The decision by the Turkish Ministry of Education to allow the reopening of a minority primary school on the northeastern Aegean island of Gokceada — 47 years after the schools serving the island’s ethnic Greek population were abruptly shut down — marks the latest step in a gradual but enduring rapprochement between the two erstwhile rivals.
Students from the Derekoy Greek elementary school, circa 1930. [Kathimerini 1994]
The development comes on the heels of last November’s decision by a first instance court on the island of Büyükada in the Sea of Marmara to return a disused orphanage building, considered one of the world’s largest wooden structures, back to the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarchate.
The last Greek minority school on Gokceada, called Imbros or Imvros in Greek, was closed in 1964 amid simmering tension between Athens and Ankara caused by inter-communal strife on Cyprus.
Laki Vingas, a member of Turkey’s tiny ethnic Greek minority and the first non-Muslim representative of non-Muslim foundations at the Council of the General Assembly of the Directorate General for
Foundations, referred to the deeper significance of the decision in statements to the SES Türkiye.
« The right of education is one of the basic human rights. It was also among the most important factors that pushed the Greek community of Gokceada to immigrate, » he said.
In a distinctly less upbeat view, Professor Samim Akgonul, a noted researcher on minority issues at Strasbourg University, said the decision does not demonstrate any substantial change in the way the Turkish state views citizenship rights, but only shows that the state sees the ethnic Greek residents of the island as a minor touristic group not likely to pose any kind of « threat ».
« I define the step taken by the state as ‘folklorisation’, in other words, introducing the remaining few diverse minorities as mere tourist souvenirs, » he says.
« By granting a primary school to a handful of Greek community members after so many years, they wish at the same time to provide Stambouli [Istanbul] tourists with an opportunity to make romantic travels to nostalgic islands, where a handful of members of the Greek community live, » Akgonul said.
According to him, the decision will demonstrate a real change of understanding only when the grandchildren of the people who emigrated from the island return, along with a sizeable number of ethnic Greeks, without fear of discrimination.
For the moment there is no definite date for the opening of this school. « However, it could be ready for the upcoming school year, 2012-2013, » Vingas told SES Türkiye.
The question remains, of course, if reopened, will the Greek-language school attract pupils?
« From Greece and Istanbul too, some families here have expressed a desire to return, » Imvros Society of Athens secretary Meni Triantafyllou told SES Türkiye.
She said there are roughly 4,000 registered members in the greater Athens area alone, rising to a community of 7,500 if children and grandchildren are included. Pressed on the issue, she said six to seven younger families have already returned to the island, either from Istanbul or Greece. An optimistic prediction would be three to four pupils at their desks when the school finally opens.
Read the original article : http://turkey.setimes.com/en_GB/articles/ses/articles/reportage/2012/01/31/reportage-01