Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Orhan Kemal Cengiz

Turkey needs to pay compensation to Greeks for the 6-7 September Pogrom

Acknowledging and confronting the past would contribute to Turkey’s democratization

Just try to imagine something like this for a moment: Your neighborhood is attacked by mobs consisting of thousands and thousands of people. These violent people look very angry and uncontrolled on the one hand, but they choose their targets very carefully on the other. And you realize that these people only attack the members of the minority that is your community.

They plunder everything they find; they destroy every single property that comes their way; they attack places of worship and cemeteries. They rape women. And when these barbaric crowds are doing all this, the state apparatus has just vanished into thin air. You cannot see any police officer to get help. And these attacks continue uninterrupted for at least two days.

Even if you were not attacked during this collective madness, you would have been traumatized by just witnessing it, right?

This nightmare, which I am trying to encourage you to visualize, happened 67 years ago in Istanbul and Izmir to mostly Turkish citizens of Greek descent and other members of minorities living there. In Turkey, these days are called the “6-7 September 1955 events.” I believe the “events” tag is just a fabrication to water down the seriousness of what exactly happened.

Some people have correctly called these “events” pogroms, a term which is coming from Russian, and of which the most well-known example was the “Kristallnacht” perpetrated by Nazis in 1938 in Germany.

As a result of these “events,” according to official figures, 4,214 homes, 1,004 businesses, 73 churches, 1 synagogue, 2 monasteries, 26 schools, and 5,317 buildings such as factories, hotels, and taverns were damaged. According to Turkish media, 11 people were killed in these attacks, while Greek sources put the deaths at 15. According to official numbers, 30 people were wounded while unofficial figures are 300. Hundreds of women are estimated to have been raped. In Balikli Greek Hospital alone, 60 Greek women were treated for sexual assault. 

Not surprisingly, Turkish media played quite a provocative role before the pogroms. They incited people against Turkish citizens of Greek descent. The pretext was the tensions in Cyprus, and they were portraying Greeks in Turkey as collaborators or the fifth column of the “enemy.”

Many years later, a comment from a military officer provided damning evidence that the 6-7 September Events were planned and orchestrated by the state. In a 1991 interview, retired General Sabri Yirmibesoglu, head of the Special Warfare Department, said “6-7 September was the work of Special Warfare and magnificently organized. It achieved its objective.”

It is indeed very “successful” that you cannot see any Greek owner of a shop anymore on Istiklal Avenue, Beyoglu whereas before the “events” most of these businesses belonged to Greeks and other minorities.

After these attacks, many Greeks left Turkey, and the remaining population was forced to leave in the 60's and 70’s as well. We now have a tiny population of Greeks in Istanbul; their numbers are a few thousand at most.

You can find many other details about the 1955 pogroms on the internet. My intention is not to give you encyclopedic information about these ugly pages of Turkey’s history. I wrote this article today, of course in part to pay tribute to the victims who are still living in Istanbul, as well as people who are scattered all around the world.

However, I would also like to emphasize Turkey’s long-due, unfulfilled duty about these events from the past. Turkish society needs to confront this past. Hundreds of thousands of people attended these barbaric acts in Istanbul and Izmir. We need to talk about this madness and vandalism. If Turkey is to have a democratic regime one day, the Turkish government should apologize to all victims and their successors. Turkey needs to pay compensation to all victims of these heinous crimes. 

When we start to discuss these kinds of issues in Turkey, many lawyers choose to consider the formalistic interpretation of some legal issues, such as the statute of limitations. However, international human rights law increasingly tends to be non-formalistic when it comes to serious crimes committed against humanity, crimes of torture, hate crimes, and so on. 

If you look at what happened in 1955 on the days of 6-7 September, there is no doubt that these were heinous crimes, clearly constituting torture, destruction of property, hate crimes, and even crimes against humanity. Therefore, there should not be any time limitations to provide redress to the victims. 

And much more importantly, as Armenian Judge Glumyan stated in her Concurring opinion in the case Janwiec and others v. Russia before the European Court of Human Rights, with a reference to crimes against humanity, “…human rights violations of this kind can be prevented and redressed in the future only by the respondent State’s willingness and readiness to confront its past and not to bury its history under layers.”

Therefore, no compensation would be excessive for Turkey to pay for the past atrocities, if one considers how much these kinds of processes would contribute to the democratization of this country!

*Orhan Kemal Cengiz is a lawyer with extensive experience in representing clients before the European Court of Human Rights and author of several articles, books and manuals in the field of human rights. He is a former president of the Human Rights Agenda Association and is currently a board member of the Tahir Elci Human Rights Foundation. His articles have appeared in Turkish and international newspapers.

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