to him, ''Come, Sir, do come, and help me to save my mother.'' Yielding to the entreaties o f the girl, who rushed in over the ruins of the next house; he followed her, and saw the mother with her feet fastened down, her head covered with dust  and dirt, and feebly moving her hand in the effort to rise. Telling the girl to take her mother's hand, he disengaged the feet, and together they dragged her out, and washing her face revelaed frightful bruises. While waiting upon her a father came up with his two children, one of whom was dead and the other apparently so, though a little cold water dashed on his face brought him to his senses. All this happened in ten minutes from the first shock. A second booming sound was heard, and the downfall of other houses and walls, tottering in consequence of the first shock, was seen...'' ( 30 April 1881, The London Illustrated News )


Chios Earthquake - Drawings, The London Illustrated, 30 April 1881

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Chios Earthquake - Drawings, The London Illustrated, 30 April 1881

As stated in The London Illustrated News, aid from different countries was also sent to the island in order to heal the wounds of this earthquake quickly. In the news on April 16, 1881, some of the aids were stated as follows:

              ''... Her Majesty's ship Thunderer has been ordered to go from Malta, and the Bittern and the Antelope have proceded to the same destination from Constantinople, to asist in relieving the terrible distress now existing in the island. Another ship will be dispatched if required. The Kingdom of Greece as well as the Turkish Government, has sent vessels with provisions and medical men to relieve the sufferers in Chios. The Lord Mayor of London has opened a subscription at the Mansion House, which already amounts to £13.000. There were several renewed shocks of earthquake on Monday last, causing more loss of life...'' ( 16 April 1881, The London Illustrated News )


A Photo of Thunderer in 1872 

             In the newspaper dated April 30, 1881, there was the news that the King of Italy donated 6000 francs to the fund created for the victims of the Chios earthquake from his personal account.

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London Illustrated, 30 April 1881

             As we mentioned at the beginning of our article, two  families from Chios, Vafiadis and Akasi, came to Istanbul in the 1880s for a reason we did not know before. From the family stories, it was said that Stavros Vafiadis was born in the village of Tholopotami and came to Istanbul alone at a very young age. The Akasi family, on the other hand, came to Istanbul in larger numbers. With a little detail, a clue, a lot of curiosity and a little research from the oral family history, we now have no doubt that the families of Vafiadis and Akasi were the victims of the 1881 Chios earthquake, and they had lost their homes and perhaps relatives in those years and migrated to the big city, Istanbul. They had witnessed all the disasters mentioned above and experienced this pain. The Akasi family had come to Istanbul in large numbers, but Stavros was only a 10-year-old boy and was alone. According to the data we shared above, the village where Stavros was born, Tholopotami, lost 200 lives, and this village where he was born was almost destroyed. We don't know the details yet, but maybe Stavros lost his family in the earthquake and other immigrants supported him when he came to Istanbul. As we know, Stavros started working in a chair workshop at the entrance of Küçük Yeni Han after he came to Istanbul, married in his twenties with Efrossini from Bursa, lived in Langa until the end of his life ( a district in Fatih, Istanbul)  and left a new life to his descendants in Istanbul.

            It has always been interesting that momentary decisions or coincidences in life determine the fate of a person himself and his future generations. Just as the last generations of the Vafiadis family currently live in Istanbul. If Stavros Vafiadis had immigrated to Izmir, which is much closer to Chios, after April 3, 1881, rather than to Istanbul, we, his descendants, would most likely be living in Thessaloniki or Athens due to the population exchange. If the 1881 Chios earthquake hadn't happened, maybe we would be one of the islanders who love their island very much and never want to go out...

Written by: 2mi3, April 2023


1- 19.Yüzyılda Bir Büyük Felaket: 3 Nisan 1881 Sakız ve Çeşme Depremi, Selahattin Satılmıs, 2014

2- The London Illustrated News 1881

3- The Detroit Free Press, 11 April 1881

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