Population decline leaves Rums with Pyrrhic Victory

Population decline leaves Rums with Pyrrhic Victory

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Population decline leaves Rums with Pyrrhic Victory

The restoration of a Greek orphanage on Büyükada will cost 65 million euros. Hürriyet photo

Turkish authorities recently returned a historic orphanage on the island of Büyükada in the Sea of Marmara to Istanbul’s Rum (Anatolian Greek) community, but the community lacks the means to repair and restore the structure due to its declining numbers.

“The state did not return the building to us in the same shape it was in when they [seized] it. The most recent studies have revealed beyond any doubt that millions of euros will be required [to restore the orphanage]. It is not possible for our 2000-strong population to meet this figure,” Mihalis Vasiliadis, editor-in-chief of the Rum daily Apoyevmatini, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Some 65 million euros would be necessary to put the orphanage back on its feet, according to reports.
“[The state] has held the properties belonging to the orphanage since 1903. The appeals process has just reached completion. The buildings will be handed back, but they are all in ruins,” Vasiliadis said.

The judicial process regarding the return of a host of properties owned by the orphanage foundation was completed only this week, after years of legal haggling, he added.

Fener Rum Patriarch Bartholomeos also has the historical orphanage in his sights, with the hope of transforming it into a center for religious-based ecological study and inter-religious dialogue.

Harutyan Şanlı, the general secretary of the Inter-foundations Solidarity and Communication Platform (VADIP), which unites the foundations belonging to the Armenian community, agreed with Vasiliadis but also added that it would not be prudent to rely solely on a particular example. “The new Foundations Law represents a step taken with goodwill, and it cannot be ignored. We are talking about a 300-plus-year-old wooden building. There is no other [building] similar to it. [We] must look at the broader picture. For instance, what solution will [the authorities] provide for those properties that were seized from [minority] communities in 1942 and passed on to third parties? This is a more vital issue,” Şanlı said.

Even if officials were to return everything that was historically seized, however, this would hardly change anything, as the Rum community in Istanbul is now almost non-existent, Vasiliadis said. “The new law requires minority communities to apply within 18 months to retrieve their properties. [The government] took everything from us. The properties’ administrators were exiled, and now they are hastily returning [the properties], but to whom?”
The Rum community owns 72 foundations in all, and some 500 people are required for their management, according to Vasiliadis. “The average age in the community is over 60. Returning the properties is only part of the issue. If [the government] truly wishes to do something, first the Rum community’s demographic problem has to be overcome. The children of the 13,000 people exiled in 1964 ought to be granted dual [Turkish] citizenship so as to compensate a little for the damage done.”