Istanbul Pogrom: 61 Years After a City Went Mad for 9 Hours

A stroll down Istiklal Street in the vibrant Beyoglu district of Istanbul reveals the Western face of Turkey on the European side of town. Young crowds of Istanbulians carrying designer shopping bags stroll along the tram line with an air of pride. They peacefully take their  seat at cafes, oblivious to the fact that Mohammed who serves them Turkish coffee was once called Yiorgos. Unaware that they may be the grandchildren of the instigators of the brutal Istanbul pogrom, known in Greece as Septembriana, that took place from September 6-7, 1955.

These days, the elegance of the crowd at Istiklal Street certainly bears no resemblance to the brutal force of the mobs that once rushed down this very street trashing Greek homes, pillaging shops, raping women and murdering members of the Greek minority in craziness that was triggered by a lie.

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The groundwork for the pogrom had been layed down by Turkish prime minister Adnan Menderes who supported the return of the caliphate and encouraged Islamic fundamentalism. To nudge things along, his government orchestrated a provocation aimed at blowing up the birthplace of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Thessaloniki, Greece, and to put the blame on the Greek Christian minority. The bomb never went off but the newspapers ran the story anyway, inciting Muslims to jihad.

The report may have been trumped up, but the raids, rapes and bloodshed were real. Much of the Turkish mob, numbering 300,000 people, had been trucked into the city specifically to attack the Greek community, but Armenians were also hurt. The police remained ineffective as people chanted anti-Greek slogans, turning violent on Greeks.

«Yikin, Kirin, Giavourdour!» «Break, Tear down, They’re non-believers!» «Kahrolsungiavourlar!» «Massacre Greek traitors!» «Down With Europe!»

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Frightened, many Greeks tried to hide within the crowd. Those who were discovered had their pants pulled down and were forcibly circumcised. Women were raped. In just one night 4,350 Greek stores were destroyed, 2,600 Christian homes were plundered, 73 churches, 26 Greek schools, 110 Greek restaurants, 21 Greek factories, 27 Greek pharmacies and 3 Greek newspapers were broken into and vandalized… Greek cemeteries were attacked with bones dug up and thrown around.

The violence and plundering continued through the night with the government biding its time until it declared martial law. As a result of the pogrom the Greek population of Turkey declined from 119,822 people in 1927 to about 7,000 in 1978. Between 1955 and 1960, the population fell from 65,108 to 49,081. In 2008, Turkish concensus figures placed the number at 3,000-4,000 but these figures are even less according to Human Rights Watch.

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