Turkey: Milestones of atrocities against non-Muslim minorities in recent history

By | January 23, 2012 at 3:44 pm | 3 comments | Featured, Minorities, Turkey

Ayşe Hür, a historian from Bosphorus University in Istanbul noted the following atrocities towards Christian minorities in her article published in Taraf daily on January 22. She underlines these events as a basis to understand the recent court decision in Hrant Dink case protecting the state establishment. It’s an important brief and we decided to publish an English version in its entirety here:

“March 16th 1923.  Mustafa Kemal addresses the craftsmen in Adana: “The country finally decided to stay in the possession of its real owners. Armenians and others do not have any rights here. These fertile lands are deeply and specifically Turkish.” He therefore defined the minority policies of the Turkish Republic.

June 1923: Jewish, Greek and Armenian civil servants were started to be fired and replaced by Muslims. Free travel of non-muslims was restricted in Asia Minor. The decision was so immediate that some people traveling could not even return to their hometowns. In addition migration of Jews ro Palestine was restricted.

September 1923: A decree prohibited the return of Armenians who have left Cilicia(Adana region) and Eastern Anatolia during World War I.

December 1923:  Jewish community of several hundred in Çorlu were ordered to leave the city within 48 hours. Rabbi applied for an extension which was accepted. But a similar decree for Çatalca was immediately prosecuted.

January 24th 1924: The Bill on Pharmacists declared that only people “found to be Turkish” could open pharmacies.

March 3rd 1924:  A new procedure first closed down about 40 French and Italian schools, and then went on to bring about restrictions on repairs, enlargement and building of minority schools. School programs and exams started to be supervised by the Ministry of Education.

April 3rd 1924’: A new jurisdiction evaluated 960 lawyers on their moral merits. As a result 460 were disbarred. 57% of all Jewish, one third of all Greek lawyers were jobless after this evaluation. (Number of disbarred Armenian lawyers is unknown.)

The night of January 29th 1925: Elected Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Konstantinos was sent to Thessalonica on a train. His sole fault was to be disliked by the government. Greece brought the issue to League of Nations and DenHaag International Court of Justice as a violation of Lausanne Agreement. But after Turkey threatened to expatriate the Patriarchate Greece pulled its applications and the issue was closed as if the Patriarch resigned himself.

April 22nd 1926: A new law requiring Turkish to be the only language to be used in commercial communications resulted in mass lay-offs of nun-muslim workers in companies who were not very fluent in written Turkish. 5,000 Greeks were fired as a result.

February 17th 1926: After the signing of the new Civil Code, all Armenian, Greek and Jewish communities were forced sign off all their minority rights granted by the Lausanne Agreement.

August 1st 1926: It was announced that the State could confiscate all estates purchased by non-muslims prior to the effective date of Lausanne Peace Accord, August 23rd, 1924.

August 17th 1927: Elza Niyego, a 22 years old Jewish girl was killed by Osman Ratip Bey who was married with children and grandchildren, and infatuated by her and have been harassing her for quite long time. The Jewish community observing the state trying to silence the case tried to protest which in turn resulted in a passive anti-semitic propaganda in the papers. Some Jews were even brought to the courts for “insulting Turkishness.”

January 13th 1928: Some Istanbul University Law School students trying to look friendly with the regime started to hang posters on ships and trams saying “Citizens speak Turkish!” Dailies of the era started to complain about “so-called citizens” who cannot cope with the slogan “Speak Turkish!” Several people brought to court for “insulting Turkishness” because they didn’t speak Turkish in public areas.

April 11th 1928: A new law on Administration of Medical Arts declared only Turks can practice medicine. All non-muslims were prohibited from becoming medical doctors.

September 1929: Department of Revenues established Jewish schools, Or Achaim Hospital, Ortaköy Orphanage, and synagogues as commercial enterprises and all donations became taxable. The law became effective as of 1925 and four years of taxes accrued. Chief Rabbinate who couldn’t pay those high amounts faced legal action. Government continued to pursue the pressure on collection of donations on Jewish foundations.

1929-1930: Within 18 months 6,373 Armenians from Turkey had to migrate to Syria.

September 18th 1930:
 Minister of Justice Mahmut Esat Bozkurt declared at a speech in Ödemiş highlands: “My belief is as such that this country itself is Turkish. The people who are not really Turkish in Turkish lands have one right and one right only. And that is to be a servant, a slave.”

October 1930: During the municipal elections newly founded Free Republican Party had 6 Greek, 4 Armenian and 3 Jews in their roster. The governing party CHF (CHP) started a strong campaign against non-muslims. The Party had to shut down after 99 days of its foundation but without success in quenching the anti Christian or Jew appetite.

June 11th 1932: Further professions were banned for non-muslim minorities with a new law called “Code on Arts and Services Reserved for Turkish Citizens.” This law affected especially Greeks who owned small businesses or who were street vendors.

November 1932: All Jews of Izmir had to sign a document promising to adopt Turkish culture and speak in Turkish at all times. Bursa, Kırklareli, Edirne, Adana, Diyarbakır, Ankara Jews followed suit.  

1933: Mardin Assyrian Patriarchate was moved to Homs in Syria due to “as a result of the behest of the community,” and “temporarily.” But never returned ever since.

June 14th 1934: Greeks and Armenians across Asia Minor were forced to migrate to appropriate locations after the passing of a new Housing Law that divided the population into three categories: “Real Turks from Turkish culture and speaking Turkish”, “Non-Turkish speakers of Turkish culture” (Kurds), and “People neither from Turkish culture nor speaking Turkish.” (non-muslims and others)

June 21 – July 4 1934:  As a result of the provocation of racist columnists such as Cevat Rıfat Atilhan and Nihal Atsız, mobs attacked Jews in Çanakkale, Gelibolu, Edirne, Kırklareli, Lüleburgaz, and Babaeski. In the events that lasted 15 days Jewish homes and businesses were looted, many Jewish women raped, and one rabbi murdered. The pogrom was master-minded by CHF (CHP) Thrace organization and ended when 15 thousand Jews had to move to other cities or even countries to save their lives. At the end, a report by CHF showed that out of 13 thousand Jews living in Çanakkale and Thrace, 3,000 had to move to Istanbul only and many people had to lose all their property either to looters or had to sell them to a fraction of their worth in haste.

July 24th 1937: An ad shows up in Cumhuriyet daily for acceptance of new students in Ankara Military Veterinary School. One of the prerequisites to become a candidate is to belong to Turkish race.

September 6th 1938: In a similar ad in Cumhuriyet daily for teachers to be accepted in Turkish Civilian Air Directorate, a more refined condition presented itself as “to be of Turkish race.”

August 1938: Legislation 2/9498 prohibited the entrance of oppressed Jews in their country of residence into Turkey. 26 Jews were fired from state-run news agency. An increase in the number of publications in press depicting minorities, especially Jews as the source of all troubles in the country was observed.

1938-1939: Rural non-muslim population of Asia Minor was once more forced to migrate to larger cities for national security reasons as the Second World War approached. People who couldn’t cope with life in big cities immigrated abroad.

July 1939: After the annexation od Antioch into Turkey, most of the Armenians moved to Syria escaping from oppression.

August 8th 1939: M/S Parita carrying 860 Jew refugees from several ports in Europe had to take refuge in Izmir due to technical problems. Despite cries of refugees to kill them instead of sending them away two coast guard boats escorted the ship out of the port in August 14th. After the event Ulus daily headline read: “runabout Jews left Izmir.”

December 28th 1939: The Jewish communities of Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Buenos Aires, New York, Geneva, Cairo and Alexandria sent donations and relief aid to Turkey after the great earthquake in Erzincan. These acts were immediately snubbed by the press, questioning the real motive behind donations accompanied by cartoons.

December 12th 1940: M/S Salvador aptly dubbed “floating cascade”, carrying 342 Jewish refugees from Constanta port in Romania arrived in Istanbul. (Originally built to carry only 40 passengers) Turkish authorities pressured the ship to continue its voyage despite the fact that it was not suited to continue sailing. The result was tragic: hard sailing conditions near Silivri caused the ship to sink and 219 people died.

April 22nd 1941: Military police appeared at the doorsteps of 12,000 non-muslim men early in the morning to take them to camps without any infrastructure, without water and in a malaria ridden swamp-like region. All minorities learned the facts from sergeants yelling “forget Istanbul!” They were supposed to be reserve soldiers were forced to work in tunnel constructions near Zonguldak, construction of “Youth Park” in Ankara, stone crushing camps and road building in Afyon, Karabük, Konya, and Kütahya. Survivors let free on July 27th 1942.

December 15th 1941: M/S Struma with its load of 769 Romanian Jews from Constanta escaping from Nazi threat arrived in Istanbul. The ship was headed for Palestine however its engines were no longer operable. Turkish authorities did not allow landing of its passengers for 2,5 months. It stayed ashore while its passengers fought with hunger and illness. Afterwards it was forced to leave into Black Sea and left 23 miles away from the land without an engine, fuel, food, water or medicine. Unidentified submarines torpedoed the vessel on Febrıuary 24th, 1942 at 02:00 hours leaving only 1 person alive. The treatment of salvage ships like Parita, Salvador and Struma was also a message addressed to the Jews of Turkey.

November 11th 1942: Şükrü Saracoğlu Government came with the idea of the ingenious “Wealth Tax.” 87% of the people targeted with this tax were non-muslims. Armenian merchants had to pay 232% while Jews had to pay 179%, Greeks 156%, and finally muslims had to pay only 4.94% of their networth to the state. Who couldn’t pay this tax was sent to fo forced labor camps in Aşkale, Sivrihisar and Karanlıkdere. While this disaster lasted, until March 1944, some lost their properties, some lost their lives, some lost their pride and most of all most lost their trust in Turkish Republic.

1946: First time in history non-muslim men were allowed in compulsory military services as reserve officers. But a non-muslim commander is yet to be seen in Turkish Military Forces.

1946: In a report on minorities prepared by CHP’s 9.th Bureau was quoted to say: “We have to take strong precautions in Istanbul especially against Greeks. There is only one thing to say on the subject: there shouldn’t be one Greek left in the city before the 500th anniversary of the conquest.” The report also said that the remaining parts of Asia Minor should be cleaned of its existing non-muslim population before Istanbul.

1948: When Jews wanted to migrate to newly founded Israel and Armenians to Armenian Soviet Republic, the state and the media who had done everything previously to get rid of the non-muslim population started their propaganda labeling those as traitors of the state.

September 6-7 1955:
 To enforce the hand of Turkey prior to the triad conference on Cyprus in London, a pogrom started particularly against the Greeks of Istanbul. But it sprang to other cities such as Izmir, Adana and Trabzon, and Armenians and Jews were also targeted. Some resources report 3, some others report 11 deaths, approximately 300 wounded and many women raped. Official resources reported more than 5,300; unofficial reports said almost 7,000 buildings vandalized. The lowest prediction on the material loss was 150 million while the highest estimate stated the losses as 1 billion in Turkish Lira.

1964: Friendship Agreement signed between Turkey and Greece by Mustafa Kemal and Venizelos after the war was unilaterally cancelled by Turkey during a period when the relations between these two countries were worsened due to the Cyprus problem and the infamous Johnson Letter. Ten thousands of Greek citizens who were born in Turkey and engaged in commerce, owned small businesses or were simple workers were deported. They were only allowed to take one luggage and 200 lira with them. Their wives or husbands who were Turkish citizens left as well leaving Greek community in Turkey almost extinct.

1974: On the records of a court case between the Treasury and Istanbul Greek Valoukli Hospital, Turkish non-muslim citizens were labeled as “non-Turkish.”

1984: The Greek Orthodox Partiarchate in Fanari requested permission to close down Halkidiki Monastery in Istanbul because of rising expenses. But the government despite their previous efforts to close it down refused the request hiding this time behind the Lausanne Agreement, other dual agreements and “principle of reciprocity.” Today the Monastery is open without one single pupil and a Turkish director who is appointed by the Ministry of Education still goes to work everyday and all expenses are still paid for by the Patriarchate.

1985-1990: After they refused to wage war against PKK, the lands of Yazidis who “worship the Angel Peacock” were confiscated by the state and they had to mass-migrate to western countries.

2000’s: One of the main subjects of National Security Council meetings was “to fight against missionary activities.”

November 15th 2003, Beth Israel Synagogue in Sisli and Neve Shalom Synagogue in Galata were attacked by two muslim Turkish terrorists killing 25 including themselves and wounding more than 300.

Febrıary 5th 2006: Priest Andrea Santoro of Santa Maria Catholic Church in Trabzon was assassinated by a 16-year-old youngster.

January 19th 2007: Armenian weekly AGOS Chief editor Hrant Dink was murdered.

April 18th 2007: In Malatya 7 “nationalist” youth raided a Christian publishing house violently killing three workers.

Ayşe Hür adds rightfully that the outcome of Hrant Dink murder case should not be a surprise after viewing the above historical events.

Hence I shall add no further comments…

About the Author

Stratos Moraitis Stratos Moraitis

Blogger, writer & photographer of a free nature with a focus on human rights & minority issues in Turkey,Greece and Middle East. Follow Stratos at Twitter: @oemoral and Like our page at Facebook


  1. Mehmet Soydan (5 years ago)

    Nice try from a Greek ‘journalist’. What about millions of Turks killed,raped and exiled from 1821 to 1987 in Greece,Wwestern Thrace(last pogrom in 1987 against local Turkish minority), Cyprus and western Turkey (from 1919 to 1922 under Greek occupation)? in 1821 even in Athens majority were Turks and Albanians with mosques numbering over 40. Now there is not a single mosque (if we dont count the ones turned into stables by Greek state) in Athens, and is strictly forbidden by Greek state to construct even a single mosque for Turkish minority and foreign Muslim people living in Athens despite all EU decisions about the issue.

  2. tansu (5 years ago)

    November 15th 2003, Beth Israel Synagogue in Sisli and Neve Shalom Synagogue in Galata were attacked by two muslim Turkish terrorists killing 25 including themselves and wounding more than 300.

    should be edited as: …attacked by Al Queyda terrorists…. If not, you should describe other Ql Queyda bombings ie in Madrid as Spanish atrocity, in London British acrocity etc. I think it needs to be not only edited but also erased from here, to not have a credibility gap in the text.

  3. Well played (5 years ago)

    it’s funny how Turkish people are trying to dodge the point with “what about”s. other people’s crimes don’t make you innocents, otherwise jails would be churches.


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