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12.09.2005

Sept. 6-7, 1955, in Greek Media

Ariana FERENTINOU


In Turkey the dust is slowly, but only slowly, settling around the painful events of Sept. 6-7, 1955. This year's anniversary about an event that everybody wants to forget caused a lot of soul-searching among many Turks and a genuine wish to find the truth, accept the truth and even go as far as apologizing for whatever went wrong. Some sections of Turkish society are showing a remarkable energy to "reveal all" and to cleanse itself from any stain of guilt. It feels like a deep need for an exorcising and healing process that has been boiling up for some time.

And while very important "from the heart" discussions and disagreements are taking place these days in Turkey about the September 1955 events and people are speaking out about taboo subjects like the role of the deep state in an organized policy against minorities, very little time has been devoted by the Greek media for a subject that, after all, has haunted Turkey-Greece relations for over half a century.

September 1955 events went almost unnoticed in the mainstream Greek press, with very sporadic references in the inner pages. Greek TV has allotted very little time to it. What was written and shown were mainly reports from Turkey about how the Turks covered the anniversary, which confirms the claim that the tragedy of 1955 has remained primarily an internal trauma among the Rums and has not spilled over the Greek society. Even if more than 150,000 Rums are now living in Greece, mainly in Athens, their own terrible experiences in 1955, 1963 and 1974 remain a "family tragedy" not very much shared by the rest of Greeks. It shows that when the Rums claim the mainland Greeks -- including their political leaders -- "have never really given a damn about them," it is probably true. It is not the same with other dark days in Turkish-Greek history; the defeat in 1922 and even the fall of Constantinople remain a collective trauma in the Greek subconscious and still determines in the feelings of Greeks towards the Turks.

So, this week's important anniversary was not an opportunity for soul-searching in Greece -- maybe it was not as necessary as in Turkey. But there was one notable exception. Last Tuesday, the news program "Files," a weekly program on Greek Mega Channel, devoted the whole of its time to the Sept. 6-7, 1955, events in Istanbul. The program shuffled through the same material that Turkish producers and commentators referred to. Some of the people with firsthand experience as well as experts who were interviewed for the program were the same as the ones who appeared in Turkey. However, there was additional important information that threw more light on the circumstances leading to the events, details that may have escaped our attention. Like the fact that in 1955 relations between Turkey and Greece were so good that Turkey had participated in the Salonica commercial fair for the first time!

The producers gave us interesting insight of what happened in Salonica immediately prior to the events. We learned that explosives that were to be used on the Turkish Consulate were carried secretly from Turkey into Salonica on Sept. 3 and collected by 20-year-old law student Oktay Engin, the prime suspect of the attack. We learned that on Sept. 4 Oktay Engin himself gave a guided tour around the Turkish stand at the Salonica Fair to King Paul and Queen Frederica of the Hellenes. This must have been a few hours before he is thought to have planted the bomb. On the same day, the wife of the Turkish consul personally took some photographs of the Turkish Consulate. She takes the film to the Kyriakidis Photo Shop in Salonica and asks to have it developed. Yannis Kyriakidis, the son of the owner who later became the top photojournalist in Greece, reveals today that his father had no idea who their client was. Their assistant Vladimiros, who later became a monk, takes the film and develops it.

An interesting detail comes from the account of Nicos Vourgountzis, who was a young reporter at the newspaper Makedonia on night duty when the bomb exploded at midnight at the Turkish Consulate. He remembers the reaction of his editor-in-chief Ioannidis, who shouted, "That is the end of the Istanbul Rums!"

One of the central figures of the program was Oktay Engin himself. In an interview recorded several years ago he rejected claims that the events were orchestrated and said has been unfairly victimized. He also claimed that a second suspect, Consulate porter Hasan who was accused and tried, had nothing to do with the event. Vassilis Germidis, an ex-governor of the Bank of Greece who knew Engin from Gumulcine (Komotini), speaking in the program, refers to Engin as a very promising young man from a prominent family while an ex-deputy from Gumulcine (Komotini), Hasan Hatipoglu, believes that neither Engin nor Hasan were the real instigators of the event.

Another important detail that came out in the program had to do with the role of the Istanbul Express. Ex-editor of the paper Gökşin Sipahioğlu tells the producers of the Greek program that he wanted to put out a second edition denying that the Turkish Consulate was damaged but the newspapers in Istanbul had already published pictures of the consulate showing damage to the building. According to the Greek program, the pictures were the photo montage that was developed in the Kyriakidis Photo Shop, taken by the wife of the Turkish consul. After the event at the consulate, Engin claims that, as he did not possess a passport, he walked all the way from Komotini to Turkey where he arrived in five days. Greek historian Spiros Vrionis, whose over 500-page book on the September 1955 events has just been published, speaking in the program, claims that Engin was sent back to Turkey hidden in the trunk of the car of Turkish Consul Mehmet Bali, who had left for Turkey immediately after the incident while his wife left Salonica after collecting her developed photographs. Vryonis also thinks the reason Engin was able to leave Greece freely had to do with attempts by Karamanlis and Menderes to settle the matter. According to Vrionis, Rum deputy Hacopoulos mediated in order for the Greek government to arrange reparations in return for letting Engin and Hasan free. Historian Dilek Güven, appearing in the program, claimed that the Istanbul event was a plan conceived by the Turkish army and Engin was working for the secret services as certified by American, English and German archives -- something that Engin denies fervently on camera when speaking to the Greek journalists

Of course, as always, there are foreign players in this Turkish-Greek story. Regarding this subject and about more details that came out from the coverage of the evens in Greece, we are going to speak further next week.