Istanbul’s Greek newspaper hit by crisis in homeland

ISTANBUL — The impact of Greece?s economic crisis has reached Istanbul where the Greek minority?s main newspaper, the 86-year-old Apoyevmatini, is under threat of closure.

A survivor of numerous crises in Turkish-Greek ties, the tiny publication saw its fortunes nosedive this year as Greek companies cut advertising, leaving its owner and sole employee in despair.

Cramped in a little room in an old shopping arcade in the heart of Istanbul, Apoyevmatini has chronicled the destiny of the city?s Greeks since 1925 as the once-influential community dwindled from 90,000 to 2,000 over the past five decades.

A gloomy atmosphere reigned in the office this week when the paper?s former printer Bedri Sarica came to visit, alarmed by news that Apoyevmatini?s demise might be close.

?I?m so sorry I had to come to see you,? the octogenarian exclaimed before he collapsed in tears into the arms of his old friend, the owner Mihail Vasiliadis.

?I spent 60 years of my life here. I am as devastated as if my son has just died,? Sarica said.

For Vasiliadis, the financial turmoil that has brought Greece to the brink of bankruptcy is poised to put the final nail in Apoyevmatini?s coffin after decades of hardship that have already reduced readership to a trickle.

The Greek-language daily has only 600 subscribers — a figure, it claims, ensures that it still reaches every Greek family in the city.

?We have been able to survive thanks to advertisements of Greek companies such as banks and airlines since the 1980s… The crisis in Greece hit these ads and we are stuck,? Vasiliadis said.

?Since the beginning of the year, we have been losing about 300 Turkish lira ($180, 130 euros) per day. I cannot handle this,? he added.

In its heyday, the newspaper had a circulation of 30,000 among the Rum — a Turkish name for the ethnic Greeks.

?On their way home in the evening, every Rum would go to the fish market to buy mezze and the newspaper. Our slogan was: ?No Rum in Istanbul is born or dies without Apoyevmatini?s knowledge?… The entire memory of the Rum community is here,? recounted Vasiliadis.

Remnants of Byzantine times when the city was called Constantinople, most of Istanbul?s Greeks were driven away by a series of turbulent events: heavy taxes levied on minorities during World War II, anti-Greek riots in 1955 and the 1964 expulsion of Greek passport holders.

Turkish intellectuals have mobilised to save Apoyevmatini in an online campaign aiming to attract new subscribers.

?This newspaper is an invaluable archive of the history of the Turkish Republic that we can track through the prism of the minority,? said Samim Akgonul, a Turkish political scientist at France?s Strasbourg University, who initiated the campaign.

?It?s also an indispensable medium of social glue for the small Greek community, which enables young Rums to continue to read in Greek,? he added.

The campaign has provided a short respite from the financial bottleneck, but a lasting solution remains elusive.

?People who do not even speak Greek began to subscribe to help us,? Vasiliadis exclaimed.

?We have collected enough money to carry on for another two months. But if we fail to receive institutional support, the paper will close.? [AFP]

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