This poignant image of Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras surveying the ruins of Sts. Constantine & Helen Church in the aftermath of the anti-Greek pogrom that took place in Istanbul in 1955, speaks volumes about the political culture of modern day Turkey which not only allowed it to happen but planned and organized it. I say that because Turkey's political elite have refused to accept the unsavory aspects of Turkey's history. The abuses heaped upon minorities in Turkey are legendary and are common to both the legacy of the Ottomans and the modern Republic created by Kemal Ataturk. Minorities in Turkey have a habit of disappearing often without so much as a whimper from the outside world. True reform in Turkey and the development of a viable democracy requires facing history.
As I have written previously in my post entitled "The Greek Kristalnacht," for two days and nights in 1955, Turkish mobs raided the homes and workplaces of the Greek minority in Istanbul and Izmir, leaving behind 16 dead and dozens of wounded citizens of Greek origin, 73 devastated Greek Orthodox churches and damaging one synagogue, eight chapels and two monasteries. Some 5,538 properties were sacked, burnt and destroyed. Between 50-200 women (depending on the source of the report) were physically violated.
Fifty years later, most Turks are still unwilling or incapable of taking responsibility for this and many other atrocities committed in the name of Turkish Nationalism. Part of the problem is that denial is a state policy. Fortunately, there are some Turks with a functioning conscience who are willing to come forward, at great personal risk, to expose the the seamy underside of Turkish history to the light of day. Turkish columnist Dogu Ergil writes the following in the Turkish Daily News:
"The 1950s were the last years when the last traces of Ottoman social and cultural heritage of Turkey had disappeared or were erased. The republican regime had chosen to legitimize itself as unique and matchless by denying its Ottoman past in all vestiges of life and built its educational system on this rift. What had remained of Turkey's multi-cultural social fabric was destroyed in the 1950s both by discouraging non-Muslim minorities to remain in the country and by massive migration from the countryside into towns, most of all into Istanbul. By 1955, new districts composed of ex-peasants had emerged like Taşlıtarla, Kağıthane and Alibeyköy. The rural inhabitants of these and other new districts were quite unfamiliar with the cosmopolitan atmosphere of urban life and had never experienced a lifestyle enriched by non-Muslim urban groups. They were hungry for power, respect and wealth. Provoked into doing something �good� for their nation, proving their worth as destroyers of �subversive elements� and enriching themselves through booty was a perfect combination to Turkify the nation. In other parts of the world such a deed may be called ethnic cleansing but such a term is unknown in our part of the world so no one is blamed for the act.
We Turks chose not to remember those unsavory days and suppress the assiduous nature of the political philosophy behind similar events. We did not dare to admit to ourselves that we have lost the multi-cultural richness of our society. We did not want to admit that the protection
of the lives, properties and honor of the Ottoman peoples that we were a part of was the nobles oblige of the republic that we are also so proud of. We never admit that appropriation of the properties and wealth of the non-Muslim minorities has not made us any richer; on the contrary, their banishment depleted the entrepreneurial power of the nation and dwarfed economic development. Denial of pluralism and multi-culturalism has left us devoid of the culture of reconciliation and tolerance to differences. We are not more stable and peaceful within now that the non-Muslims are only a miniscule part of the national population. We are ready to hate anyone who may dare to say that our recent history may not be a good compass to show the way in the future that is in the making." Read the whole thing here.
Given the record of Turkish treatment of historical and present-day minorities, Turkey has a long way to go in redressing those wrongs. Maybe owning up to the record of history no matter how hard the Turkish State tries to expunge it is a good first step. Even more important than that is changing Turkish behavior. Unfortunately, I see precious little evidence of that. One can only hope.
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