GREEKS OF THE EX- USSR, AFTER 1991
By Dionyssis Kalamvrezos
Greece and Russia
For more than ten centuries the relations between Greeks, Russians, and the rest of the people of the Russian Empire, were fraternal. These strong relations were rooted in their common history. In antiquity, particularly in the 8th and 6th centuries B.C., tens of Greek colonies were established along the shore of the Black Sea (Euxeinos Pontos) expanding the Greek world to the lands that became Russian after many years. In the 10th century A.C. the Byzantium spread the gifts of Greek civilization and Greek Orthodoxy to the Russians. The Russian leader Vladimir in 988 A.C. converted to Orthodox Christianity and married Anna, sister of the Byzantine Emperor Vassilios II.(1) According to the Primary Chronicle, the most important source for the birth of the Rus (the fisrt Russian) state, Vladimir's emissaries to Byzantium narrated: "The Greeks led us to the buildings where they worshipped their God, and we knew no whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it".(2)
From the 10th century until 1917, the Greeks and the Russians shared a common destiny, and the participation of the Russians was a crucial determinant in helping the Greeks achieve their national goals. Russia became a second home for many Greeks after the fall of Byzantium in 1453.(3)
The origin of the Greek Diaspora in Russia and the USSR varies. Some writers even stress the fact that a certain continuity between the ancient inhabitants of the Greek colonies and the contemporary Greek population exists. Many Greeks emigrated to Russia after the fall of the Byzantine empire and soon they became important factors of the religious, cultural, economic, military and diplomatic life. Others are descendants of the 18th century immigrants who were invited by Catherine the Great to inhabit the northern shores of the Black Sea when they became part of the Russian Empire. Other Greek immigrants headed for Russia after the Russian-Turkish wars that took place during the last half of the 18th Century and the first half of the 19th Century. A great number are descendants of Pontian refugees who were forced to abandon their homes in Asia Minor between the years 1917 and 1923.(4)
(1) John Julius Norwich, A Short History of Byzantium, Knopf, New York, 1997, p. 141, 176, John Meyendorff, Byzantium and the Rise of Russia, Cambridge, 1981, John Greer Nicholson, "Russia and the Balkans"’, Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora, v.19/2, 1993, W.Bruce Lincoln, Between Heaven and Hell, Viking, New York, 1998, p. 17-20, 38, Murashova, V.V. et al., "Put' iz Variag v Greki i iz Grek...": Katalog vystavki (The Road from the Varangians to the Greeks and from the Greeks..".: Catalogue of the Exibition.) Comp. by N.I. Astashova et al. Moscow: Russkii istoricheskii Muzei, 1996, p.104, http://www.panrus.com/books/11156.htm (6.2.2000), Gregory Freeze , Russia, a History, Oxford Univercity Press, Oxford, 1997, p. 5-18. Argonauts’ trip to Kolchis to take the "Golden Fleece", Ulysses’ adventures in the land of Cimmerians, Prometheus’ punishment by Zeus in Caucasus, and other Greek myths related to this area, testify the presence of Greeks at the Black Sea (Euxeinos Pontos) from ancient times. Archaeological excavations suggest that the Greeks established the first trading routes to the shores of Black Sea around 1000 B.C.
(3) Theofhilus C.Prousis, Russian Society and the Greek Revolution, Northern Illinois University Press, 1994, p. 22.
(4) P.M.Kitromilides, Hellas-Russia: One Thousand Years of Bonds, Athens, p. 139-165, Dionyssis Kalamvrezos, "Greek communities outlive empire and USSR", English edition of Kathimerini newspaper, 27.11.2003.
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