Locals commemorate pogrom against Greeks and Jews in Turkey in 1955

The attacks didn’t only target Greeks but also other minorities, including Jews and Armenians.

THE DESTRUCTION of this Munich synagogue during the Kristallnacht pogroms of 1938 haunts its Jewish community till this day. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
THE DESTRUCTION of this Munich synagogue during the Kristallnacht pogroms of 1938 haunts its Jewish community till this day.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Sixty five years after mobs in Istanbul killed dozens, destroyed thousands of stores and homes and sought to eradicate the Greek minority in Turkey, commemorations are taking place. This was the often forgotten 1955 pogrom, one that conjures up memories of attacks on Jews across Eastern Europe in previous eras.
The attacks targeted Greeks and other minorities, including Jews and Armenians. It was part of the nationalist extremism that underpinned what was then an ostensibly secular Turkey. Sixty years later, Ankara’s far-right extremist governing party has once again used history to fan flames of tension with Greece, even as Turkish-backed extremists in Syria ethnically cleanse Kurds and Yazidis.
Aykan Erdemir at Politico writes that the attacks on Greeks in Turkey were planned by the Turkish government “to cleanse Istanbul of the approximately 100,000 Polites [Greeks].” These were some of the remaining Greek minority in Turkey after the conflict of 1915-1924, which saw most Greek and Christian minority communities ethnically cleansed from the country. This mass expulsion was part of a wider series of ethnic cleansing of minorities across Eastern Europe and the world in the first half of the 20th century.
However, the 1955 pogrom has generally been lost to memory. This may be because Ankara was needed as a Western NATO ally against the Soviets, and mentioning the crimes against minorities would tarnish its image. This was a time when in the US there was segregation, so Ankara’s abuses were not out of step with similar abuses by France and Algeria and the UK in suppressing the Mau Mau uprising during those years.
Erdemir links the attacks of 1955 to other incidents that were “swept under the carpet” in Turkey. For instance, he mentions the attacks on Jews in Thrace in 1934 and attacks on minority Alevis over the years in Turkey. “Turkey now has a plethora of organizations and initiatives dedicated to uncovering past atrocities and making amends with persecuted minorities, whether it’s the Armenians, the Greeks, the Syriacs, the Jews or the Alevis,” he wrote.
According to the report, the current Turkish government seeks to continue to use minority rights in Turkey to wring concessions abroad, for instance, trading the use of a historic Greek Orthodox seminary for a new mosque in Athens.
THE ATTACK on the Greek minority, which also impacted Jews, is now being commemorated and recognized more on social media as well. The 1955 looting and massacre also comes on the anniversary of the 1986 attack on the Neve Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul, when Palestinian terrorists murdered 22 worshipers after they entered the shul on Shabbat and opened fire.
Like the 1955 pogrom, the attacks of 1986 are generally ignored because they do not fit the narrative that Palestinian terrorists seek “Israeli” targets, when, in fact, the 1986 attack was a mass murder in Istanbul of Jews with no connection to Israel.
Seven rabbis were killed in the 1986 massacre. Bizarrely, the perpetrators of the attack were so mangled by grenades – and no identification found – that questions remain about whether a state such as Libya, Iran or Syria sent them, or if the Abu Nidal group or others were solely behind it.
These twin anniversaries are among the many bitter memories for minorities across the Middle East. Whether it is the 2007 bombings by Islamists against Yazidis in Iraq, or attacks on Shi’ites, Ahmadis and Christians in Pakistan, or attacks on Kurds in Syria, the Middle East over the last century has generally been one massacre after another against minority groups. This culminated in the ISIS genocide of Yazidis and ethnic cleansing of Christians, dissident Bedouin tribes and others in Iraq and Syria in 2014-2015.
Two Yazidi children who were kidnapped by ISIS and trafficked through Iraq to Syria and Turkey were repatriated with the support of the Kurdistan Regional Government from Turkey this week. This illustrates that while the region remembers the 1955 pogrom, there are ongoing attacks on minorities, including against women and minorities in Turkish-occupied Afrin.
Some countries in the Middle East have attempted to turn a corner on these attacks. For instance, greater coexistence and tolerance initiatives are being pushed by Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. However, the flames of sectarianism, the excuses used for attacks by extremist groups and the general lack of justice for victims has meant there are open wounds across many countries.