New PBS documentary on the Maltese community of Izmir

A new documentary that will be transmitted on Television Malta from the first Sunday of March sheds light on the Maltese community that live in the town of Izmir in the West of Turkey. From a community that 80 years ago consisted of nearly 3,000 people, today the Maltese in Izmir number only a few tens of persons.

Mario Xuereb and Sarah Lee Zammit met with some of the Maltese and produced the documentary in which the Maltese of Izmir recount the stories of their families.

The documentary was produced following a collaboration agreement signed in the past months between the PBS and the Turkish national station TRT.

It was in the second half of the 19 century that migration rhythm increased when at the time many Maltese started migrating to other places in the Mediterranean in search of jobs. Some of them chose the western part of Turkey, especially Istanbul and Izmir.

“In 1868, my family came to Izmir from Vittoriosa. And my granfather’s family were dock workers”, Roland Richichi said.

“My predecessors were Maltese. When I used to ask my father how they ended here….he recounted that his great grandfather migrated to Izmir during the Crimean War at around 1850. They did business in supplies for the British vessels. They came after being asked by the British”, Ingrid Micaleff said.

From dock workers and stevedores, the Maltese in Izmir got rich and some of them became businessmen trading in textiles and tin, and made money.

William Buttigieg made a career in the diplomatic service as the British appointed him as Counsel General to represent their interests in Izmir.

Another Maltese, Eduardo Tonna, from a priest was elected Archbishop of the town.

“My father’s uncle was the Archbishop of Izmir. Let’s say that Tonna family is well known in Izmir. They are known by the Church of Izmir”, Nicholas Tonna said.

Following the 1922 war, during which the Turks expelled the Greeks from the west of the country and declared a Republic, many Europeans living in Izmir looked to other places of settlement.

“Everything had changed. Everything, due to the great fire that engulfed the town. And my family had to leave Izmir”, Noel Micaleff said.

Many escaped on a number of Royal Navy warships that waited to evacuate people outside the harbour. Years passed and some returned but life never returned to normality.

From some 3,000 Maltese in Izmir, today only a little more than 50 still cherish their roots there. And the community is dying a natural death.

“I think I am one of the last remaining. The last generation. The Maltese of Izmir will disappear, unfortunately”, Nicholas Tonna concluded.