The translated text of Ekrem Demirtaş for the opening session of the Levantine Symposium held on 3rd November, 2010, Izmir
We played together; we studied together and shared beautiful memories. Izmir is indeed a city of tolerance. When you wander around its streets you can simultaneously see a mosque, a synagogue and a church. As you may know culture is the last thing that evolves in this world. The social structure generally affects the economic structure and the economic structure influences the political structure. The last and the one that has the slowest growth is culture. The least time required for culture to develop is 100 to 200 years. As the Izmir Chamber of Commerce we try to maintain the culture of the 1700-1800s of Izmir.
We are truly pleased to welcome you today. I would personally like to thank once again the estimable Board of Directors, Mr. Baltazzi and the valuable friends that contributed and once again wish good luck to the distinguished speakers. Distinguished guests, Izmirlis, Izmir lovers, Izmir friends I wish you a pleasant time while visiting and I hope you leave Izmir with beautiful memories.
It was mentioned this morning but I would also like to open a parenthesis, offer a different perspective. When we analyze the 1890 Ottoman Year Book we find information about the population of the city of Izmir and the population of Izmir together with the surrounding villages and towns. So, what kind of a city was Izmir? I think we could understand Izmir better by looking at this population and I would like to read the data in the 1891 Aydin Year Book so you can understand how Izmir was and how it was composed.
Distinguished friends, the population in Izmir 120 years ago was of 207.548, approximately 207-208.000 people lived in Izmir, of these 79.000 nearly 80.000 were Turks, 53.000 Greeks, 14.900 nearly 15.000 Jews, 6.810 Armenians, 1.050 mentioned as Latins, and nearly 50.000 plus foreigners and from what I understand these could be Bulgarians Protestans etc. When we look at the structure we see that among 207.000 people only the 40% were Turks and the 60% were people coming from other countries and that settled in this country. When we look at the surroundings the total population of Izmir was of 477.000, more Turks where living in the villages so the percentage of the Turks were of 55-60. So there were 129.000 Greeks, nearly 9.000 Armenians, 17.000 Jews, 391 Bulgarians and Latins and 55.000 foreign nationals, a community formed by Levantine families.
This multiculturalism differentiates Izmir. The first thing the foreign committees, the chambers of commerce, the ambassadors, the consuls that come to Izmir for the first time say is this: Izmir is very different, we went to Istanbul, to Ankara, to other cities but when we came to Izmir we felt as we were in Europe, with its people, its tolerance….Yes, this was the first thing that 90-95 of our 100 friends said. Izmir is very different, very modern.
Distinguished friends the thing that lies beneath the culture of Izmir is this variegation, this polyphony. These communities influenced each other creating a synergy and forming Izmir’s culture. This affected commerce, affected social life.
When I travel abroad I always look for books related to Smyrna. You may have examined the thick hard-covered book Smyrna written by the American Research Centre in association with the Greek and the Turkish Research Centres. I always saw the part of Izmir that was above water just like an ice-berg but Izmir is composed of many different cultures that we cannot see. The valuable experts mentioned some of its characteristics this morning. There were 7-8 theatres in Izmir. Every month a ship departed to New York. According to the book Izmir was defined as the capital of Asia Minor and the last plays written in Paris were staged for the first time in Izmir. Thus there is an advanced culture, Izmir is different.
There is also an influence from the Balkans, the population that came from the Balkans to Izmir had more or less the same culture and this is another characteristic that shows the beauty of this mosaic.
I wanted to share this information with you and I would like to end my speech about the structure of Izmir here and welcome the very distinguished speakers.