More Greeks choosing to live in Turkey

ISTANBUL – Twenty years ago no one could have imagined a Greek choosing to live in Turkey, but in the last five years Istanbul in particular has seen a significant increase in Greeks who are choosing to live and work in Turkey. From Istanbul’s posh club Reina by the Bosporus to Kabatas trams traveling to Zeytinburnu, Greeks living here told the Turkish Daily News that they run into their compatriots all the time. Anthi Mara, laughing, describes how once at Reina one of her Greek friends accidentally stepped on a woman. The «victim» turned to the «perpetrator» and said in Greek «take it easy.» Mara said it was hard to believe that a Greek had stepped on another Greek in Istanbul. Over the years, there are some posts traditionally filled by Greeks, such as diplomats, correspondents, clergy or teachers appointed to the Rum community in Istanbul. This community is made up of Turks of Greek heritage who can trace their roots back to the Byzantine Empire. But without counting the individuals and their families in these traditional posts as well as university students, an informal TDN count found nearly 100 Greeks working and living here. The Greek Consulate staff estimate the actual number to be above 800. For Sukru Ilicak, 36, a Harvard graduate student who lived in Athens for three years, the increase is noticeable and logical. «The increase in Greeks moving here is obvious and one of the most important reasons is couples,» said Ilicak. He explains that there is an increase in Turkish-Greek couples – married or not – moving to Turkey. «The other reason is the financial situation in Greece. Young people are looking for a future outside of Greece where it’s hard to find jobs,» he says. As they look beyond their own borders, one of the more attractive places has become Turkey. Ilicak said he has about 20 Greek friends who live in Turkey and at a recent gathering he met five women aged 20-23, all of whom had come to Turkey to find a job. «They were all fed up with the situation in Greece and were looking for jobs here,» he said. Costas Zaimis, a Greek working at the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation in Istanbul for the last two years, also credits a globalized world in which students travel to US or European institutions to get a university education. There, he explained, Greeks and Turks often forge lifelong friendships, as he did. From London to Boston, Greeks and Turks find that they share more similarities than differences. «Some of us were lucky to keep in touch with them and find them 20 years later in Istanbul,» he said. «The melting point was our studies in France, England or the United States.» As Greek students and professionals are discovering while living in Istanbul, they have also started forming informal networks and groups with each other and their Turkish friends regardless of their knowledge of the Greek language. Nikos Lymberopoulos, 47, is a Greek who works at the International Center for Hydrogen Energy Technologies (ICHET) in Istanbul. He and some of his Greek, Rum and Turkish friends have formed a group called Hava Baba. The name may sound nonsensical, but the group thought it sounded catchy. «A few Greeks working in Istanbul started the Hava Baba club and it aims to make the most of their stay in this city, in terms of meeting other Greeks, mixing in with the locals and enjoying Istanbul’s culture and food,» he said.