Self-exiled Greeks returned for a visit to Istanbul this week decades after they were forced to leave their homes in fear of persecution and discrimination.
The Greeks, or ‘Rums’, returned to visit their old homeland under an initiative of the Istanbul Greek community in collaboration with the Turkish government, according to the Daily Sabah newspaper.
Five elderly Greeks who live in a hospice in Greece, accompanied by their descendants, attended a welcoming ceremony at Yenikoy Panayia Greek Orthodox Church in the city, Daily Sabah reports.
“We are encouraged by the recognition that Istanbul Greeks belong to Turkey,” said Mihal Mavropoulos, deputy chair of the Universal Federation of Istanbul Greeks that organized the event.
The visit was the result of a request made by Istanbul Greeks to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Hakan Cavusoglu when he visited Greece in November.
Cavusoglu, a native of Komotini, received a delegation of Istanbul Greeks who expressed their desire to visit the city where they were born and grew up.
In the 1950s a wave of riots and hate speech against the Greeks of the city led most of them to flee the country. Most migrated to Greece. Some lost their Turkish citizenship over the years as they did not return for compulsory military service.
According to Daily Sabah, Mavropoulos said that: “It is an encouraging sign for us and younger generations that the public acknowledges openly that these people belong here. It is of great importance to building upon shared civil values developed by communities for centuries in Anatolia.”
Laki Vingas, a prominent figure in the Istanbul Greek community who heads the foundation running the Yenikoy church, said that although recent tensions between Turkey and Greece overshadowed “rapidly improved ties” between Athens and Ankara, they hoped for a common future.
“Over the last decade, we have seen that people of the two countries bonded better,” Vingas said.