Istanbul Pogrom - government instigated anti-Greek riots see widespread destruction of property, violent attacks and rape against non-Muslim minorities
In what some refer to as the “Kristallnacht in Constantinople,” 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. 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 1955 pogrom was not a clash of civilizations pitting Muslims against Christians. On the contrary, amid rising Turkish-Greek tension over the future status of the then British colony of Cyprus, 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.
This wasn’t the first time that minorities fell victim to hostilities in Turkey. Practically since the foundation of the republic by Kemal Atatürk in 1923, Turkey has been haunted by the paranoia that its minorities, primarily the Greeks and Armenians, were really secret allies of Ankara’s enemies. This anxiety, nurtured by the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, has time and again been instrumentalized in Turkish politics.
Ankara then staged an event to fit the pattern. On the eve of 6 September, there was an attack in Thessaloniki on the house where Atatürk was born. This provided the final spark to set emotions aflame.
Chauvinist thugs, as history has repeatedly demonstrated, happen to be an imperfect tool for social engineering. As one assailant told a Greek Orthodox victim of the 1955 pogrom, the thugs had permission “not to kill but only to break things.” By the time martial law and curfew were declared in Istanbul the next day, however, the death toll exceeded 30. Of the stores looted by the out-of-control mobs, only 59 percent belonged to the targeted Polites, with the remaining establishments belonging to the Armenians and Jews.