Recording the refugee experience in 1922

The first ships which arrived in 1922 at the shores and the ports of Greece filled with refugees, brought along the feeling that something was ending for ever -as well as the feeling that Greece was entering a new phase. The process of recording the refugees’ experience had to start exactly then, both for reasons of plausible future retribution and for the practical issue of allowing the refugees to settle in their new homeland as bearers of their own particular identity. Of course, this did not reflect the official state policy. However, some intellectuals, people who were particularly sensitive and enlightened, dedicated their lives to the effort of recording the cultural identities of the refugees. Among these people were the musicologist Melpo Logothetis Merlier and her husband, a classicist and linguist, Octave Merlier. Initially, the Merlier couple documented mainly the musical traditions of the Asia Minor Refugees. However, in the course of the Interwar period and as their team increased with the addition of several volunteers, they started documenting other aspects of the refugees’ lives as well. This effort led to the foundation of the Centre for Asia Minor Studies- Melpo and Octave Merlier Foundation. In 1962 Octave Merlier became the director of the French Institute at Athens; he thus managed to have the Centre funded by the French Government. Counting a century’s life, the Centre for Asia Minor Studies became the primary focal point of research on Asia Minor in Greece; it specialized in recording the refugees’ experience, the expatriation and persecution, the process of settlement, professional restitution, the cultural idioms that the refugees brought with them (Merlier, O. and M., 1982).

Gradually, the associations of Asia Minor refugees, initially created for claiming their rights and improving the daily life of people in the refugee neighborhoods through the organization of the cultural social and athletic life, evolved into memory repositories. They gathered relics, created museums, enhanced the Asia Minor cultural idioms through various events. Some of these associations created their own archives with rich collections of documents (letters, testaments, contracts, Ottoman defters or tapu certifying certain property rights in the old homeland, fairy tales, testimonies). 

From 1997 onwards, the Foundation of the Hellenic World focused again on the Asia Minor Hellenism, this time throughout time, from antiquity to the early 20th century. Among its numerous departments, there was one of Genealogies and Oral History, which gathered testimonies of people of a refugee background and searched for their progeny relatives. 

The centenary of the Asia Minor Catastrophe shed light on the archival collections of several Asia Minor associations and agents, as well as archives of state organizations which have meanwhile been (partly) digitized.

Archival material

The archival material which was used throughout the Digistoryteller project consists of various kinds of documents, such as: personal documents of the refugees, temporary passports, stocks, loans, professional certificates, documenta related to the industrial development, protest letters, correspondence with private and public institutions, notary documents. The aim of the research team was to document events and cases that would help weave the canva of the digital storytelling. For example, regarding the carpet weaving, our aim was to look for contracts documenting the foundation of some of the carpet factories, complaints of the carpet weavers to the government, documents related to the first carpet factory organization etc. As the material is vast, the research focused on material related to the specific landmarks chosen for display on our itineraries. In the course of the creation of the repository, we investigated both the digital archives and those which are (still) not digitized.

For example the Historic Archive of the National Bank of Greece is a repository for companies’ foundations acts and financial documents of all kinds and it permitted research on its premises.

On the other hand, some associations, such as the Centre for the Study and Research of Asia Minor Hellenism in Nea Erythraia, have already deposited their archival material in publications which have been used for drawing information already checked and approved by the associations themselves.


Apart from the archival material, primary testimonies from archival collections, such as the Merlier archive, were used along with recorded memories from the settlement phase, from the professions exercised, from aspects of their social life (games, athletic contests, religious life), from the attitude of the locals and the Greek state towards the refugees, the construction of the refugee settlements, the sanitary care, the infrastructure…Even recipes or ways of working with specific primary materials and similar information are included. Published testimonies, such as the book by the weaver Aphro Voudouroglou (2008) “I felt the need to write what I remember”, recording memories of her settlement in Podarades and her work at Sterlina wool factory, are read from cover to cover to note important passages. Other archival material, such as the archive of the cabot factory “Moutalaski” at the Historic ARchive of the Cultural Organization of Piraeus Bank, or the digital archive of the Styloglou family, are also visited and recorded.

In some cases, second-or third-generation refugees from Asia Minor were also interviewed and recorded material, such as that found in ERT archives and the Red Cross Archives was also used. .

Special thanks

Στο έργο, και συγκεκριμένα στην ανάπτυξη του πολυμεσικού υλικού, συνέβαλαν διάφοροι φορείς και άτομα.

Many organizations and persons contributed to the development of the multimedia material of Digistoryteller. Special thanks are owed, for offering us free use of archival and photographic material:

  • Digital Archive of the National Radio and TV broadcast (ERT): photographs from the Poulidis Archive and their digital collections were offered for free for use on the application. We would like to thank Mrs. Eleni Zontou, who was in charge of the communication.
  • ELIA-MIET Archive: The Hellenic Literary and Historic Archive- Cultural Foundation of the National Bank of Greece allowed the use of photographs from their collections free of royalties. We would like to thank particularly Mrs V. Chatzigeorgiou, head of the photographic collection, and Mrs. E. Vlachou for the communication.
  • Foundation of the Hellenic World for the re-use of photographs and interviews of refugees from their genealogy archive free of royalties.
  • German Archaeological School (DAI) for the use of photographs free of royalties.
  • General State Archives for the concession of maps free of royalties.
  • National Archaeological Museum for the concession of one photograph free of royalties.
  • Mr. K. Manthos for allowing us to use freely pictures from his album: “Lavrio: the roar of time. Modern era lavrion of metallurgy”
  • St. George Flour Mills for allowing the use of one photograph.
  • The Near East Relief Historical Society, Near East Foundation, Rockefeller Archive Center for the use of pictures from their digital material.
  • The Artistic Association of Folk Music Domna Samiou, and particularly mr. S. Sinopoulos and mrs. A. Yazitzoglou for the concession of interviews and songs of Domna Samiou.
  • Mrs Tatiana Styloglou for allowing us to use photographs from the early weaving factories of the family, deposited in the Digital Archive of Styloglou Family.
  • Museum of Asia Minor Descendants of Aegaleo for its support and collaboration for the creation of the colouring book and cards and of part of the audiovisual material.
  • Centre for the Study and Enhancement of Asia Minor Culture (ΚΕ.ΜΙ.ΠΟ), whose president, mr. Loukas Christodoulou, has offered us precious information and advice and has given us the invaluable book “From Podarades 1922…to Nea Ionia 1934… The refugee capital of Athens) (Glyfa, Ilia: Baltas Publishers 2022).
  • The Virtual Museum of the Kounadis Archive and particularly the president mr. Leonardos Kounadis for the concession of audio material (songs and interviews) as well as photographic material and the general impeccable communication throughout the project.

Thanks are also owed to organizations who provided us with material with payment of royalties:

  • Archive “of the Anonymous”, particularly mr. N. Mitrogiannopoulos, for conceding pictures of Nea Ionia.
  • The Benaki Museum and photographic archive
  • The Archive of the Centre for Asia Minor studies for concession of photographs from the album “Refugee Greece”
  • The “Organization for the Management of Cultural Properties -autodia” and particularly mr. S. Pantzis and mr. T. Karabas for the general positive disposition towards Digistoryteller regarding the audio multimedia entries.
  • Irida Studio for the voice recordings.
  • Margarita Varlamou and Giannis Laspias for part of the recorded testimonies.