New York.- By Vicki J. Yiannias
Sometime around 6:00 in the evening tools of destruction were parcelled out from government trucks., pickaxes, shovels, battering rams, gasoline, and dynamite. Then, systematically, within minutes of each other, there were three waves of brutal attacks over an area of forty-five square kilometres. First, all obstacles to entry, iron doors and barred gates of businesses, dwellings, churches, cemeteries, monasteries, and schools, were broken down. The second wave, moving rapidly down the streets, destroyed, looted, and pilfered. A third wave doused anything not already destroyed with kerosene. By 10:00 the city was burning. You could see the flames from miles away.
This is not a scene from the Middle Ages. This was the mass destruction of the forty-five Greek communities throughout the expanse of Istanbul in 1955, over a period of only eight hours, on the 6th and 7th of September. Four thousand five hundred businesses, three thousand five hundred dwellings, over ninety churches, the cemeteries, the monasteries, thirty-six of the forty-one schools were devastated. The British press calculated the damage at £100 million. There was nothing left.
Turkey would like this event to be forgotten, but a new book,The Mechanism of Catastrophe: The Turkish Pogrom of September 6-7, 1955, and the Destruction of the Greek Community of Istanbul, written by the renown Byzantinist Speros Vryonis Jr., and published by Greekworks.com meticulously examines that pogrom, its aftermath, and its broader consequences. It is the first study of its depth and range to be published on this subject in any language. This archival testimony, which was taken from Turkish, American and British documents, some never before seen, includes photographic evidence which justifies the accuracy of the reports of the American Embassy, or the Greeks on the spot, or of the Turkish newspapers, said Vryonis. The photographs are wrenching. One, from a London newspaper, shows people with battering rams.
Professor Vryonis spoke about The Mechanism of Catastrophe at the Donnell Library Center in New York on Friday, May 7. Earlier in the day, he spoke to the press at the Greek Press and Information Service.
The Mechanism of Catastrophe, the first book to be published by Greekworks.com, is a brilliant and auspicious beginning for Greekworks publishing. Peter Pappas and Stelios Vasilakis, founders of Greekworks.com edited The Mechanism of Catastrophe, a book that promises to become the definitive historical analysis of that decisive moment in Modern Greek and Turkish history.
The Mechanism of Catastrophe had been waiting to be written since 1955, when the riots in Istanbul broke out. Vryonis told the Greek News that at the time of the violence he was writing his dissertation at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC. “I was struck by the sadness and large-scale destruction that it inflicted. All I had access to was the local press and radio and they didn’t really say a great deal except that it was violent, very destructive, but they didn’t care, didn’t say how it happened, and why it happened. When I came to New York as founding director of the Alexander S. Onassis Center for Hellenic Studies at New York University, I came into contact with Modern Greek history and Modern Turkish history and suddenly remembered all of that.” Even though he was accumulating masses of material he had too many professional obligations to start the book at that time, so began writing the book twelve years ago.
Speaking to the press, Professor Vryonis said that the first step was to examine the sources, “What was the mentality of the sources of the US government, the Greek government, and so many other governments . . . and what was the relation of the press to these governments.”
Vryonis cited historical patterns in the Turkish attitude toward minorities to show that the 1955 attack was not something new, that in effect it had a long tradition which was inherited from the Young Turks, who took over the Empire as it was faltering. “The 1941mass deportations of minority labor battalions of all Greeks, all Jews, and all Armenians between the ages of18 -38 (with the unofficial threats that they would never see the light of day again) were in keeping with the modern Turkish State’s belief that there should be one language, one nation, one culture, and at the beginning, one religion,” he said. He also cited the devastating tax that was levied on minority liquid capital in Turkey in 1942. As well, the Greeks were moved from the areas of the Dardanelles in what was called Bithynia, in Byzantium — the removal of all Greeks from the areas closest to the Sea of Marmara, to the entrance of the Dardanelles, and massacres in Phocia and Aivali. “And so the pattern from that time was inherited by the Turkish State.”
“The real question,” said Vryonis, “is who organized it. Was it a spontaneous eruption of feelings of nationalism and bad economic conditions combined? There’s no doubt that the standards of living of the poor peasants of Asia Minor were completely neglected by the Kemalist regime, and some completely deprived, such as the citizens of Konya, who never got money because they believed in Dervish Islam. There’s no doubt that these were factors in it.” Vryonis went on to detail other significant historical and socio-political factors.
The Greek News asked Professor Vryonis what he expected might be some effects of the book. “I would be very surprised if the substantial conclusions and analysis will be called into doubt, because the net result, as such, included large elements of Turkish documentation, Greek documentation, American, and British documentation, and they seem to coincide and agree on all kinds of issues.”
Speros Vryonis, Jr., one of the most eminent Byzantinists of his generation, has done extensive work on the history and culture of the Greeks from Homer to the present, and on their relations with the Slavic, Islamic, and New Worlds. He has written many books, including the seminal The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh Century.