The “September events” refer to the pogrom organised by the Turkish mob against the large and prosperous Greek community of Constantinople, when the Menderes government was in power, on the 6th and 7th of September 1955.
As a result, the 100,000 Greeks who lived in Constantinople at that time were gradually shrinking and nowadays barely exceed 2,000.
In 1955, Adnan Menderes was the Prime Minister in Turkey and the Democratic Party was the political party in power. Adnan Menderes was often playing the Muslim card, and, therefore, was irritating the country’s Kemalist establishment; This was proved by the thousands of mosques built during his leadership.
Turkey was in a difficult financial situation and at the same time, there was a resurgence of nationalist views, as the Greek Cypriots asked that the island of Cyprus be united with Greece. Hence, Turkish leaders took the opportunity to divert public opinion from its problems and attacked the prosperous Greek minority. Menderes publicly claimed, on the 28th August 1955, that the Greek Cypriots were organising massacres against the Turkish Cypriots.
The reason behind the Pogrom against the Greeks of Constantinople lies in a blast, caused by an improvised explosive device, that occured on the 6th of September at the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki. The Consulate was and still is housed in the house where Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish State, was born.
The blast caused minor damage to the building’s windows, but Turkish newspapers took advantage of the situation and, therefore, following government instructions, were blowing everything completely out of proportion and distorting the truth. For example, Turkish newspaper Istanbul Express run the headline “Greek terrorists destroy Ataturk’s family home”. At the same time, there was a publication of a series of falsified photos of the event, which led to “spontaneous” demonstrations in the afternoon of the same day in Taksim Square.
At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, a raging crowd of 50,000 people launched an attack against Greek properties in the Beyoğlu district, which was known as “the region of Pera” at the time. The looting lasted until the morning hours of the 7th of September, when the Turkish Army intervened, as the situation was about to get out of control. However, the Turkish authorities were impassive, when they were not helping the looters carry out their plans. The Democratic Party mechanism, which controlled the unions, acted as a catalyst in the violent incidents that took place.
Large numbers of protesters were able to travel from West Asia Minor for free, in exchange for a $ 6 fee, which was never given to them. 4,000 taxis drove them to the place where the riots were taking place, while trucks of the Municipality of Constantinople were deployed in many parts of the city. They were loaded with axes, shovels, bats, pickaxes, hammers, iron crowbars, petrol cans, and all the necessary tools, which could be used by the mob. The mob attacked the Greek stores shouting slogans: “Death to the Giaours” (the term “Giaour” refers to non-Muslim people, in particular, to Christians), “Break, tear down, he is a Giaour“, “Slaughter the Greek traitors”, “Down with Europe” and “Let’s march against Athens and Thessaloniki”. The anger of the mob was so great that even shops owned by Armenians and Jews were destroyed.
Men and women were raped and, according to the testimony of famous Turkish writer Aziz Nesin, many priests were forced to be circumcised. One of their victims was an Armenian priest. In addition, 16 Greeks lost their lives and 32 were injured.
In his statements, Prime Minister Menderes claimed that the pogrom against the Greeks was organised by the communists. The allegation was immediately refuted in the reports made by foreign embassies in Ankara, which pointed out the great responsibilities of the Turkish authorities.
The Greek government, under Prime Minister Alexandros Papagos, tried to internationalise the issue but to no avail. The World Council of Churches was the only one among international organisations that called Turkey for an explanation about the destruction of 90% of the Orthodox churches in Constantinople.
However, the US Senate called on President Bill Clinton in August 1995 to proclaim the 6th of September as a Day of Memory for the victims of the pogrom.