This is a black anniversary.
But we must not forget.
The trigger for the horrific events was the explosion of a bomb during the night of the 5th September in the building where Kemal Ataturk was born in Thessaloniki.
The next day, 6th September, the newspapers in Istanbul were full of of the story. And the crowds started gathering. By the evening the whole thing got out of control. the human river flooded the Pera area, coming from Taxim square, and started looting, burning, destroying, killing.
The scale of the attack on everything Greek (and by deflection Armenian, or Jewish) was such that the large Greek community of Istanbul will diminish after the events.
This was not the work of only a bunch of thugs, although the thugs were the main element. Ordinary people were transformed into looters, murderers and thugs. Only to return later to their homes as if nothing had happened.
Everything was thoroughly organized in advance. The bomb explosion in Thessaloniki was arranged by an agent of the Turkish secret services, who later became the Governor of Kesaria.
The police and the army stayed discretely on the side until it was too late, and the destruction was immense.
People were beaten up, and some of them murdered. The property of the all the victims of this horror disappeared before the sun rose in the morning of the 7th September. The Turkish writer Aziz Nesin wrote:
“A man who was fearful of being beaten, lynched or cut into pieces would imply and try to prove that he was both a Turk and a Muslim. “Pull it out and let us see,” they would reply. The poor man would peel off his trousers and show his “Muslimness” and “Turkishness”: And what was the proof? That he had been circumcised. If the man was circumcised, he was saved. If not, he was doomed. Indeed, having lied, he could not be saved from a beating. For one of those aggressive young men would draw his knife and circumcise him in the middle of the street and amid the chaos. A difference of two or three centimetres does not justify such a commotion. That night, many men shouting and screaming were Islamized forcefully by the cruel knife. Among those circumcised there was also a priest.” (Source: Wikipedia)
The morning saw the army units taking their positions, but it was too late.
Petros Markaris, a Greek writer, 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. (Source: Ta Nea)
Pera, the jewel of cosmopolitan culture and commerce, would never be the same.
The political background to the events is really unsettling. The Democratic Party DP, who was in power at the time, with Menderes as the Prime Minister, was the main organizer of the pogrom with the full contribution of the State Machinery. The 1961 Yassıada Trial against Menderes and Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu exposed the proximate planning of the pogrom. Menderes and Zorlu mobilized the formidable machinery of the ruling Demokrat Parti (DP) and party-controlled trade unions of Istanbul. Interior minister Namık Gedik was also involved. According to Zorlu’s lawyer at the Yassiada trial, a mob of 300,000 was marshaled in from a radius of 40 miles (60 km) around the city for the pogrom.
The ruling of the Democratic Party DP was the first in a dark period of single party rule by he Republican People’s Party, or CHP, which were Ataturk’s party. Menderes was first elected in 1950 with 52 percent of the vote, replacing Ismet Inonu and CHP. He was a politician who wanted to break the viscious circle of a single – party rule,and ruled the country for 10 years, 1950-1960. In 1959 he was the TIME magazin’s man of the year.
Menderes was arrested in 1960 fter the military took over from the political parties, was summarily tried and condemned to death in the parody of the Yassiada tria. He was executed by hanging shortly after the trial. In 1990 he was reinstated and received all due honors.
It is ironic that the man who tried to tame Kemalism in the 50’s by applying the same ethnic cleansing policies as his arch enemies, fell prey to the bitter conflict between Kemalists and reformers, and had to pay with his life for his “heresy”.
I do not want to engage in a lengthy analysis of motives and what ifs. The heart of the matter remains that the pogrom was planned and executed by the “alternative” to the single party rule, who wanted to prove that they were more “patriotic” than the CHP in implementing the dogma of ethnic cleansing in Turkey, and fully adopting the ideology of a homogeneous and “clean” Turkish Nation.
In Turkey today “Kemalism” and its dogmas seem to be under attack by Prime Minister Erdogan and his party, while the balance of power between the political parties and the military is on the side of the parties, at least under Erdogan.