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Remember the Umbrella Makers

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In Greek, istos means web; in Turkey it is the name of a new publishing house which is putting out books in Greek for the first time in half a century. There’s a long tradition of Greek publishing in Istanbul – one of the first presses in the Ottoman Empire belonged to the patriarchate in the 17th century – and the industry more or less flourished until 1964, when commercial activity by Greeks was prohibited and most of Istanbul’s Greek community was forced to leave. The city’s current Greek population is thought to be around 3000.

Istos was established by a group of seven Greek and Turkish graduates, most of them in their early thirties. They have an office in Karaköy, where two of them work full-time. The others work from outside, co-ordinating the editing and translation of new books, in Greek, Turkish or both. The titles so far include a bilingual edition of a history of Istanbul’s Greek community, a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and a Turkish translation of a novel by the contemporary Greek writer Thomas Korovinis. Initial print runs are 1000 copies: small by Turkish standards, but impressive given the size of Istanbul’s Greek community.

Foti Benlisoy, one of Istos’s founders, says they’re interested in challenging the partial, nostalgic stereotype of the old Greek community as a fashionable elite. Other books currently in the works will focus on the history of Istanbul’s Greek working class, responsible, among other things, for setting up Turkey’s first unions for waiters and umbrella makers. The hope is that these and future Istos titles will help Istanbul’s Greek community to rediscover and reclaim its voice.

Comments on “Remember the Umbrella Makers”

  1. alex says:

    Very interesting post – thanks.

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