Greek minority school set to reopen with two pupils in Turkey

Greek minority school set to reopen with two pupils in Turkey

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Greek minority school set to reopen with two pupils in Turkey

The Hagia Todori Elementary School of the Greek minority in Gökçeada is set to reopen after 49 years with only two students and three teachers.

An elementary school for the Greek minority on the island of Gökçeada will reopen on Sept. 16 after 49 years of being closed, but with only two students.

The Hagia Todori Elementary School is reopening after Turkey’s Education Ministry accepted on March 28 the demand to open a school for Greek minority on Gökçeada, an island off the northwestern province of Çanakkale.

The school, which was opened in the island’s Zeytinli village in 1951 as the Hagia Todori Elementary School, was closed in 1964.

After the Education Ministry’s decision, the school has been prepared to be reopened for the new semester, but with only a tiny proportion of its 72-student capacity. Three teachers and one janitor will accompany the two students as the sole crew of the school.

The former head of the Gökçeadalılar Foundation, a group formed to address the problems of the island, said the school should live on, however many students there are.

Willing to survive

“This school should live on whatever the circumstances are, because we are fighting taboos here,” Stelyo Berber said. “The capacity is 72 students and we will strive to match that number.”

The reopening required a lot of work, which was mostly carried out by the island residents. Some of the work was paid for by the Greek community in Istanbul.

“The school was burned and torn down. It was without a roof and there were even trees grown in it,” Berber said about the condition of the school. “We repaired it with our own efforts. The school was repaired but it was not easy to restart something after a 50-year break. School means children and families. What’s the point of having a school without the children?”

After the decision came, there were reports that Greeks who left the island in the past would return, but Berber is circumspect, saying this is only “speculation.”

Back in 1964, there were seven elementary schools and one middle school on the island, but Greek education was banned after the crisis in Cyprus.

The number of Greeks living on the island has also decreased dramatically, from around 6,000 to a just few families now.

“I am 40 years old. Had this school not been closed, I would have studied in that school,” Berber said. “Our [Fener Greek Orthodox] Patriarch Bartholomew graduated from this school, as well as my mother, my father, everybody,” Berber said.

He said things were processing slowly due to bureaucratic problems, but does not believe there are no ill intentions from the authorities, rather “a lack of knowledge of procedure.”

“For the first time in 50 years, a minority school will be opened on the island and officials are not very experienced about this, so there might be some problems. What matters is that the political authority has allowed this school to reopen,” Berber said.

Gökçeada (“Imbros” in Greek) is Turkey’s largest island. It is located to the north of the entrance to the Dardanelles Strait.