Halki before Heybeliada and the story of the Halk Pharmacy
By Berken Doner
It was September... The island is more secluded, serene, and quiet now... I was the guest of Mrs. Keti (Proku Turker) and Mr. Orhan (Turker) that day. If you pass the fig trees and the jasmine garden wall and head towards Halki's (Heybeliada) Lausanne Victory Street, it is easy to see them. A little further back on the sidewalk, you will see the house with the white door. Mr. Orhan is watering the hydrangeas, and Mrs. Keti is inside reading a book with her cat on her lap. The place I call "inside" is the once-famous People's Pharmacy, which Heybeliaders know very well. It is the place Ms. Keti is most familiar with in life. She was a forty-day-old baby the first time she walked into this store. Halk Pharmacy is identified with the Proku family in Heybeliada. Grandfather Anastas Proku was an old-school pharmacist. He learned the intricacies of the profession as a journeyman under Greek pharmacists from Pera. He didn't have a diploma, but he used to heal with the medicines he prepared by beating various herbs in a mortar and pestle. His son Andon followed in his father's footsteps. In the 1950s, Kiryakica, a graduate of the pharmacy faculty, came to the Proku's. Kiryakica was a budding pharmacist who grew up under Melih Ziya Sezer, one of the famous pharmacists of Moda, Yeldegirmenli, Chalcedon (Kadıkoy). The family worked hand in hand to develop the Halk Pharmacy, founded by their grandfather. From the 1950s to the 1990s, no one from the island did not go in and out of this pharmacy. The pharmacy is now the Turkers' writing house. Orhan Turker is reviewing his notes at his desk facing the street. Although he says, "I am from Modi (Moda), I came to the island as a son-in-law, Mrs. Keti knows the island best," he continues to think and produce on Heybeliada, where he has lived for thirty-five years. Isn't it true that Modal people live like Islanders... Let's all be Turker's guests together. One cup is not enough; let's fill the coffeehouse with bitter coffee.
Mrs. Keti, the islanders still remember your parents with great respect. Not only were they a trendy couple, but they were also very successful pharmacists. How do you remember Halk Pharmacy?
My grandfather, father, and mother were pharmacists in our family. My grandfather, Anastas Proku, built the pharmacy we are in now and the family house above it in 1955. He also ran the pharmacy in the beginning. His furniture was legendary; the pharmacy's interior was decorated with precious furniture. Our family house has three floors. My grandfather built one apartment for his son and one for his daughter. His son Andon is my father. With my mother Kiryakica joining the family, the festive days of the pharmacy began. I remember everyone, big and small, used to come here. From the Pasha families to the poor Greek fishermen, it was a favorite shop for everyone on the island. Our pharmacy served the people of Halki until September 1992. In 1992, we handed it over. Our only request to the lady we handed our pharmacy was to protect the antique furniture. This request still needs to be answered. All the furniture was sold. This still makes me very sad. This pharmacy was the memory of Heybeliada.
Mr. Orhan, in your book, you state that "Turks are experiencing the pain of not being Islanders". To what extent is the lack of preservation and appreciation of the memory places of the islanders related to this observation?
The people who built all these houses were forced to live outside this country today. Most people who came to replace them needed help to maintain the structures they found ready-made. They tried to make them look like the places they came from. Among the newcomers to the island, the highest population belongs to the Black Sea people. There used to be an envy of the Islander lifestyle. Those who came in the 1950s used to try to adapt. For example... For a while, Heybeli had a high school and an academy for the military. The wives and daughters of senior officers created their social circle and lifestyle. The army was at the top of the class strata of Turkish families; they were in Heybeli in the summers.
Greeks, on the other hand, had fishermen and doctors. The class structure of the Greek community on the island was layered. It was possible to see the same layered structure in the Jewish and Armenian communities. In other words, there were rich and poor. Names such as Dr. Fundopulos, Dr. Kriton Dincmen, Dentist Todori Karayiannidis, and Stavro Guclu were among the prominent Greeks of the Island. The teachers of the Seminary were very high people. When they were young, while studying on the island, they met young girls from here and married. They became islanders. Some impoverished people from these communities came to the island for the summer with some help just so that their children could marry someone from their community. Let's say he was able to rent a tiny house. Well, he was able to rent it after all. His daughter can go to the Quay with her friends in the evening and meet her peers... The island also had such a structure. Heybeliada was the earliest of the Istanbul Islands to be Turkified. There are two reasons for this: The Military Academy and the Sanatorium. Both attracted the Turkish population to the island. For example, the Tepe Neighborhood is where the sanatorium employees lived. Even when the hospital closed, the employees remained in that neighborhood.
Mr. Orhan, the title you gave to your book summarizes the transformation on the island. You are distinguishing Rumluk, Heybeliada, that is, "Halki," from today. So much so that you even said, "From now on, there is not a Halki to tell the story of, but Heybeliada." So, when was the heyday of the island for the Greeks?
Halki, as we know it, ended after 1964. Greeks lived happily on their beloved island until 1964. The Heybeliada Greek School closed in 1980. It had two hundred and seventy-five students in the 1923/1924 school year; in the 1978/1979 school year, this number dropped to seven. The period between 1950 and 1955 was an excellent period for the Greeks of Heybeliada. They had joyful, happy days. The well-known Greek singers Sofia Vembo and the Kaluta Brothers would come to Sofianos Gazino. There was no room to listen to them. In fact, for some, the island was so sufficient that some Greeks were born here and died without going to Istanbul. If we go back further, the most brilliant period for the Greeks was the reign of Sultan Abdulhamid II. This period is the golden age of Greeks in general. Sultan Abdulhamid worked with Greek bankers; the palace's closest doctors and pharmacists were Greek. All the great works of educational and religious institutions of the Greek community in Istanbul were built during the reign of Abdulhamid. Taksim Hagia Triada Church, Kadıkoy Hagia Triada Church, Zapyon High School, Fener Red School, Zapeion High School, Kentriko High School, Galata Greek School, Arnavutköy Taxiarhis Church, Principe (Buyukada) Orphanage... All of them were under the rule of Abdulhamid. In Yedikule, there is an inscription on the bell tower of the church of the Karamanli Greeks: "It was built during the reign of our Sultan Abdulhamid Khan". Abdulhamid was a sultan loved and respected by the Greeks during his reign.
Before the deportations of Greek nationals in 1964-1965, there was another significant event: September 6-7, 1955 Pogrom. How was Heybeliada affected by these events? Mrs. Keti, was your family on the island that day?
Yes, they were on the island. The September 6-7, 1955 Pogrom is a wound in the social memory of the Greeks. Fortunately, there were no large-scale incidents similar to the destruction in Buyukada. The presence of the Naval School served as a deterrent and curbed the incidents. They removed the bell of the Ayios Nikolaos Church, frequently used by the Greek community of Heybeliada, and threw it on the ground. The same bell is still used today; its sound is still crackling. A group from the opposite shore on barges attempted to go to the Seminary. There was an admiral named Tacettin Pasha. He would often stop by our pharmacy and chat with my father. I was a child, but I heard it from him. When he saw the people coming with barges, he gave orders to his soldiers. He had the marauders captured one by one and pushed them back. He had the Seminary checked thoroughly, and those who had fled that way were rounded up. Our pharmacy escaped almost undamaged. They threw stones at the window glass. That window was broken. My mother told me that the island's watchman protected our pharmacy. Buyukada was less lucky than Heybeli. The destruction there was talked about for days and months.
Mrs. Keti, how was the island in her happy days? What was daily life like?
The most significant routine of the islanders was to welcome their husbands back from Istanbul. In the afternoon, women would dress up and go to the pier. At 6:30 p.m., the casinos on the beach would be filled with women who had come down to meet the gentlemen returning from work. While waiting for their husbands, they would drink lemonade, soda, and coffee in the casinos. 7:20 p.m. was the time to meet the Pasabahçe or Fenerbahce ferries that would depart from the pier on the Galata Bridge and arrive as express ferries. The spouses would return home and sit down to dinner. Greeks and Armenians would have dinner at home with their families, while Jews would have a bite to eat at the casinos on the beach and then return home. Jewish women did not go home and set the table. In general, Jewish women never missed an opportunity to go out. Let's say she was going to make beans in olive oil... She would pick them up at the casino on the beach, return home, and cook them in a pressure cooker in a hurry... They would run to the sea for a swim as soon as the food was done. In Burgaz and Büyükada, however, there were more affluent Jewish families. It was impossible to see them on the street.
The upper-class Turks of the island were those associated with the military. They mostly lived on the Gemici Kaynagi Street. They had created their world. They even had a movie theater inside the army house. They were not very close to Greek families. The children of the military members, who were born and raised on the island, mingled more quickly with Greek children. Families did not get friendly with each other for fear of marriages between young people.
Nevertheless, from time to time, some marriages could not be prevented. Greek girls were very fond of young men in uniform. If it were summer, we would say, "The seagulls are out," and if it was winter, "the ants are out." Seagulls were called seagulls because of the white uniform they wore in summer and ants because of the black uniform they wore in winter. It was forbidden for members of the military to marry Greek girls. Despite this, marriages took place, and some gave up their careers for love.
How did the Greek community have fun during these happy times? Did they have any unique places?
They used to have fun at the Heybeliada Cultural Association. Young people would attend the Association and usually play ping-pong, backgammon, and chess. There would be teas, parties, and movie screenings on the weekends. The whole purpose was to keep young people there as long as they met and married someone from their community. Amateur theater groups would often come to Heybeliada. Especially the Arnavutköy Cultural Association, which also belonged to the Greek community, was outstanding in this regard. When Arnavutköy's play came, there was no room. Nights were organized at Halki Palas. We used to attend those nights in style. Our tailor was Madame Olga. I am still friends with her daughter; she continues her life in Greece. Dentist Todori Karayiannidis' aunt, Madame Margarita, and grandmother, Madame Marta, were also essential tailors. Men's tailors were separate. They had their shops. The female tailors would either come home, or we would go to their houses.
The entertainment after dinner was the movies. At 9:00 p.m., the movies would start. There were four cinemas: Ayyıldız, Zafer, Yeni Sinema, and another one whose name I cannot remember. From time to time, theater and concerts would come to these cinemas. For example, Mavi Işıklar, Berkant, Rana-Selçuk Alagöz... I always listened to them in Heybeliada cinemas. Those who didn't go to the movies would go to the countryside casino near Halki Palas to have fun. There was only one casino left, Ethem's Place. In the old days, there were three or four countryside casinos in Çam Harbor. When there was moonlight, they would usually tour the island by carriage and watch the moonlight in Çam Harbor. Sometimes, people would also go out by boat to watch the moonlight. You would go into the sea in the morning. Some people would dig mussels from the rocks, cook them, and enjoy themselves.
Mrs. Keti, as one of the oldest Islanders, you lived the excellent days of Heybeliada. What did it mean to be an islander in your time?
Islanderism is a way of life. It is a closed life. Everyone knows each other. There are large families established through kinship relations. Old Islanders had their unique nicknames. No one was known by their surname; these nicknames knew them. Everyone adopted their nickname, and no one was hurt because of it. For example, Playful Marika if she looked left and right too much, or Lame Mehmet if he had a limp... There were also nicknames identified with knowledge and culture. One gentleman always wore a trench coat and umbrella in case it rained as soon as the fall began. His nickname was Chamberlain, after the Prime Minister of England. The man's name was forgotten, but his nickname remained. On the island, a foreigner cannot hide for long. They are immediately questioned about who they are, what they are, and where they come from. There are certain behaviors specific to islanders. For example, an islander does not turn his back to the sea while sitting in the casino on the beach. Nowadays, the new fashion in Adalar is battery-powered vehicles. You may have a battery-powered car, but honking the horn is unsuitable for an islander. The state of being an islander equalizes all identities. It does not distinguish between Jews, Christians, or Muslims.
On the other hand, the island has its own rules of life and difficulties. It embraces those who can adapt to these rules. In the past, there used to be great difficulty in transportation. Weather conditions were different. Some island houses had cisterns or wells, but water used to come by tankers from the Anatolian side. These tankers would not be able to go in the first lodgepole. I remember we were without water for three days. The name of the water tanker was KOSAR. We would watch your way, "Kosar came, Kosar will come..." He would run, fill his tanker with water from Maltepe, and make one trip to Buyukada and Heybeliada. In summer, there were two trips to Buyukada. The people from Heybeliada used to resent this very much, "You always favor the people from Buyukada. You favor them," they would say. Even the poorest house was spotless, smelling of white soap. Even the steps and door knockers were polished. In the evenings, they would sit in front of the door and chat. The women of the island had learned to live cautiously. Tea and coffee side treats were always kept ready. These were happy years, bittersweet...
Did "islandness" really equalize all identities?
Until the early 1970s, yes! Until this period, Greeks were the majority, and Muslims were the minority. Turks had adapted to the Greek lifestyle, culture, and language. Almost everyone knew Greek and Greek customs. The population balance changed and reversed from 1964-1965.
On the other hand, the settled Turks of the Island still know enough Greek to explain their problems. Moreover, there is a Greek language unique to Heybeliada. Heybeli Greek is dialectally different. Today's Greeks do not know it, but a Turk from old Heybeliada knows Heybeli Greek. One of the groups who settled in Heybeli was Roma from the opposite shores (Maltepe, Pendik...). They came as six or eight families. They became Greek in Heybeli. Over the years, they started to live like Greeks. Only the old ones remember who is who. There were records kept in the past, but then these records were burned. Today, almost all of them live in Greece. There were rituals passed down from them to the island Greeks. For example, when swearing an oath, they would say, "May the fire burn you" (Fotia na se kapsi!); instead of saying "By God," they would say, "In the name of the fire" (Ma tin fotia). Such oaths do not exist in Christianity. Also, in recent years, Assyrians have started to settle in Heybeliada. They also use the Greek church in the summer.
So, is it possible to become an islander later on?
K.T. It is a bit difficult to become an Islander in one generation. It used to take several generations. Nowadays, it doesn't matter. The island has no originality left. Everything has been done to make sure that it does not. While the world is trying to make its villages and towns "slow cities," we don't appreciate the place already like that.
O.T. I have lived on the island for thirty-odd years, but I cannot call myself an islander. Still, I would like everyone here to know where they live and appreciate it.
*The article was published on September 24, 2023, on Avlaremoz. It was translated into English for Gerceknews readers.