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Evangelos Zappas, the great benefactor who was born in Epirus, Greece in 1800, fought for the education of the Greeks, spending a large amount of his fortune. When he died in 1865 he left his cousin as an executor, Constantine Zappas, who founded Zappeion girls’ school of Constantinople in 1875.
The building process of Zappeion school had cost 32,000 golden pounds, which was a huge amount for that time and it was three times the cost of the rest big Constantinople's Greek schools' construction.
Just before Constantine Zappas died, in 1893, he financially fortified his creation with a special testament, in order to secure its future operation.
Until our days this magnificent cradle of the Greek education operates in Peran of Constantinople, in a building covering thousands of square meters, which has nothing to be jealous of compared to a palace.
Zappeion is considered equal to Arsakeion School of Athens and it was exclusively attended by girls until 2000, when because of the lack of students it was forced to become a mixed school.
It operated for the first time in 1875 at an old leased building and since 1885 it was set in today's owned building near Taksim square, beside the Greek temple of Trinity.
It was a palace equipped with supervisory tools and pianos from Paris, which can compete with the best schools of the world until today.
It is a jewel for Constantinople and remains an alive proof of the Greek civilization and architecture.
The first headmistress of Zappeion school in 1875 was Calliope Kehagia, coming from Proussa (Bursa) and used to be also a headmistress at Arsakeion in Athens.
In 1879 Zappeion delivered its first graduates, one of whom, Efthalia Adam, won a scholarship and studied pedagogic in Paris. This was seen as a real revolution for its time.
In a time when women weren't even educated, the students of Zappeion excelled in sciences and this was the absolute forefront.
Zappeion still makes enormous efforts to be worth its reputation and satisfy its sponsors' expectations.
Even today its graduates have a 100% of success in getting in the Turkish universities, even though the exams are very difficult.
Two millions of people take these exams every year in Turkey and only 10% succeed.
Flawless in appearance
The girls studying at Zappeion were called Zappides. A former student mentions a funny paraphrase of the term Zappides, which was mockingly used by the students of other Greek schools of Constantinople:
"They used to ask us, what are you? A Zappida or a stafida (raisin)? We are both Zappides and stafides but not for you to eat us, we answered. In fact we were flattered, because the raisins are sweet and desirable by everyone".
At the question how do Zappides manage to always be flawless in appearance, she answers:
"Our preparation to become Zappides was a whole ritual. We were being trained by our grandmothers, our mothers and our aunties for the proper hairdo and dressing. We were being preparing all summer to go to school in September. We took hyacinths, blouses, shirts, gloves and a dozen of underclothes from our homes, all perfect and brand new".
The students of Zappeion were not only distinguishable for their looks, but also for their inclination to arts, as they were studying in an imposing environment full of works of art, which were not kept in show cases as they are in museums, but they were available for constant and direct aesthetic culture.
The Greeks of Constantinople offered their children a kind of education which used to thrill all of their senses, that's why despite the economic persecutions they remain aristocratic personalities.
Their nobility didn't come from the riches, but from the kindness of their souls. Artistic sensibility is a primary feature of the Greeks of Constantinople since the time of Byzantium until today.
Outburst against the school
On the top stair of the big inside stairway of Zappeion school there is a marble statue of Constantine Zappas dated in 1916, which is of an equal sculpture value to the one being in the court of Zappeion in Athens.
During the anti-Greek attack of 1955 though, the crowd invaded the school and pushed the statue, which broke into three pieces.
The Turkish authorities gave order for the stairs that had been destroyed because of the statue's fall to be repaired, maybe in order to erase the vandalism's signs.
The people who were then responsible for the school were forced to use inferior local marbles to repair the stairs that were not at all like the first quality Pentelic marbles of Athens which were initially used.
The broken statue of Zappas remained for 44 years on the top stair blackening, until some Greeks found the courage to reunite its pieces and temporarily keep it in some hall for 11 more years.
A graduate of Zappeion and now mother of one of its students, who asked us to keep her anonymity, talked to us about the way she was experiencing for years the view of the broken statue:
"My parents had talked to me about the facts of 1955 and each morning that I went to school I was looking for someone who might be stalking in order to harm us. Especially the ruined statue was like an open wound of fear for me and my classmates, and as we were growing up it was transformed to a kind of national pain. Some photos of the school's disasters and of the shattered statue, which were found by us, were safely hidden so that nobody can accuse us".
During a visit of a Turkish minister in Athens in 2010, it was announced that Constantinople's Greek statues would be reconstructed at their initial position and the Greek community immediately brought a crane and Zappas's statue was reconstructed.
It was very carefully dragged up to the top stair and lifted stair-step to its initial position.
On October 17th 2010, the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople made the liturgy in the neighbouring temple of Trinity and afterwards he blessed the statue's unveiling at Zappeion.
"Have courage brothers and don't be afraid", he said at an aversion of his speech.
Meanwhile, the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet publicised pictures of the wrecked statue and even some photo exhibitions on the anti-Greek attack took place.
After that, Zappides brought back the painful hidden pictures in their family albums.
At zero point
It took whole decades for the Turks to make a simple report about the wounds that they caused to the Greeks, but they still keep silent in front of the annihilation of the Greek schools of Constantinople.
Greeks without a Turkish citizenship are not allowed to study in the Greek schools of Constantinople.
So the hundreds of Greek children living in Constantinople with their families, are being forced to study in foreign colleges, when at the same time there are magnificent Greek schools operating right next to their homes, with Greek teachers and analytic Greek programs.
If perchance the Greek schools are out of students, their buildings will be confiscated, according to a unjust Turkish law.
So, the Greeks of Constantinople will be forced to return to Greece, since in Turkey it won't be possible for their children to follow a Greek education.
What if after 50 more years Hurriyet News refer again to the loss of the Greek schools that were great architectural monuments and offered a cosmopolitan air in Constantinople?
Before the situation reaches this fatal point, the court of Zappeion in Athens, which also belongs to the same legacy as the Zappeion girls’ school, must give some more funds for the school of Constantinople.
There are 118 Greek juvenile hearts beating in there and there is no money left, not even for elemental works of preservation.
The parallel operation of the Greek schools and institutions of learning the Greek language must be also aspired.
As there is a great demand for that in Turkey, the tuition fees will let the schools breathe, while there will also be a better rapprochement between the Turkish and the Greek people.
Finally, the benefactors' consciences must be awakened, as they are able to support the Greek islets of Constantinople.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS