Filia Association of Greek communities celebrates 25 years

ASTANA – The Filia Association of Greek Communities, uniting 17 groups throughout Kazakhstan, is marking its 25th anniversary. Founded in 1993 after the merger of communities in Almaty, Shymkent and Zhambyl, the organisation has been working to foster intercultural ties and preserve Greek culture and traditions.

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Panagia celebration in Turgen, Almaty region

The Greek diaspora, totalling seven million worldwide, is one of the world’s oldest and still thriving movements. According to the 2009 census, more than 9,000 Greeks live in Kazakhstan.

“Based on the 1989 census, the Greek population in Kazakhstan was around 47,000 people; but, unfortunately, according to the 1999 census the number was down to 12,703, which is explained by the opening of borders and return of a significant number of Greeks to their country of origin,” said Filia Association head Pavel Feodoridi in an interview with The Astana Times.

The Filia Association is part of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad and one of its coordinating councils encompassing former Soviet Union countries.

“The association seeks to develop and organise events meant to revive the Greek culture and develop the native language of Greeks living in Kazakhstan. For those who are interested, the association  assists in the learning of the Greek language, national traditions, history, geography and culture of Greece, Cyprus and Greeks residing in Kazakhstan and other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States,” he said.

Similar to other ethnic groups living in Kazakhstan, the majority of Greeks were moved to the Kazakh steppes in the 1940s as a result of mass Soviet deportations. Their exile was completed in three phases.

“The decrees were adopted between 1942 and 1950 that envisioned the deportation of the Greek population to the East with a goal to reduce ethnic tension in the northern Caucasus and Crimea,” he said. “There were three stages in the history of deportation of Greeks to Kazakhstan: first in 1942 – Greeks from the Krasnodar region, second in 1944 – Greeks of Crimea and third in 1949 – Greeks from Georgia.”

Greeks had been through harsh conditions.

“People took what they needed with them, while the rest of their property was subject to confiscation. Greeks holding Greek passports were deported first. Thousands of Greeks died as a result of repressions and deportations,” he noted.

Locals helped the Greek community withstand the difficult time.

“In the process of settling in the new territory, Greeks took advantage of their professional skills. For example, Greeks living in Panfilovo village (then a state farm in the Almaty region) grew the best tobacco, while other Greeks were employed at mines in Kentau (in the South Kazakhstan region),” said Feodoridi.

Kazakhstan became a “second home” for many Greeks, a number of whom eventually contributed to Kazakh development.

“Many of them (Greeks) are well-known in Kazakhstan and their merits were recognised by national awards. Among them are well-known chemist and member of the Russian Academy of Technological Sciences Georgii Ksandopulo, popular singer and People’s Artist of Kazakhstan Laki Kesoglu, Honoured Builder of Kazakhstan Akim Atmachidi and leading geologist and oil exploration specialist Ivan Dalyan,” said Feodoridi.

Hundreds of Greeks in Kazakhstan keep ties with their homeland. They visit the country as part of the Greek government programme meant to familiarise those living outside the nation with their historical home and ancestors.

“Seven million Greeks live outside Greece, while the population of Greece is ten million. The Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a special department – the General Secretariat for Hellenic Affairs. The Filia Association works with the department in organising vacations of retired persons and children in Greece, training of Greek language teachers and study of youth in Greek universities,” he added.