News / Europe

Increasing Number of Greeks Flee to Turkey For a Better Life

Crowded streets in Istanbul (File Photo)
Crowded streets in Istanbul (File Photo)
Dorian Jones

Development might seem remarkable considering that Greece and Turkey have been rivals and almost on the brink of war at various times

With the Greek economy deep in recession, some Greeks are now looking to neighboring Turkey -  in particular Istanbul - for the chance of a better life. A remarkable development considering the relations between the two have been marked by alternating periods of mutual hostility and reconciliation ever since Greece won it independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821.  

Eleni Varmazi is drinking a coffee in a cafe, taking a rest from her job teaching at one of Istanbul's numerous private universities. Varmazi is one of a growing number of Greeks who has found work in Istanbul.

"I applied in the UK, in Ireland , in Brussels in the European Union, in Cyprus for many positions, and here also. I am very happy with my jobs with my students , I was looking forward to teaching Turkish students and everything is going great on this level. It is even more convenient than trying to find a job in London or in Berlin. It's closer you can go back for weekends. I know two or three people who have moved here and found a job here, and I am sure their a lot more," she said.

Varmazi's story might seem remarkable considering that Greece and Turkey have been rivals and almost on the brink of war at various times. But Varmazi's story is no longer that unusual.

Ionis Grigoriadis is an expert on international relations at Bilkent University. I met him in Fener, the ancient Greek quarter of Istanbul, where he has bought a house. Grigoriadis says the fact that a growing number of Greeks are coming to Istanbul is proof that relations between the two countries are improving.

"We are no where close to the very difficult circumstances of the late 90's where the two countries came to the brink of war. Students from Greece come to Istanbul to learn Turkish. In the last year a very popular TV series from Turkey attracted a very high rating in Greek TV, which shows that the very low resolution view of Turkey is changing. That people understand Turkey is many things of course there are dark sides like in many countries. So things are moving to a more balanced approach," he said.

At the opening of an exhibition celebrating Greek architecture in Istanbul, a first for the city, Greek not Turkish is the prevailing language. Laki Vingas is a senior member of the city's Greek community. He says the community was on the verge of collapsing but believes its now turned the corner.

"They had a target time until their children were graduating from the high school and then the whole family was leaving. That's why from 100,000 people we are now left 3,000 people. Everybody used to say not their identity, not to mention their Greek Orthodox of Turkey, so they were trying to hide their name, their religion their identity. Where as now they are saying this openly. Unfortunately it was very bad century , the 20th century. So we feel the 21 century is a turning point for us," he said.

At Istanbul's Zografen Greek High school, an English teacher is preparing her class for their final exams. There are only four pupils. The large high school has less than 100 pupils.  But where in the past, upon graduating, pupils would leave for Greece, now pupils want to stay - like Natasa.

"I want to become a translator at university in Turkey , because I was born here, I am living here. I love Istanbul.  I have friends here and to left for them. I want my future here," she said.

There are no official figures on how many Greeks are working in Istanbul, but the numbers are believed to be small and growing. Along with the ongoing economic turmoil in Greece and Turkey's burgeoning economy,  analysts believe Istanbul will be a destination for an increasing numbers of Greeks. After all, the name "Istanbul", stems from the Greek word for "I go to the city".

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