Encouraged by policies, Greek community set to open new school in Turkey
by Burcu Çalık
ISTANBULNov 18, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Burcu Çalık
Nov 18, 2015 12:00 am
Turkey's Greek community plans to open another school in Gökçeada, an Aegean Sea island where two schools were opened by the community in a bid to attract the diaspora that left decades ago.
The plan is apparently motivated by the government's efforts to restore the rights of minorities.
A delegation from a Turkish-Greek foundation that operates the school in Gökçeada, met Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on Monday to thank the government for allowing the opening of the school 49 years after it was closed, due to discriminatory state policies. Laki Vingas, a prominent figure in the Greek community in Turkey and the head of the association that operates the school, said they would open a nursery school in the compound in Gökçeada, which houses a grade school and a high school. Vingas said they aimed to boost the number of students in all schools, which currently stands at 18, to more than 30.
Vingas said Prime Minister Davutoğlu promised them a solution to the problem that Greek returnees face on the island, ranging from a lack of employment to citizenship and property issues. One of the main reasons stalling the return of Greeks are property issues. Greek residents returning to Gökçeada still face lengthy bureaucratic procedures for property purchases despite a 2012 abolition of special clearance asked from Greek-Turkish nationals while acquiring property.
Gökçeada, Turkey's largest island, was once primarily inhabited by Greeks. A decade after its inception, the Republic of Turkey imposed a set of policies targeting minorities in the country. With their properties confiscated through legal amendments restricting property ownership and with anti-minority sentiment gaining popularity, Greeks were forced to leave the country. Gökçeada now boasts a mixed population of Turkish and Greek-Turkish citizens, with Turkish people making up the majority of the population.
A primary school was opened in 2013 and it was followed with the opening of a middle school and a high school this year following the renovation of a building once used as a school by the Greek community.
Non-Muslim minorities in Turkey were long treated as second-class citizens in the 20th century. The controversial wealth tax imposed in 1942, targeting rich non-Muslims, a pogrom in 1955, and the deportation of non-Muslim Turkish citizens in 1964 added to "a fear of the state" among non-Muslim minorities.
The "democratization package" announced by the government a few years ago looks to change the state's view of minorities and restore their rights. The package includes a pledge to return properties that were forcibly seized from non-Muslim community groups during the early years of the Republic to their rightful owners. Then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in 2011 that hundreds of properties that were confiscated from minorities over the years would be returned and compensation would be paid for properties later sold to third parties. Though no comprehensive laws exist to restore the property rights, Turkish courts gradually return properties to minorities proving the ownership.