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The Istanbul Pogrom of 6–7 September 1955 in the Light of International Law

SEPTEMVRIANA: The Istanbul Pogrom of 6–7 Sep 1955 in the Light of International Law

The Istanbul pogrom (sometimes referred to as Septemvriana) was a government-instigated series of riots against the Greek minority of Istanbul in September 1955.

It can be characterized as a ‘‘crime against humanity,’’ comparable in scope to the
November 1938 Kristallnacht in Germany, perpetrated by the Nazi authorities
against Jewish civilians.

The Septemvriana satisfies the criteria of Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the
Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (UNCG) because the ‘‘intent
to destroy in whole or in part’’ the Greek minority in Istanbul was demonstrably
present, the pogrom having been orchestrated by the government of Turkish Prime
Minister Adnan Menderes. Even if the number of deaths (estimated at thirty-seven)
among members of the Greek community was relatively low, the result of the
pogrom was the flight and emigration of the Greek minority of Istanbul, which once
numbered some 100,000 and was subsequently reduced to a few thousand.

The vast destruction of Greek property, businesses, and churches provides evidence of the
Turkish authorities’ intent to terrorize the Greeks in Istanbul into abandoning the
territory, thus eliminating the Greek minority. This practice falls within the ambit
of the crime of ‘‘ethnic cleansing,’’ which the UN General Assembly and the
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has interpreted as
constituting a form of genocide.

Turkey has been a party to the UNCG since 1950. Although it is not a party to the
1968 Convention on the Non-applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes
and Crimes against Humanity, modern international law imposes the principle of
non-prescription to genocide and crimes against humanity. Accordingly, the
obligation to punish the guilty and the responsibility of Turkey to make reparations
to the victims and their survivors have not lapsed.

Seen in isolation, the Istanbul pogrom can be considered a grave crime under both
Turkish domestic law and international law. In the historical context of religion-
driven eliminationist process accompanied by many pogroms before, during, and
after World War I within the territories of the Ottoman Empire, including the
destruction of the Greek communities of Pontos and Asia Minor and the atrocities
against the Greeks of Smyrna in September 1922
, the genocidal character of the
Istanbul pogrom becomes apparent.

It should be noted, however, that whereas the characterization of the Septemvriana as a form of genocide lends it greater emotional impact, the legal consequences are essentially the same whether the pogrom is classified under the rubric of genocide or as a crime against humanity.