ISTANBUL -The Rum minority of Istanbul has a very active cultural group, the Feriköy Art and Culture Lovers Association that was officially established in 1989. Before that, it was an amateur theatrical group that produced many plays. There are a number of theories about the Rum community’s Bakla Horani, meaning ’I ate bakla,’ festival in Istanbul, with some believing that it only began in the 1830s although others suggest it dates back to the rather sybaritic rites of ancient Greek city-states and Rome

The Rum minority, that is members of the today’s Greek community that lives in Turkey, today has about 5200 members, a figure larger than one might actually expect although it is far from the 40000 some that remained after the fall of the walls of Constantinople in 1456. Whatever initial problems there might have been over loyalty to the Ottoman dynasty, it was eventually settled with those members of the Greek community joining Ottoman society as official translators, judges, businessmen, etc. It was only after the Greek War of Independence in 1821 that the Ottoman Turks began to look with suspicion at this minority in their midst.

Among the members of this community however, many pleasant moments were spent in entertainment but usually among themselves on birthdays and name days, weddings and other occasions. But there apparently was a particular festival that was called the Bakla Horani meaning, "I ate bakla." Bakla are a large flat bean that is considered one of the miracles of spring and is valued in the Turkish kitchen. Its green color and freshness were particularly valued all the way back to ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and the Hebrews. But it can only be found for one or two months.

There are a number of theories about this festival in Istanbul with some believing that it only began in the 1830s although one might have thought that it dates back to the rather sybaritic rites of ancient Greek city-states and Rome.

Moreover the fact that the Greeks won their war of independence in 1821 hardly suggests that the Ottomans would have tolerated a parade that is described as follows: "They had a carnival: the Bakla Horani. Before the end of the Ottoman Empire there used to live a lot of Greeks in the quarters of Tatavla and Beyoğlu, making a parade through their streets.

Carnival banned by the Turkish government

It was a merry parade of masked people, dressed in the traditional Greek clothes from the region they came from, men dressed like women or women like men. But the best of the parade was at the head where local prostitutes in fancy velvet dresses rode horses, lead by their pimps who walked along. This carnival got banned in 1930 by the Turkish government and the Bakla Horani now remains just a sweet memory."

It’s much more realistic to believe that this "parade" had been going on for many years than to think that the Ottomans would have granted permission for what could easily have turned into a protest against the Ottoman regime. The parade was finally forbidden in 1930 because of the use of masks. There was an attempt to recreate this wondrous parade this year but for the most part the Rum minority community has taken a lower profile for decades.

Former Greek Consul General in Istanbul, Alexis Alexandris, has spoken about the current state as follows: "The Greek culture of Istanbul was very vibrant, respected both among the Greek community in Istanbul and in Greece. This culture needs to be revived... Cultural activities bring the Greek community in touch with the Turks who have open minds, sensitizing them to the presence of the Greeks and giving the Greeks self confidence, encouraging them not to be introverted."

An important step in this was achieved with the Greek community's conference at the end of June, "Meeting in Istanbul, Today and Tomorrow." More than 1000 people attended this, 600 from the Greek Orthodox community in Turkey and 500 from abroad. They heard how the total community here was not the 2,000 which most had assumed but totaled 5,200.

The conference included a concert by Evanthia Rebutsika, Elli Paspala and Dilek Mihaleris. A month later, Haris Alexiou was singing in Istanbul and Bodrum, attracting the same enthusiastic crowds as Aliki Kayaloglou had a year before. And in August, Pandelis Thalasinos was performing in the Ege Aegean Festival at Yalıkavak.

The Rum minority of Istanbul has a very active cultural association, the Feriköy Art and Culture Lovers Association that was officially established in 1989. Before then it was an amateur theatrical group that produced many theatrical presentations.

They also impressed the late Archbishop of North America Iakovos, who in coordination with the then Consul -General of Greece, sent them in 1987 on a tour in the U.S. where they presented a play to cities with large Greek-American communities.

The reviews of the Greek-American press were great and most Greek-Americans were impressed by the fact that the actors from Istanbul spoke better Greek than they did. Most of the actors who went to the U.S. have become successful in many areas, some in business, others in education.

The drive behind the theatrical association originated from the late Stefanos Papadopoulos who was a co-founder of the Association as well as the late Yorgo Oktapodas who was instrumental in the success of the theatrical group. The current president of the Association is Nikolaos Kalamaris.

Greek-language comedy ’A Thorn in My Bed’

Most recently, the Feriköy Art and Culture Lovers Association has been presenting the Greek-language comedy "A Thorn in my Bed" written by N. Kampanis and B. Makridis. It is a musical written in the 1960's that explores the issue of male domination over females existing in Greece at the time. According to those who attended the premiere, the actors played their roles wonderfully well. It was like watching a professional Greek theatrical group.

Plus these actors were able to reach out and touch the audience emotionally. Savvas Melopoulos, the director of the play, succeeded wonderfully and creatively in communicating the contents of the play to the audience. Melopoulos has directed the theatrical group from the 1980's and also went to the U.S. in 1987. The play "A Thorn in My Bed" will be performed for a last time on Sunday April 5 at 19:30. Tickets are available at the door for 15 TL.

A group for lovers of art and culture

The Feriköy Art and Culture Lovers Association was established in 1989 but it had already been staging one theater piece every year for three to four years prior to its establishment. Because of various bureaucratic difficulties and an increase in the number of participants at the time resulted in the adults who had been playing as amateurs creating such an organization. Launching theater plays and especially comedies, the basic purpose of the organization ensures the stage is continually busy.

Festivities like presentations, concerts, and entertaining foreign theatrical groups are organized in line with members’ requests and interests. As well courses from time to time are put on to strengthen information on the classic folk dances of the members (like sirtaki and hasapiko). The Feriköy Art and Culture Lovers Association’s center is next to the Feriköy On İki Havari (Apostle) Rum Church: Lalasahin Sokak No. 39 Feriköy. The association distributes gift packages of various kinds to needy fellow citizens during Christmas and Easter.