Three schools belonging to Istanbul’s Greek community will be formally closed due to lack of students, paving the way for the group to capitalize on the long-empty buildings’ value, according to foundation representatives.
The community had been unsuccessfully appealing to the authorities for years to close down the schools, Laki Vingas, a member of the General Directorate of Foundations and spokesperson for Greek Foundations in Turkey, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “We haven’t had any students for years. This is a favorable decision.”
A recent court decision granted the community the authority to close down the Private Kurtuluş Greek Primary School in Şişli, the Arnavutköy Primary School in Beşiktaş and the Balat Ioakimion Girls’ Lyceum in Fatih. Only nine Greek community schools remain in operation following the closures; in 1870, 40 schools were active.
Vingas said he was satisfied with the decision to close down the dormant schools after years of struggle as the community will now be able to gain income by turning over the empty buildings to other uses after long having been prevented from doing so.
“We have not had any students in many of our schools since 1979,” he said.
“Appeals to shut Greek community schools down yielded positive results prior to 1980,” Vingas said in reference to the 1980 military coup, after which the junta took a dimmer view of requests by Turkey’s non-Muslim minorities.
When Istanbul Greeks requested permission to close schools after 1980, Vingas said authorities frequently told them that they could not close down schools due to the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, which guarantees the protection of Greek and Muslim minorities in Turkey and Greece, respectively.
During this time, Vingas said the community could earn no income from the school buildings because they were under the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry.
But a new law on foundations that was enacted in 2008 will greatly ease some of the challenges faced by minority communities in Turkey, according to Vingas.
Patriarch Ioakimion’s school also shut down
The Ioakimion school was founded by Patriarch Ioakimion II and the building, which carries great significance for the Greeks of Istanbul, was converted into a girls’ school from the patriarch’s own personal residence in 1881. Its first graduates were in 1888.
“My feelings [about the closure] are quite mixed,” Agni Küçüknikolaidis, a former graduate of the lyceum said in a statement issued on behalf of the Ioakimion Foundation. “We were educated in this school for two generations. Naturally, we do not find it desirable that the school be shut down, but there are no more students. In this way, we can at least obtain some income from these buildings in order to serve the needs of the [Greek] community.”
Noting that a request to close the schools had been presented to the court in 2010, Küçüknikolaidis said they had prepared projects on how the historical building would be used in the future.
“It may be transformed into a convention center, or a guest house. Had we had students still, we would have liked to continue educating them here,” Küçüknikolaidis said.
The Arnavutköy and Kurtuluş schools, meanwhile, were established in 1902 and 1887, respectively.
There are an estimated 3,000 people in Istanbul’s Greek community, according to Greek foundations. A total of 220 students currently attend the Zapyon and Zografeion lyceums in Taksim, as well as the Fener Boys Lyceum – an iconic red-brick building known appropriately as the “Red School” that is visible in Fatih from Şişhane in Beyoğlu.
Greek students in Istanbul could also receive their education under a single umbrella organization in the near future, Vingas said.