The Guardian // Greek publishing house revives a tradition in Turkey
It is fitting that the official opening of the first Greek publishing house in Istanbul for 50 years, takes place in a former Greek school that has not delivered primary education since 1984 because there were no longer enough pupils in the neighbourhood.
The Istos publishing house, founded by a group of seven Greeks and Turks, will publish bilingual books about Istanbul's Greek Orthodox community, their cultural heritage and impact on the city.
Haris Rigas, who moved from Athens to Istanbul six years ago and is one of Istos's founders, said the time had come to revive the tradition of Greek publishing in Turkey. "[The political situation] in Turkey has been more relaxed over the past 10 years, and more Greek intellectuals and artists have been coming to Istanbul as well," he said.
Since a population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923, when about 1.5 million Turkish Greeks were forcibly resettled, the remaining Greek community in Istanbul has faced discriminatory laws, a destructive pogrom in 1955 and mass deportations after the start of the Cyprus crisis in 1964, diminishing their number to about 3,000 today.
"I think this is a very important initiative," said Nikos Matthioudakis, the Greek consul general in Istanbul. "Creativity, especially multicultural creativity, is the only way to ease tensions. I think that Istos will be very helpful in this respect."
Rigas said minority politics in Turkey were still ambiguous and Greeks faced many difficulties. "Greeks are more confident today. The biggest change has occurred in people's hearts and minds." But, he said: "Demographic-wise, things are still bad. There are still very few Greeks here, and it is very hard for example to get good translators."
Translations from Greek to Turkish have often been made through English or French, but Istos aims to change that through the publication of Greek language books. "There is a growing demand in Turkey to learn Greek," Rigas said. "And Istos will support that."
Frango Karaoglan, who works in the press office of the Greek consulate and translates Greek literature into Turkish, said Istos might also motivate more Greeks to consider Istanbul as a way out of the economic crisis.
"We are happy that for the first time, the number of Greeks in Istanbul is stable," she said. "Because of the economic crisis in Greece, people don't leave. And with projects like these maybe Istanbul Greeks will even start to come back."
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