On 6 September 1955, Istanbul was engulfed in orchestrated violence that primarily targeted its Greek Orthodox community. Speaking to Euronews‘ Dilek Gül on Wednesday, journalist Serdar Korucu, who compiled photographs by Dimitrios Kalumenos, a Patriarchate photographer, stated that these were not mere lootings but a full-fledged pogrom against the Christian and Jewish minority of Turkey with far-reaching consequences.
The 6-7 September pogrom – alternatively referred to as the Istanbul Riots or September Events, terms that have been used in the official Turkish narrative to downplay the severity of the events – resulted in 16 fatalities and sexual assaults on numerous women. Official records indicate that 4,348 merchant stores, 110 hotels, 27 pharmacies, 23 schools, 21 factories, 73 Greek Orthodox churches and about 1,000 homes owned by Greeks were destroyed or burned. Sacred objects within the churches were also damaged.
The violence was sparked by a false news report claiming that the house of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Thessaloniki, Greece, had been bombed by Greeks. Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, seeking to appeal to the conservative religious faction, publicly and falsely claimed that Greek-Cypriots were planning massacres against Turkish-Cypriots. Crowds, armed with pickaxes and sticks, took to the streets, causing unprecedented destruction.
Prominent figures, including Lefter Küçük Andonyanis, a legendary name in Turkish football of Greek descent, were among the victims. Andonyanis recounted; “Fifteen days ago, I was being carried on shoulders for scoring a goal. That day, I faced rocks and paint cans.”
The violence was not confined to Beyoğlu but also affected areas with a dense Greek population like Şişli, Kurtuluş, Nişantaşı and Eminönü. Martial law was declared quickly and 5,104 individuals were arrested. However, no substantial legal consequences followed.
Korucu emphasised the decline of the Greek Orthodox population in Istanbul, which has dwindled from hundreds of thousands in the 1950s to around 1,500 today. He urged current governments to take action to reverse this decline, suggesting that Greek citizens from Greece should be granted Turkish citizenship to boost the community’s numbers. He also noted that although some compensation has been paid for the looted properties, it was far from sufficient.
The financial cost of the damages amounted to $150 million, according to international organisations, while the Greek government estimated it at $500 million. Economic destruction and fear forced thousands of expatriates to emigrate to Greece. Of the one hundred thousand Greeks who resided in Istanbul in 1955, only two thousand remain in the city today.
Korucu concluded that the lack of visual evidence, such as photographs of the burned churches and looted graves, has led to the events being perceived as simple lootings. However, they add that the reality included rape, harassment, forced migration and death.