New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
EMBCA (East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance) and the Order of AHEPA’s District 6 (New York State) and Delphi Chapter #25 (Manhattan), presented a special event, the commemoration/remembrance of the Istanbul Pogrom/ Septemvriana, of September 6–7, 1955, presented, appropriately, on September 6 at the 3 West Club in Manhattan.
Featuring the 2nd AHEPA Seraphim Canoutas Lecture, the event fell in with EMBCA’s always welcome scholarly presentations on Hellenic historical events on their anniversaries with Associate Professor of History at Haverford College Alexander Kitroeff’s discussion of the events of the Istanbul Pogrom, the Septemvriana. Kitroeff has served as historical consultant for three historical documentaries: The Journey: the Greek Dream in America; Smyrna 1922 the Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City, and From Both Sides of the Aegean: Expulsion & Exchange of Populations Turkey-Greece 1922-24.
EMBCA President Lou Katsos and Lt. Governor of the AHEPA introduced the evening with presentations by AHEPA District 6 Governor Demi Pamboukes and District 6 Director of Hellenism Vassilios Chrissochos made presentations.
Seraphim Canoutas, said Katsos, was the “First Historian of the Hellenes in the Western Hemisphere.” Canoutas was an active member of the historic Order of AHEPA Delphi Chapter #25 in New York City and served as one of its early Chapter Presidents.
Setting the tone, Kitroeff began his lecture by reading Patriarch Athenagoras’ description of the disaster to the audience.
The Istanbul pogrom of September 6–7,1955, a series of organized mob attacks directed primarily at Istanbul’s/Constantinople’s Hellenic minority, was triggered by false, orchestrated news reports in the Turkish press which insinuated that Hellenes had set off a bomb the day before in the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki, Greece—the house where the founder of secular Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, was born and had lived— in spite of the fact that it became known that the bomb was planted by a Turkish usher at the Turkish Consulate, who was later arrested and confessed.
The tens of thousands of people making up the Turkish mobs
that carried out the organized attacks were brought into Istanbul by the busload. Municipal and government trucks placed in strategic points all around the city distributed the tools of destruction to them: shovels, pickaxes, crowbars, ramrods and petrol. 4,000 taxis were requisitioned to facilitate the attacks.
Between 13 and 16 Hellenes (including two priests) and 1 Armenian died as a result of the pogrom. Severe damage and costs greatly accelerated the emigration out of Turkey of ethnic Hellenes after their more than 3,000 year presence in Asia Minor, particularly the city (Istanbul area) founded by Hellenes in 657 B.C.
The extensive damage and cost to the Hellenic population, as well as some in the Armenian, Judaic and even Muslim communities of the city, included 4214 homes, 1004 businesses, 73 churches, 2 monasteries, 1 synagogue, and 26 Hellenic schools. Estimates of the economic cost of the damage varied and as high (in 1955) as $500 million USD. The Turkish government eventually paid 60 million Turkish lira of restitution (about $24 million) to those who registered their losses.
The Septemvriana has been the “Kristallnacht” of the Hellenic community in Constantinople and yet few people know the history of what the community suffered in this highly-organized attack said Kitroeff, who cited Speros Vryonis’ seminal account of the Septemvriana, the 2005 book, The Mechanism of Catastrophe: The Turkish Pogrom Of September 6 – 7, 1955, And The Destruction Of The Greek Community Of Istanbul, in his lecture.
He noted the photographs in the book by Demetrios Kaloumenos (the book is dedicated to Kaloumenos) showing the destruction of businesses, churches, homes, and schools. (Looking at some photographs showing the emotions of glee and purpose in the faces of the destroyers holding makeshift weapons, makes the people in the mobs shudderingly real).
The photographs in Vryonis’ book happened through risk and strength of purpose. Seeing the arriving soldiers, Kaloumenos changed from his uniform into civilian clothes, ran to his photo studio (later destroyed in the attacks), grabbed 2 cameras and followed the mobs to record the destruction. The film had to be smuggled out of Turkey. Without the photographs by Demetrios Kaloumenos, there would be no visual record of the destruction, said Kitroeff.
Economic devastation was the goal of the organized attack, to force the Hellenes to leave rather than massacre the minority group, since a high death toll would have drawn the outrage of the international community. Some received compensation but only about 19-24 percent of what was lost, making it impossible to stay. The Hellenic population of Constantinople was about 300,000 in 1922, by 1955 it was 100,000, by 1964 about 40,000, and now only about 2-3,000. The Turkish policy towards minority groups continues from the time of the Young Turks with the concept of Turkey for Turks only and no room for a multiethnic or multicultural society.
Concerning the causes of the events of 1955, some have suggested a connection to the EOKA struggle in Cyprus, but Kitroeff pointed out that even the Turkish government at the time noted that Cyprus was an issue between the Greeks and the British, and it was only after the Septemvriana that the British actively sought to recruit Turkish Cypriots into the police.
Concluding the event, Katsos noted the importance of talking about the tragic events of the past otherwise we are doomed to repeat them. The Turks of Thrace have thrived while the Hellenic population in Constantinople was decimated, he said. “Standing up for Hellenism, not only as Hellenes and Philhellenes, but as Americans, we stand up for Hellenic principles, the rule of law, and doing the right thing,” Katsos said.
A personal note: Just two glimpses into the disaster of the Septemvriana, were shock enough to inspire fear in this writer in 1959, four years after the fact: being shown, by the grieving Patriarch Anthenagoras, the vandalized tombs of the Patriarchs, their broken monuments and contents still strewn about; and hearing personal accounts of humiliation and violence from 3 close schoolmates whose families had fled to Athens.
Books by Alexander Kitroeff: The Greeks in Egypt,1919-1937 (London, 1989); Griegos en América, 1492-1992 (Madrid,1992); Wrestling with the Ancients: Modern Greek Identity and the Olympics (New York, 2004); Ελλάς, Ευρώπη Παναθηναϊκός (New York 2010); The Greeks and the Making of Modern Egypt, American University in Cairo Press, to appear in 2018. He is currently completing a book on the history of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.