Turkey’s Kristallnacht: When Greeks Were Targeted at the Istanbul Pogrom (photos)



On September 6 1955 the Polites, short for Konstantinoupolites, namely the Greeks of Istanbul, were targeted in a violent pogrom carefully fabricated by the Turkish Security Service.

In what had been described as Turkey’s Kristallnacht, riots that lasted two days on September 6 and 7 targeted the Greek and Armenian communities.

The riots were carefully planned by the Turkish government to cleanse Istanbul of the approximately 100,000 Polites, who were excluded from the Turkish-Greek population exchange of 1923-24.

They were triggered by the false news that the Turkish consulate in Thessaloniki, in northern Greece—the house where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk had been born in 1881—had been bombed the day before.

A bomb planted by a Turkish usher at the consulate, who was later arrested and confessed, incited the events. The Turkish press, conveying the news in Turkey, was silent about the arrest and instead insinuated that Greeks had set off the bomb.

A Turkish mob, most of which had been trucked into the city in advance, assaulted Istanbul’s Greek community for nine hours.

71 churches, 41 schools, eight newspapers, more than 4,000 stores and 2,000 residences were looted or destroyed overnight. The human toll and suffering were even more catastrophic, with more than 30 dead, 300 injured and 400 raped.

As one Greek Orthodox community leader recently argued, the greatest damage of the pogrom was to the ideal of equal citizenship in Turkey, not only for the Polites but also for the country’s other non-Muslim minorities.

The police remained mostly inactive, and the violence continued until the government declared martial law in İstanbul and called in the army to put down the riots.

The pogrom greatly accelerated emigration of ethnic Greeks from Turkey, and the Istanbul region in particular.

In Istanbul alone, the Greek population decreased from 65,108 to 49,081 between 1955 and 1960. The 2008 figures released by the Turkish Foreign Ministry placed the number of Turkish citizens of Greek descent at 3,000–4,000.