Istanbul’s Christian cemeteries have been desecrated on a number of occasions in the past 20 years. The latest outrage brought back memories of the tragic events of September 1955 when churches, cemeteries and properties owned by Istanbul’s Orthodox community were desecrated and destroyed in a pogrom. Eventually dubbed the September pogrom, the event was the brainchild of Turkey’s political-bureaucratic-military establishment, known here as Derin Devlet or ‘deep state’.
The pogrom has remained engraved in the memories of Istanbul’s Christians who at that moment realised that their survival in the city would be difficult, if not impossible.
Young Turks have learnt about such tragic episodes only recently, when Guz Sancisi, a movie by young Turkish woman director Tomris Giritlioglu, was screened in local theatres to great review and box office success.
It is also important to keep in mind that Christian cemeteries are very large and serve as a reminder of the small Christian presence in this country.
Given Istanbul’s huge urban development, Christian cemeteries have become surrounded by human habitation and are coveted by developers.
A law adopted in the 1930s transferred title to cemeteries to municipalities; hitherto, they had belonged to religious foundations
Outraged and grieved by what happened, the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew (pictured) went to see the desecrated cemetery, asking why such acts continue to strike Christian graveyards.
Despite the seriousness of the incident, the local press did not report it.
Photo: Nikos Manginas