Istanbul revelers revive a Greek bacchanalia

ISTANBUL — Ottoman fezzes and false moustaches abounded. A man dressed as the Grim Reaper waited at a tram stop.

As the masked revelers made their way down Istanbul's most famous pedestrian thoroughfare, well-dressed diners gaped from the area's hundreds of restaurants and taverns.

With their eccentric procession, these fancily dressed merrygoers revived a bawdy working-class carnival, known as Baklahorani, banned by the Turkish authorities during World War II.

Huseyin Irmak, an enterprising Turkish historian, and Haris Theodorelis Rigas, an expat Greek, hope this old folk tradition of Istanbul's Greeks will be on display once again next year when Istanbul will be a European Capital of Culture — and that it will serve as a symbol of Turkey's growing willingness to open up to its multi-ethnic past.

Still today, many of Turkey's Greek-, Armenian- and Ladino-speaking citizens feel uncomfortable speaking their languages in public, recalling older times when they would find themselves at the receiving end of the famous nationalist slogan, "Vatandash, Turkce konush" (Fellow citizen, speak Turkish).

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