‘A revolutionary action to overcome negative stereotypes’

Chryssi Sidiropoulou recalls a Turkish-Cypriot student who collected signatures in 1997 for a petition to start Greek lessons at the University of the Bosporus. «The atmosphere was magical when we began,» said Sidiropoulou, who is now in charge of teaching Greek at the university. «It was the first opportunity young Turks had been given. There was such enthusiasm and curiosity to learn about the ‘great unknown’ by means of the language. We felt that this revolutionary action of ours was overcoming negative stereotypes.» Besides, there’s still a Greek air in Istanbul. «The local grocer will speak a few words of Greek,» she said, «so every student of mine had a personal or family story linked to Greece.» Most of the students, the majority of whom are Turks, consciously chose to learn Greek. «Unfortunately we don’t have an exam center here to issue certificates, but my students have their knowledge verified when they go to Greece on educational programs,» she said. «Nearly all of them have made use of what they have learned: Some have become translators, others are tour guides, many have done postgraduate studies in Greece or on subjects related to Greek-Turkish relations.» Ayse is a typical example. «Greek opened new paths for me,» she said. She wrote her dissertation on the Greeks of Istanbul. «I had trouble with the pronunciation, but when I came to Greece, I got my tongue round the language. You can use English to communicate, but you benefit in terms of human relations when you use Greek.»