Don't Forget The 6-7 Sept 1955 Pogrom
On this occasion, one of the Greece's best-selling newspapers, Ta Nea, has marked the date with the distribution of a movie on the events, “Pains of Autumn,” made by Turkish film director Tomris Giritlioğlu.
“We – filmmakers – should work more for the two peoples’ wounds to be healed. For this [to be achieved], four films were made in the scope of Turkish cinema, of which two are mine. Unfortunately we do not see such examples from Greek Cinema. I expect similar works from Greek colleagues who share my artist sensitivity,” said Tomris Giritlioğlu.
Ta Nea devoted four pages to covering the pogrom, in which it featured memories from Greece’s top-selling crime fiction novelist and screenwriter, Petros Markaris.
Markaris, who was 18 at the time, spoke about the events at Heybeliada Island, where he was on holiday.
“The commander of the Marine School on Heybeliada convinced the police chief not to let demonstrators set foot on the island. The police chief pulled his gun and halted the demonstrators when they arrived. I faced total devastation the following day when I went to the Beyoğlu, Fener and Kurtuluş [neighborhoods of Istanbul]. Wherever Greeks lived, that neighborhood’s school and church had been destroyed. It was impossible to walk in Beyoğlu because of the broken glass from shop windows and the rolls of fabric that had been thrown onto the street,” he said.
“It is wrong to say that all Turks took part in or supported the events. There were Turks who helped their Greek neighbors, who protected and hid them,” he said.
Reminiscing over some of his friends at the Austrian High School, he remembers being told, “‘Tell your complaints to Greece.’” Another student, however, said, “‘We do not approve of what has been done.’”
Markaris said he never forgot his literature teacher telling him, “‘Petro, I want you to know, I am ashamed in the name of my people. I am apologizing to you.’ What my then 27-year-old literature teacher said, Turkey repeated 50 years later.”
The atmosphere in Istanbul had been tense in the lead-up to the pogrom, especially because of Cyprus and demands from some for “Enosis,” or union, with Greece.
“The word ‘Enosis’ was perceived as a curse by the Turks. The Greeks sensed they would be the scapegoats in this matter. The slogan ‘Speak Turkish, Citizen’ was becoming popular in Istanbul,” he said.
“They blamed Adnan Menderes [first PM of Turkey in the multi-party era] for the Sep 6-7 events. However, we now understand years later that is not really an accurate reflection of what was happening. The Greek, Armenian and Jewish minorities who dominated trade in Istanbul had been living in fear since the start of World War II. There was an evil person who wanted to ‘reset’ those minorities: İsmet İnönü.”
Markaris said President İnönü was a fan of the Germans and accused him of intending to emulate the Nazis and cleanse Istanbul of religious minorities.
“The ‘20th Draw Safeguards’ in 1941, and the ‘Wealth Tax’ in 1942, were implemented in this scope,” Markaris said, in reference to various official policies essentially designed to economically impoverish non-Muslims.
İnönü, however, was forced to loosen the measures after the Nazis were defeated at Stalingrad, giving religious minorities some time to recover, he said.
As for Menderes, Markaris said he supported a liberal economy. “He let the minorities take initiative. The same Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, who the Istanbul Greeks saw as a ‘savior,’ left those people to the mercy of the mob.”
Whether Turkey’s then-prime minister was notified of the pogrom beforehand or not, or whether the attack was a conspiracy from the secret services remains unknown.
“The Greeks of Istanbul held Greece and Cyprus [responsible] for what happened to them. The generation that experienced those events has no sympathy for Greek Cypriots because of this,” he said.