Harris Psomiadis Dies at 82; Founded Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College

December 20, 2011

Harris Psomiadis, founder of the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies at Queens College and its director for 30 years, is remembered as “a visionary and a pioneer in Greek studies” by assistant director Effie Lekas. Professor Psomiadis built “the largest center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies outside of Greece right here at Queens College” and also was “a great teacher…. brilliant but humble,” Lekas said. Psomiadis died of cancer Aug. 13 at age 82.

Born in Boston Sept. 8, 1928, he was the son of Greek immigrant parents, Kyriaki and Ioannis Psomiadis from Pontus, a region for which he became a staunch advocate because of its past history of oppression.

He attended Boston Latin High School and Boston University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree, then studied political science and worked as a professor at Columbia University, where he earned his Ph.D.

After a 38-year career in the U.S. Army, where he rose to the rank of colonel and was on active duty in the reserves, Psomiadis went to Queens College in 1974 and established the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. More than 15,000 students have taken part in the offerings of the center, according to Christine Eames, one of professor Psomiadis’ two daughters.

For his military service, the U.S. Department of Defense awarded professor Psomiadis the Legion of Merit and Meritorious Service Medals, Eames said.

Shortly before he died, Psomiadis completed Nansen and the Greek Refugee Question, a book he wrote in English for graduate students and researchers that was released in the fall. “It was important to him that he completed that before he died,” Eames said. The book is being translated into Greek.

In his leisure time, he lectured and he liked to travel and read, and because he grew up in Boston, “he was a big Red Sox fan,” she said.

Reporting on his passing in the Aug. 15 issue of Greek Reporter USA Online, Lia Pavlou said Psomiadis contributed his educational and writing work to the establishment of many programs and centers for Greek studies at various universities in the U.S. He wrote books and gave hundreds of lectures to students and the Greek Diaspora, and “studied the history, heritage and tragedy of the people of Pontus,” she said.

The Greek population of Pontus – ancient name of the northeastern province of Asia Minor — was almost decimated in what is said to have been a genocidal massacre carried out by Turks in the months of June, July and August 1921, according to records in Internet Archive Online.

Eames said that at her father’s funeral, Bishop Savas of Troas remarked that professor Psomiadis “dedicated his work to Pontian Hellenism and to the Greeks of Asia Minor in general,” and that throughout his life, he strove for “recognition by the U.S. of the Pontian genocide.” He was active in some organizations that support the studies of Pontus, Eames said.

Professor Psomiadis also was outspoken on other issues. “He disagreed with the American foreign policy regarding Greece and Cyprus,” Pavlou wrote in the Greek Reporter USA, “and expressed his views by writing articles in the U.S. press or by giving lectures in University conferences. He also expressed his support for the rights of Armenians and Palestinians.”

Introducing the speaker at a lecture following Psomiadis’ death, professor Christos Ioannidis, his successor at the Center for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, spoke of the great contributions Psomiadis made to the Greek American community and literature and to the Hellenism of Pontus in recording its history.

A private funeral service at the Church of the Annunciation in Manhattan was attended by colleagues, friends and many former students. Professor Psomiadis was buried in Boston near his family plot. He is survived by his wife, Maria Zassiliou, currently living in Athens, Greece; daughter Christine Eames, of Randolph, N.J., and her two sons, Jack, 12, and Brian, 10; and another daughter, Kathy Psomiadis, an English professor at Duke University.

In a eulogy in the Aug. 20-26 issue of the National Herald, headlined “Passing of a Greek Champion and Scholar,” Alexandros K. Kyrou, an associate professor at Salem State University, is quoted as saying about Psomiadis: “He will be long remembered for his path-breaking and prolific scholarship in Greek diplomatic history, foreign policy and Greek American studies…. His towering presence belied a gentle, good-hearted soul.”