Turkey’s Greek minority and opposition parties commemorated the 67th anniversary of pogroms against Greek and other non-Muslim residents of Istanbul this week, as tensions continue to rise between Ankara and Athens.
The pro-minorities Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and liberal DEVA Party released separate statements on the 1955 Istanbul pogroms, during which armed gangs attacked the city’s Greek, Jewish and Armenian inhabitants in a state-condoned massacre.
At least 13 people were killed during the 6–7 September pogrom, with some estimates saying dozens lost their lives. More than 1,000 people were injured, hundreds were raped, and the mob burned down homes, businesses and places of worship belonging to Greeks and other minorities.
“We commemorate our citizens massacred at the 6–7 September Pogrom with respect and sadness. We will continue our struggle with determination for similar pains not to occur again,” HDP officials Tülay Hatimoğulları and Turgut Öker said in a statement.
“We have never forgotten this pain,” DEVA Party founder Ali Babacan said in a tweet. “We will not allow it to happen again.”
The Turkish state has not fully acknowledged its role in the pogroms, which were triggered by false news reports that Greeks had bombed the birthplace of Turkish Republic founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Thessaloniki. The compensation allocated to the victims was also far below the amount claimed.
But there is striking evidence that elements of the Turkish state were responsible for the massacre. Human rights lawyer Alfred de Zayas described the pogrom in a 2007 Genocide Studies article as centrally organised, with the ruling Democrat Party of the time gathering members of the mob from provinces and trucking them to Istanbul ahead of the massacre.
“It can be characterized as a ‘crime against humanity,’ comparable in scope to the November 1938 Kristallnacht in Germany, perpetrated by the Nazi authorities against Jewish civilians,” de Zayas said.
Moreover, the pogrom was not an isolated incident but the continuation of an Ottoman and Turkish policy of “eliminating Greek communities from their 3,000-year-old homelands in Asia Minor, Thrace, the Aegean, and Constantinople itself,” the scholar added.
“Seen in the context of a centuries-old process of discrimination, massacres, and expulsion, it can be classified as a form of genocide,” he said.
As a result, Turkey’s Greek community, which numbered above 100,000 in the 1950s, has dwindled to around 2,000 people today.
And, though Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan referred to the expulsion of minorities as a “mistake” and the result of a “fascist mindset” in 2009, he has left the conciliatory approach far behind, and in recent months his rhetoric toward Greece has shifted from combative to threatening.
Tensions have flared with Greece over maritime territorial disputes in the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, particularly since Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) joined forces with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) in the 2018 national elections.
On Tuesday – the anniversary of the beginning of the Istanbul pogrom – the Turkish president made a thinly veiled threat to Greece, saying Turkish forces could “come suddenly overnight” in response to what he called Greek militarisation of Aegean islands.
Thus, Greeks have greeted the 67th anniversary of the tragic massacres in Istanbul under the shadow of a fresh conflict.