- The Mechanism of Catastrophe: The Turkish Pogrom of September 6–7, 1955, and the Destruction of the Greek Community of Istanbul
In a few hours in the evening of 6 September and early 7 September 1955, guided mobs of Turks attacked savagely the Greeks of Istanbul and, by means of fire and the crowbar, left forty-five Greek communities in ruins. The Turks, in a performance reminiscent of the 1453 capture of Constantinople by their Ottoman ancestors, terrorized the Greeks while smashing their homes, businesses, churches, cemeteries, schools, libraries, newspapers, and medical clinics. This pogrom effectively ended millennia-old Greek civilization in Asia Minor.
At the time of the 6–7 September 1955 atrocity, Speros Vryonis, author of The Mechanism of Catastrophe and an eminent scholar of Greek history and civilization, was a junior fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, a Byzantine research library of Harvard University in Washington, DC. He was startled by the indifference, nay hostility, of his colleagues toward the Greeks of Istanbul who had suffered at the hands of the Turks. Those Byzantine scholars, who in theory were interested in the history of medieval Greeks, did not think the current crime of the Turks against the Greeks was a moral issue. Vryonis was also disappointed with the shallowness of the reporting in the American and British press, praising Turkey for ending the violence but not questioning the role of the Turkish government in the violence. This experience introduced Vryonis to a steady diet of anti-Greek and pro-Turkish sentiments and policies in America and England. The result, fifty years later, is the present book. "Apparently," Vryonis laments, "human and democratic rights are for the select."
Vryonis, astonished at the readiness of the US government and academics "to prostitute the truth for money, recognition, and/or political acceptance," uses The Mechanism [End Page 133] of Catastrophe to expose the slanting and distorting of history for political reasons and personal agendas. But, above all, Vryonis wants his book to show that "distortion of truth is an immoral act in and of itself." He did that by building a wall of fact. Whatever the political preferences of the innumerable sources of information on the pogrom, the fact of the atrocity stands on its own. Those studying it gain an understanding of certain basic truths and grasp its significance.
Vryonis used American, British, Greek, and Turkish archives to reconstruct the night of terror on the Bosporus, bringing out of darkness the violence and politics of the vandalism of September 1955. His book, probably the best and most comprehensive study of that monstrous event, answers the questions of who organized the pogrom and why. He combines the findings of the archival testimony with first-person accounts on the pogrom. The result is a dramatic testimony of the ferocity of the pogromists next to an analysis of the cataclysmic effects of the Turks' vandalism on the Greek community of Istanbul—and beyond. Vryonis also takes advantage of the rich secondary literature on the pogrom, especially the Greek books published immediately after the catastrophe. He complements his meticulous scholarship and powerful narrative with the reproduction of a select number of photographs by Demetrios Kaloumenos, a Greek photographer living in Istanbul. Kaloumenos, ignoring the danger of the Turkish mobs and police, followed the pogromists, documenting their work. He took about fifteen hundred photographs of the ruined homes, shops, churches, monasteries, cemeteries, and print shops. These photographs are an indelible image of the pogrom, its terror, and its material effects.
The organized Turkish violence against the Greeks of Istanbul in 1955 is like a mirror revealing the Turkish, Greek, British, and American interests and policies toward each other. The pogrom expressed the massive fury of the Turks who, in about nine hours, wrecked the Greek communities of Istanbul. This act was full of hatred and rage as well as religious fanaticism and economic envy—all having roots in a former empire that had...