William McGrew, Educating Across Cultures: Anatolia College in Turkey and Greece. Lanham, Maryland: Roman & Littlefield. 2015. Pp. xxii + 508. 97 illustrations. 2 maps. Cloth $104.00, Paper $45.00, eBook $42.50.
Everyone in Thessaloniki knows that Anatolia College exists, but very few know its extraordinary history or the origin of its name. In this book by the college’s former president, William W. McGrew, we can discover not only the college’s history but also far more, particularly regarding the successes and failures of American Protestant missionaries, the persecution especially of Armenians but also of Greeks in the declining Ottoman Empire, and the stamina of extraordinary Americans who created this school twice while all too often succumbing to malaria or smallpox, to say nothing of attack by authorities or insurgents.
McGrew, who had experienced Greek culture during his years with the State Department at U.S. embassies and consulates in Athens, Thessaloniki, Izmir (Smyrna), and Cyprus, served Anatolia College as president from 1974 until 1999. This afforded him access to archival material and primary sources. In addition, he is a scholar who in 1985 published Land and Revolution in Modern Greece, 1800–1881, in which he expresses his hope that the book “approximates the rich complexity of the human experience which it seeks to portray and explain” (xiv). Educating Across Cultures fulfills this same hope especially well.
The premier private high school for Greek teenagers in northern Greece is called Anatolia because the original institution was founded in the Anatolian portion of Turkey in the town of Marsovan (now Merzifon), 109 kilometers from the Black Sea (then a three-day journey by horseback, oxcart, or camel caravan). This high school is called a “college” because the Turkish secondary school was upgraded to a four-year American-style liberal arts institution. McGrew explains how everything started around 1810 as an initiative by American Protestant missionaries chiefly from the Congregational Church who were moved by “an acute sense of responsibility for saving heathen souls from the perdition that awaited all who failed to accept Christ into their lives” (3). Quickly finding that they could expect no success with Muslims, the missionaries concentrated on the many Armenian and Greek Christians in the area, whose churches they felt practiced “a mass of superstitious forms” (17). Success was minimal. This led them to found first a secondary school and then a tertiary one, uncertain initiatives that nevertheless did gain a positive response. In 1886, Anatolia College’s initial year, 130 students enrolled, mostly Armenians but including 27 Greeks. Yet as soon as the mid-1890s, the new college underwent a severe crisis owing to tensions between Turkey’s Christian minorities and the Ottoman state. A building was destroyed by arson, two Armenian teachers were arrested and condemned to be executed, and a popular American teacher died from smallpox. Yet much of this was eventually rectified. The Ottoman government rebuilt the destroyed building and in 1899 actually issued the college an official permit to exist. After the Sultan was deposed in 1909, the college flourished; by 1913 even 16 Muslims had enrolled. Although only fourteen percent of the students ever attained the baccalaureate degree, some who did were remarkable, for example Raphael Demos, son of a Protestant Greek. Graduating in 1910, he obtained a Harvard Ph.D. in 1916 and eventually become a truly extraordinary Harvard professor of philosophy. His year-long course in Plato and Aristotle was the highlight of my own freshman year at Harvard, when I felt that I was not only learning about Plato but was being taught by Plato himself! During those years Anatolia College also expanded physically with substantial buildings requiring the first steel girders in the area, shipped from Belgium and transported from the Black Sea to Marsovan by camelback. It was beginning to resemble Robert College in Constantinople and the Syrian Protestant College (later renamed the American University) in Beirut. In sum, “Anatolia did not fulfill the fundamental missionary objective of conversions to Protestantism; instead it adapted to the aspirations of the people it served for liberal and vocational education” (134). However, soon after its twenty-eighth commencement exercises in June 1914, an order for military mobilization was announced in the local mosques. Though this eventually led to the failure of Anatolia College's educational and humanitarian achievements in Turkey, some activities did continue during part of World War I. At the end of the war's first summer, although only 50 members of the previous Protestant community of 950 remained in Merzifon (the town's revised name), and almost all the Armenians had been removed or killed, classes managed to continue until May 1916, when the local military commander took control of the campus and all foreigners were forced to leave. Yet, as McGrew declares, those “who had pledged their lives to aiding the people of this region [...] were not about to abandon that cause” (149). In 1919, after the war, some of the American administrators returned to Merzifon with the hope of reopening the college, which they accomplished for a year and a half. However, subsequent political changes soon worked against them. Greece had landed an army at Smyrna, leading to a new war with a revivified Turkey led by Mustafa Kemal Pasha.
Turkish nationalism found Christian communities to be highly suspect, and Anatolia College all the more so, because half of its students were Greek. In 1921 Anatolia was ordered definitively to close and Americans were forced to leave within four days. In the summer of 1922 the Turks defeated the Greek incursion. The Lausanne Peace Conference the following year led to the exchange of minority populations, Turkish Christians going to Greece and Greek Muslims going to Turkey. Although Congregational Church leaders in America still hoped to resume activities in the new Turkish Republic, the loss there of Greeks and Armenians, plus the fact that most of the Christian refugees from Turkey were being resettled in Greek Macedonia, led George White, Anatolia’s leader, to think of Thessaloniki as the college's new home. Having discovered a former casino available for rent, he requested permission from the college’s trustees, who telegraphed, “Proceed plan temporary interim school” (176). Classes began on January 23, 1924, for thirteen students—in Greece—the beginning of the Anatolia College whose existence is now known by everybody in Thessaloniki.
McGrew describes the next ninety years with his accustomed detail and clarity. As happened in Turkey, politics obviously intervened. The school was closed from 1940 to 1945, owing to its occupation first by the German army, then by the British. In 1968 one of the Greek directors was purged by the autocratic colonels’ regime, owing to his alleged “communist sympathies.” The hours devoted to the instruction of the English language were routinely diminished. Even in politically “normal” times in Greece, this private school labored under the Greek government’s general preference for public education since this was “entrusted to transmit Greece’s cultural heritage” (362).
But despite both abnormal and normal political pressures, essentially Anatolia College has prospered in Greece. Starting as a private high school for Greek boys, it added a separate girls’ division designed “to be harmonious with the female nature, the tasks and mission of the Greek mother” (224), became fully coeducational in 1986, added The American College of Thessaloniki (A.C.T.) in 1991 (now accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges), and finally an elementary school in 2004. One of its most important roles is conveyed by the following two entries from my own Thessaloniki journal: “Went shopping yesterday for a samovar. The maker revealed a tattooed number on his forearm from the Nazi concentration camp. Now he has a son in Anatolia College whom he hopes will go abroad to study electrical engineering in the U.S.” “Supper with Seraphim S., a graduate of Anatolia College who then got a B.A. at Swarthmore, a Ph.D. at Columbia, and is now a professor at the Panteion University in Athens.” Anatolia College was the first school in northern Greece to adopt the International Baccalaureate program, enabling many of its students to enter foreign universities (381). It was also the first high school in Greece (and is still the only one) to challenge its seniors to climb Mt. Olympus.
The remarkable Turkish plus Greek history of this school that has been educating across cultures for 132 years is summed up as follows in a plaque on the institution’s gateway (301):
FOUNDED IN 1886 IN MERZIFON ASIA MINOR. REESTABLISHED 1924 IN THESSALONIKI AT THE INVITATION OF THE GREEK PEOPLE. DEDICATED TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING.
Peter Bien is emeritus Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Dartmouth College. His research interests include Modern Greek language and literature. His latest publications are his retranslation of Kazantzakis’sZorba the Greek (2014) and his e-book Selected Lectures, Shorter Writings, & Translations (2018).