Greeks of Turkey

Location: Istanbul, islands of Imvros (Gökçeada) and Tenedos (Bozçaada)
Population: 6,000-8,000 (est.)
% of population: 0.01%
Religion: Greek Orthodox
Language: Greek, Turkish

The Greek Orthodox minority in Turkey is a small community made up of the descendants of those who were permitted to remain in Turkey after the massive and compulsory exchange of populations agreed under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

Greece and the Ottoman Empire had been in dispute over territories periodically during the nineteenth century and Greece had declared war on Turkey in 1921 in an attempt to secure the Ottoman territories it had been awarded under the Treaty of Sèvres. The Greek forces were driven from Anatolia by Kemal Atatürk in 1922 and much of the large Greek population fled, especially from Smyrna (Izmir), a largely Greek city. Under the Treaty of Lausanne Greeks were eliminated from Turkey with the exception of those in Istanbul, Imvros and Tenedos, close to the mouth of the Dardanelles, where minority rights were to be guaranteed. The Turks were similarly expelled from all Greek territory except Western Thrace. The Treaty of Lausanne was partially designed as a means of finally ending a century of murderous feuding between the two communities.

Despite assurances of continued protection from the Turkish authorities there has been a steady increase in restrictions on Greeks in Turkey. In September 1955 a Turkish mob destroyed much of the Greek business quarter of Istanbul, Greek churches, cemeteries, schools and historical monuments. Shops and warehouses were looted and burnt to the ground.

Greeks in Turkey have to live with many prohibitions such as that on the use of Greek in courts, purchase of land by social and cultural institutions and the establishment of any association based on race, language or religion. On the islands of Imvros and Tenedos land was compulsorily appropriated, schools closed and the islands declared military zones, making normal life virtually impossible for the Greek populations. In 1964 Greek Orthodox priests were forbidden to teach religion or conduct morning prayers in minority schools and Turks have since been appointed as teachers in all minority schools. Students were obliged to enrol in their nearest school rather than in a school of their choice and the teaching of the Greek language has been severely reduced. In 1971 the government closed down the Department of Advanced Religious Studies of Chalki, thus impeding preparation for office within the church. Passports are also being withheld from prominent members of the Greek Orthodox community despite the fact that they are Turkish subjects. Some of these people face restricted movement within Turkey itself.

Further restrictions were imposed after the Greek/Turkish dispute over Cyprus in 1974. At the height of the crisis the Turkish government adopted a secret decree which restricted property transactions by Greeks in Turkey, froze their assets and limited their income, although implementation of this decree appears to have begun after July 1985. Greece has protested strongly in European forums at Turkish treatment of its Greek minority.

There has been a continuous decline in the Greek population most of which remains concentrated in Istanbul. From 100,000 in 1934 it has fallen to 6,000-8,000 today. The Greek population of Imvros and Tenedos is reported to have fallen from 10,500 in the 1940s to 1,600 in 1977. However despite its decline and the restrictions it faces, the Greek minority in Istanbul is reported to be a prosperous one and, along with Armenian and Jewish minorities, to have played an important, although low-profile, role in the financial and commercial sector.

(See also Greeks of Albania in Eastern Europe; Turks of Western Thrace in Eastern Europe)