The Flag of Thyatira

A Piece of Anatolia History has Come Home to Anatolia - Where it had Never Been Seen Before

It is an American flag bearing fourteen stars on a blue field, attached to six white and seven red strips of light wool cloth, with a cord to tie it to a pole. The stitching bears marks of haste. The colors are somewhat faded and moths have chewed holes in some of the stripes. This is a flag with a story - and it came with a storyteller.

The flag is the gift of Dr. Constance Cryer Ecklund, Professor of French at Southern Connecticut State University, and the granddaughter of Christo Theologos Papadopoulos, an Anatolia

From (L) to (R): Consul Elayne Paplos, Constance Ecklund,
President Jackson

graduate of the class of 1893. Having decided that the flag should come to Anatolia, she presented it to President Jackson in the presence of the U.S. Consul for Thessaloniki, Elayne Paplos, and other guests on June 7 in the President's office. But before she did so, she told its story.

Christo Papadopoulos was born in Smyrna in 1864. He was orphaned by the age of 11 and came to the attention of Dr. Ernest Riggs (grandfather of Anatolia's third President), a prominent American missionary active in the Ottoman Empire. With Dr. Riggs' help he attended first Robert College in Constantinople and then its daughter institution, Anatolia College in Merzifon, where he studied Theology and Liberal Arts. The year after graduation he married Erasmia Derebey, herself a graduate of the American Girls' School of Bursa. They were to have six children together.

One of the aims of Anatolia College was to train "native laborers," that is, non-American evangelical ministers who would preach the Gospel and establish schools in cities and towns throughout Asia Minor, ministering chiefly to the Armenian and Greek Christian populations. After ordination, the Rev. Papadopoulos and his wife were sent to Ak Hissar (the Biblical Thyatira, where St. Paul had preached) in what is now Western Turkey.

But the storm clouds that had been gathering over the Armenian population of Asia Minor broke out in massacres in Sasun in 1894 and in Constantinople on September 30, 1895. Three days later, on October 3, the Sultan's troops rode into Ak Hissar, beginning their killing in the town's marketplace. Turkish friends of Rev. Papadopoulos had warned him of their coming. He summoned his
parishioners to come and hide in his school. He directed Erasmia and her two sisters to sew an American flag out of any red, white, and blue cloth available, including the shirt off his own back. Christo and the three women

The Anatolia College Class of 1893. Christo Papadopoulos is
Standing at the Center

worked all night long. By day­break they had sewn a flag. What it lacked in stars it made up for in size and prestige.

When morning came, the flag was flying on the school's flagpole. The
Turkish troops arrived and demanded that the school doors be opened. Rev. Papadopoulos refused, saying, 'This building and this village are under the special protection of the United States of America. Can't you see the flag?"

The commander looked up, hesitated, and whirled away with his troops. Later, the Armenians escaped into the countryside. The wave of massacres would reach Merzifon on November 15 and claim 200,000 Armenian lives within the year, but in Thyatira, at least some lives had been saved.

After also serving the Christian communities in Fatsa, Ordu, and Samsun on the Black Sea coast, Rev. Papadopoulos and his family emigrated to America in 1906-07, settling in Chicago, where he ministered to the city's immigrants. The flag went along with them and was often taken out and displayed at family gatherings. Rev. Christo Papadopoulos died in 1922, Erasmia in 1942. The flag passed to a daughter and was forgotten as the family began to lose touch with its history. At one point it was thought to have been thrown away, only to be discovered in an attic some years later and given to Dr. Ecklund, the sole grandchild, who was then trying to recover her family's heritage.

She wanted to find a safe place for the flag, and a place where it would be understood. She chose the school that had given her grandfather his vocation - the place that had been his spiritual home, now located in the country of his ancestors - and the flag is now on permanent display at Anatolia.

The story has a second act, and that is Dr. Ecklund's own. When she came to Anatolia to present the flag, she was also on a quest for further information about her grandfather, whom she had never known. She was not disappointed. In the school archives she found his name as it was written in Anatolia's enrollment book, along with his class picture. Reading through the Missionary Herald for those years in the Eleftheriades Library she came across accounts by Riggs and former Anatolia President George White that mentioned her grandfather by name.

She traveled on to Turkey and to the places where Christo Papadopoulos had lived and worked, and to his alma mater, the now sadly dilapidated former Anatolia campus in Merzifon. ln October she returned to Anatolia as a Dukakis Fellow, doing further research and giving a series of illustrated talks on the flag and its meaning for students at ACT, the I.B. Program, and Anatolia's junior and senior high schools. She urged students to learn their own family histories, and she praised the power of memory - and cloth. "It was cloth against terror," she said, "in the form of a flag raised by an Anatolian who put the lives of others before his own, one night and morning in 1895."

(Posting date 3 January 2008)

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