[MGSA-L] SMYRNA 1922 - Commemoration of the life of Asa K. Jennings

June Samaras june.samaras at gmail.com
Sat Sep 15 14:51:01 PDT 2012

Use this link to see pictures etc.


Man with ties to Oswego County helped save Greeks, Armenians,
Assyrians after World War I
Published: Saturday, September 15, 2012, 1:50 AM     Updated:
Saturday, September 15, 2012, 6:18 AM
  By Debra J. Groom, The Post-Standard

Cleveland, NY -- Dr. Stergeos Arvantides and his sister, Anna
Bantuvanis, believe they owe their lives to Asa K. Jennings.

Jennings, an Upstate Methodist minister now buried in Oswego County,
in 1922 helped organize ships that saved more than 300,000 people —
mostly Greeks — who likely would have perished at the hands of the
Turkish government.

Among those saved were Arvantides’s and Bantuvanis’s mother and grandfather.

“He helped all those people during the extermination and genocide in
Turkey — he helped get the ships to Smyrna,” said Arvantides, who
lives in Lysander and has a dental practice in Baldwinsville.

Jennings, at 5 foot 2 inches in height, with a hunchback, didn’t look
the part of a hero. But Jennings, who is buried in the Cleveland
Village Cemetery, is a hero to Arvantides, Bantuvanis and many other
Greeks for what he did in September 1922.

His story will be told during a special program at 2 p.m. Saturday at
his gravesite, then at the Cleveland United Methodist Church. His
grandson, Roger Jennings, of Queensbury, Warren County, is the guest

“It was the greatest rescue in the history of mankind,” Roger Jennings said.

Arvantides said the homeland of his mother and father’s families was
in the area known today as Turkey. Greeks had lived there dating back
to the time of its invasion by Alexander the Great.

But 1922 was a different time. After centuries of various ethnic
groups living in Asia Minor, the Turkish government wanted to cleanse
the country of other nationalities, mostly Greeks, Armenians and the
Assyrians, according to experts and histories written about the time.

Many Greeks and others, being sent to a part of Turkey where food and
water were scarce, faced almost certain death, they said.

Others, including Arvantides’ and Bantuvanis’ mother and grandfather —
Fani Arvantides, then 28, and George Pappas, then 74 — headed toward
the sea and the city of Smyrna.

That is where Asa K. Jennings enters the story.

Jennings, a United Methodist minister from the Mohawk Valley, was
working for the YMCA at the time, serving in Smyrna, a large city in
western Turkey on the Mediterranean Sea. It’s known today as Izmir.

His grandson described Asa Jennings as a humble man, who lived the New
Testament, was nonconfrontational and turned the other cheek.

“He believed to do good in the world and be effective, you have to get
others on board,” Roger Jennings said. “He was quite the community

As such, Asa Jennings came to work with the Greek and Turkish
governments. The two countries had been fighting for 15 years, there
was little or no trust between them.

When the Turkish government began purging non-Turks, Asa Jennings made
a deal with its leader, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, to move the Greeks and
others out of the country.

With that agreement in hand, Asa Jennings then found ships to
transport the refugees. Roger Jennings tells of how his grandfather
eventually bribed an Italian ship’s captain to begin the process.

Then Asa Jennings pressured the Greek government to accept them to the
Greek mainland and islands.

That brings the story back to Fani Arvantides and George Pappas and
how they escaped.

Their descendants, Stergeos Arvantides and Anna Bantuvanis, tell how
Turks had begun searching houses in their town, Gotsepe, for
non-Turks. The two hid in the nearby home of a Swiss man.

“Then after the searches were over, Mom got things out of the house
and headed to the boats,” Bantuvanis said.

Her mother hid some family jewelry and Turkish gold coins in a loaf of
bread and wrapped the bread in a scarf and carried it toward the

“Imagine thousands of people all headed to the quay,” Stergeos
Arvantides said. “She got bumped and the bread dropped. My grandfather
said, ‘Don’t pick it up. The Turkish soldiers are watching us.’”

At about that same time, the Turkish soldiers grabbed an Armenian boy
and when they were distracted, their mother picked up the bread.

“If not for Mr. Jennings acquiring the ships that saved over 300,000
people, our mother and grandfather may not have survived,” said Anna
Bantuvanis, a retired math teacher in Ithaca.

After his rescue efforts, Asa Jennings continued his work in Turkey.
Eventually he established Turkish hearths, community centers modeled
on the YMCA tenets of developing body, mind and spirit, said Robert
Zens, a professor at LeMoyne College.

He said Asa Jennings also co-founded the American Friends of Turkey,
an exchange program to “help promote Turkey in the United States.”

Roger Jennings said his grandmother, Amy Will Jennings, lived in
Cleveland with her family. Her father, David Will, ran a canning
factory in the village.

When Asa Jennings died, she buried him in the village cemetery, with a
small gravestone engraved with the name Asa K. Jennings, 1877 — 1933.

If you go
What: Commemoration of the life of Asa K. Jennings
When: 2 p.m., Saturday
Where: Ceremony at Jennings graveside in Cleveland Village Cemetery,
followed by program on Jennings at United Methodist Church.

Who: All are invited. Program an displays presented by Jennings
grandson, Roger Jennings.
Why: Sept. 14 is the 90th anniversary of the Great Fire of Smyrna. The
city was set on fire by the Turks as the ships filled with Greeks and
other ethnic groups left Turkey.
June Samaras
2020 Old Station Rd
Canada L5M 2V1
Tel : 905-542-1877
E-mail : june.samaras at gmail.com

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