November 15, 2010

Istanbul Greek School Down To Just One Student

November 15, 2010
Hurriyet Daily News

If 10-year-old Valendi Mihailidis forgets his pen or notebook at home, there is no one at his school he can borrow one from. The fourth-grader is the only student at the Kadıköy Greek Primary School in Istanbul, one of 22 schools in the city serving just 214 pupils.

When asked if he ever gets bored without other students around, Valendi told daily Radikal, “I want to have friends too, but there are also good sides of being alone.”

The number of students in the city’s Greek schools is decreasing day by day, the paper reported Monday. With a total population of Greeks in Turkey of around 3,000, just 10 of Istanbul’s Greek schools have students enrolled, some of them in similar situations to that of Valendi.

Under the terms of the Lausanne Treaty signed in 1923, only Greeks with Turkish citizenship, also known as Rums, can attend Turkey’s Greek schools, making it difficult to increase enrollment. The children of Greek citizens living in Turkey are not allowed to attend. Draft legislation was prepared four years ago to allow foreign students to enroll in the schools as well, but it faced a challenge by the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, and was not adopted into law.

As a result, the Greek Primary School in Istanbul’s Bakırköy district has had no students for the last six years. The Maraşlı Greek Primary School in the Fener neighborhood has just six students. The most crowded Greek school in the city is the Zapyon School, with 120 students. The Fener Greek Middle and High School has 60 students, while the 117-year-old Zoğrafyon School in the Taksim area has 41 students in its sixth, seventh and eight grades and high school classes.

“Do not let the curtain close. Let those schools be open to anyone who wants to learn Greek,” said Yani Demircioğlu, principal at Zoğrafyon School.

On Oct. 29, the Republic Day holiday, the windows of only one classroom at the Kadıköy Greek Primary School were decorated with flags. It is in that room that the school’s sole student receives his lessons. During break times, Valendi is alone as well. Sometimes he plays football with a teacher, sometimes he reads a book or paints.

The other classrooms have been abandoned and the lunch hall is used for storage. Within the last five years, the 139-year-old school has only had two or three students at a time. Two teachers currently work there, providing Valendi’s education. One of them, Hristo Peştemalcioğlu, who has been at the school for 18 years, is also the principal. With one secretary and one cleaning worker, the school’s total population is five people.

When Peştemalcioğlu, 46, started to work as a teacher at the Zoğrafyon School, there were 32 students. “[Now there are] no kids’ voices, no sounds of games, no competition between students,” he said. “But our student is very good; he is hard-working and never upsets us.”

Related article: More and More Greeks Seek Work in Turkey