TURKISH POGROM AGAINST THE GREEK
POPULATION OF CONSTANTINOPLE 6-7 SEPTEMBER 1955
“Special Edition to commemorate the Pogrom of September 1955”
by Costa Vertzayias 5 September 2005
“The events of September” or "Septemvriana" as they are known to the ethnic Greek inhabitants of Constantinople (Istanbul) to describe the pogrom that took place in that city fifty years ago on the 6-7 September 1955. On that horrific night, at least as intense as the Kristallnacht of 1938 in NAZI Germany, a Turkish Government orchestrated pogrom set out to physically destroy everything Greek in Constantinople. Wave after wave of frenzied mobs systematically destroyed:
4,500 Greek homes,
3,500 shops and businesses,
90 churches and monasteries,
36 schools and
Two priests were burnt alive,
14 other Greeks killed,
hundreds of Greek women raped and
many thousands of Greeks beaten.
The dead were not spared –
corpses were disinterred and
knifed and others defecated upon.
The graves of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchs were defiled.
The churches, in particular, suffered massive destruction, 70 being utterly destroyed and irreplaceable relics of enormous value reduced to rubble. However, the destruction of churches could not alone satisfy the fanaticised and frenzied mobs.
The American Ambassador spoke about “the disgusting and beastly manner in which religious sanctuaries were desecrated.”
The desecration involved
defecation on the altars,
urination in the communion cups,
the piercing and removing of the eyes of Christ from all icons,
placing of priests’ sacred clothes on donkeys and
the use of looted metallic church implements on garbage collectors.
The World Council of Churches at that time
estimated the damage to churches alone exceeded $150 million dollars.
It should be noted that the Turkish authorities transported large groups of people in trains and military vehicles from Anatolia to Constantinople.
The attacks by the mob began at 5.50pm on 6th September and ended at 2am on 7 September with the imposition of martial law.
However, during this 8 hours of frenzy the police assisted and guided the mobs in their relentless path of destruction in a very well organised pogrom.
The 100,000 rioters came well
equipped with lists of Greek addresses to target scattered through 45 square
kilometres; Armenian and Jewish property was also attacked in the frenzy.
According to Spiros Vryonis, who has recently published the definitive work on the subject – “The Mechanism of Catastrophe” – there were three systematic waves of destroyers. “
The first wave destroyed metal doors
and barriers to all churches, house and businesses. They smashed all obstacles
The second wave commenced pilfering and the pillaging. They came with trucks so as to systematically loot and carry off their booty. But the basic job of the second wave was to begin the destruction of the houses, the apartments, the church, the stores and then to move on, just as the first wave moved on very quickly.
The third came some time later to finish off the marauding.” The pilfering or destruction of Greek businesses was so great that it produced a food shortage in Constantinople. The price of eggs rose 6 times and as most bakeries were utterly destroyed people had to wait in line for a piece of bread. People had nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep. (Houses were looted, and then destroyed by pouring gasoline).
Vryonis notes that the 100,000 rioters
(students, labour unionists and peasants) came well equipped with pickaxes,
shovels, wooden timbers to serve as battering rams, acetylene torches, gasoline,
dynamite and large trucks full of stones. How could a spontaneous eruption occur
when security people, secret police, municipal police, and the armed services
This was Turkey’s final solution just on 500 years after the conquest of the city that had been Byzantium’s capital for 1100 years. The Ottoman empire had been a multinational one until its defeat in World War I. The Young Turks, however, developed a fervent nationalism of “Turkey for the Turks” and its implementation began with the Armenian and Pontian genocides in 1915. After the Greek defeat in the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) provided for a massive exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. The Greeks of Constantinople, Imbros and Tenedos (two islands near the Dardanelles) and the Moslems on the Greek side of the border with Turkey in Thrace were excepted from this exchange.
According to Turkish statistics in 1924
the Greek population of Constantinople amounted to 279,788 and there was
Greek population of 8,200 on the islands of Imbros and Tenedos. Imbros, in fact,
had no Turkish inhabitants at all. The Moslems of Western Thrace (not ethnically
homogeneous being made up of Turks, Pomaks [Bulgarian speaking Thracians] and
Gypsies) numbered 86,793 persons. The Greek population today in Constantinople
numbers 2000, in Imbros 250 and in Tenedos 50 whilst the Moslem population in
Greece numbers 120,000. Both populations were to be protected by stringent
conditions in the Treaty of Lausanne. Greece respected and obeyed the Treaty and
as a result the Moslems have increased in numbers and the Greek state maintains
their mosques and schools. What has Turkey done? From day one it has passed laws
in blatant disregard of the Treaty of Lausanne, orchestrated the 1955 pogrom
which led to the massive emigration of ethnic Greeks from Turkey and is now
systematically confiscating the property owned by the Ecumenical Patriarchate –
the last vestige of 1700 years presence of the seat of the Greek Orthodox
For the record it should be stated that Turkey never implemented Article 14 of the Treaty of Lausanne which provided that the islands of Imbros and Tenedos were to enjoy a special administration composed of local elements. Indeed, in 1927 by law 1151 the Greek schools on Imbros and Tenedos were abolished. In 1964 the Greek inhabitants of Imbros were notified that they must “voluntarily” sell their land to the Turkish State otherwise it would be expropriated. The authorities then set up an open prison on the island forcing the majority of the Greek inhabitants to emigrate. In 1967 an Imbros special court ordered the Greeks to return to the Turkish State the pittances they had received for the confiscation of their land.
In 1934 Law 2596 forbade Greek clergymen to wear clerical attire outside the Church.
In 1937 Moslem deputy directors were appointed to the Greek schools. Since then regulations have been adopted prohibiting any reference to modern Greek history or culture and the removal of all notices in the Greek language in the schools. No funds whatsoever are provided in the Turkish budget for minority education.
In 1941 whilst Greece was fighting Nazism Turkey ( a dubious neutral) mobilised all Greeks between 18 and 45 years of age and deported them to special camps from which many never returned.
In 1942 the “Varlik Vergisi” law imposed a wealth tax on property. The provisions of the law were enforced with exceptional zeal only against the non-Moslem minorities at confiscatory rates. Eg Greeks were taxed at 156 percent of annual income and Moslem Turks at 4.96 percent. The Varlik effectively deprived the community of its wealth with massive numbers of property and businesses being transferred to Moslem hands.
In 1949 all Greek religious, charitable and community foundations were stripped of their autonomy and placed under the supervision of the General Directorate for Religious Property (Vakuf).
In 1963 the Turkish Council of State determined that non-moslem foundations could not acquire real estate in excess of that belonging to them in 1926.
In 1964 the Turkish Authorities closed the Patriarchal printing house and forbade the further printing of the two church religious journals. By secret decision (6/3801) taken by the Turkish Ministerial Council on 2/11/64 all real property belonging to Greeks was attached and Greeks were barred from legal transactions involving the transfer of property. In the same year the operation of the Greek Orphanage at Pringipos was prohibited and the building forcibly taken over by the Turkish Authorities, literally throwing 117 boys and 46 girls in the street. The building in now the subject of litigation between the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Turkish State. In the same year 15,000 Greeks were deported on a few hours notice with all their possessions confiscated except one suitcase of clothing. (The recent film a “Touch of Spice” covers this event).
In 1967 (Law 903/67) imposed an inspection tax of 5% on the income of minority foundations. This law also prohibited the establishment of new minority foundations and the repair or restoration of real estate belonging to minority foundations.
In 1970 the Ministry of Education prohibited prayers in minority schools. In the same year a new property tax of 6% was imposed on the real estate of minority foundations.
In 1971, the Theological School of Halki (Orthodoxy’s most eminent seminary) was closed thereby depriving the Patriarchate of the ability to educate its clergy and future successors to the Patriarchal Throne. Despite calls from the US, EU and Australia Turkey refuses to re-open the College.
In 1983 Christian religious and charitable property was excepted from Law 2912/83. This law cancelled old lease agreements and permitted property owners to charge rents at current market values. By preventing Christians from benefiting from this law, the Turkish Authorities ensured their financial strangulation.
There has not been a year in which a Greek Church has not been expropriated or demolished to build new roads or a cemetery not desecrated or a church damaged or burned or a school closed or demolished or property expropriated without compensation; or when compensation has been ordered the funds blocked. Not one Greek has been employed in the public service in the last 50 years.
It is apparent from this review that there has been a systematic policy on the part of Turkey to eliminate every trace of the Greek and Christian ( the Armenians & other Christians are also subject to the discriminatory laws) presence from Turkey – to complete what the Young Turks and Kemal conceptualised – a Turkey for the Turks only. Not one Christian (whether Greek or Armenian) is to remain, not one Christian Church is to operate (they will still be opened for the tourist revenue), no property of any kind will remain in Christian hands. Despite pressure from the EU Turkey is in the final throes of confiscating Christian property and completing its master plan.
Seen in the above context the Septemvriana did not erupt so suddenly and violently in order to destroy an entire community. Cyprus, was merely the ostensible cause, the events in Cyprus provided the pretext to fanaticise the mobs. It was the excuse that Turkey was waiting for just as the coup in 1974 was the excuse Turkey needed to invade Cyprus to implement its long awaited plan. The Greek Cypriots campaign against Britain in 1955 was used to turn the Turkish public against the Greeks of Constantinople and thus to eliminate them forever.
At the trial of Prime Minister Menderes in 1960 it was revealed that he and Foreign Minister Fatin Rustu planned and mapped out the programme of terror.
Fifty years later we remember with great sadness the heinous events of 6-7 September 1955 which has led to the almost extinction of the Greek presence in Constantinople. No words can convey the reign of terror that the Greeks lived through.
The Septemvriana are yet another black page
in Turkish history, along with the genocides against the Armenians, Pontians and
Assyrians for which Turkey has never been held accountable. Sadly, Turkey’s
complete disregard of international law and contempt for universally accepted
human values has been condoned by the West for geopolitical reasons.
Even sadder, the situation in Cyprus is worse now than in 1955. However, the great irony may be that Cyprus could be the sting in the scorpion’s tail for Turkey. Exactly fifty years after the Septemvriana it may be Cyprus that will block Turkey’s road to Europe – divine retribution or nemesis?
Costa Vertzayias 5 September 2005
Page designed by Christos A. Neophytou
Photographic Sources: www.hellas.org, http://www.greekamerica.net/