“I was 9 when the pogrom happened. We were living on the Emlak Street as it was called back then. I remember men shouting inside the trucks. They were shouting: ‘Cyprus is Turkish. Hang your flags. Turn on the lights!’

Right across our home, there was a furniture store owned by a Rum[2]. I saw how they broke the windows. They tore  the armchairs with knives.

That day, my father had come from work early and grabbed the telephone. Obviously, something was wrong. He was talking to the watchman at the store[3]: “How many are they, Aziz?”, “Take down the shutters immediately!”, “If they are breaking the shutters, don’t try to protect.” And silence… The next day we went to Beyoğlu with my father. I saw the situation of Beyoğlu.

Then, we left Turkey. While we were leaving, they didn’t tell me we were leaving the country for good. We used to go on a vacation every year. They told me “Come on, we are going on a vacation. Grab one of your toys with you.” I picked a doll and that was all. My entire childhood remained here. I left it all.

When I met with my husband, Musa[4], I decided to return here. After that I started getting to know people and saw that there are many nice people. There is a saying in Italian, “Tutto il mondo è paeze”: the entire world is a village. I mean, people are the same everywhere, there are good ones and bad ones…”[5]

Just as the narrator Lydia Franco Albukrek tells, there are good ones and bad ones among women too.

Let’s start with the images of bad women in the Istanbul Pogrom… These women holding bats in their hands and wearing high heels are not alone in this catastrophe. Men are there. In the Istanbul Pogrom testimonies that have been compiled and told so far, aggressors are described rather as groups consisting of men.

For instance: “They broke it all. All the groceries, taverns, shop windows, those furs and jewelries were on the floor. Of course, looting also happened… Those were people that we had never seen before, there were no such people in Istanbul. Two meters long, wearing çarık [Ottoman sandals]. Men with mustache.”[6]

Men with mustache always stand out at the forefront of images of war, catastrophe, looting, violence that we are accustomed to see in this world. That’s why, after having interviews with dozens of women who have joined war, investigative writer Svetlana Alexievich, in her book The Unwomanly Face of War, recounts:

Everything we know about war we know with ‘a man’s voice.’ We are all captives of ‘men’s’ notions and ‘men’s’ sense of war. ‘Men’s’ words. Women are silent.[7]

 It seems like women who took part in this catastrophe and portrayed in these photos remained silent. We cannot know their names, who they are, their ideologies, their motivations to attack. For the last 64 years, we have not come across research focusing on these women.

Of course, however, research has been conducted and testimonies were heard about the victimization caused by these women hand in hand with men — mostly by men. Documentaries were made, photos were published.

But what were those photos telling? What had happened on 6-7 September 1955?

Dilek Güven, who conducted an important research on the subject in American and British state archives, summarizes:

“On 6 September 1955, the state radio announced that there was a bomb attack on the house Atatürk was born in Thessaloniki, this news was spread by Istanbul Express newspaper. Later that day, in line with the calls of various student associations and Cyprus is Turkish Association, a protest meeting was held in Taksim Square. Following the meeting some groups started stoning the windows of shops owned by non-Muslim people on the İstiklal Street. In a short while, various districts which were known to be traditional residence and workplaces of non-Muslim people around Taksim such as Beyoğlu, Kurtuluş, Şişli, Nişantaşı were swarmed by people who were equipped with various tools and who destroyed the workplaces, houses, schools, churches, and cemeteries. Similarly, acts of violence broke out in farther districts such as Eminönü, Fatih, Eyüp, Bakırköy, Yeşilköy, Ortaköy, Arnavutköy, Bebek, and also Moda, Kadıköy, Kuzguncuk and Çengelköy that are districts in the Anatolian part of the city, and even in the Princes’ Islands (Adalar). It is estimated that approximately 100,000 people took part in these attacks.”[8] 

As can be seen in the photos of the time, these 100,000 people, who were the aggressors, were carrying the Turkish flag, the busts and posters of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the then-president Celal Bayar along with the criminal tools. Besides, as Nüvit Yetkin, CHP (People’s Republican Party) deputy of Malatya, explicitly stated in the Parliament, September 6-7 attacks were thoroughly prepared. There were team leaders who were directing and managing the attacks from inside the cars who were holding lists in their hands. Also, there are rumors that before the incidents began, home and work addresses of non-Muslims were requested from the mukhtars[9] and some policemen [10] were pointing to the homes and workplaces of non-Muslims.

There was a specific method to the lootings all around the city.[11] The catastrophe had its own order, and as the testimonies revealed, the aggressors had been given the order to “not kill”.[12] In other words, they weren’t given the order to kill. What was allowed, condoned, and encouraged was only attacks and lootings. As far as the stores are concerned, the aggressors were stoning the windows into pieces or opening the grades using welding machines or wire cutters. If the place to attack is a small workshop, they were smashing the tools and machines either inside the workshop or after carrying them out to the street. They were first stoning the house windows, and then breaking the doors with axes and iron bars. After they broke into the houses, they were smashing everything inside the house, throwing them out of windows.[13] In the sanctuaries, they were demolishing sacred objects and attacking ministers. In some churches the attacks were carried out by chiming and lighting candles – by “performing a so-called ritual” in Emilia Pandelera’s words.[14] Gravestones were being broken and dead bodies dug out of graves were being broken into pieces and set on fire.[15]

All this havoc was somehow photographed. For example, in 2015, after Marina Kalumenos opened her family archive to the journalist Serdar Korucu, the photographs taken by the Ecumenical Patriarchate photographer Dimitros Kalumenos on 6-7 September were publicized.

However, besides these, there was too big a destruction to be photographed, especially on women’s bodies. In houses, especially Rum women were raped. 60 women were treated for rape at the Balıklı Hospital. It was and is estimated that the number was higher together with those who had not been treated and who did not choose to reveal the situation.[16]

Just as in the rape cases in wars, rape cases in the Istanbul Pogrom cannot solely be defined as “men’s non-consensual exploitation of women’s body as a means of getting pleasure”. For, in the rape cases in question, we can speak of a form of power struggle over women’s bodies in addition to a severe attack to women’s bodily and psychological integrity. Women’s bodies are actually pillaged, and, in addition, the rapists aim at showing to the person, group or society of which the woman is a member that the power belongs to those who rape.[17]

Utilization of this atrocious power also caused the demolition of churches which had been dedicated to sacred women and saints of the Orthodox Church: Meryem Ana Cihannüma Church (Ortaköy), Rum Orthodox Church of Panayia Evangelistria (Boyacıköy), Rum Orthodox Church of Aya Paraskevi (Tarabya), Rum Orthodox Church of Aya Paraskevi (Büyükdere), Kandilli Meryemana Church, Büyükada Meryemana Church, Balıklı Meryemana Monastery, Belgratkapı Rum Orthodox Church of Panayia (Yedikule), Rum Orthodox Church of Aya Paraskevi (Samatya), Altımermer Rum Orthodox Church of Panayia (Şehremini), Rum Orthodox Church of Aya Elpida (Kumkapı), Rum Orthodox Church of Aya Kiriaki (Kumkapı), Rum Orthodox Church of Panayia (Edirnekapı), Rum Orthodox Church of Panayia Suda (Eğrikapı), Rum Orthodox Church of Panayia Balinu (Ayvansaray), Meryemana Rum Orthodox Church (Balat – Fener – Vefa), Rum Orthodox Church of Aya Paraskevi (Hasköy).[18]

Icons were also used in the destruction of that which has been created. Besides throwing and smashing these values that are deemed sacred, the aggressors also felt the urge to carve these figures’ eyes out.[19]

Also, schools were severely damaged. For instance, Madam Dimitra says “We had terrible days” while remembering the Istanbul Pogrom and repeats the following words: “I don’t even have a primary school diploma. They did such terrible things…[20]

According to US records, Galata Rum Primary School, which is Dimitra’s primary school, is one of the demolished buildings. Balıklı Rum Hospital where she lives right now is one of the places that aggressors wanted to burn down. Three women who wanted to set the hospital on fire, Hidayet Özbakır, Nursen Özbakır, Hilmiye Çalışkan were caught and arrested.[21]

However, the fire burns the one who experiences it the most.

Artist Hera Büyüktaşçıyan defines the pillage and the plunder of the Istanbul Pogrom and, in fact, of its afterwards as an “earthquake”, and says the following words with reference to her 2015 work:

“The Istanbul Pogrom is tantamount to a long-term earthquake for me both in my family history and in the collective memory. My maternal grandmother’s account of carpets which were thrown out of windows along with hundreds of other furniture were ingrained in my brain as the most conspicuous examples of this shock. Carpet is a corpus of memory which we step on, creating a boundary between the cold reality of the earth and the present time that flows on it, collecting the daily record of our lives. It is a ground upon which the collective as well as subjective narratives are weaved. The Istanbul Pogrom is like the shaky removal of a common ground from under our feet which we call belonging. Houses, shops, schools, and cemeteries which were forced to empty and throw up what is inside as if to say that you do not belong here… 

My grandmother’s narration of the rolled carpet’s being thrown out of the window made me feel the uncanniness of the ground we stepped on while it also inspired me for a work that I produced for the 2015 “A Century of Centuries” exhibition at SALT Beyoğlu.”[22]

Hera Büyüktaşçıyan is one of the women who have labored most for Madam Dimitra’s school. The school building, which had been confiscated by the treasury and no longer served as an educational facility, was returned to the Rum community in 2012.[23]

From that date onwards, thanks to the efforts of artist Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, and Meri Komosarona, the president of the foundation to which the school is affiliated, the Galata Rum Elementary School focused on preserving its heritage and has been turned into a culture, arts, and education center which hosts numerous exhibitions. That is, albeit in different ways, the school continues to live, or more correctly, has been kept alive by women’s efforts despite everything.

Just like the Zapyon School in Taksim. The Zapyon School had been severely damaged during the Pogrom; it was demolished to the ground. According to a witness’ testimony, the sculpture of the school’s founder, Konstantin Zappas was toppled, and an Atatürk poster was put in its place.[24]

Aleksandros Hacopulos, the then Democrat Party deputy, gave the example of the Zapyon School while demonstrating the pillage at the Parliament and underlined the responsibility of the law enforcement and, in fact, of the state:

“Dear friends, what saddens us the most, unfortunately I have to confess, is the law enforcement. We are all allies in this confession. Unfortunately, the law enforcement has been blindsided, has slept, and maybe I cannot bring myself to say but has condoned some incidents. When the looters are forcing the doors of the Zapyon School in the heart of Taksim, cavalry policemen pass by. They see the incident and say, ‘What are you doing, you shameless!’ And then they walk away.”[25]

During the 10th Parliament of Turkey, that is in the period when the Istanbul Pogrom happened, there were only four women MPs: Aliye Temuçin Coşkun (Ankara), Hatice Nazlı Tlabar (İstanbul), Nuriye Pınar (İzmir), and Edibe Sayar (Zonguldak). According to the parliamentary minutes, none of them took the floor to talk about the Istanbul Pogrom, nor did they propose a bill for redress.[26]

Again, men did the talking; it was left to them. However, maybe the most powerful rebellion against these incidents came from a woman:

While the then patriarch Athenagoras was reporting to the community that they had been in touch with the governor of Istanbul and the prime minister and they had been promised that the houses, stores, churches would be fixed, a middle-aged woman in black began to speak and said:

“His holiness, my daughter was raped by an aggressor. How are you going to fix her and other girls who have shared the same destiny as her? I am begging you, the only thing we can do for them and for the believers whose livelihoods were destroyed and who had no future expectations left in Istanbul, the city that they love so much, is pray.”[27]

It was not the first nor the last time that the minorities had no future expectations left in Istanbul. The Istanbul Pogrom was not the last looting. Just like the story of Lydia Franco Akbukrek who left Istanbul for Italy with her family after the Pogrom… Lydia Franco Albukrek recounts how the house where her husband Musa Albukrek grew up was looted and how she faced it years later:

“When my father and mother-in-law got married, this house was bought for them. Their children grew up here. It is a five-story house. On one floor was my father-in-law’s medical practice. On the other floors, children would come and go. Children got married, my father-in-law got older. When he got older, the house was not practical for him anymore. It was difficult to climb the stairs. One day he broke his arm and the children said, ‘That’s it, we are moving out of this house’. They moved to somewhere else, and then my father-in-law passed away, so did my mother-in-law. One day my brother-in-law was passing by the house and saw that the door was not locked. He knocked on the door to go in, a bearded man opened the door: he said, ‘What are you doing here?’ The bearded guy said, ‘What are you doing here?’, ‘I live here.’  

They called the police. The police established that the house belonged to the Albukreks. They checked inside the house. Only the piano was gone. All the furniture was there. They locked the house again.  

Five six months later, the neighbor tea vendor called my husband very early in the morning and asked, ‘Is everything OK, Doctor? Are you selling the house?’, ‘No’ said my husband ‘where did you get this idea?’ He said, ‘Oh, a truck came and emptied the house. A trustee has been appointed to this house.’

How is that even possible? This house belongs to someone. It was established only a couple of months ago. But in the meantime, the state rented out the house to some people. The lawyer came but left, he said ‘We cannot work with these people, we can’t handle them.’ No lawyer wanted to take the case and years passed. After Musa’s efforts eventually the house was sold to these people for a very low price. Later, these guys sold it to a university rector, and then it was turned into a hotel, now this. [28]

A couple of years ago Stella Ovadya told me, ‘In a second-hand bookseller in Çukurcuma I found the books that Avram Galanti autographed for your father-in-law’s name. I was shocked, I bought them. How could you sell them?’ I said that we didn’t. ‘We didn’t even know where they were, they were stolen.’ I told this to the siblings, nobody wanted to go. So, I went on my own. I went from one bookseller to the other and started asking for books in French. Because my father-in-law was a writer and he studied medicine in France. I asked for books in French; they showed one or two books. In the end, a bearded haji said, ‘I have those, but it is of no  interest to you’. I asked ‘Why?’, and he said, ‘They are all medical books.’

He said the medical books and I got excited. ‘Well, I am a doctor. Maybe I am interested’, I said. He took me to a storage, a huge place, it’s packed. I am walking, the guy is following me. Suddenly I saw my father-in-law’s medical cabinet. My legs started shaking. He said, ‘Keep walking, sister.’ And then I saw the huge library of my father-in-law. The guy said, ‘I’ll sell all of them at once.’ I said ‘I can’t buy all of them right now. I’ll ask my colleagues at the hospital, if they want to, we’ll buy them all.’ He said okay, I bought a few books. I paid lots of money. In the meantime, I asked the guy ‘Whose books were they?’ He said, ‘They were a Greek spy’s books. He fled the country one night, and his children sold them to me.’  

One day, I went there with Musa, he told the same story, we bought a couple of books again.

Later, one day, a French patient of mine came to me and said, ‘Look what I found in Çukurcuma.’: the letter that my husband’s father wrote when he was in military service. ‘Where did you find it?’ I asked. She said that at a bearded man’s bookstore. I went there and saw the letters and photographs in two big baskets. I said ‘Hi’ to the guy, but he did not recognize me. I checked the photos, and I saw Musa’s childhood photos! Family photos, letters… I asked who the owner of these was. Spy. They brought them to me. Bla bla bla… ‘No!’ I said. This time I was not afraid, I was standing next to the door. I said, no. It has nothing to do with a spy, they are my husband’s family. His father was a doctor, their house was there, and you stole them. The man got shocked. And said to me ‘Take everything that is yours. I swear, they brought them to me.’ I said, ‘Fine’ and I took a bundle.

Other women in the family did not even want to see any of them.” [29]

There is a lot more to the Istanbul Pogrom that women do not want to see, hear or talk about.

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

[1] Transcribed version of the speech given at the Istanbul Literature House on 03.09.2019.

[2] The name given to the Greek speaking Orthodox community in Turkey. (Translator’s note.)

[3] The furniture store called Lazzaro Franco on Istiklal Street.

[4] Dr. Musa Albukrek

[5] Rita Ender, İsmiyle Yaşamak, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2016, p. 185.

[6] Rıfat Bali, 6-7 Eylül Olayları, Tanıklar-Hatıralar, Istanbul: Libra Yayıncılık, 2010, p. 145.

[7] Svetlana Alexievich, The Unwomanly Face of War, New York: Random House, 2017, p. 22.

[8] Dilek Güven, 6-7 Eylül Olayları, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2006, p.31.

[9] TBMM ZC., Devre 10, İçtima 2, Cilt 9, 23. İnikat, 13.01.1956. [Reports of Turkish Parliament.]

[10] Samim Akgönül, Türkiye Rumları, Istanbul, İletişim Yayınları, 2007, p.203.

[11] See, Rıfat Bali, 6-7 Eylül Olayları, Tanıklar-Hatıralar, Istanbul: Libra Yayıncılık, 2010, p. 105, 245.

[12] See, Rıfat Bali, 6-7 Eylül Olayları, Tanıklar-Hatıralar, Istanbul: Libra Yayıncılık, 2010, p. 145, 190; Samim Akgönül, Türkiye Rumları, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2007, p.20

[13] Dilek Güven, 6-7 Eylül Olayları, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2006, p.31.

[14] Yahya Koçoğlu, Hatırlıyorum, Istanbul, Metis Yayınları, 2003, p.113

[15] Serdar Korucu, Patriklik Fotoğrafçısı Dimitrios Kalumenos’un Objektifinden 6-7 Eylül 1955, Istanbul: İstos Yayınları, 2015, p 124.

[16] Dilek Güven, 6-7 Eylül Olayları, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2006, p.55.

[17] See, Züleyha ÖZBAŞ, Cinsel Silah ve “Grbavica”, https://dergipark.org.tr/tr/download/article-file/2965

[18] Dilek Güven, 6-7 Eylül Olayları, Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 2006, s.215-217.

[19] Serdar Korucu, Patriklik Fotoğrafçısı Dimitrios Kalumenos’un Objektifinden 6-7 Eylül 1955, Istanbul: İstos Yayınları, 2015 p.5

[20] Rita Ender, “Madam Dimitra’ya ‘Yenge’ Diyemeyiz”, Yengeler Cumhuriyeti, p.93.

[21] Akşam Gazetesi, 10.09.1955

[22] Hera Büyüktaşçıyan, personal e-mail dated 19.08.2019.

[23] See, http://galatarumokulu.blogspot.com/

[24] See, Rıfat Bali, 6-7 Eylül Olayları, Tanıklar-Hatıralar, Istanbul: Libra Yayıncılık, 2010, p.157, Serdar Korucu, Patriklik Fotoğrafçısı Dimitrios Kalumenos’un Objektifinden 6-7 Eylül 1955, Istanbul: İstos Yayınları, 2015 p.26

[25] TBMM ZC., Devre 10, İçtima 1, Cilt 7, 8. İnikat, 12.09.1955.

[26] See https://www.tbmm.gov.tr/develop/owa/td_v2_istatistik.tutanak_hazirla?v_meclis=&v_donem=&v_yasama_yili=&v_cilt=&v_birlesim=&v_sayfa=&v_anabaslik=S%D6Z%20ALANLAR&v_altbaslik=&v_mv=AL%DDYE%20TEMU%C7%DDN%20(AL%DDYE%20CO%DEKUN)&v_sb=ANKARA&v_ozet=&v_kelime=&v_bastarih=&v_bittarih=; https://www.tbmm.gov.tr/develop/owa/td_v2_istatistik.tutanak_hazirla?v_meclis=&v_donem=&v_yasama_yili=&v_cilt=&v_birlesim=&v_sayfa=&v_anabaslik=&v_altbaslik=&v_mv=NAZLI%20TLABAR&v_sb=&v_ozet=&v_kelime=&v_bastarih=&v_bittarih=https://www.tbmm.gov.tr/develop/owa/td_v2_istatistik.tutanak_hazirla?v_meclis=&v_donem=&v_yasama_yili=&v_cilt=&v_birlesim=&v_sayfa=&v_anabaslik=TAKR%DDRLER%20(%D6NERGELER)&v_altbaslik=&v_mv=NUR%DDYE%20PINAR&v_sb=%DDzmir&v_ozet=&v_kelime=&v_bastarih=&v_bittarih=https://www.tbmm.gov.tr/develop/owa/td_v2_istatistik.tutanak_hazirla?v_meclis=&v_donem=&v_yasama_yili=&v_cilt=&v_birlesim=&v_sayfa=&v_anabaslik=&v_altbaslik=&v_mv=ED%DDBE%20SAYAR&v_sb=&v_ozet=&v_kelime=&v_bastarih=&v_bittarih=.

[27] Rıfat Bali, 6-7 Eylül Olayları, Tanıklar-Hatıralar, Istanbul: Libra Yayıncılık, 2010, p. 351.

[28] The place is today called as Istanbul Literature House – Kıraathane.

[29] Interview with Lydia Franco Albukrek, 08.08.2019.


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