This story was amended on 7/30/11. Private donors, rather than the Greek government, finance Şişmanoğlu Megaron.
On Istanbul's main shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi a Greek flag flutters from the Şişmanoğlu Megaron, a 19th century baroque building that contains Turkey's first private Modern Greek language school. But this is more than just another language school. It is, according to Greek Consul General Vasileios Bornovas, an experiment in intercultural relations.
“In order to have access to the core of your neighbor, you have to know their language,” Bornovas said. “Even though Greeks and Turks are close geographically, we are too far [apart] sociologically, linguistically. There is a deficiency in the knowledge of the other.”
Beginning in the 1920s, use of Greek and other minority languages was discouraged in Turkey with the “Citizens, please speak Turkish!” policy. The campaign intensified in the 1950s with the Cypriot conflict, which contributed to riots against Istanbul’s ethnic Greeks, or Rums, on September 6-7, 1955.
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Maria Eliades is an Istanbul-based writer whose Istanbul-born father and his immediate family left Turkey in 1959 due to the effects of the 1955 rioting.