Exhibition on Rum community canceled in Turkish island of Gökçeada

Journalist Melike Çapan canceled her art exhibition “We Will Meet Again: The Memory of Imbros 1964” to be displayed in the Aegean Gökçeada island after it was targeted by the city council. Çapan’s exhibition focuses on the Rum community (Greeks) living on Gökçeada island, who was forced to migrate in 1964 and onwards after the rising tensions between Turkey and Greece.

Duvar English

Journalist Melike Çapan has announced that she had to cancel her art exhibition called “We Will Meet Again: The Memory of Imbros 1964” to be displayed in the Aegean island Gökçeada between Aug. 18 - Sep. 1, focusing on the Rum community (Greeks) on the island and their sufferings.

In a statement on Twitter on Aug. 9, Çapan said “We had to cancel the exhibition We Will Meet Again: A Memory of Imbros 1964 as a result of being targeted. I personally apologize to those who have been waiting for the exhibition.”

“Unfortunately, as a result of the targets of some groups on institutions, we decided to cancel the exhibition which is a step to confront the past and rebuild a common future. Our priority is that the society is not harmed in any way, regardless of language, religion or identity. We express our regret,” she added.

Çapan also told online news outlet Gerçek Gündem on Aug. 9 that “I spoke directly with the Gökçeada City Council chair, Bülent Aylı, who made a statement about me. Even though I wanted to explain the purpose of our exhibition to him, he expressed that they were not satisfied with the name 'We Will Meet Again'. He also stated that they were uncomfortable with the bringing of 1964 (events) to the agenda.”

Çapan said the council would file a criminal complaint about the exhibition if it would open. “Their claim is that I betrayed the state. In my 10 years of professional life, I have written many news, interviews and documentaries about minorities in Turkey, which is my area of expertise. I have never done this as a move against the state, but on the contrary, I have tried to be the voice of societies regardless of their religion, language or belief, without ignoring their rights. While a journalist presents accurate information to the public, they are also responsible for protecting that public. I am canceling the exhibition so that the Greek community on the island or in Istanbul is not harmed by this process.”

Accordingly, Gökçeada City Council head Bülent Aylı told a local news outlet that the exhibition is “full of insults and slanders.”

“While this exhibition, which primarily targets our state, is enthusiastically applauded by Greek and Greek-loving writers, illustrators and intellectuals; it offends the Turkish nation living on the island. Our state has opened primary, secondary and high schools in order to regulate the right to education of the Greeks living on the island. Greeks are more relaxed than they've ever been. Today, they live in peace compared to the suffering Turks in Western Thrace. Are there any churches in Gökçeada that were set on fire, demolished for various reasons, and made into taverns and pavilions? However, there are thousands of mosques in Greece like that,” Aylı claimed. 

He argued that “If we are going to discuss the 1964s in 2023, let's investigate the Ottoman Turks who disappeared suddenly on the island. Let's investigate the Greek islanders who gave de facto support to the British in the Gallipoli wars. If we see an offensive approach against our state and nation in this exhibition, we will bring the issue to the judiciary. No one can humiliate our state and our nation, especially on our land. Our state should also review the rights it has given to the Greeks.”

Çapan’s exhibition “We Will Meet Again: The Memory of Imbros 1964” focuses on the Rum community (Greeks), living on Gökçeada island, and their increased suffering after the rising tensions between Turkey and Greece.

As a result of the tensions on top of past troubles, Turkey decided to deport more than 10,000 Greeks living in Turkey in 1964.

Turkification policies, which started to be implemented in 1964, had more severe consequences in 1974 on Gökçeada island, the majority of whose population was Greek, such as being forced to migrate and the prohibition of Greek education. 

In a documentary included in the exhibition, the people living on the island describe their experiences during the 1964 period, how they had to leave their island, and what kind of life they had before they left, with their photographs from before 1964.

The island was officially called İmroz (Imbros) in Turkey until 1970.