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Sept. 6-7 in the Greek media - Part II
Was there any foreign involvement?:
While in Turkey the process of revealing, soul-searching and exorcising the dark events of Sept. 6-7, 1955, are coming to a close, in Greece, the process never really started. As we pointed out in this column last week, the 50th anniversary of this despicable incident, which traumatized the Istanbul Rum community and caused its irreversible decline, passed with just cursory references in the Greek media. "Do not search for deep meanings," a well-known Greek commentator told me. All newspapers covered the story, albeit on their inside pages. "Yes, there was very little on TV but you could attribute this to the usual lack of forward planning in the Greek media. Maybe by the time they realized the anniversary was coming there was no time to organize anything. Anyways, September, as you know, is the month of TV transfers and everybody is preoccupied," said the commentator.
There may be some truth in it. But still, with Turkey at the doorstep of Europe and Cyprus a center of interest once again, for an issue that has marked the diplomatic relations of these two countries for half a century one would have expected it to make headlines, if not for a day. Fifty years later, besides the personal tragedies and recounting of the events, what all of us want to know is what was the real reason behind it. Was there foreign involvement?
As I wrote last week, there were some notable exceptions among the general low-key coverage of the anniversary. One was the news program "Files," a weekly show on Greek Mega Channel that devoted the whole of its time slot to the Sept. 6-7, 1955 events in Istanbul. With regards to foreign involvement, retired Ambassador Byron Theodoropoulos, who was serving as Greek consul in Istanbul at the time, was interviewed on the program and remembered how an identical telegram from then-U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was sent Sept. 7, 1955, to both Athens and Ankara advising them, "Kids, don't get into a fight among yourselves!" He also points out that the official reply of Ankara to Greece was that the riots "were just an impromptu action by the Turkish people."
This past Sept. 4 the Greek newspaper TO VIMA published, for the first time, extracts from the confidential report written by Theodoropoulos in January 1956. The report remains locked in a safe at the Greek Foreign Ministry. In the published extracts we read: "The visit to Turkey by the Greek Royal Couple in June 1952 can be seen as the peak of Greek-Turkish friendship. Following that, there was a period of slight unease followed by rapid deterioration. This curve in Greek-Turkish relations is directly related to the Cyprus issue."
"Perhaps from our own view it might be a simple logical conclusion to claim that such a direct dependence was created artificially by English policy, the only country who could have any political gain out of such a move. However, there are indications, if not proof, that such was the case. There are strong rumors that the Turkish newspapers Hurriyet and Vatan were financed by the English; the repeated trips of Hikmet Bil and Ahmet Emin Yalman to London; the daily gatherings of Turkish journalists in the private Istanbul Kulubu in order to listen to the briefing of the English attaché are all indicative of the English factor."
According to the report, the first worrying signs that relations were going to worsen were seen in the second half of 1952 when the Turkish press started publishing articles on "pressures" suffered by the Turkish community in Western Thrace. One interesting detail in the Theodoropoulos report is that during that time there was a notable increase of immigrants from Greece to Turkey, mainly young people who he claims "were persuaded by skillful agents that in Turkey they would find paradise. The fact that scores of them wanted to return to Greece is not mentioned in the Turkish press."
An interesting interview:
Last Sunday the Greek newspaper Kathimerini published an exclusive interview with Dr. Dilek Güven, who recently published a thorough study of the September 1955 events. Asked about the role of Britain in the September events, she claimed, based on British archives, that from 1950 until 1955 Turkey was subjected to a lot of pressure by the British to get Turkey involved in the Cyprus crisis. The London conference was a way of getting Turkey involved and, from British archives, it was apparent that the British believed an uprising against the Istanbul Rums would be useful in order to cause a crisis in Greek-Turkish relations; a British diplomat in Athens briefed London that an attack on Atatürk's house in Salonica would be sufficient to cause a crisis. According to Güven's interview, the British not only had a major role but also prevented the Americans from backing Greece, who wanted to bring the Cyprus issue to the United Nations. This change of heart on the part of the Americans was apparently the reason behind the telegrams by John Foster Dulles.
Historians tell us that the objective of the London conference was to block Greece from taking the issue to the U.N. General Assembly. As Anthony Eden explains in his book "Full Circle Memoirs," Britain's objective was to represent the problem not as an issue confronting "colonialist Britain" but to transform it into a problem between Greece and Turkey. Before the conference British Foreign Secretary Harold MacMillan advised the Turkish delegation to adopt a tough line against the Greeks. Turkish Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu followed the advice and delivered a tough speech saying if Athens does not alter its position regarding Cyprus, Turkey will be compelled to review the Treaty of Lausanne -- the implication being the rights granted to the Greek minority in the treaty.
Fifty years later, Cyprus is still haunting Greek-Turkish relations. As Theodoropoulos wrote in his report that Greek-Turkish relations are directly related to Cyprus. Was that yet another master plan by the British? It seems so.