By Mehmet Ali BIRAND, Ηurriyet 7/9/2005
I am one of the living witnesses of what happened in Istanbul 50 years ago. I was 14 years old. I did not know what it was all about. However, the passage of time made me understand the seriousness of the incidents and I always carry the shame.
I am one of the living witnesses of what happened in Istanbul 50 years ago. I was 14 years old. I did not know what it was all about. However, the passage of time made me understand the seriousness of the incidents, and I always carry the shame. Even though it was the only such incident in which the Turkish state officially admitted its culpability and tried to compensate its victims, it still continues to weigh on our conscience.
I can never forget.
I can still remember what I saw in Beyoğlu on the morning of Sept. 7, 1955.
I had to go to Galatasaray High School to register for their preliminary class. I reached Beyoğlu with great difficulty. When I went to Tunel from Karaköy, I just was flabbergasted.
The scene was shocking.
The huge street seemed like a war zone, with windows of the shops on both sides of the street shattered and all their goods strewn all over the street. Bunches of clothes, books, notebooks, chandeliers and much more. People were taking home whatever they could find. The scene was like judgment day.
I was a child, and I had no idea what had happened.
What I noticed immediately was that while some shops were plundered, others were not even touched. I had a look and saw that there was a Turkish flag hanging on the windows of the shops that were not looted. Those that were had Greek names.
People with long beards and those who were dressed very shabbily were walking around. I saw that some people who were dressed normally were hiding in the shops, looking outside.
The police and the soldiers seemed like they were saying: «Enough is enough. You did what you did, but now just leave.» They were both intervening and not intervening at the same time.
That scene has always remained with me.
Even though half a century has passed, I still shiver when I remember it. When I read the newspapers a day later, I realized the extent of the matter.
Similar incidents had occurred also in Taksim and Şişli, where most of the citizens of Greek origin lived. Not only the shops, but also churches, even cemeteries were damaged and plundered. Jewish citizens also got their share of trouble, but the main targets were Greeks.
Newspapers were writing about people waving Turkish flags, pleading with the looters: «Please don’t do it. I’m a Turk. I am a Turkish citizen.»
It was a disgusting, belittling and tragic affair.
My mother and other adults were criticizing what had happened, while officials were talking about «the placing of a bomb at the house in Thessaloniki where Atatürk was born, which had been turned into a museum, and the anger felt against what was happening in Cyprus,» explaining that the people had become enraged.
We were living on Ethem Efendi Street at the time. Our neighbors were mostly Greek. They were my best friends. All of a sudden, they shut themselves in their homes. They talked to no one. I can never forget Madam Eleni when she asked, «Can we seek refuge in your home if they attack us?» The barbershop she managed with her husband was in ruins. They were in shock. My mother sent them food for a week. We let them live in one of our rooms.
I was too young to make sense of what had happened. Why should they attack Madam Eleni? What could they ask from them? Why were they different from me?
As I was seeking answers to these questions, the Greek families in our neighborhood started to move to other places or go to Greece. After 1963 none of them were left. They left Istanbul.
They took with them an important culture, a color and a different lifestyle.
They left us alone in Istanbul to live our colorless lives.
Later on we were full of regret, but by then it was too late.
Turkey admitted all culpability, accepted responsibility:
Much later, we learned the Sept. 6-7 incidents were the doing of the infamous «deep state.» It was planned with government approval in order to let diplomats say «The people are reacting» during the U.N. discussions on Cyprus. However, it later got out of control and turned into a shameful plunder. It became a crime that the deep state could not handle, and it shamed the Turkish nation.
What’s interesting is that apart from a few injuries, no one was killed. It wasn’t a massacre. It was a disgusting plunder aimed at frightening people.
What’s even more interesting is the way Sept. 6-7 shamed us and hurt us and tainted us as a nation.
This was also recorded as the only such incident when the Republic of Turkey officially admitted its responsibility, apologized and compensated the victims.
At the Yassıada trials, after the May 21, 1960 military coup, the Sept. 6-7 incidents were investigated down to the smallest detail, and those held responsible were tried and punished.
As always, there was no mention as the deep state. It emerged entirely unscathed by the affair. A few thieves, civilians with no links to the planning or to the politicians, were punished.
In the later years, whenever the Sept. 6-7 incidents were mentioned, I felt an overwhelming shame and I always apologized to the victims I saw at international meetings.
During the Sept. 6-7 incidents our Turkishness was trampled underfoot. It was then I realized that if we don’t criticize such incidents and apologize to the victims, we can never feel proud of ourselves.
Apologizing is enriching. It shows self-confidence.
Discriminating due to religion, language or culture or using force on the weak is belittling one’s self.
I don’t know you, but I apologize to our neighbor Madam Eleni from Erenköy.