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AHI: Anniversary of the destruction of the Greek community of Istanbul
2003-09-05 09:46:48

WASHINGTON, DC ?September 5-6 2003, marks the 48th anniversary of the 1955 planned destruction of the Greek Orthodox Christian community of Istanbul by the Turkish government. The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) commemorates the memory of the victims of the Turkish government?s atrocities against its Christian minority.

The Turkish government, to demonstrate its interest in Cyprus at the time, planned and organized riots against its Greek citizens and residents in Istanbul and Izmir. It exploded a bomb in the Turkish Consulate in Salonika, Greece, and a false report was spread that Kemal Ataturk?s birthplace had been bombed and destroyed. The following account from an article in the June 1956 Harper?s Magazine by John Phillips describes the carnage:

?On the fifth of September 1955, a bomb exploded under singular circumstances inside the Turkish Consulate at Salonika in Northern Greece. The Turkish press and radio, over which the government is influential, blared out the incendiary and false report that the nearby birthplace of Kemal Ataturk, a sort of Turkish Mount Vernon on foreign soil, had also been destroyed. The events on the following day in Turkey were planned and executed with the same discipline the Nazis used in their onslaughts on the Jews. Squads of marauders were driven to the shopping area in trucks and taxis, waving picks and crowbars, consulting lists of addresses, and the police stood smiling. The Greek Consulate was destroyed in Izmir. Just nine out of eighty Greek Orthodox Churches in Istanbul were left undesecrated; twenty-nine were demolished. Ghouls invaded the huge Greek cemetery where Patriarchs of Constantinople are buried, opened mausoleums, dug up graves, and flung bones into the streets; corpses waiting burial were lanced with knives. There had been no comparable destruction of Greek sanctuaries since the fall of Constantinople. The Turkish government did its best to keep the world from knowing. A familiar heavy hand fell upon the press, and editors who criticized Premier Menderez were jailed again.?

(Harper?s Magazine, June 1956, 43, at 48. See also N.Y. Times, Sept. 7, 1955, at A1, col.5; Id., Sept 12, 1955, at A8, col.3 ?The amount of damage has been assessed unofficially at $300,000,000.? Id., Sept. 13, 1955, at A10, col.6. )

Along these lines, AHI expresses its concerns about the current situation of the 2500 Greek Orthodox Christian community still living in Istanbul. According to the March 1992 Human Rights Watch Report:

?The Greek community in Turkey is dwindling, elderly and frightened. Its population has declined from about 110,000 at the time of the signing of the Lausanne Treaty in 1923 to about 2,500 today. Its fear stems from an appalling history of pogroms and expulsions suffered at the hands of the Turkish government. A Helsinki Watch mission visited Turkey in October 1991 and found that the government there continues to violate the human rights of the Greek minority today. These acts include harassment by police; restrictions on free expression; discrimination in education involving teachers, books and curriculum; restrictions on religious freedom; limitations on the right to control charitable institutions; and the denial of ethnic identity. All of these abuses violate international human rights laws and standards that have been signed or endorsed by the government of Turkey, including the European Convention on Human Rights and the Paris Charter.?

(From Human Rights Watch ?Denying Human Rights and Ethnic Identity? series.)

We call for compensation for the victims of Turkey?s crimes.

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