The first surprise in Turkey was when showing our passports at the airport. My Dutch boyfriend needed a visa to enter. With my Argentinean passport it was enough. I’m used to be the more ‘mistrusted’; it’s always me who takes longer in the airport checks. Probably there was some agreement between both governments as part of Turkey’s efforts to strengthen relations with Latin America.
Istanbul, our first destination, is a very big city of officially over 11 million inhabitants of the 70.5 in all Turkey. There you can feel like you are walking in a Western European city, or you can be amazed like me at the many women wearing their black burkas accompanied by their men (or vice versa). These differences can also be seen within the same family, where each generation of women seems to take some part of their traditional garment-for-covering-women off. So it’s possible to see a fully-clothed grandmother in the beach with her granddaughter beside her in a concise bikini. Turkey is a big country, ‘two different countries in one’, said a Turkish colleague of mine. Maybe more.
The next destination was Gokceada, Turkey’s biggest island, in the Aegean Sea. The island itself has an incredible history. It originally belonged to Greece, until 1923 after the Greco-Turkish war won by Turkey. Through the Treaty of Lausanne it became Turkish, though it was agreed that the Greek inhabitants’ rights would be maintained, with a fairly autonomous government in the island. Now traveling around the island it’s possible to see the difference between the old Greek villages and the more recently created Turkish ones.
Obviously, the population before 1923 was in its great majority Greek. Now there are very few few Greek residents on the island. According to the treaty the Greeks didn’t have to leave. So how come?
While staying in the island we made friends with a Turkish family, the most friendly people I ever met while traveling. They knew the island for 13 years and showed us around and told us some of its history.
In the 60’s, the Turkish government came up with a ‘brilliant’ idea to get rid of the Greeks and settle its own people on the island. They built a prison on the island, an open prison where the prisoners could come and go too freely. These criminals apparently did more than going to the beach, and people talk about Greeks being tortured and raped by them. This family showed us the prison, with no surrounding walls. Also in the originally Greek villages we saw torn down houses, as if there had been a selective earthquake. Schools were closed down, Catholic churches destroyed. The remaining Greek inhabitants of the island are dressed in black to show their grief.
Now the Turkish government is reconstructing buildings like schools for the Greeks to return, I guess as part of their efforts to enter the EU.
If you want to visit Gokceada and have a great time like we did, you can check out this site that I created: