You receive many questions from people around, if you are a Greek, Armenian or from any other nationality living in Turkey : What is the meaning of your name? Where did you come from? When did you come?...etc. But one of the most popular of those questions is ‘Did you do your military service?’. The answer is simple but confuse the minds: Yes, in Turkey. We came this country in 1880s and all of our ancestors were born in Turkey. In this part we are going to tell you our days in military service. The Vafiadis : We Were Soldiers...
Hurmuzios Vafiadis…The son of Stavros Vafiadis was born in 1896 in Istanbul. It was hard times, Ottoman Empire was in war during his youth. 1914-1918 were the years of World War I and after that Turkish-Greek war has begun. Hurmuzios was 18-25 years old during those years, but we don’t have any information where he was as a soldier during this time.
In 1941, when Hurmuzios was 45 years old, he was called back to military service. It was hard for him. He was married, had a 12 years old son, had a good business which handled by himself. But it was mandatory duty, and nothing to do.
But what was the reason behind this? 1941 was a critical year during World War II, the Nazis occupied all Greece and they were very close to the borders of Turkey. Turkey was out of war but the government of that time had question marks about Nazis next action. So they decided to call the men back to army, to be prepared for the future. According to records; 12.000 non-muslim men between the ages 25-42 have been called. Of course Turkish men also called back to army, as we’ve heard many stories from other Turkish families.
The history of 12.000 non-muslim men that called to army in 1941 is also known as ‘The Twenty Classes’. But here we don’t want to talk about politics and just focus on our memories. For more information please check : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twenty_Classes
Hurmuzios was sent to Yozgat for his military service. He left his business to one of his close friends who he trusted. His wife was anxious but there were nothing to do. Hurmuzios always sent photographs to his family and his friends to tell that he was fine.
Here one of his photographs from Yozgat, together with his friends from military service. It seems like he was the oldest in this group. When we look at this photo, think that all the soldiers are smiling at their families to show that ‘everything is fine’.
Also there is a special note behind this photo from Hurmuzios. It’s funny but for sure it has been written to show his family that he was OK.
Let’s check :
‘ I became 98 from 93kg. Found a wrestler and everyday I wrestle with him. Tell Aleko to exercise, if I come back I will knock him down as Jim Londos**on ground. And if he is mischievous I will beat him. Especial regards to Madam Ashen.
Not only to his family, Hurmuzios also send photographs to his friend Achilleas and of course with his notes behind. Let’s check his note :
' Mr. Achilleas;
On your letter I saw that you mentioned about my illness. I sent you a photo of mine that taken in Yozgat, as a soldier, as a memory.
Best regards to all who see my photograph’
Also near the note, he informed that ‘to be kept in office’. From the note, we understand that Hurmuzios had an illness during his military service. We know that he died because of heart-attack and he had diabetes. Maybe those illnesses have been occurred before and his friend was anxious about him.
In 1942, three months after Hurmuzios turned back from military service, he had to pay the Wealth Tax. It was not easy, he didn’t work nearly for two years, but he was strong enough to pay the tax, especially with the help of his relatives.
At the end of 1940s, while Aleko was 18-20 years old he has been called for military service. But it was normal, there wasn’t any special case. As all Turkish citizens, Aleko had to do his military service. At that time the period of military service was two years. Aleko was lucky, his place of duty was in Hadımköy, very close to Istanbul. Those years, the place of military service were determined by drawing lots and Aleko drew the only ‘Istanbul’ in the lots. We said that he was lucky…
Aleko was the only son of Vafiadis family. He was precious and he was the sole inheritor. It must be hard to send him to military service, even in Istanbul, after all the struggles that family survived. But the military service of Aleko passed easily. He told that he knew carpentery, and he became aide of his commander.
The photographs of Aleko as a soldier, are together with his family. It seems like during one of his free days, he visited his family and as a tradition they went all together to studio. But there is only one photo of him in Hadımköy, where he poses proudly. From the differences in photographs we can see that he lost some weight during his military service
Now let’s go to 1970s. Stavros Vafiadis…Son of Aleko Vafiadis was born in 1957 in Istanbul. In 16.01.1978 the military service of Stavros started in Amasya. He spent only one week in Amasya, then after in a 2 days long train journey, he went to Erzurum.
When he arrived to Erzurum Train Station, they distributed the soldiers according to their abilities. Barbers, waiters, cooks, musicians… When Stavros heard that they were asking for musicians, he raised his hand, as he was a well-educated pianist. After that, for 19 months, Stavros served in Erzurum 9th Army Corps Officers Club as a pianist.
It was not easy for Stavro, to be a pianist at first days. They showed him a white grand piano, but 70 ivories were not functioning. He told that it’s broken, but they asked him to repair. Of course it was not possible. Then they found an electo-piano, and showed to Stavros. Stavros was too happy, cause if there were no piano, no need to spend his time in officers club. The only problem was the piano was 5 octaves. Stavros was a talented pianist, he adapted most of the partitions of Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven to 5 octaves. As he was too talented, during his military service he played twice in a concert for famous Kenan Evren.
It was the final days of Stavro in military service. Ankara Fanfare School were on a tour and they also visited Erzurum. In that band, Stavros saw the famous singer İlhan İrem. Actually, they knew each other from the school days of Stavros. İlhan İrem offered to take him to the school. But as told before, it was the final days and Stavros chose to stay in Erzurum and complete his service.
As Stavros told, there were nine non-muslim in Erzurum Military Barracks. Six Armenians, one Jew, one Syrian Orthodox and one Greek Orthodox. One day a commander came and told ‘All infidels, one step forward’. Eight of them stepped forward, but Stavros didn’t. The commander knew that there were nine, and asked Stavros that why he didn’t step. Stavros answered as he is not an infidel, he is a Greek Orthodox citizen of Turkish Republic. After this time, it was quite hard for Stavros, as the commander was obsessed with him. But anyway he completed his service without any problem.
So, the answer of the question ‘Did you do your military service?’, is much more clear now. As we don’t have any other citizenship –at least in those years - , and as we are citizens of Turkish Republic we completed our military services in Turkey with good and bad memories. But in the end with memories…
* For more details and photographs please check 'We were Soldiers - 1940-70s' photo gallery.
** The 'Jim Londos' detail on the writing behind the photo of Hurmuzios, has been found by Anastas Yordanoglu. We would like to thank him a lot to inform us with such a beautiful detail.
Written by : 2mi3, May 2019