By Nancy Kriz
Monroe resident Sano Halo, a 100-year-old survivor of the Pontic Greek genocide, shows her new Greek passport and identification card. Photo by Nancy Kriz
Receives her Greek passport and visits future village site honoring her Pontic heritage and survival
MONROE — A newly issued Greek passport — a gift from the government of Greece — is now a prized possession of a 100-year-old Monroe woman who traveled to Athens last month to claim it as recognition of her survival of the genocide of the Pontic Greeks by the Turkish government in the years following World War I.
Sano Halo, who Greek government officials likened to Anne Frank, took an oath of allegiance in a June ceremony at the Greek Consultate in Manhattan.
But her trip to Athens in September was an occasion to visit Greek Parliament officials, receive both her Greek passport and identification card, visit the countryside and tour the site of the planned Pontian Village Museum, which will be built to honor her and survivors of the Pontic Greek genocide.
Sano’s life is chronicled in the book, “Not Even My Name,” written by her daughter Thea Halo. The book is the story of Halo’s survival of the Pontic Greek death march at age 10 that killed her family. It’s also the account of their pilgrimage to Turkey in search of Halo’s childhood home 70 years after her exile, her way of life in the Pontic Mountains and life after she moved to the United States.
The Pontic Greeks, like the Armenians, Assyrians and Ottoman Greeks, were victims of ethnic cleansing at the beginning of the 20th century, first by the Young Turks (a coalition favoring reformation of the Ottoman Empire administration) and other forces, during World War I and its aftermath (1914-1923). That violence included massacres, forced deportations involving death marches, and summary expulsions.
In total, 353,000 Pontic Greeks died and another 1.5 million were sent on death marches to exile.
The government of Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, claims the large-scale campaign was triggered by the perception that the Greek population was sympathetic to the enemies of the Ottoman state.
But World War I allies condemned the Ottoman government-sponsored massacres as crimes against humanity.
Halo survived, but hundreds of thousands of people didn’t. After living with different people, she was sold into marriage at age 15 to a man three times her age. They came to America in 1925; she became a U.S. citizen in 1934.
After all these decades, Halo’s eyes still fill with tears when she recalled that time of her life.
“When I think about it, I still get angry,” she said, wiping tears from her face. “They killed everyone. My mother, my father, my little sister died in my arms. My grandfather, who loved me so much, they took him away from me. We are all God’s children. They (the Turkish government) had no right to do this to us.”
After the book was published in 2001, Halo and her daughter began speaking to area groups about Halo’s story, which quickly gained notoriety in the area’s Greek communities, her daughter said. Those groups petitioned the Greek government to offer honorary citizen status to Sano Halo as well as to her daughter.
“I am really Greek now,” said Halo, who was more composed when she showed a visitor her new Greek passport. “I feel very good. Those people (the Greek government) gave their heart to me, because they love me. It is special. I’m the only one left of all the people. I loved everything we saw and did. The people treat you so beautifully. I am ‘Yai Yai’ (the Greek word for grandmother) to all.”
During her trip, Halo and her daughter, Thea, attended a reception in their honor, hosted by Greek Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas. Halo was presented with a silver dish engraved with the Parliament building and the Greek “spiral of life” as a handle.
“They were marvelous to us,” said Thea Halo. “They call her (Sano Halo) the ‘voice and face’ of the Pontic Greeks.”
As a way to commemorate Pontic Greek heritage, Thea Halo created the Sano Themia Halo Pontian Heritage Foundation, named in her mother’s honor, which is a fledging not-for-profit foundation designed to serve a variety of philanthropic, educational, and cultural purposes.
A new village to be created
Last month, the Halos visited the site in Greece where the foundation will be located, where 20,000 square meters (about five acres) of land has already been set aside. Thea Halo hoped all the final approvals would be in place as soon as possible.
Once that happens, the foundation will begin to raise funds from European Union countries and Greek government agencies to build its first project, the Pontian Village Museum, which Thea Halo said would be similar in concept to Museum Village in Monroe or even Williamsburg, Va.
This land sits at the edge of Agios Antonios in Vasilika, the namesake of the village Halo Sano came from in the Pontic Mountains of Turkey. Those who settled the village are said to be the survivors from her village and their descendants.
Sano Halo has already drawn a layout of what the village should look like, so it mirrors the village she lived in as a child. It will include a log home, described in the book as the Halo’s family’s home, and will include Pontian artifacts; a log barn; a blacksmith shop; an outdoor communal oven; a mill house; a chapel; and a one-room log school house.
Plans also call for a research and database center consisting of books, memoirs, biographies and photos pertaining to the genocide as well as personal histories, folk tales and songs of Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians cataloged by town and village of origin.
There are also plans for a scholars-in-residence program, a performance and cultural center, a Greek, Armenian and Assyrian genocide memorial and other projects, according to Thea Halo.
In particular, said Thea Halo, a Pontian Monument is planned near the museum village. It’s envisioned to be a bronze statue of a life-size calf, tied to an apple tree, with a bronze statue of a nine-year-old girl in Pontic Greek dress by its side, “the combination of which represents both the innocence of Pontos, and the durability of her people and culture,” according to the foundation’s Web site. “Like the apple tree that may appear dead in winter, symbolizing the many times outside forces have tried to destroy the Pontic Greek people, Pontic culture will always know a springtime when it will bloom and bear fruit again.”
That statue, she acknowledged, is intended to be of her mother, Sano Halo, as a nine-year-old girl happily living in her village before the Pontic Greek death march began at age 10.
And the white-haired woman, who is the mother of 10 children, is enthusiastically awaiting its creation.
“They won’t lose money on it, people will want to see it,” Sano Halo said with a laugh. “But, I’d like to see it before I’m gone. They have to hurry up.”