Turkey’s Greek Orthodox community marked Christmas Day Thursday with Kalanda, a Greek Orthodox tradition of singing traditional Greek Christmas carols.
Students from the Zografeion, one of the last remaining Greek schools of Istanbul, paraded down the city’s popular İstiklal Avenue, singing carols in Greek and Turkish that spread the message of Jesus Christ’s birth and delivering gifts to shopkeepers and passers-by before reaching the Greek Consulate on the avenue.
Yani Demircioğlu, the school’s principal who accompanied the students playing the accordion, said it was a special day to share their joy.
“Today, we mark the birthday of Jesus, just like Muslims marked the birthday of Prophet Muhammad on Tuesday. We hope days like these will further reinforce our coexistence and peace in our country. Greeks are an important part of the [ethnic]mosaic of Turkey and Istanbul,” he said.
A few thousand ethnic Greeks remain in Istanbul, following almost a century of government-sponsored discriminatory actions, violent riots and forced exile. Istanbul’s Greek community numbered several hundred thousand at the turn of the century before violence and war engulfed Greece and Turkey in the early 1920s.
Following the forced “exchange of populations” between Greece and Turkey, Istanbul’s Greeks were exempt from the agreement, meaning they were permitted to stay. Almost immediately, the government began imposing taxes and policies targeting non-Muslims, forcing many to flee.
Numerous incidents in 1955— when the entire Greek neighborhood was overcome by a violent riot, as well as forced exile of thousands in 1964 and 1974, led many ethnic Greeks of the city to move to Greece, leaving a dwindling population to fight for its survival.