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Old June 24th, 2006, 09:50 AM   #1
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Princess Islands

Istanbul's isle of diversity

A vestige of Turkey's multicultural past, Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexist happily on the Princess Islands .

By Yigal Schleifer

Burgaz lies less than an hour's ferry ride from the urban sprawl of Muslim-dominated Istanbul, but the unspoiled island teems with ethnic diversity. Part of an archipelago known as the Princes Islands, Burgaz and its sister islands have for decades been a summer home for Istanbul's minority communities, especially Jews, Greeks, and Armenians. Indeed, the hilly islands are probably one of the world's few places where a church, synagogue, and mosque happily coexist within walking distance of each other.

Despite their dwindling presence in Istanbul, ethnic minorities continue to flock to the islands during the summer, preserving perhaps the last vestige of the cosmopolitan multiculturalism that once typified the city.

In a country that has struggled with minority issues in recent decades, these oases in the Sea of Marmara offer a rare glimpse of a way of life that is slowly disappearing.

"They represent the multicultural aspect of Turkey in one small spot," says Robert Schild, an Istanbul businessman and amateur historian who is working on a documentary about Burgaz.

"The islands are probably the only spot in Istanbul where you can still hear Greek and Ladino [Judeo-Spanish] spoken on the street."

Mr. Schild calls the islands "a living ethnographic museum." On little Burgaz, less than a mile from end to end, Schild says he has so far counted 20 different ethnic groups represented among its 5,000 summer residents, from Jews and Greeks, to Alevi Muslims, Chaldean Christians, and even some Austrian nuns who live in a residence belonging to a Catholic-run Istanbul hospital that dates back to the late 19th century.

It's not hard to grasp why visitors flocked here. The islands dazzle with pristine greenery. Wooden Victorian-style mansions line the islands' streets, while horses pulling colorful fringe-topped carriages compete with pedestrians and cyclists for space. Cars are not permitted.

In a book about Istanbul, historian John Freely relates this florid account by a 19th century European traveler: "....nowhere does the delighted eye repose on coasts more lovely, on a bay more gracious, on mountainous distances more grandiose ... nowhere in short do bluer waters bathe more gently a thousand shady coves, a thousand poetic cliffs."

Many denizens concede, however, that the island's character is changing. As Istanbul's minority communities shrink, the Princes are also losing their diversity. Burgaz has only one Greek fisherman left, and Buyukada - the largest of the islands - just a lone Jewish fishmonger.

Indeed, Greeks were once a major part of Istanbul's ethnic fabric; today less than 2,000 remain in the city. Even fewer make it out to these islands where several defunct Orthodox monasteries still stand.

Sotiris Varnalidis, born in Istanbul but living in Greece for more than 30 years, comes back to Heybeli Island every summer to help maintain the buildings of the shuttered seminary where he once studied.

"It's very depressing to see the number of Greek people going down every day," says Varnalidis. "Compared to today, the island used to be much more crowded."

Tiny Kinali, however, remains home to a bustling summertime Armenian community. On the island's main strip, the Sirin Sarkuteri delicatessen does brisk business selling homemade eggplant salad and stuffed peppers.

Behind the counter, Zafer Cukur, a mustachioed man in a short-sleeved white shirt, says the shop moves to the island for the summer, closing down its store in Istanbul's Armenian district.

"The island has more of a feeling of the typical Armenian lifestyle," says Tamar Kac, a young advertising executive who grew up spending summers on Kinali.

"When the afternoon comes, you can smell everyone cooking their stuffed vine leaves and other typical Armenian foods," she adds.

"Parents are choosing Kinali because their kids can make friendships with other Armenians. In terms of community it's a beneficial place."

Halki Seminary Princess Islands

The Halki seminary was, until its closure by the Turkish authorities in 1971, the main school of theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church's Patriarchate of Constantinople. It was based on Halki (Turkish: Heybeliada), one of the Princess' Islands in the Sea of Marmara.

The seminary was housed on the site of the ruined Monastery of the Holy Trinity, which was founded by Photius I, Patriarch of Constantinople (858–861 and 878–886). In 1844, Patriarch Germanos IV converted the ruined monastery into a school of theology, which was inaugurated on September 23, 1844. All the buildings except for the chapel were destroyed by an earthquake in June 1894, but were rebuilt by architect Periklis Fotiadis and inaugurated in October 1896. Major renovation took place in the 1950s.

Numerous Eastern Orthodox scholars, theologians, priests, bishops, and patriarchs graduated from Halki, including Patriarch Bartholomew I. Many patriarchs, bishops, and former teachers of the school are buried on the grounds.

The theological facilities include the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, sports and recreational institutions, dormitories, an infirmary, a hospice, offices, and the school's library with its historic collection of books, journals, and manuscripts. The students at Halki included not only a large number of native born Greeks, but Eastern Orthodox Christians from around the world, giving the school an international character.

In 1971, the seminary was closed by a Turkish law that forbids private universities from functioning. In 1998, Halki's board of trustees were ordered to disband until international criticism of Ankara's decision persuaded the Turkish authorities to reverse their order.

Halki has received international attention in recent years. President Bill Clinton visited Halki on his visit to Turkey in 1999 and urged Turkish President Suleyman Demirel to allow the reopening of the school. In October 1998, both houses of the United States Congress passed resolutions that supported the reopening of Halki. The European Union has also raised the issue as part of its negotiations over Turkish accession to the EU.

The Patriarchate has hoped that promises from the Turkish government to allow the seminary to reopen would be enacted.
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Old June 24th, 2006, 10:39 PM   #2
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More pics of this lovely place

And I put one too many S', should be Princes' Islands.

Please add more pics
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Old June 27th, 2006, 08:05 PM   #3
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OK, some more pics from WoW Turkey





Also some additional information:

and some videos:
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