The Turkish city full of Greek speakers


Greek speaking residents of Catalca, Turkey. Credit: Constantine Garelas / Screenshot

There is a Turkish town called Catalca in the rural district of Istanbul that is full of Greek speakers, many of whom have a distinct northern Greek accent.

A recent video filmed by Constantine Garelas shows a group of Greek-speaking men filled with joy as they meet the Greek visitor in their village. They see him as a compatriot who lives across the border.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

The men, all over the age of 50, speak with a strange nostalgia for the land of their ancestors and their roots. Most of them are descendants of the population exchange between Turkey and Greece that took place in 1923 after the disaster in Asia Minor.

Some have never been to Greece, but they like to speak the language. Probably because it is the link with the homeland of their ancestors.

They sing Greek songs with great joy, as if they wanted to prove to the person holding the camera that despite the nationality on their ID card, they are Hellenes. Or just because it came from a weak spot deep in their heart.

And those who have visited the place where their ancestors lived, speak with pride of the journey to their roots. They are the Greeks at heart in Catalca, Turkey.

A Greek-speaking city in Turkey was home to an ancient Greek city

Formerly an ancient Greek city called Ergiske (Εργίσκη), the city would have been colonized as early as 450 BC.

Its name comes from Ergiscus, a son of Poseidon by the nymph Ava, who according to Greek mythology was the daughter of the river Evros. In Roman times, the city was called Metrae.

The city was colonized throughout the Ottoman period and according to official Ottoman statistics from 1910, the majority of the region were Greeks, almost six in ten residents.

According to the Ottoman population statistics for 1914, the kaza de Catalca had a total population of 30,165, consisting of 16,984 Greeks, 13,034 Muslims, 53 Jews, 44 Armenians, 40 Bulgarians and 10 Roma.

Due to its location on the ridge between Marmara and the Black Sea and its proximity to Istanbul, Catalca has experienced many population movements.

Migration to and from the region took place during the Balkan Wars (1912/13) and World War I (1914-18).

However, the population exchange treaty signed between the Turkish and Greek governments on January 30, 1923 was the first of its kind in history as it was legalized by international law, which forced the population exchange between the two. country.

The most remarkable of the treatise is the main criterion which was exclusively religious. There was no reference to linguistic or ethnic categories.

People were given new identities like Greek or Turkish simply on the basis of religion.

The majority of Muslims in Macedonia spoke Greek and a considerable proportion of Orthodox Greeks in central Anatolia spoke Turkish.

“My grandparents came here and spoke only Greek,” notes a Catalca resident in the video.

The population exchange brought Greek speakers to the Turkish town of Catalca

Population exchange was seen as an integral part of the nation-building process. About 1,700,000 people (1,200,000 Greek Orthodox and 500,000 Muslims) were subjected to the exchange.

The migrants were transported from port to port by ships and initially settled in temporary refugee camps.

As a result of this compulsory migration, the lives of thousands of people have changed completely.

In reality, they were victims of the treaty on both sides because they had to rebuild their lives from the start.

The exchanged population tries to preserve its original identity and culture while struggling to integrate into the new community.

Before the 1923 exchange, Greek Orthodox and Muslim Turks lived together in peace in Catalca.

After the exchange, Muslims from Grevena, Lagadas, Kilkis, Drama and other Macedonian towns and villages settled in the residential areas of Catalca, replacing the Greeks who had to abandon their homes.

Today, as can be seen in the video, Greeks – who are Turkish citizens – speak their language fluently and happily, although it is a dialect from northern Greece. Just like the Greek Muslim citizens who live in Western Thrace without forgetting their cultural heritage and their religion.

Turkish city of Greek speakers
Greek speaking residents of Caltalca, Turkey. Credit: Constantine Garelas / Screenshot

In 2010, a historic building in Catalca was awarded to the Lausanne Treaty Emigrants Foundation to be used as a population exchange museum.

The museum opened its doors to the public on December 20, 2010 after the restoration of the building, with the partnership of the Municipality of Çatalca and the support of the Istanbul 2010 European Capital of Culture Agency.


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