Archon News

Commemorating the 68th Anniversary of the Istanbul Pogrom, The Personal Account of a Survivor

The following personal reflection was submitted by Archon Harry G. Dimopoulos, PhD, MBA Archon Hartophylax of Naples, FL, who offers an extraordinary first-hand account of atrocities perpetrated against the Greek Orthodox faithful 68 years ago in Istanbul.

On September 6-7th 2023, we observe the 68th anniversary of the tragic events that unfolded during the Night of Terror in Istanbul, Türkiye. We remember and reflect on the profound impact this genocide had on the Greek Orthodox and other Christian communities.

On the fateful days in 1955, Istanbul was engulfed in chaos as an estimated mob of 100,000 Turks, under the guidance of a premeditated plan, unleashed a rampage of violence and destruction against the Greek Orthodox and other Christian populations. Orchestrated by the Deep State of Turkey with governmental support, this pogrom aimed to obliterate these communities, leaving behind devastation and heartache.

I am Archon Harry Dimopoulos, a survivor of these atrocities. This is my personal story. The harrowing moments as my family hid from the mob’s terror. I was 15 years old.

At 6pm on Tuesday, 6 September 1955, mobs of Turks who had previously been positioned in the districts they were to attack, spread throughout the entire city and started their carnage. It was pre-arranged to mark the Greek homes, businesses, and institutions by a painted sign so that the mob can recognize their targets.

The pretext for this violent assault was a mixture of false allegations – the wrongful claim that the Greeks had bombed Kemal Ataturk’s home in Thessaloniki (it was a Turk who was later arrested and convicted) and the escalating tensions in Cyprus.

Archon Harry, with his family in the late 1950’s.

My family lived on the largest of the 4 inhabited Prince’s Islands, about a two–hour boat ride from Istanbul – Prinkipos (Büyükada). Our paternal home was just across from St. Demetrios, the Cathedral of the Metropolis of Prince’s Islands, which was not far from the seashore. A barge with an estimated 100 attackers was brought over from the Asian side (from Kartal/Pendik) to our island, a 30-minute ride away. Their first target was the street where the church is.

One of the house where Archon Harry lived and hid.

My dad locked all the doors and windows and took the family to the 2nd floor where the bedrooms were. The children – I and my younger sister and brother – were asked to hide under the 2 beds in the bedroom furthest from the street. The mob smashed our windows throwing stones, broke the entry door but never invaded the house (we didn’t know then as we were hiding upstairs). At one time we thought our lives would come to an end when our parents held our hands tightly. My sister was crying. Then, the mob was distracted and attacked the church across the street, setting on fire furniture in the garden and icons in the exo-narthex. Luckily, they were unable to break into the sanctuary – a miracle. We stayed in the dark, under the bed, awake until the morning. We dared to sneak outside to see what happened – litter just everywhere. The next day my father travelled to The City to examine the condition of his business. And that’s when the real damage became evident.

The Cathedral of St. Demetrios that miraculously avoided a large destruction.

There was mass destruction across The City of many churches, cemeteries, foundations, houses, shops and factories, all invaluable losses. Churches and cemeteries were desecrated. All the merchandise of Greek shops was strewn in the streets. In addition, more than 30 members of the Greek Orthodox Community were murdered (including priests who were beaten), and hundreds of Greek women were raped.

However, the icy indifference of the International Community, especially that of the states that had committed themselves to protection of the Greek-Orthodox Community of Istanbul (in accordance with the Treaty of Lausanne), as well as of the international organizations responsible for the protection of Human Rights, was tragic. The Orthodox Community, which in the early 1900 was 1/3 of Istanbul’s population (then about 250,000), was left defenseless. Since then, 98% of that population has been forced to leave Istanbul, and live in expatriate communities, the world over.

The Republic of Türkiye, as a founding member of the UN and one of the first states to be a member of the European Convention on Human Rights of Rome, had an obligation to deal with this act of annihilation, organized against the Greek-Orthodox Community of The City, and, importantly to initiate remedy and reparation measures to ensure that descendants of all persons who forcibly left, return to their birthplace. This is the rule of law guaranteeing equality and safety to all citizens. None of this happened.

In September 1955, the personal and psychological impact on us Christians was devastating. It was a loud signal to leave the place, our properties, our memories and the tombs of our relatives. We were not welcomed at all. This had been the land of our ancestors for 2667 years. The first settler was Byzas of Megara who founded The City when he sailed northeast across the Aegean Sea. The date was 667 BC on the authority of Herodotus. Roman Emperor Constantine the Great celebrated Byzantium’s 1000th anniversary in the year 333AD. In 1453 The City finally fell to the Ottomans. In 1953 I witnessed the 500th anniversary of the conquest, a ghastly jingoistic celebration, and I was devastated with emotions. I have traced my own family roots and they had settled Prinkipos from Epirus and Chios since the 1850’s.

Archon Harry, with his family, after graduating Robert College.

In 1963, after I graduated from Robert College (now Bosphorus University), I emigrated to the US to attend graduate school in ChE at the University of Illinois in Urbana, IL. My parents and my younger brother were left behind in this dangerous place. About a year later, they left all their belongings behind and settled in Athens. My dad was 50 years old.

It took me 40 years to overcome my emotions for a return visit to the land of my birth. I was disappointed. Much had transpired. There were unrecognizable changes in population (ten times higher than when I left), and The City was full of concrete skyscraper buildings. I had a few childhood friends left. I hardly recognized the place.

Twenty years later, when I was living in Naples, FL. I met a Turkish gentleman also from Istanbul. We were at a gathering of ~200 people where he was giving a lecture about Istanbul. In the middle of it, he stopped at the podium, recognized me sitting at one of the tables, and said to the audience: “I want to publicly apologize to my Rum (Roman-Romeos) mate Harry Dimopoulos on behalf of the Turkish people for the atrocities they were inflicted in 1955. That was 2015 – 60 years later.

This was the first time I heard such a public apology from any Turk. It was an admission I never had expected. Above all else, the gesture spoke to my heart. I felt the need to confess to him that I forgave the ordinary Turkish people but never their government, of the likes of Ataturk, through to Erdogan and beyond.

All of us pogrom survivors suffer from deep conflicting emotions fueled by this experience in our youth. Why us? Why did no one come to help, including the Greek government? Our lives and our character have been defined by this personal injury and mental anguish. We shall never forget until our last breath!

Archon Harry, with His All-Holiness, Archbishop Elpidophoros and brother Archons, during a pilgrimage, November 21, 2019.

My most recent visit to my birthplace was in November 2019. It was a pilgrimage of about 20 archons and spouses under the leadership of His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America. We visited all the well-known monuments, Haghia Sophia, Chora Museum, Halki Theological School and many more. We had the great honor of spending time with His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. We immersed ourselves in the history and meaning of this hallowed place. It was the most inspiring visit I experienced in my hometown. I finally understood the meaning of this to all Orthodox. I will finish with this quote by His All Holiness:

(We are…) “few but also innumerable. Because with us are the souls of countless descendants who lived cherished lives in these hallowed lands, around the Center of Orthodoxy, around our Patriarchate, which, despite all these external changes, pressures, and circumstances, insists on living, and radiating throughout the entire World. Seventeen whole centuries we have been here, and no one can expel us.”

Subscribe to our mailing list

More Posts