Istanbul's Greek Chic

The attitudes of Turks towards their Orthodox minority are changing, but,hadn't it been for a conference last week, many would have never realised

By Alex Penman
Athens News

IT IS A first in the history of the Turkish Republic. For three days in June and July, Constantinopolitan Greeks gathered from around the world to talk about the city's dwindling community. And the news was encouraging.

The first surprise came with the announcement by Professor Vyron Kotzamanis that almost 5,000 Orthodox Christians reside in Istanbul. This number blows away the commonly assumed figure of just 2,000.

Hundreds of Greeks from around the world gathered in
Istanbul for a three day conference

Kotzamanis noted that around 600 comprise Arabic-speakers from the Hatay region on Turkey's border with Syria and around the historic city of Antioch (Antakya). They form the most dynamic part of Istanbul's Orthodox community, as they are the only ones to have large families and help rejuvenate an ageing population.

"This conference is not about the past and the memory of Istanbul Greeks, but about their present and living experience, " said Frango Karaoglan, a member of the organising committee.

One of the most important aspects of the conference was the eager participation of many of Turkey's most liberal intellectuals. They spoke of the evils of the past with compassion and a critical perspective.

It was these speeches, in particular, that surprised members of the diaspora who were unaware of recent changes in Turkish society.

Adnan Eksigil from Yeditepe University spoke of a change in attitudes, whereby the former Turkish "culture of conquest" to erase the Greek heritage has been replaced by a popular culture of nostalgia, where anything Greek is now in fashion.

According to Baskin Oran, the professor who faced legal action for his "radical" proposals in a now famous Report on Minority and Cultural rights, the confiscation of communal Greek property will continue to be a very difficult issue. But he stressed that the climate has changed for the first time.

This change was reflected in a talk by Dilek Guven from Sabanci University. She discussed her exhibition at last year's 50th anniversary of the September 1955 pogrom of the city's non-Muslims. It drew a crowd of fanatics, but Guven spoke, rather, of the huge number of visitors and the hundreds of notes in the exhibition's guestbook expressing anger and shame at the pogrom and "belated apologies" to the victims.

Many of the Polites present stated that such words coming from Turks ease the pain of past traumatic experiences. Yet they expressed their displeasure with the Greek media, which, they said, give too much publicity to the Grey Wolves.

One Greek journalist and Istanbul regular said: "If the [Greek] TV channels gave us as much publicity as they do to Turkey's ultranationalists, then we would stand a chance of changing public attitudes."

(Posting Date 17 July 2006)

HCS readers can view other excellent articles by this writer in the News & Issues and other sections of our extensive, permanent archives at the URL
. The author is a journalist and writer for the English-language Athens News. Readers enjoying this article may wish to view other fine selections or to subscribe to this publication by visiting the website

All articles of Athens News appearing on HCS have been reprinted with permission.

2000 © Hellenic Communication Service, L.L.C. All Rights Reserved.