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Exactly 50 years after the tragic events that decimated the Greeks of Turkey’s greatest city, greekworks.com will publish The Mechanism of Catastrophe: The Turkish Pogrom of September 6-7, 1955, and the Destruction of the Greek Community of Istanbul by Speros Vryonis, Jr. This monumental work of a decisive moment in modern Turkish and Greek history is the first study of its depth and range to be published on this critical subject in any language. Without a doubt, it will soon take its place as the definitive analysis of the violence it so meticulously describes and examines.
On the night of September 6-7, 1955, the Greek community of Istanbul was violently struck throughout the expanse of Turkey’s most important metropolis. Within hours, businesses, homes, and even the churches of the Greeks were in ruins, with the British press calculating the damage at £100 million. It was the beginning of the end for the ethnic descendants of the city’s founders, who had first settled this eastern tip of Europe over two and a half millennia earlier.
This vicious and unprovoked attack quickly became entangled in the Cold War politics of the time, and the truth of it was just as quickly suppressed. Now, on their fiftieth anniversary, Speros Vryonis has painstakingly reconstructed all the events—before, during, and after that night of mass violence—in his magisterial work, The Mechanism of Catastrophe: The Turkish Pogrom of September 6-7, 1955, and the Destruction of the Greek Community of Istanbul.
This monumental study of a decisive moment in modern Turkish and Greek history is the first work of its depth and range to be published on this critical subject in any language. It has been lauded before publication as “a magnum opus,” “original and significant,” and a “brilliant book.” Without a doubt, it will soon become the definitive study of the violence it so meticulously describes and examines. The volume also includes an extensive section with the remarkable photographs of the attacks taken by Dêmêtrios Kaloumenos, the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s official photographer at the time. This rare visual documentation lends additional weight to the archival testimony presented by Speros Vryonis, and to his historical analysis of the pogrom, its aftermath, and its broader consequences.
Professor Vryonis has produced a magnum opus. The thoroughness of his research and analysis, the variety of his materials, the precision and minuteness of his detail, the perspectives of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders, and the ultimate unraveling of the truth regarding a crime that has been intentionally downplayed and even suppressed, stand as witness to the power of the committed investigator and historian. As one who arrived in Istanbul only four days after the events so meticulously described in this volume, I have vivid memories of the wanton destruction that engulfed every quarter with Greek and Armenian homes, businesses, churches, schools, and even cemeteries, stretching from Kumkapi and Kadiköy to the mouth of the Bosphorus. Equally impressive was the indomitable spirit of the victims, who replaced a sea of shattered glass with temporary wood shutters and reopened for business even before the smoke had fully dissipated. Speros Vryonis, Jr. has captured and preserved it all in this encyclopedic volume. — Richard G. Hovannisian, professor of Armenian and Near Eastern history, UCLA, and author of Armenia on the Road to Independence and The Armenian Holocaust.
Every nation’s history contains events it would rather forget, whose memory it attempts to mute, silence, and bury forever. The September 6-7, 1955, aggression instigated by the Turkish state against the Christian minorities in Istanbul is one such event in contemporary Turkish history. Even though the event and the role the state played in it have now recently been publicly acknowledged in Turkey, there still are no scholarly analyses undertaken of them. This brilliant book by a very eminent historian of Asia Minor is therefore most welcome. It provides a very thorough and well-documented account of the tragic events, which not only decimated, as the book argues, the Greek and also Armenian and Jewish communities of Istanbul, but also impoverished the Turkish nation in spirit and moral rectitude, as nationalist groups mobilized and guided by the state destroyed a part of what had made Turkey so uniquely blessed in the first place, namely its centuries-old multicommunal composition.
— Fatma Muge Gocek, associate professor of sociology and women’s studies, University of Michigan, and author of Rise of the Bourgeoisie, Demise of Empire: Ottoman Westernization and Social Change.
The persecution of the Greeks in modern Turkey was and still is an extension of the Ottoman empire’s inexorable policy of ethnic cleansing. After having violently eliminated the masses of the heirs of an ancient and venerable civilization prior to, during, and immediately after World War I—a war that was also punctuated by the incidence of genocide against the Armenians—successive Turkish governments of the modern era relentlessly pursued an overriding goal: purging Turkey of its residual Greek population. In this remarkably comprehensive, meticulously documented, and massive tome, based almost entirely on primary sources, the distinguished scholar, Speros Vryonis, Jr., underscores a central fact: that the events of September 6-7, 1955, were carefully organized and orchestrated by the highest authorities in Ankara but that, as usual, they went out of control. The result was another abhorrent blot on a historical record stained with a plethora of episodic barbarities that were inflicted upon a host of vulnerable minorities.
—Vahakn N. Dadrian, director of genocide research, Zoryan Institute, and author of The History of the Armenian Genocide and Key Elements in the Turkish Denial of the Armenian Genocide.
The Turkish state is founded on certain taboos, one of which is the atrocities against its Christian citizens before and during the founding of the Republic. On Turkey’s way to membership in the European Union, many unfortunate events in its past, which remain in darkness, have slowly become subjects of public discussion. We are very fortunate to have this extremely thorough analysis by Prof. Vryonis, who has lifted yet another dark moment in Turkish history into the light of scholarship. The complicity of the Turkish state on September 6-7, 1955, in organizing the attacks against the Christians, and especially Greeks, has been known only in limited circles, and there have not been many detailed studies in English. Prof. Vryonis has not only made a great contribution to both Turkish and Greek studies, but he has also opened up the space for Asia Minor studies wherein the two societies can one day write their own narratives.
—Taner Akçam, visiting associate professor of history, University of Minnesota, author of From Empire to Republic: Turkish Nationalism and the Armenian Genocide, and former Amnesty International Turkish prisoner of conscience.
The troubled events of September 6-7, 1955, in Istanbul marked a watershed in Greco-Turkish relations, the future of the Greek presence in the Turkish capital, and the wider politics of the eastern Mediterranean. Speros Vryonis’s account is meticulous and exhaustive in its coverage of the causes, dynamics, and effects of disturbances that had tangible political goals from the start. Based on a thorough acquaintance with archival sources in Greek, Turkish, and English, as well as oral testimonies, Vryonis has provided an original and significant contribution to the literature on the regional politics, the evolution of the Cyprus problem, and the Hellenic presence in Asia Minor.
—Robert Holland, professor of overseas history, School of Advanced Studies, University of London, and author of Britain and the Revolt in Cyprus, 1954-59.
A recent review from FrontPageMagazine.com, Turkey's Forgotten Islamist Pogrom.
About the Author
Speros Vryonis, Jr., is one of the most eminent Byzantinists of his generation. After a distinguished career at UCLA, he became the founding director of the Alexander S. Onassis Center for Hellenic Studies at New York University, from which he retired as emeritus Alexander S. Onassis professor of Hellenic civilization. Prof. Vryonis’s extensive work on the history and culture of the Greeks from Homer to the present, and on their relations with the Slavic, Islamic, and New Worlds, includes the seminal The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor and the Process of Islamization from the Eleventh through the Fifteenth Century; Byzantium and Europe; Studies on Byzantium, Seljuks and Ottomans; Byzantium: Its Internal History and Relations with the Islamic World; and Studies in Byzantine Institutions and Society. He has also edited, among other volumes, Aspects of the Balkans: Continuity and Change (with Henrik Birnbaum); Essays on the Slavic World and the Eleventh Century; Islam and Cultural Change in the Middle Ages; Individualism and Conformity in Classical Islam (with Amin Banani); and Islam’s Understanding of Itself (with Richard G. Hovannisian). Prof. Vryonis is a Guggenheim Fellow and Fulbright Scholar, as well as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Medieval Academy of America, and the American Philosophical Society.