This baklava, this horon, this exhibition is “ours...”
ELIF TURKOLMEZ- One of the greatest achievements of my life was receiving the praise of my neighbor, Madame Despina, who tasted the topik with generous cinnamon on top that I made for our New Year's table when I lived in Kinaliada and said, "This is just like my mother's."
Madame Despina's father was a Greek from the mainland (Greece), her mother was Armenian, and she and my family's close friend Uncle Erol (Buzuki Erol) were united by a great love that can only be found in the movies.
When they were young, this cheerful couple, who traveled the world giving concerts from Israel to France, from America to Italy, knowing that to entertain their audience they had to entertain themselves first, continued this theme at the festive raki tables they set up in the garden of their house in Kinaliada when they returned to Istanbul, entertaining the islanders at sumptuous tables of appetizers, pastries, fish and desserts, playing and singing until morning.
Of course, this was many years ago.
First, Uncle Erol died.
I moved away from the island.
And a few years ago we bid farewell to Despina.
When I met their daughter, I was once again struck by the magnitude of this “Turkish-Greek” love and how both of them were witty people who were always making fun of life.
Uncle Erol and Madame Despina's daughter is named “Bizden” (“Ours”).
In other words, neither Turkish nor Greek...
While visiting Melike Capan's exhibition, the sound of Uncle Erol's bouzouki in my ear, I remembered Despina, Uncle Erol and their uninhibited sweetness.
Because I believe that those forced migrations have taken away from us recipes, songs, stuffed squid, but above all the prospect of love.
For taking the hearts away from each other...
The curator of the exhibition "Remembering Imbros 1964," Melike Capan, is a journalist and comes from a family living in Fener for four generations. She is therefore familiar with her Greek neighbors, their culture, their words, their tables, their laughter, and their tears.
However, there was one topic she was not familiar with: what happened in Imbros in 1964; in other words, the migration story of the Greeks of Derekoy.
Capan visited Imbros for the first time in 2018, and as soon as she saw Derekoy, she was curious about its story and started asking around.
When no one was willing to answer her, she became even more curious and began to collect documents and photos and to conduct oral history studies.
Let's lend an ear to the story of our Greek neighbors, about whom she says: "We opened our hands to the same God, sat around the same tables, danced the same dances, and I believe that one day we will meet again."
So we should know that this baklava, this horon, these dances, these photos, these expressions are "ours," all ours.
What was interesting for you about the story of Imbros?
When I first visited Imbros, I didn't have any story about the place. When I was there for the first time in 2018, I visited all the villages. I didn't realize what I was looking at until I saw Derekoy. In other words, I wasn't looking around like I was on a business trip. But the moment I saw Derekoy, I realized what had happened on the island, and I started researching.
What is important about Derekoy?
Derekoy is the memory of 1964 with its every single stone, every single tree and the destroyed houses. In the following years I visited the island again and again and talked to the people. As long as the conversation was about the weather, everything was good. But when the subject turned to events that took place in '64, people's facial expressions would change and they would immediately break off the conversation. Whether you call it fear or a desire to forget, it was underlying in all of them. An intimidation caused by fear and the desire to forget.
And you, with a journalistic reflex, wanted to record this forgetting...
I think it is very dangerous for the Greek community to forget. It is a population that is shrinking demographically. Moreover, it is predominantly an elderly population. It was necessary to capture that memory as soon as possible. So I rolled up my sleeves. For years I wrote countless news articles for the Jewish, Armenian, Greek, Assyrian and Chaldean communities in Turkey. At some point, I felt that we needed to inform more people about this reality, and today it has turned into an exhibition. Every day I receive dozens of people in this exhibition who have no interest in this issue or even who don't know Imbros at all. Every day I respond to anyone who comes to the exhibition site and asks questions. Because now it's time for the communities to meet. I think it's still not too late for that.
What has been lost with the migration from Imbros?
When people leave, they take with them everything that belongs to them, and what remains is a stone wall. Culture is the most important part of our identity; when people leave, that leaves, as well. This is also what happened in Imbros, their culture left along with the Greeks. Those who stayed closed their doors tightly, and silence and desolation descended on the whole island. The fairs fell silent, the bakeries shut down... Until the present day. The opening of schools in the last few years has encouraged the return. The population, which dropped from 7,000 to 200, has now risen to 700. And they are making great efforts to preserve their culture.
I think sometimes we make a mistake when we refer to specific, limited, framed identities. You mention that we speak by rote when we say “Greek,” that the Greeks from Istanbul and the Greeks from Athens are not exactly the same. For example, the cuisine of the Greeks from Istanbul is richer, it's a little bit more like the palace cuisine. I know that the Greeks from Yenikoy who migrated to Athens turn up their noses at the food there. Hakan Yucel's story about the spatial expansion of Greek identity is very interesting, can you tell us a little about it?
Hakan Yucel distinguishes between being Greek in Istanbul and Imbros through the city and the island. And he emphasizes the spatiality of identity. This includes being a city dweller, an islander, or a local neighbor. Space is an important source of identity formation, but this characteristic seems to be ingrained in the DNA of Greeks. Today, this characteristic can also be observed in the few remaining Greeks in the island. They still form an identity with their city and their island. They have a strong sense of belonging. This is also the reason for the longing of many of those who have left.
Some are from Istanbul, some are from Anatolia, but the Greeks (Romioi) are the people of these lands. If ten words of the language they speak are Greek, three words are Turkish. Food, traditions and customs are different from Greece. This was especially the discrepancy with Athens. There were no people on the street in the neighborhood who knew each other. There were no people with whom you could exchange two words in Turkish. They left with a suitcase and $20 so they had to build a life there from scratch. They were not welcome there, just as they were not welcome here. Where they left, they were Greek infidels, only to become "Turkish seeds" where they went. It is hard to build a new belonging.
What happened in Imbros in 1964?
A mutual population migration is called a population exchange. We did this with Greece in 1922, but the Greeks of Istanbul, Imbros and Tenedos were not included in this exchange. Nor were the Muslims of Western Thrace in Greece included. What was not done in 1922 was accomplished in 1964. An official deportation order was issued in Istanbul for Greeks with Greek citizenship. However, there was a different policy on the island. Some "measures" were taken there to force the population to emigrate. First of all, the teaching in native language was forbidden, and the schools were closed. The lands of the people who lived on agriculture were confiscated. When people turned to livestock, the import of animals was banned. As if that were not enough, an open prison was established on the island. The prisoners started to be released at night, and violence broke out. What does a people do when you take away their language and bread and then try to kill them? They run away. One by one, in the middle of the night, the people crossed in boats to the shores across the water.
Until 1964 Imbros was a self-sufficient island. There were workshops in every village. Cheese, wine, olive oil, flour... The women wove their shirts from the animals they raised themselves. Fruit and olives were abundant. The whole island was farmed all the way up into the mountains. The people here were peasants who worked in agriculture. Those who went to work outside earned the money. They went to Africa, Greece and Istanbul to work. Young girls were sent to Istanbul to help in houses so that they could save up money and their father could build them a house. This was because on the island, a girl's dowry was a house. This led to a class conflict between them and the Greeks from 'Poli' (Istanbul). Unfortunately, it's true that there was such a spatial and class conflict between them. But today there is no such conflict. How much population is left anyway...
Where are your origins? What is your relationship with the Greeks?
I come from a four-generation family from Istanbul. My roots go back to the Black Sea region, but we have no sense of belonging there. My ancestors left for Istanbul in the 1920s, and there is no culture passed down to us about our homeland. At home we only have salted anchovies and lakerda, prepared in winter. That's all we know, neither the food nor the culture... We have been in Fener since the 1920s, both on my mother's and my father's side. My two grandmothers were childhood friends. Our family home is still standing. What I saw in my grandparents was also the dedication to their space. I think I inherited that from them. I can't get away from Fener either.
I remember a few Greek words that my grandmother used to speak. She told me that she learned them from her Greek neighbors. She also told me that in 1955 they gave flags to their Greek neighbors so that their houses would not be attacked. By my time, there were only a few Greeks living in the neighborhood. My grandmother's neighbors are long gone. In every article I have ever written, or in this exhibit today, I record our memories as well as those of the Greeks. We opened our hands to the same God, sat around the same tables, danced the same dances, and I believe that one day we will meet again. This is the purpose of this exhibition.
The exhibition is on display at the Yuakimion Greek Girls' High School in Balat, Istanbul, until November 24. You should go and see it, and after leaving the exhibition, stroll through the streets of Balat, full of the most beautiful examples of Greek architecture, and walk through the traces of lost time...