Logo de Turquie Européenne
Home > Revue de presse > Archives 2008 > 03 - Articles de mars 2008 > Lecturer of Turkish language in Rhodes breaks old stereotypes

Lecturer of Turkish language in Rhodes breaks old stereotypes

Wednesday 19 March 2008, by Thanasis Manis

Upon hearing his Turkish sounding name, before meeting him, Greek students expect their Turkish language teacher to be a swarthy old man with a mustache.

Instead, Hasan Kaili, lecturer of Turkish language at the department of Mediterranean Studies at the Aegean University is in his early 30s and looks just as Greek as they do. But when they spent some time with him they learn that he is a member of the small Rhodes community of Greek citizens of Turkish origins.

RHODES, Greece - Rhodes is better known as the Island of Knights for its enchanting medieval Old City that dates back to 1309 when the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem took over the island. Few, however, know of its community of around 3,000 Greek Muslim citizens that arrived on this island in the ebb and flow of the region’s history. The island was under Italian rule from 1912 to the end of World War II. By then most of Greece’s Muslims had been moved to Turkey. This Muslim community, however, in which Hasan Kaili was born, is reminiscent of the multicultural past of the island.

I love Rhodes because it is my homeland. But apart from that look at its architecture and its Old City, which is a unique monument not only in Greece, but in the entire world,” he said. “Look at its sea, its environment and the green it has in the center of the city. It has and sustains quality of life that it is hard to be matched in rural areas not only in Greece, but in the whole world.

Just as many young members of the Turcophone Muslim community did until a few years ago Kaili went to Turkey to study and returned to his beloved homeland to continue his life as most young members of the community do. The professor said the multicultural nature of the island makes Rhodes an even more attractive place for him to live in. “I remember in the early 1980s when I was a kid wandering in the streets of the Old City hearing a mixture of languages that you couldn’t hear anywhere else. Without knowing a single word in a foreign language, I could make out Finnish and Swedish, German and English, Italian and French,” he said. “For me personally, this contact with people of different cultures and mentalities is of primary importance. It makes you open minded and for that reason, I had the desire to return to Rhodes.

Christian and Muslim on the island

Kaili grew up in a peaceful quarter called Rodini, where most of his neighbors were Christians. “My family had good relations with all neighbors; Christians and Muslims,” he said. “There was nothing restrictive in our contacts with them. The only peculiarity was my name, Hasan.” He explained that people who came across members of the community for the first time were curious to know where they came from and who they were. “The names in combination with the good knowledge of Greek would raise questions among people who were coming from other neighborhoods, such as ‘when did you come to Greece’ or ‘how do you know Greek so well?’ without knowing that we have been settled here for generations.

Kaili described the co-existence with other children of his neighborhood as harmonious and peaceful unless there were either political problems between Greece and Turkey or during arguments that arose when children played in the street. The elementary school which he graduated from was the 13th Primary School of Rhodes where traditionally only children of the Turcophone Muslim community study. Later on, he did his secondary education at mixed schools with all kids from the city of Rhodes. When asked if he felt a stark difference in the day to day school life going from primary to secondary he said, “I think the only thing that changed was that among my classmates, apart from Ahmet and Ayşe, there were Thanasis, Eleni and Kostas, who I knew already, because they were living in the same neighborhood as me. At the end, he said, in his mind relations that develop between people are related with each personality and not their particular identity. “Probably, identity plays a role in specific instances, but not on the level of personal and day to day relations,” he said.

He still remembers his teachers fondly, especially some who taught history in secondary school, and in a state of embarrassment had to teach the book of New and Contemporary Greek History, which didn’t paint a positive picture of the Ottoman Empire. “There was an endeavor from their side to help us adapt to the reality of the educational system,” said Kaili. “My classmates in turn with the exception of very few would not identify us with something negative described in the history book. They would think ‘it cannot be our friend Hasan – who lives with us, and whom we play football with – that the book is describing.’”

Speaking about the cultural exchanges between the two communities, he noted that it was usually the Muslims who knew more about the Christians than the other way around. “Because the Greek and Orthodox element was dominant, it was mostly us who participated in their feasts – such as Christmas and Easter – than Christians in ours. During our feasts there was activity in the community, but our Christian friends or our neighbors sometimes didn’t even know about it.” As far as intermarriages are concerned, he revealed, that it is still difficult – although to a lesser extent today – to be accepted in both communities. “In the past those marriages were few, but as time goes by there are more and more, because some of the prejudices are fading away and also because young people do not share their parents’ ideas or prejudices. However, this issue is still a taboo,” Kaili said.

Search for identity

When he was in high school Kaili said he started to think more about the particularity of his identity. “I began to have awareness of my multiple identity. Of course, I am a Greek citizen and I was born and raised in Rhodes. But I was named Hasan and this differentiates me from my friend Thanasis…No one is like another person. Some are men, some are women, some are married, and some are single. All these are additional identities,” he said. After he finished school he had to choose between studying in Greece or Turkey. Finally, wanting to explore his identity as well as his wish to study English literature and the lower cost of studies in Turkey brought him to the Aegean University in İzmir. He stayed there six years and at the end he said he was no closer to answers than when he started his quest. “After a six year stay instead of getting an answer to my quest, I was more confused, but certainly I reached some conclusions,” he said. The definition of an identity is not an easy task. I could identify myself neither with the Turk who lives in Anatolia nor with the Greek who is Christian.” Moreover his Turkish classmates in İzmir saw differences in him. “My classmates treated me just like any other Hasan with the exception of the language. The dialect of Rhodes sounded provincial to them,” he said.

At the end of the day, I understood that it is not wrong to be called Hasan. You can also live and gain respect with this name. So, what changed was my stance toward life, which helped me in many circumstances.”

Turkish language classes break stereotypes

With the completion of his Master’s degree in English literature Kaili returned to Rhodes where he works. His position at the Aegean University gives him the opportunity to see how stereotypes fade with the study of a language. “It is certain that the Greek students have started to distance themselves from stereotypes through studying Turkish, our relationship, and the positive classroom environment,” said Kaili. “I think in the last seven years I have contributed to an extent in helping some students see some issues without blindfolds.” When he was led to his first Turkish class he said he heard a student asking one of his colleagues whether the new lecturer with the “strange” name could speak Greek. “They had in mind the characteristic stereotypical image of a Turk, i.e. an old swarthy man with a big mustache.” Since then Kaili has taught many classes and said the reactions his students have as they discover how much vocabulary the Turkish and Greek share, are classic: “come on! Shut up, really? This one too? Eh, I don’t believe it!” Those of his students who visit Turkey come back to him and say things like: “‘Those Turks are not as bad as the school books describe them, after all,’” Kaili said. “The students discover that the Turks are very friendly at a social and day-to-day level.”

The community is for Rhodes what spices are to food

Kaili expressed his bitterness at the fact that his own community is not making enough efforts to sustain its identity, which he sees as an integral part of the island. “What makes me mostly sad is that the community of Muslims in Rhodes doesn’t fully understand its identity, or is indifferent to recognize and learn about it,” he said. Here he did not hold back from mentioning the role of the state in helping preserve this culture. Since 1972, there are no longer schools teaching the Turkish language in Rhodes, while today there are around 350 Turcophone students on the island. “A cultural element is disappearing that if not sustained both the Muslim community will lose and Rhodes will be culturally poorer for it. The community should be seen as spices.

Télécharger au format PDFTélécharger le texte de l'article au format PDF


Source : Saturday, March 15, 2008 TDN

SPIP | template | | Site Map | Follow site activity RSS 2.0