Last Byzantine Greeks Facing Extinction in Islamist-Led Turkey

Last Byzantine Greeks Facing Extinction in Islamist-Led Turkey

The Greeks who represent the last vestiges of Christian Byzantium and the Roman Empire are heading towards their final extinction in Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey, with their numbers dwindling to a mere handful under his Islamist government.

The last vestiges of the Byzantine state where finally snuffed out with the brutal conquest of Constantinople, widely regarded as the greatest Christian city in the world, in 1453, or arguably with the fall of the citadel of Salmeniko Castle in modern-day Greece in 1461, following a brave but doomed resistance by its commander, Konstantinos Graitzas Palaiologos.

Despite widespread massacres and enslavement during the Turkish conquests, however, the region’s Greeks survived and were allowed something of a cultural life, albeit as second-class citizens, for centuries — not least because they served as cash cows for their Muslim rulers through the imposition of the jizya tax.

But Greeks in Istanbul, as Constantinople is now called, have now tumbled from 200,000 as recently as 1914 to, officially, a mere 3,000 - although the true figure may be nearer to just one thousand.

The authorities have made it increasingly difficult for Orthodox Christians to receive a religious education, and some historic churches and monasteries have been demolished or repurposed as mosques, sometimes with little warning.

The most (in)famous casualty was the former Church of the Holy Wisdom, or Hagia Sophia, forcibly converted into a mosque after the Turkish conquest but turned into a secular museum after the fall of the Ottoman dynasty in the early 20th century, with much of its priceless Christian artwork uncovered.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now turned it into a mosque once again, dismaying Christians the world over.