She was going to trace her grandmother's never-ending reminiscences, which revived every evening and which she repeated like a perfect fairy tale.
Her grandmother, Irini, after whom Kakoulidou was named, was born in Urla in 1905. She moved to Athens as a result of a population exchange agreed to by the Turks and the Greeks in 1924. As for Kakoulidou's grandfather, he is Yorgo Kakulidis from Giresun, a province in Turkey. They met at the Faculty of Arts in Athens and married.
Kakoulidou returned from her mini-Asia trip with many stories. She also wrote an article. The article was named article of the year and given an award by the Anna Lindh Foundation. Doors opened for Kakoulidou. Each building she saw in Urla, İzmir and parts of Anatolia reminded her of the lands in which she was born. In Athens, Thessaloniki, Ioannina, Rhodes, Crete and all around her homeland there were traces of her grandmother and the people that her grandmother lived amongst, Turks and Muslims.
Undertaking an MA in Islamic studies, specifically the Ottoman heritage in Greece, at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David in England, Kakoulidou set the course of her life. She first organized an inner circle, and then via a page on a social networking site dubbed “Save the Ottoman Monuments in Greece” reached out to more than 1,000 people, primarily in Greece, who were responsive to the Ottoman cultural heritage and actively shared information about it. There was an unexpected rise in membership to the site. Numerous people in Greece informed others about forgotten and unheeded Ottoman structures in their streets, neighborhoods or cities. But as soon as the group started working, they became the target of a smear campaign. They were exposed to online attacks by the rising racist movement Golden Dawn. Moreover, they were subject to menacing defamations and swearwords. Even many reasonable people couldn't make sense of this response.
Kakoulidou kept responding to complaints by close friends, who said, “Why the Ottomans when we have many historical monuments inherited from the Ancient Greeks?” Or, “If we had enough money to restore historical structures, why would we spend it on the Ottoman structures?” Starting with the view that “our history is a whole,” she told them, “We have a long and deep history, and one of the most important periods in our history is the Ottoman era.”
She pointed out the irrationality of this generally held belief. “Since they refrain from using the term ‘Ottoman,' the 400 years that we spent together is referred to as the ‘post-Byzantine period',” says Kakoulidou. “However,” she adds, “if we don't stake a claim to the Ottoman era and the cultural heritage of that period, we will be incomplete. We will not be able to discover the extent of our Greek nationality. Actually, the more we know about our Ottoman background, the better we will adopt Greek nationality.”
According to Kakoulidou, “Contrary to what is believed, historical monuments inherited from the Ottomans in Greece were protected,” adding: “Maybe this wasn't a conscious protection. Most of the historical heritage was protected because they were misused as storage, shops, etc.” The group wants to find good sponsorship and become a foundation to carry on studies through the release of various publications. Recognized historical monuments inherited from the Ottoman era are mostly in Serres, Ioannina and Thessaloniki, but there are also magnificent remains on islands such as Rhodes and Crete. Kakoulidou's personal favorite is Yiali Tzami Mosque in Chania, Crete, a monumental structure erected by Mimar Sinan. There are also superb ruins in Nafplio. She explains that the mosque in Didymoteicho is very important not only to Greece but to all Ottoman history. There are few remaining traces of the Ottomans in Athens; these include the Fethiye Mosque, a madrasah and a couple of hamams (Turkish baths), only the doors of which remain.
Besides people curious about the Ottoman cultural heritage, the group includes students, writers, novelists, historians and professionals. Christina Alexandrou, for instance, is a writer who publishes historical novels, including a work titled “Lal-i Gül” published in Turkey by Literatür Publishing. The novel is set in 1866 Crete. Another member, Niko Nikolayidis, is a history student, while Konstantinos Aspiodis is a theater critic. As for Makis Andronopoulos, Kakoulidou's husband, he is a journalist of some 30 years, including a five-year stretch at Kathimerini. He was a speechwriter for George Papandreou until the 2009 elections.
The group exists not only on the virtual plane; from time to time they gather at one another's houses to cook Turkish and Greek dishes, listen to music and deepen their dialogue. Two hundred members of the group attended a tour of Ottoman ruins in Athens. They have members from Turkey as well as other cities around Europe, and Muslim, Christian and Jewish members. People of all different ages have come together in the group.
According to group members: “We are neither architects nor archeologists. We are just interested in the Ottoman heritage. We need documents, educational materials and books.” They have successfully invested EU funds in Ottoman ruins situated on the Dodecanese Islands and Thessaloniki. Among these remnants are a number of important works of art. The group states, “Our aim is to bring the two countries closer, and we hope that the Ottoman monumental heritage will build a crucial bridge to this end.”