top of page

The last Orthodoxs

In the middle of the Sea of Marmara, the archipelago of the Princes' Islands defies Istanbul. From their piers or pine-covered peaks, the silhouette of the megalopolis the silhouette of the megalopolis and its armies of buildings in the distance. Between these two worlds passenger-laden boats make incessant trips back and forth.


On the largest of these islands, Buyukada, horse-drawn carriages whizz past with tourists on board, most of them from the Gulf countries. Gulf countries. Less well known to foreigners, its cousin Heybeliada seems frozen in time: its cafés are populated by elderly people wooden houses proudly display their jagged balconies, while fishermen and their nets punctuate the day.


These two islands jealously preserve the memory of the Rums: Greek-speaking Orthodox people who have lived in Turkey for centuries. All have Turkish nationality, but do not consider themselves Turkish. You have to show your credentials to join the community which now numbers just 2,500 in the country. Twenty or so live in Heybeliada in winter, but their numbers rise to several hundred hundreds every summer as those who have left the country in the wake of the violence and tensions suffered by the community.


In 1923, at the birth of the Turkish Republic, the Treaty of Lausanne sealed the fate of one and a half million Rums, who were forced to leave the country as part of a "deportation" program. leave the country as part of the Great Population Exchange. These Orthodox were sent to Greece, a country they had never set foot in before.

language and religion. Only the Rums of Istanbul were spared by this forced displacement. Later, the minority had to endure a pogrom in 1955, followed by the expeditious expulsion of Greeks who were often married to Rums.

Rums in 1964.


Tensions between Turkey and Greece further pushed the Rums to leave. Many settled in Greece. Those who remain are mostly retired. The islands and the city of Istanbul hold many traces of the history of this minority, which a century ago numbered over 120,000 members. Orthodox places of worship are still standing. But for how long?


The picture we paint is that of a community on the verge of extinction. Its members cling to the past of the city they still spontaneously refer to as "Constantinople" and try to look forward to a hypothetical future. Witnesses to this era open up their uncultivated memories to us. They also tell us the story of the construction of Turkey and its relationship with minorities (assimilation, homogenization). A history that speaks to us of its norms standards, at a time when Sunni nationalism is becoming increasingly pronounced.

bottom of page