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GreekReporter.comHistoryNetflix's New Drama Delves into the Pogrom of Greeks in Istanbul

Netflix’s New Drama Delves into the Pogrom of Greeks in Istanbul

Greeks Istanbul pogrom Netflix
A scene from the second season of “The Club.” Credit: Netflix

A new Turkish historical drama series screened on Netflix delves into the pogrom suffered by the Greeks of Istanbul in September 1955.

Despite the highly sensitive subject, the second season of “The Club” drew little reaction in Turkey and remained firmly on Netflix’s Top 10 list in Turkey since its release on Jan. 6.

In the pogroms of September 6-7, 1955, thousands of properties owned by non-Muslims in Istanbul were destroyed by nationalist mobs.

The pogroms have been dubbed “Istanbul’s Kristallnacht” and were comparable to the mobs that torched Jewish businesses, synagogues and homes in Germany in 1938.

Spoiler alert: the final episode of the Netflix series

In the final episode of “The Club,” directors Seren Yuce and Zeynep Gunay Tan create a sense of foreboding as they build up to the night of September 6.

A newsboy delivers the paper whose headline claims that Greeks have bombed the house of Kemal Ataturk in the Greek city of Thessaloniki. Dubious-looking men then make red x’s on houses where non-Muslims live.

Ali Seker, a shady character who brings young men from Anatolia to Istanbul as cheap labor, delivers a heated speech to a bunch of out-of-towners on how Istanbul’s Greek community finances the armed Greek Cypriot groups and have their eye on conquering Istanbul.

Finally, as Rasel, the young Sepharad heroine, walks past a group carrying Turkish flags and banners that say “Cyprus Will Remain Turkish,” a stone smashes the window of a Greek hat shop, starting the cycle of violence.

Nationalist fervor in Turkey led to Istanbul pogrom

The Greeks in Istanbul were an ancient community that had thrived there for millennia, comprised mostly of families of merchants. In 1955 their population was about 100,000 and they were a prominent sector in the city.

At the time, Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes (1950-1960) sought to appeal to the conservative religious faction of the Turkish population, causing irritation in the country’s secular Kemalist establishment. The thousands of mosques built during his time as PM are proof of that.

Additionally, nationalist fever in the country was rising, as the Greek Cypriots demanded their union with Greece. The wealthy Greeks of Istanbul were the perfect scapegoat.

It was a good occasion for the Turkish leaders to distract the public from its problems, turning it against the prosperous Greek minority. On August 28, 1955, Menderes publicly — and falsely — claimed that the Greek Cypriots were planning massacres against the Turkish Cypriots.

the pogrom of the Greeks Istanbul
Greek shops and businesses lay in ruins after the nationalist mob attacks in September of 1955. Public Domain

Greeks brutally attacked

The Pogrom against the Greeks of Istanbul broke out on September 6, 1955 after reports circulated that Greeks had planted a bomb at the Turkish Consulate in Thessaloniki, which is housed in the residence where Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish state, was born.

The blast at Ataturk’s home caused only minor damage to the building’s windows, but Turkish newspapers took full advantage of the incident.

At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, a raging mob of 50,000 people turned against the Greek properties in the Pera district.

The looting lasted until the morning hours of September 7, when the Army finally intervened, as the situation was in danger of spiraling out of control.

Although the rage was directed against the Greeks, the anger of the mob did not spare shops owned by Armenians and Jews either.

Men and women were raped and according to the testimony of the famous Turkish writer Aziz Nesin, many priests were forcefully circumcised, with one of the victims being an Armenian priest. Sixteen Greeks lost their lives and 32 were badly injured.

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