Marked For Elimination: History Repeats Itself By Stavro Nashi
It began after dark on a Tuesday night, at a time when howling wolves roam in their packs and evil flourishes unencumbered by the light of day. They had marked our home with a red cross and in so doing had also marked its inhabitants as enemies of the Turkish nation and Islam. We were ethnic Greek Christians in a country that had to be washed clean of minorities. The year was 1955. It was the start of the systematic destruction of the Greek community of Istanbul, which traced its lineage back thousands of years, before a single Turk had ever set foot there.
The events of that day are obscured in time, the subject of revisionist American, British and Turkish historians who seek to whitewash the sins committed that day against innocent people. The facts however are impossible to hide, the crime too heinous to cover up and as is always the case, truth will inevitably see the light of day. The truth in this case is meticulously and expertly documented in Dr Speros Vryonis seminal work, The Mechanism of Catastrophe.
I was four years old. That Tuesday of September 6, would change my life forever. It was the end of our summer vacation in Boyacikoy, a suburb of Istanbul and we were scheduled to rejoin my father working in the city in a few days. He was a graduate of the Halki seminary and the secretary of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Taksim, which was looted and vandalized that night. I remember playing with a toy car on the carpeted floor in the evening while my mother read and yiayia knitted. Suddenly we heard the sound of church bells in the distance. My grandmother stood up, she sensed immediately that something was wrong but she had no idea what it was. Little did she realize that anti-Greek riots had erupted on signal from the Turkish government of Adnan Menderes. In the midst of the turmoil in Cyprus, with the Greeks there pushing for enosis (union) with Greece, the Turks, egged on by the British government, decided to send a message but more importantly they were intent on crippling the prosperous Greek community. As the police and the army stood passively on the sidelines, thousands of hired thugs armed with crowbars, sledge hammers and acetylene blow torches began attacking pre-arranged targets from the center of the city at Taksim Square, out to its suburbs. The had been transported to the city from dirt poor Anatolian villages. The destruction they wrought was systematic, thorough and would have made any barbarian horde proud. It was not spontaneous but planned in meticulous detail like a military operation. It was to be carried out in three phases. The first wave was tasked with breaking down doors and display windows to facilitate entrance. The next wave was to pillage and loot anything of value. Finally, the last wave was given the mission of destroying what was left. Nothing Greek was spared, not even the dead in the cemeteries. All of this was expertly coordinated and methodically prepared. At that moment, those two Greek women had no idea what was in store for them.
Yiayia immediately barred the door with a heavy iron bar and told my mother and I to go upstairs. I still remember hearing shouting and the sound of breaking glass as cobblestones were dug up and hurled at our windows. My grandmother rushed upstairs and ordered my mother to hide herself and me in a closet. My mother balked at the idea of leaving yiayia to face her fate alone and grabbing me, shoved me under a bed and told me not to move or make a sound. An angry crowd of Turks was loitering outside and shouting. Years later yiayia described it as the sound of a pack of wolves. Loud banging at that door began in earnest but the mob was unable to dislodge the wrought iron crossbar though it was bent in the process nor crack the heavy oak door despite splitting the brass door knob in half. I can only imagine what must of been going through the minds of those two terrified women at the time. It was yiayia who decided to sew. They grabbed a red blanket on the bed, cut a white star and crescent from a bedsheet and began sewing it onto the blanket. In what must have seemed an eternity to them, they were finally able to hang the makeshift Turkish flag from the window. The effect was dramatic, the angry, milling crowd soon dispersed into the night. We had survived a pogrom thanks to my grandmother’s instincts and presence of mind. In seven hours, our fellow Turkish citizens looted and destroyed 71 churches, 41 schools, 4008 stores, the offices and printing presses of 8 newspapers and approximately 2100 private dwellings.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan recently insisted that international bodies pass laws making criticism of Islam a crime. This coming from the leader of a nation that has perpetrated some of the greatest hate crimes of the century, crimes for which there has never been even so much as an attempt to render an apology, let alone justice. Now forgotten is the wonton destruction, murder, rape and assaults perpetrated against the Greek community of Constantinople by their own government. These atrocities insult religion much more than any cartoon or YouTube video ever could.
Vryonis writes: “Altars, icons, pews, candelabra, the buildings themselves, chandeliers, Crucifixes, in particular, engaged the vandals attention. Not far behind was the desecration of the cemeteries, and the corpses buried therein and the bones in the ossuaries. Along with the abuse of corpses, defecation was particularly marked in the cemeteries although altars also seemed to have been systematically polluted with urine and feces. The photographs taken by Dimitrios Kaloumenos bear horrible testimony to this sadder aspect of human behavior and confirm the debt and fury of rioters religious fanaticism.”
I have often wondered why that handmade flag had saved our lives. Others were not as lucky that night. It wasn’t until recently that I gained an understanding of its power. It was during a photo op after a meeting between the respective prime ministers of the various NATO nations. The spots where they would each stand to pose for a group picture were marked by a flag of their respective countries. Constantine Karamanlis of Greece, like others, unwittingly stood on the symbol of his country. The prime minister of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Edrogan however, reached down, picked up the flag and kissed it. The symbolism was unmistakable. For the rioters that day in 1955, it was unthinkable that they could continue to attack a building draped with that flag. The next morning my mother warily left the house to fetch water from a local fountain. A teenage boy strutted up to her and spoke in Turkish: “Yesterday you were lucky, next time we will cut your throats, giaour (infidel).”
Constantinople fell on another unlucky Tuesday in 1453. At that time, Sultan Mehmed allowed his forces to enter and plunder the city. For three terrible days its inhabitants were terrorized and the city’s homes and churches were looted or destroyed. In 1955, the Turks finally finished the job started so long ago. A year later my family left for America, a country where you didn’t have to be afraid of church bells ringing in the night and where we now display the flag out of pride rather than necessity.
Now a new group of Christians, the Egyptian Copts, are the object of religious hatred. It doesn’t take much for the haters to get riled up and unfortunately they seem to be the one’s with the loudest voices in the Muslim world. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which is fully supported by its erstwhile ally, Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party, has been inciting anti-Christian pogroms on its web and Facebook pages. It blames the Christian Coptic minority for the military’s crackdown against the Brotherhood, alleging that the Church has declared a “war against Islam and Muslims.” Back in ’55 the Turks similarly engineered a bogus provocation by bombing the site of Kemal Ataturk’s birthplace in Greece to stoke the embers of anti-Greek hate. Now Islamists attack Christians simply because they can.
Christian churches, monasteries, and schools are soft targets in the dubious security environment that exists in a restive country like Egypt. Islamist parties in the ascendancy in many Muslim countries are using democratic means to seize power and gradually impose totalitarian controls over the rest of the population. They have a nostalgia for classical Islamic law, which tolerates Christians as long as they accept a subservient status in society. In this brave new world of the coming caliphate, “moderate” Muslims have been silenced and either look on with indifference or grudging support as the radicals transform their religion. Intolerance and violence are the bedrock on which their faith depends. It is a religion whose followers are afraid to compete in the marketplace of free ideas, and who insist on silencing anyone they disagree with. Violence is condoned, glorified and encouraged among the young. They are the future. Their martyrdom is not about sacrificing oneself as a testament to faith in God but rather about the murder of other human beings considered non-believers. Throughout the Middle East, the Jews have been swept into a small strip of land called Israel, with their backs to the sea. They have nowhere else to flee. Now the Christians are being targeted. The Orthodox in Syria and Palestine, the Maronites of Lebanon, the Copts in Egypt. All scheduled for extinction. They will soon join the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians who have been the victims in years past. In its very birthplace, Christianity is on life support.