Identity conflict between Anatolia Christian groups

Identity conflict between Anatolia Christian groups

Vercihan Ziflioğlu ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Identity conflict between Anatolia Christian groups

Andon Parisyanos, Elpida Davul, Kutsiye Eudoksia Karadaş and Yorgo Kasapoğlu (from L to R) are all members of the Antiochian Christian community. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL

The recognition of a Christian community in Antioch in the southern province of Hatay as “Rum” (Anatolian Greeks) is fuelling debate within minority circles as to who exactly constitutes the country’s true Rum-Orthodox population.

“When Hatay [joined] the motherland [Turkey] in 1939, Arab-Christians were registered on records as ‘Rum-Orthodox’ so as to make the Arab population look smaller. As such, the problem has persisted until this day,” S.A., the manager of a Rum school in Istanbul, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Official figures indicate the presence of about 1,500 Rums in Turkey, but Christians from Antioch, known in Turkish as Antakya, who claim to be of Rum-Orthodox descent dispute these numbers and put the figure as high as 10,000.

“It is easy to be defined as Rum, but I would like to inquire as to what they exactly understand of being a Rum,” Mihalis Vasiliadis, the chief editor of the Rum daily Apoyevmatini, told the Daily News.

Antiochian Christians lacking means have taken refuge at the Rum church due to their Orthodox convictions, Vasiliadis said, adding they were often employed in church and cemetery maintenance.
“Their children started receiving education in our schools merely because it says Rum-Orthodox on their birth records. My statements ought not to be regarded as racism, but the state cannot determine what constitutes Rum,” he said.

Despite the opposition of other Rums, Antiochian Christians, and the younger generation in particular, insist on their Rum-Orthodox identity, even though Arabic is the language they speak at home. The community has even gained a priest in the Fener Rum Patriarchy, while they can also be baptized in Rum churches due to their Orthodox faith.

“I had a lot of difficulty learning a new language. My family used to speak Arabic at home. But we are Orthodox-Rums, and this situation has nothing to do with registry records,” Kutsiye Eudoksia Karadaş, 32, told the Daily News.

A graduate of the Central Rum High School, Karadaş said she had received her primary education in Turkish schools in Antioch, and she had registered in a Rum school after her family migrated to Istanbul.
“I am an Orthodox-Rum from Antioch. I disagree with the Arab-Christian debates regarding our identity,” Simeon Yılmaz, a physics teacher in the Fener Rum High School and the manager of the Hagia Dimitri Foundation in Istanbul’s Şişli district, told the Daily News.

What matters is religion, not language, Yılmaz said, adding the entire Rum population in Turkey stood at around 12,000, including the Christian population in Antioch.

“We now have teachers and a priest. In the past, there was a community that hailed from Antioch with its own customs and traditions, but the new generation has kept up pace,” Andon Parisyanos, a long time educator in Istanbul’s Rum schools, told the Daily News.