We published a story about a town in Turkey called Kayaköy— known as Levissi in Greek, that was abandoned by its complete Greek population in 1922-23 when all Greeks were forced to flee Turkey during the exchange of populations with Turkey. It’s one of the world’s spookiest “ghost towns”— abandoned almost a century ago by people fleeing for their lives, leaving behind their possessions, their homes— their livelihoods.
The site is an eerily compelling and moving reminder of the sad aftermath of the First World War and subsequent Greco-Turkish War, which resulted in the massacres of tens of thousands of Greek Christians who had lived in what is now modern Turkey for centuries. Like millions of others, the Greeks of Kayakoy were part of the population exchange of 1923 and were forced to relocate to mainland Greece.
Meanwhile, the Muslim farmers exiled from Greece at the same time found the land in Kayakoy inhospitable and soon left for other areas of Turkey, leaving the hillside village abandoned for a second time. In 1957, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake delivered Kayakoy its final coup de grâce, destroying most of the town’s buildings. Homes and businesses around the valley floor were later restored or rebuilt, but the hillside homes and buildings have been left untouched.
Today, the hillside of Kayakoy remains deserted, never having recovered – either culturally or economically – from the mass exodus in 1923. The homes, schools, shops, cafés, chapels and churches have been left to crumble, unprotected from looters or the elements.
Louis de Bernieres, the British novelist most famous for his novel, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, has voiced cautious reservations about the Turkish government’s plans. His second novel, Birds Without Wings, took inspiration from the village (Eskibahçe, the fictional setting for the novel, was based on Kayaköy). He said the development “could either be a wonderful rebirth, or a terrible act of vandalism, depending on how sensitively it is done.
“The town cannot take motor traffic, as the streets are too narrow, and putting in infrastructure might cause damage,” he added. “The restorations should be as authentic as possible, so that the former way of life is evident.”
Birds Without Wings (published in 2004) is set in Turkey, and portrays the people in a small village toward the end of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Kemal Atatürk, and the outbreak of the First World War. <–Click the link to get the book.