By Uzay Bulut
Those who would like to help the historic newspaper survive should send an email to [email protected].
In the city of Constantinople (Istanbul), the once world center of civilization, only one Greek-language newspaper remains today: Apoyevmatini. The paper owes its survival to subscriptions. The remaining 600 Greek families in the city are all Apoyevmatini subscribers.
The paper has two staff: its former editor-in-chief, Mihail Vasiliadis, and his son, Minas Vasiliadis, the new editor-in-chief. Today, the father and son do everything for Apoyevmatini together – they are the editors, reporters and marketing managers of the newspaper.
Due to economic difficulties, they had to close their 90-year-old office in Constantinople in 2014. Since then, the two dedicated journalists have been putting the paper together from their home.
Apoyevmatini faced a risk of closure in 2011 but continued to be printed as a result of some new initiatives, including new subscribers.
The paper reaches roughly 2,000 people, including subscribers, who do not know the Greek language but still subscribe to it because they think “Apoyevmatini represents cultural heritage and must live,” told Minas in an interview with the Bianet news agency. “But the more our population dwindles, the more serious our financial situation gets,” he adds.
“If our society did not face a demographic problem,” Minas said, “the newspaper would do well, too. We do not know what the future holds for our newspaper because we have a population problem.
“My biggest concern is how I will do all this work alone without my father. All this work cannot be taken up by one person. It is necessary to hire one or two people for the newspaper, but I guess that will not happen because I cannot afford these people. Hence, I will continue to do this work alone…
“But I am unable to make plans right now because the paper’s financial situation is bad. Some professors from some universities in Athens wanted to send me students for internships, but I didn’t want to accept them. Because I would not be able to pay them salaries.”
Mihail gave Bianet some information about the historical background of the newspaper. His two uncles, who were pharmacists, founded the newspaper in 1925, he said.
“My uncles were not allowed to work in their professions as pharmacists, so they became journalists. The Turkish government took some measures to make the economy pass from the hands of minority citizens to the [Muslim] majority after the 1923 Lausanne treaty. For example, they [the Turkish government] cleared out the bar association of Greek, Armenian and Jewish lawyers.
“Among [the targets] were pharmacies. At that time, pharmacies not only sold medicines but also manufactured them. Then a decree was issued that said there could be only one pharmacy in every neighborhood. As a result, Greek, Armenian and Jewish pharmacists lost [their jobs/stores]. Only [Muslim] locals and nationals [were allowed to run pharmacies]. Minority citizens were turned from bosses into workers.”
Apoyevmatini is struggling to survive today but in the 1920s and 1930s, it was Turkey’s highest-circulated newspaper, said Mihail.
“Cumhuriyet [“Republic,” a Turkish-language newspaper] began to surpass us in the mid-1930s. Since the 1928 Turkish alphabet reform, only two newspapers have been established and continued printing on a daily basis: Cumhuriyet and Apoyevmatini.
“At that time, Istanbul was a city of 850,000 people, 550,000 of whom were Muslim Turks. And only five percent of Turks knew how to read and write. There were about 150,000 Greeks. The Greek literacy rate was 67 percent. And there was a literate person in every Greek family. Even if it was only for that one person, a newspaper was bought for [every Greek] home. The total sale was much more than that. The history of Apoyevmatini parallels the history of Istanbul society.”
Indeed, the history of Apoyevmatini is a reflection of the history of the magnificent city of Constantinople, founded in 330 A.D.by the emperor Constantine I on the land of ancient Byzantium. It was invaded and captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and renamed Istanbul by the Turkish government in 1930.
The pro-government Turkish newspaper Sabah published an article by Ekrem Buğra Ekinci, a Turkish professor of history, entitled “Newspapers: An Intellectual Legacy of the Ottoman Empire.” Ekinci wrote:
“Aside from Arabs, non-Muslim Ottoman citizens – including Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and Bulgarians – ran their own empire-wide and regional newspapers and magazines. In 1908, 109 out of 726 magazines and newspapers that were allowed to be published were in Greek.”
Ekinci failed to focus on the real issue: What has happened to all those Greek newspapers and their journalists in Constantinople?
The Encyclopedia of the Hellenic World published a comprehensive article regarding the Greek-language newspapers in Ottoman Constantinople, describing the vivid and diverse Greek press in the city. “The strong presence of newspapers in Greek in Constantinople (Istanbul) during the 19th c. is closely related to the reestablishment of the religious communities in the middle of the 1830s and the beginning of the Tanzimat reforms (1839),” it said.
These newspapers no longer exist as the Greek-speaking Orthodox citizens are now a dying minority in Turkey. The current Greek population in the country is estimated at around 2,000. Every violent or non-violent attack against the Greek-speaking residents of Turkey has brought the community one step closer to extinction.
These incidents include, but are not limited to, the 1914–1923 Greek genocide, the 1941–1942 conscription of “the twenty classes” (an attempt to conscript all-male non-Muslim populations, including the elderly and mentally ill, during World War II), the 1942 Wealth Tax, the anti-Greek pogrom of September 6–7, 1955 in Istanbul, and the forced expulsion of Greeks from Turkey in 1964.
During the government-instigated pogrom in September 1955, Turkey’s Greek-speaking Orthodox citizens in Istanbul were exposed to savage, devastating violence. Muslim Turks in the city attacked everything owned by Greeks – their homes, offices, businesses, cemeteries, churches, and schools, among other things. Among the targets was also the Greek-language press of Istanbul.
“The offices and printing presses of eight newspapers were destroyed,” wrote historian Professor Speros Vryonis Jr. “All three principal dailies, Apoyevmatini, Tachydromos and Embros, suffered heavy losses. The first two had both their offices and printing establishments completely wrecked. In the case of the Embros, only its offices were destroyed since it had no printing press of its own.”
Mihail Vasiliadis further explains:
“The period from 1964 to 1975 witnessed the strangulation of the Greek community in Istanbul. The Greek population, which was over 90,000 in 1964, fell below 30,000 in 18 months. Two out of three Greeks had to leave. It was at that time when deportations began. When 15,000 Greeks with Greek passports were expelled from Turkey, families had to leave together. In total, 60,000 people left. In 1975, the Greek population was below 5,000. [Greek] newspapers could not survive solely on sales [when the Greek population was so low]. All other [Greek] newspapers were closed. Apoyevmatini remained.”
In 1991, Helsinki Watch carried out a fact-finding mission to Turkey and published a comprehensive report titled “Denying Human Rights and Ethnic Identity: The Greeks of Turkey,” which said, in part:
“Two newspapers are printed in the Greek language in Istanbul; each has a circulation of 500 to 600 and consists of only about eight pages. Every day, according to members of the Greek community, these newspapers must submit five copies to the office of the governor of Istanbul. Neither newspaper is permitted to criticize the Turkish government. If a Turkish newspaper prints criticism of the government, the Greek newspapers cannot translate and publish the criticism for their readers. ‘I’ve been a journalist for 37 years,’ one Greek told Helsinki Watch. ‘I know what I can write and what I cannot.’
“According to ethnic Greeks, the Turkish government does not permit newspapers or magazines published in Greece to be imported into the country, and no Greek books are available in bookstores.”
And the only remaining Greek newspaper in the country is still exposed to discrimination. The Turkish state has not granted Minas and Mihail Vasiliadis press cards. And advertisements are not placed in the paper by Turkey’s Press Advertisement Institution. Minas says that they tried to get ads from the Institution in 2011 with no result: “Instead of giving us advertisements, they give us some aid once a year and that happens only if they feel like doing so.”
Today, at least 97 journalists languish in Turkish jails, a figure confirmed by Turkey’s Platform for Independent Journalism (P24). Being targeted by their own government is a new experience for many Turks, but apparently, the main victims of Turkey’s intolerance of free press and the free exchange of ideas were the Greek journalists and Greek-language newspapers of the country.
However, Apoyevmatini is still resiliently striving to live on. Greeks worldwide and all those who wish to help preserve civilization and independent media should support the paper by subscribing to it.
Those who would like to help the historic newspaper survive can send an email to [email protected]. The paper is emailed in PDF format to subscribers across the world.
About the author: Uzay Bulut is a Turkish journalist and political analyst formerly based in Ankara. Her writings have appeared in various outlets such as the Gatestone Institute, Washington Times, Christian Post and Jerusalem Post. Bulut’s journalistic work focuses mainly on human rights, Turkish politics, and history, religious minorities in the Middle East and anti-Semitism. Bulut has now also become a contributor for the Greek City Times.