For the past four years, with my colleague Haluk Ucel of Bilgi University, we have been trying to put together a documentary to show the present state of the community of the Rums, the Greek Orthodox and Greek-speaking Turkish citizens of Istanbul. Their stories may not be directly related to the target group of the defense minister, as the Rums of Istanbul were subject to deportations due to the Turkish state in of the 1950s and 1960s. But precisely because they are the still living witnesses of these relatively recent events, they can tell their stories. A very small portion of the once thriving community of over 100,000 members, live today in Istanbul, struggling to overcome their psychological trauma from past wounds and win over fear and suspicion about the honesty of any Turkish government toward them.
We talked to many of them. We talked to well known Turks who cannot remember their childhood without their friends "Lefteris, Costas, Eleni" who suddenly disappeared from their street plays in Pera. And we talked to the ones who, after being expelled from Istanbul or having left in fear after 1955, now live with their sepia photos and albums of the city, still not able to fully integrate into Greek society. We also talked to their children, their first memorable experiences in life connected with an unexpected, "man in a dark suit," coming one evening to their apartment, after which their mother began packing their belongings. We found them in Athens where they live, cry and remember. I
n spite of the thaw in the Greek-Turkish relations after the 1990s, numerous initiatives taken on a citizen’s level between the two countries, in spite of the many joint projects to increase understanding, analyze history, promote cooperation, think positively toward the future; the Rums we talked to have a longer memory than us. They prefer grief to joy, fear to friendship, suspicion to optimism. Instead of any other comments, I will give you some small extracts of what children of that period, now in their 50s, told us:
"I was born in 1957. I left Turkey when I was seven. I remember the day of the deportations, some police officers came to the house to announce the decision to my father. We were getting ready to go to the cinema with family friends, as soon as people we had not not expected rang our doorbell, I immediately understood, instinctively, that something bad was happening. Two gentlemen came in who were very polite to my father and said certain things to him which I found out much later. I immediately understood this was not something pleasant and I went into my room and began to cry..."
"There was a climate of increased tension, not so much religious, but let us say ethnic conflict. People who were your neighbors, as an example, let us say, the butcher of the neighborhood, sharpening his knife in a strange manner and saying strange things to my mother. All these events took place suddenly. I was born in 1951. I have a very dim recollection of the September ’55 events because I was very little, in a month’s time I would have been four years old. Nevertheless, a curious thing! It appeared the moment was very intense, I remember very faintly that I lived through something very intense; stones breaking window panes in the house. It is curious, but I do not remember anything else before the age of six."
This politically incorrect banner, placed outside the entrance of the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity somewhere in the United States, was taken seriously by the vast majority of Greek Americans who voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in last week's presidential elections. The Greek-Americans with their well organized lobby and a new generation of Democrat voters have managed to position themselves near the 44th President-elect expecting a quick return for their support in hot foreign policy issues that involve Cyprus, Greece and Turkey.
To start with, the Greek American community who traditionally vote Democrat not Republican, were pleased when Barack Obama chose Joe Biden as his vice president.
In his 35 years as a member of the Senate, Biden was known for his pro-Greek stance. "Joe Biden became acquainted with the Cyprus issue first when, as a 30-year-old senator, he received a telephone call from one of his voters of Cypriot origin in Delaware, Costas Georgiou, who briefed him on the Turkish military operation in Cyprus, the occupation of 38 percent of their land and the 200,000 refugees.
This relationship continues today," writes New York based journalist-editor, Apostolis Zoupaniotis. He added, when Biden received the “George Livanos prize” last May, in tears, he expressed his gratitude to the Greek American community who stood by him in his two failed attempts for the presidency and apologized for not having done more for the community.
The Greek Americans are looking to Biden to maintain his critical approach toward Turkey over Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. They clearly remember that he has called the Cyprus issue "a blatant injustice" and pointed out that "there is no excuse regarding the treatment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.”
Greek Cypriots in the United States were also exhilarated with the Obama-Biden duo when they read their vision for Cyprus, in a message to a Greek American internet site;
“Cyprus should remain a single, sovereign country in which each of the two communities on the island is able to exercise substantial political authority within a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. There must be a just and mutually agreed settlement of difficult issues like property, refugees, land, and security. A negotiated political settlement on Cyprus would end the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and repair the island’s tragic division, while paving the way to prosperity and peace throughout the entire region. It would also give Cypriots a firm foundation on which to build their future after many years of division and uncertainty. It would help foster better Greek-Turkish relations, strengthen Turkish democracy, reduce the risk of military conflict and remove a major obstacle to Turkish membership of the EU.”
If you are Greek and love Obama, clap your hands