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Barry's Blog # 70 - Kayaköy - The ghost town

"As always, in any war, it's the little people that always lose. Never the people at the top. The little people always pay the price."

That was the unusually sombre closing summary from me as we sat in a rustic bar drinking a beer and a coffee after 3 hours of wandering around the ghost town of Kayaköy in Turkey.

The deserted ruins of the once-bustling town of Kayaköy are nestled against the Taurus Mountains but now the hundreds of stone buildings lie roofless and derelict, the narrow streets are weed strewn and worn uneven with neglect. But this is not an ancient city, it's a modern ruin made deserted for political reasons in the 1920s.

In Lycian times, Kayaköy was known as Karmilassos. Then when the Greeks occupied it, they changed its name to Levissi and the earliest records of that name date back to the 14th century. At its height, in the early twentieth century, it was home to as many as 20,000 Greek Orthodox residents who lived peacefully side by side with their Anatolian Muslim neighbours.

The Greco-Turkish War

The messy fallout of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire led to the land grabs of the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922). The resounding loss of the Greeks in this war ended with violence and retribution, which was often aimed at the remaining Greek Orthodox community within the new Turkish borders, and in turn, against the Muslim Turks living in Greece.

To bring the bloodshed from both sides to an end the Greek and Turkish governments agreed to a compulsory population exchange starting in 1923. In total nearly 200,000 refugees were returned to Greece and over 300,000 refugees were removed from Greece. The polar explorer and Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian scientist Fridtjof Nansen was assigned the task of organizing the exchange.

Way too busy

I would imagine that during the height of the summer tourist season, Kayaköy would be a very busy place to visit and in my opinion it would detract from the very essence of the abandoned town. As it was we were very fortunate to be able to visit in December and in our time there we only saw two other people. A couple of young Turks who were besotted with each other and just looking for a place to meet and enjoy each other's presence undisturbed. It was nice to witness young love blossoming within the context of the sadness that Kayaköy represented.

When it is busy enough to employ someone to collect an entrance fee, visitors are charged 6 Lira (AU$1.60) to wander around and take in the atmosphere. There are around 350 homes, two Greek Orthodox churches and the fountains and cisterns that watered the city to explore. A private museum also explains the history of the town.

Here today gone tomorrow

The stark reality is that as of writing this blog in March 2019, the events that unfolded in Kayaköy and other regions of Turkey and Greece were just 97 years ago and they're not that far back in human history. They should serve as a reminder that nothing is permanent. Change is the only constant.

Look around you, enjoy what you have, especially family and friends. Tomorrow it may no longer be this way.

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