“Constantinople’s Greeks, the deportations of 1964…” p.s.

7 Sep

It’s truly remarkable how much a hold on the Western mind the ethnic nation-state has. You find it in all journalistic coverage of our lands over and over again: an inability to understand minority groups as a historical part of a particular city’s or region’s demographics, often, as in the case of Istanbul, with a presence in a given city even older than that of the majority’s, but rather to kind of sloppily categorize them through the American immigrant narrative. In this Times’ article it comes out in terms and references like: “Turks of Greek descent” or “many of these Greeks have been born in Turkey” and never been to Greece.

They weren’t Turks of Greek descent because there’s no such thing. They were the Greeks who already lived in Constantinople, many for centuries, when the Turkish republic was formed. Not many but all of them had been born in Turkey — they, and centuries of ancestors that are lost in their historical memory.

It’s çok irritating, as it denies the minority group’s status as a demographic constituent element of a certain locale, but makes them seem to be foreign in some way, so that, at least in this case, it deprives the Turkish government policy of the depth of its injustice.

In an old post of mine: Tarlabaşı III: Kyra Smaro, the Kurdish taxi-driver and Orhan Pamuk I write about a Kyra Smaro I knew in C-Town:

“She was a consummate, almost clichéd, Politissa in every way: from her funky, old-fashioned name (“Smaragdo” – “Emerald”), to her learnedness, playfulness, awareness of the world, quick, ironic humour — down to what a great cook she was.  She was a Greek school-teacher, constantly being shuffled across the city from school to school as they closed for lack of students, every reappointment taking longer and longer as the Turkish Ministry of Education engaged in deliberate bureaucratic foot-dragging with people like her.


“But it would have been ridiculous to suggest she felt no bitterness at all.  One particular form of it, that I heard from almost every Polite in a myriad different versions, was not just the pain of your community shrinking around you so much, or your city becoming unrecognizable around you, but of you becoming unrecognizable to your city.  Armenians and Jews chose a path to greater assimilation after the twenties; they usually spoke Turkish without an accent.  But a Greek of Kyra Smaro’s generation (she must’ve been in her fifties in the nineteen-nineties), still spoke Turkish with an accent, an accent Turkish İstanbullus recognized, and to which they would toss a greeting or a word of Greek when she was shopping or at the manave’s or at the butchers.  But as the century wore on, those İstanbullus disappeared as surely as the Greeks did.

“She was in a cab once, and a young Kurdish driver, who, she remembers, couldn’t have been much more than twenty and who not only didn’t recognize her accent but probably didn’t even know that there used to be any Greeks in İstanbul, politely asked her: “Ma’am, where are you from?”  And she snapped – she even felt bad afterwards: “Where am I from?  I’m from here!  Where are you from?!”  I’m sure the poor kid was left mystified.”


Write us: with comments or observations, or to be put on our mailing list or to be taken off our mailing list, contact us at nikobakos@gmail.com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: