For analyzing the 6/7 September attacks we have to look at the case from various perspectives to see all reasons behind the attacks. 6/7 September attacks were not just retaliation of the Cyprus crisis or were not a retaliation of bomb attack to Atatürk’s house. It was a result of a Turkish nation-state establishment process which is started by Young Turks and continued by Atatürk and Kemalism.
This paper was written, due to an obligation of the course of Topics in Political History. This is a 6th semester class in the Faculty of Political Science at Istanbul University.
6/7 September events were one of the tragic examples of the marginalization of minorities. To understand the reasons of this Incident, we have to look at the situation of the non-Muslim minorities in Turkey and how they affected Turkish modernization, nation-state establishment process.
In the late 19th century with the Ottoman Empire’s reformation period (Tanzimat), many regulations about the unequal status of non-Muslims in the Ottoman society came into the force. Concerning the Reformation period, there were different issues that empire focused on such as equal taxation, obligatory military service for all, and providing life safety and property safety of everyone. In general, Tanzimat reforms aimed to ensure a sustainable relationship between the individual and the state regardless of the individual’s religion, ethnicity, and language. This idea -encompassing everyone- called Ottomanism. The main bearers of Ottomanism were the Young Turks. During the time, Ottoman sovereignty was under attack from various fronts, especially separatist nationalist riots in Christian majority parts of Balkans, that pushed the Empire to make the fundamental changes in interior citizenship policies. During this period it’s understood by the executive bodies of the Empire that Ottomanism not working as they expected. The Balkan Wars was the death-blow of the Ottomanism idea. After the Balkan Wars, The Committee of Union and Process ( İTC, İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti which is coming from the Young Turks), started to the Turkification process of the Ottoman Empire. They started to Turkification because of the loss of Balkan Wars was attributed to the underdeveloped national awareness among the Ottoman society. The main policy that they implemented was the National Economy program (milli iktisat). National Economy program implied that independence only achieves through economic independence. The national economy program was an instrument to overcome the leading position of the non-Muslims in the Ottoman Economy. This program was aimed at the establishment of the Turkish Muslim bourgeoisie. This Turkification process gained huge momentum during the Turco-Greek War (Independence War). Lausanne Treaty -which is signed after the Turco-Greek war in 1923- determined the minority status in the Republic of Turkey. At the conference, Turkey viewed only the non-Muslims as minorities. From Turkey’s perspective, the minority question was the result of foreign interference in the Turkish state’s internal affairs under the pretext of protecting minorities.
Lausanne Treaty mainly based on three principles such as equality of all nations, equality in the enjoyment of civic and political rights, equality of treatment and security in law, and fact. Those three principles stated in Article 39 of the Lausanne treaty. After the sign of the Lausanne Treaty, the newly established Turkish Republic promised to accept all people in Turkey as a Turkish citizen without discrimination of religion and ethnicity difference. The new Turkish Republic established with positivist ideas. Atatürk personally was inspired by the enlightenment ideas of the third French Republic.
The Turkification process continued with the Atatürk era. Atatürk personally was coming from the Committee of Union and Process, and he continued Anatolia’s Turkification with the same methods as İTC did. During this era, the autonomy of nonmuslim (Gayr-i müslim) schools was heavily restricted. Non-Muslim school’s curriculum became subordinated to the National Education Ministry. In the early years of the Republic, Turkification of the economy was carried out by supporting Turkish Muslims in taking over the finance and banking business. Turkification of the economy not only involved transferring capital and ownership of the economy to Turks but included the Turkification of government employment.
In 1942 with the wealth tax(varlık vergisi) many nonmuslims –especially Jewish- lost their economic domination in the Turkish market. Same time wealth tax caused permanent damages to the nonmuslim’s relation with the Turkish state.
With the election of the Democrat Party in 1950, Turkey completed the transition to the multi-party political life. In the first years of the Democrat Party, many restrictions about minorities have been removed. During the election campaign, Democrat Party criticized the wealth tax even promised repayment to the victims of the wealth tax. However, the Democrat Party didn’t step any concrete step about the repayment. The Nonmuslim minorities’ point of view about the Democrat Party was positive at the beginning of the 1950s. But this view changed with the Cyprus crisis and 6/7 September Istanbul Pogrom.
1. Before the 6/7 September Night
The surface cause of the incident was, ‘Atatürk’s House bombed in Thessaloniki’ news. On 5 September 1955 evening, a bomb explodes in the garden of the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki. This news, published by Istanbul Ekspres Newspaper on the 6th September afternoon with ‘Atatürk’s House was Damaged by Bomb’ headline. However, this was a provocative attack. It’s made by one Turkish student Oktay Engin who is from the Turkish minority in western Thracia and studying law with the Turkish government scholarship in the Thessaloniki. The bomb exploded in the garden and only the building’s windows were damaged by the bomb. Afterward Greek police caught the Engin and his collaborationist who was the security of the building. The news about the attack on Ataturk’s home in Thessaloniki, which is the surface cause of the events on September 6, was not only in serious press organs on September 6 but in the Istanbul Express, which was just a boulevard newspaper and printed in an unusually high number of that day. It was given quite a few exaggerated.
1.1 Cyprus Issue 1950
Another reason for the incident was the Cyprus crisis. After World War II Enosis(unification with Greece) demands of the Greek Cypriots steadily increased. Firstly, this situation neglected by the RPP (Republican People’s Party) government. RPP government didn’t want a break the friendly relationship between Greece and Turkey because of the Cyprus issue. But this quietness of the government was harshly criticized by the Turkish press and nationalist societies. The government’s quietness about the Cyprus issue is broken by Greek Prime Minister Venizelos public announcement of Greece’s demand for Cyprus. Afterward, the Greek government carried the Cyprus topic to the United Nations. During these times inside of the Turkey Cyprus problem grown and became one of the main issues of domestic politics. Greek minority of Turkey badly affected by the Cyprus issue. There was a wave of growing anger against the Greek minority because of the Cyprus issue. Even Prime Minister Menderes remarked that
‘‘if the Greeks dare touch our brethren, then there are plenty of Greeks in Istanbul to retaliate upon.’’
Statement of the Menderes. London Conference which is held in 1955’s Summer, ended up without concrete solutions about the Cyprus issue. Thus blew the events.
2. 6th September Night
This unconfirmed news about the Atatürk’s house Thessaloniki led to demonstrations at the Taksim square which is organized by the Committee for the Defence of Turkish Rights in Cyprus(Kıbrıs Türktür Cemiyeti, KTC). These demonstrations later turned into attacks on non-Muslims. Firstly demonstrators started to attacking and looting nonmuslim businesses in İstiklal street then the range of the lootings and attacks expended to Beyoğlu, Nişantaşı, Şişli, Kurtuluş, Yeniköy, Bebek, Kadıköy. Those were the known neighbors where the nonmuslims mainly live. Shops, churches, schools, and cemeteries were damaged and looted by the attackers. The attacks were carried out by organized troops of 20 to 30 people. To provocate the other people attackers were carrying Turkish flags, pictures of Atatürk, president Celal Bayar and they were giving the KTC badges. They were calling the people for hanging Turkish flags to their shops.
In Istanbul, many attackers had been brought from surrounding cities and awaited before the announcement of the attack on Atatürk’s birthplace. Throughout the events, state security forces did not act to stop the violence. Demonstrations, in Istanbul, turned into widespread disturbances and it was mainly the houses and businesses of Greeks that were looted and destroyed, although Jews and Armenians were also affected; this revealed that the riots were not simply a nationalist eruption but a movement against non-Muslim minorities. During those events security forces were passive, even some points they were showing targets to attackers. They were waiting for the end of the looting and ensuring that nobody hurt or murdered. Even in some destinations, police officers locked themselves in the police stations during the night and they neglected what happens outside. 6th September 1955 in İstanbul were burned and destroyed, 71 companies, 4214 shops, 1004 apartments, 26 schools, 73 churches. The numbers given for the injured vary between 300 and 600. The number of deaths changes according to the source. According to a report by the Helsinki Watch organization, the number of death was 15. On 6th September night, there also been rape cases towards Greek women during the attacks to apartments. According to the statement of the head doctor of the Balıklı Hospital, 60 women were treated at the hospital for rape.
3. After the 6th of September
Following these events, the government blamed communist agitators as responsible for the riot and some were arrested. On 9th September 1955, ministry of finance declared that they will help the victims with reducing taxes, providing cheap construction materials, ease of bank credits. On 10 September under the leadership of president Celal Bayar, one committee established with the participation of many businessmen, chairman of The Chamber of Trade and Industry. The aim of the committee was rapidly ensuring the money voluntarily and providing financial aid to the victims especially lower-income groups. According to the witnesses of the events, many people didn’t get enough money for recovery. After your application to the committee, the committee was sending an expert to your damaged property for investigation. Many corruption and bribery cases happened during the expert investigations. When you went with an expert for an investigation, the expert decides the amount of compensation. In some cases that experts were requesting half the amount of the compensation money as bribery. Many people even didn’t apply for this compensation just because of these bribery cases.
3.1 Backstage and The Results of the Events for Menderes Government
For having a detailed perspective about this incident we have to articulate a few different actors. First of all, communists were not responsible for 6/7 September. Number of the communists during these times in Turkey was quite low and most of the communist organizations were following by the police, organizing this kind of event was impossible for the communists. The attackers mostly were members of the KTC and most of the KTC offices in Anatolia established by executives of Democrat Party district offices and unions. When we came to the mid-1950s the economic situation in Turkey was not going well. With the steadily increasing inflation rate, the Democrat Party started to lost support of the masses. The limitation of export, tightening control of the foreign currencies inside of the country ended the liberal trade. The government’s unsuccessful privatization policies increased internal and external debt. When the Cyprus crisis erupts Menderes government was inside of the economical and political crisis. They tried to move the attention of Turkish public opinion to the Cyprus crisis. Mass student protests were organizing by state-backed KTC in Istanbul and Ankara. Especially the Cyprus problem became the main issue fort he Turkish media. 6/7 September attacks also caused the capital transfer to the Muslim bourgeoisie. After the 6/7 September, some members of the Greek society of Istanbul sold their properties and moved from Turkey. Those properties sold by really cheap prices and new owners of those shops and houses were the Muslims.
After the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, Turkification of the Anatolia seen as an essential condition by the Kemalist ideology for the creation of the Turkish-Nation state. The assimilation of the nonmuslim minorities should be evaluated as a state’s homogenization efforts. 6/7 September attacks were also a continuity of the İTC’s national economy program. The events were organized and planned by the Democrat Party leadership, Oktay Engin who placed a bomb in the Atatürk’s house was also MAH(National Intelligence Service) agent and he was brought to Turkey after his attack and became a governor of the province Nevşehir. The case opened following the 12 March 1960 military takeover during the Yassiada trials of the Democrat Party leaders in 1960-61. Menderes, Bayar, Zorlu, Hadimli, and seven others were charged with direct responsibility for these events.
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Törne, A. (2015). Recent Studies on the September Pogrom in Istanbul 1955. Iran and the Caucasus, 19(4), 403-417.