Greeks begin long process of reviving destroyed Istanbul community after Turkish persecution


There were 125,000 Greeks living in Constantinople (Κωνσταντινούπολις, Turkish: İstanbul) at the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923.

The 125,000 Greeks in Constantinople and its outlying islands were exempt from a population exchange between Greece and Turkey of their respective Christian and Muslim minorities.

However, after decades of persecution by the Turkish state, the 125,000 Greeks have been reduced to as little as 1,000, by some estimates, despite being the indigenous population of the city.

However, individual efforts are being made by Greeks, who have a right to Turkish citizenship, to revive the community from the brink of extinction.

Dafni Zachariadou, a 33-year-old born in Athens, told The Times that the first time she walked down Constantinople's famous İstiklal Avenue: “Suddenly all my family stories came to life, like a fairytale."

“I thought to myself, ‘I will live in this town for ever'," she added.

Her grandmother was born in Constantinople.

Zachariadou finally made the move to Constantinople three years ago, has learnt Turkish and is working on an oral history project.

Nikolaos Uzunoglu fled Constantinople for Greece after Turkish nationalists attacked his home on the first night of the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, but is now supporting Zachariadou and others Greeks to return to the city of their ancestors.

“Our prime goal is to educate young people on their right to return to their motherland, which is Istanbul,” said Uzunoglu, who obtained his citizenship again after 40 years.

“The problem is that for the young generation there are many difficulties; to get it, one of their parents should be a citizen," he added.

The Times explained that thousands of descendants of exiled Greeks have also reclaimed
their families’ properties in Constantinople thanks to legal reforms that were introduced in the 1980s and fully enacted by the ruling AKP.

The process is often long and tricky, however; most seized or abandoned properties were transferred to the Turkish treasury, which then sold them on to private investors.

Zachariadou is not reclaiming a property but will apply for Turkish citizenship once she is eligible.

“If I didn’t believe we could rebuild this community, I wouldn’t be part of this effort,” she said.

Anti-Greek riots ripped across Constantinople on September 6 and 7 in 1955 because of a carefully planned Turkish intelligence operation that falsely claimed that Greeks had burnt down Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's birth house in Greece's second city of Thessaloniki.

What followed was the destruction of 4,214 houses, 1,004 workplaces, 73 churches, one synagogue, two monasteries and 26 schools - some 73 Greek Orthodox churches were set on fire.

Tens of thousands of Greeks fled after the 1955 pogrom.

In the 1960's, Greeks were barred from 30 professions, including from occupations involved in medicine and health, architecture, manufacturing and labouring.

In addition, thousands of Greeks were given a week to prepare for deportation from Turkey, not allowing them to sell businesses and properties.

The remaining few Greeks in Constantinople fled after the Turkish invasion of northern Cyprus in 1974.

In this way, the Greek community in Constantinople was pulverised whilst the Muslim population in Greece's Western Thrace, who were exempt from the Treaty of Lausanne's deportation, grew from 86,000 in 1922 to 140,000 today.

Constantinople is not the only location though where Hellenism is remerging after being almost extinguished by the Turkish state.

In 2013, when the Greek Primary School on the Turkish-controlled island of Tenedos opened up after half a century of closure, it had only four students.

Today, 53 Greek children attend all levels of education, and 500 Greeks live on the island.

Meanwhile, on Turkish-controlled Imvros, 600 Greeks live on the island again.

After attempts of extermination, Hellenism is starting to flourish in Turkey again as Greeks return home 6

According to the Treaty of Lausanne, Tenedos and Imvros should have autonomous status within the Turkish state.

Instead, in 1964, Turkey closed Greek language schools on the islands and introduced the 1964 Law On Land Expropriation (No 6830) to steal Greek property.

Imvros was also turned into an open air prison for murderers and rapist who were able to roam the island freely and harass the Greek population.

Through these harassment measures, among others, in addition to bringing in Anatolian Turkish settlers, the Greek population was reduced and almost extinguished, up until serious efforts to revive Hellenism on the two islands.

READ MORE: After attempts of extermination, Hellenism is starting to flourish in Turkey again as Greeks return home.