stdClass Object ( [image_intro] => [float_intro] => [image_intro_alt] => [image_intro_caption] => [image_fulltext] => [float_fulltext] => [image_fulltext_alt] => [image_fulltext_caption] => )
Zografeion Greek High School, which is in the historical district of Peran, was built in 1893. It was mainly funded by the benefactor Christakis Zografos and the lead architect was Pericles Photiades. Today it has only 49 students, many of whom live far from the school and even have a boat ride in front of them in order to get there. They uncomplainingly wake up very early in the morning, under hard weather conditions and cross long distances, not only to obtain Greek education but also to meet with other Greeks and keep their school and their nation alive.
Zografeion's students respect their school and don't see it as a place where they can blow off steam. It is as if the building has some kind of metaphysical ability, which tames the restless by nature teenagers and makes them look like angels. We didn't see any trace of dust anywhere around the place and we were speechless by the aesthetics and the equipment in classrooms and the laboratories.
After all, it's not a coincidence that it was named as one of the five cleanest schools, among the 62 schools of Peran, by the Turkish Ministry of Education. The perfect condition in which Zografeio is being kept in is also due to the excellent relationship between the teachers and the students, which contributes to a peaceful school environment. Mutual respect keeps everybody united for a lifetime, not only during the school years.
For example, Dimitris Fragkopoulos, the unforgettable and legendary director of Zografeio for 35 years, never grew old in the eyes of his students and he was never retired. The graduates of Zografeion are a Greek core of enormous cohesion that can never be broken. That's why they withstood the persecutions, because they draw strength from one another.
In good hands
The present director of the school, John Demirtzoglou has been at Zografeion for 36 years both as a student and a teacher and is a very important person for the Greek diaspora. We asked him if the continuous decrease of students in Greek schools in Constantinople can be dealt with. "We don't get disappointed, because we are used to it. We have been through a lot in Constantinople, if we keep thinking about it every day we won't be able to go on with our jobs. We dismiss the hard part and wait for the miracle to happen".
When we wondered what the miracle is, he said: "To hear happy voices in our school's corridors. This will happen if the children of the Greeks living in Constantinople are allowed to study in the Greek schools, and not only those who have the Turkish citizenship".
Indeed, many Greeks work in Greek-Turkish companies of Constantinople, and they leave their children back in Greece, because they're not allowed to study in the Greek schools of the city. People of the 21st century miss their families, in one of the biggest cities of the world, just because they happened to be Greeks. In truth, it is about a prohibition of the obvious that doesn't obey any sort of logic.
First places and successes
Some of the greatest modern scientists have studied in Zografeion High School. As the school's director told us: "The 97% of our graduates live abroad. Scientists of high class, preeminent over the whole world have emerged among them. In addition, among the few of them who were left in Turkey, great academics have been born, such as Kriton Tzouris professor of environmentalism, Ioanna Koutsouradis Philosophy professor, George Stefanopoulos dean of Technical University and John Scarlatos quantum physics professor. I have also to name Panagiotes Ampatzis, who is the president of the philharmonic society of Constantinople and publisher of ORKESTRA magazine. He is the oldest graduate of Zografeion, who keeps being honoured until today".
Zografeion School has a great theatrical tradition, and has presented remarkable plays in Turkey and abroad over the years. The tireless director, John Demirtzoglou, has “infected” to his students with his love for theatre, the same way his teachers did when he was studying at the same school.
"As a student I used to have an inclination to basketball because I was tall. On a morning of 1980, my teachers Stephanos Papadopoulos and George Octapodis interrupted the game and asked me to take part in a theatrical play of the school. I got on stage for five minutes and I liked it so much that I never left it up to now".
Zografeion has been an attraction for many schools outside Turkey. In just one year, 6,000 students came from all over the world to visit the school and 49 schools in just one month. 15 schools, amongst which 12 Greek ones, attended the recent convention of Zografeion for Alexander Papadiamantis. A student from Greece, who was moved by the school and his contact with students of Zografeion, said during the closing ceremony: "I had to travel outside Greece in order to understand what Greece means".
On Christmas Eve, the students of Zografeion take to the streets of Peran and sing carols, accompanied by accordion. The Turks, who ignore the existence of the school, are pleasantly surprised when they see the well-dressed Greek children singing nice melodies.
There are many Turks who openly declare their appreciation towards the Greeks and their heavy historical legacy. Even the taxi driver who took us to Zografeion said at some moment: "There used to be a whole Greek civilization in Constantinople, but where is it now? I get sad when I think about it".
The few Greek children are like a drop in an ocean compared to the crowds of Turks, who walk in the long Istiklal avenue that crosses Peran. Before the Greek deportations and the Turkish invasion in Cyprus. the avenue was full of Greek shops and thousands of Greeks were walking along it every day. Now, we see countless Turkish shops and very few Greek tourists.
One understands the full scope of the Greek community’s violent shrinkage in Constantinople, just by mentioning that in 1910, 108 Greek schools of all levels used to operate there, attended by 20,000 students. In 1960 Zografeion had 745 students and two more floors had to be built in order to be able to accommodate them all. Today, all students can fit in a small classroom and the rest of the levels are of no use.
Only three Greek schools are left in Constantinople today, attended by 210 students in total. However, these Greek children of Constantinople, have a peculiarity that shouldn't be ignored by anyone in Turkey, something that no one has the right to not respect. They are the inhabitance of Constantinople and the whole of Turkey - the ones with the deepest roots.
TEXT: George Zafeiropoulos, PHOTOS: Stefanos Zafeiropoulos