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Milestones in the History of Hellenism in Constantinople

  • 658 BC Greek colonists from Megara establish on the coast of Keratia bay a new city named Byzantium in honor of its founder Byzantas.

  • 324 AD The city of Byzantium, initially as "New Rome" and later as "Constantinople", becomes the capital of the eastern segment of the Roman Empire. As capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople was for eleven centuries one of the most important political, military, religious and cultural centers of Anatolia, a fact which explains its reputation as the "Queen of Cities".

  • 1204 Impregnable since the times of Constantine the Great, the Byzantine capital is conquered in the spring of 1204 by the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade. The three days of plunder and violence which followed the conquest, destroyed a large portion of the city, which was not able to restore its original brilliance even after the restorations of the Byzantine emperors in 1261.

  • 1453 After five centuries of resistance to the campaigns of the turkish tribes of Anatolia, Constantinople finally falls in the hands of the Ottoman Turks. Muhamed the Pillager, recognizing the Patriarch of Constantinople as a political and religious leader of all orthodox citizens within the limits of the Ottoman Empire, grants him a series of priviledges in order to ensure the orderly survival of his followers under the ottoman rule. One of the names given to Constantinople by the new conquerors is "Istanbul", a linguistic corruption of the greek phrase "eis tin polin" meaning "to the city".

  • 1821 With the support of the Great Powers of that time, the revolution of Greeks in mainland Greece against the Ottoman Empire results in the creation of the independent Greek state (1830). Patriarch Gregorios V is hung at the gate of the Patriarchate in Fanari (Constantinople) as accountable to the sultanate for the rebellion of his flock; the gate has since remained shut as a symbol of mourning. Several other leading figures of the church and society also lost their lives along with the Patriarch, and orthodox churches in Constantinople were set on fire.

  • 1839 to 1856 In the framework of the great reforms of the 19th century which were aimed at curtailing the rapid decline of the empire, efforts were made to improve the status of minorities, an event which allowed them to rapidly flourish in the economic and cultural arenas.

  • 1914 At the verge of the First World War, the hellenic community of Constantinople is living the last days of its golden age. According to ottoman archives, the non-muslim population of the city account for almost half of a population of approximately 900,000. The great majority of the non-muslim population is comprised of the Greeks, followed by the Jews, Armenians and few Europeans. Although the Turks represent the majority of the population, it is the extensive commercial, industrial, economic activities and international cultural ties of the minorities which give Constantinople its cosmopolitan prestige of that era.

  • 1918 to 1920 After its defeat along with the Central Powers in the First World War and the Peace Treaty of Moudros, the Ottoman Empire is divided between the allies of the Entente into spheres of influence, with Constantinople coming under International Control. As part of the allied occupation forces, Greek warships are positioned in the lower Bosphorus, while a Greek military delegation is stationed in Constantinople.

  • 1919 Greece, under the leadership of Venizelos, lands a military force on Smyrna in May. This is the start of the Asia Minor Campaign, which three years later will result in the decline of the front and the dramatic retreat of Hellenism from Anatolia.

  • 1922 The news of the destruction of Smyrna raises panic in the hellenic community of Constantinople. Fearing Turkish reprisals, many Greeks who had openly sided with the allied occupation, start the long road to become premature refugees. It is estimated that only in the period from October to December 1922, 50,000 non-muslims fled from Constantinople. Almost all of them headed to Greece.

  • 1923 The Treaty of Lausanne defines the compulsory population exchange between Turkey and Greece. The Greeks of Constantinople, Imvros and Tenedos, and the muslims of Western Thrace are the only populations to be excluded from the exchange. Despite the International reassurances regarding the safety of their lives and property, a large number of Greeks abandons Constantinople for Greece, to the extent that by March 1923 the Patriarchate estimated that "the remaing Greek community in Constantinople is about 250,000 while about 150,000 have left".

  • 1930 The Accord of Greek-Turkish Friendship is signed in Ankara between Venizelos and Inonu. On the one hand, the normalization of the relations between the two countries allows the improvement of their respective minorities, yet on the other hand, isolated nationalist elements in Turkey (such as the "Vatandas Turkce konus" or "citizen of Constantinople, speak in Turkish!") apply assimilation pressures. By 1935, the Turkish census for Constantinople accounts the Greek orthodox community at 125,046.

  • 1942 to 1943 In the midst of the Second World War, Turkey passes the "property tax" or "varlik", with the intention of improving the government's finances and curtailing the black market which flourished due to the war. The level of taxation with respect to total capital was 232% for the Armenians, 184% for the Jews, 159% for the Greeks, yet only a mere 4.9% for the Turks. Although they only accounted for 0.55% of the national population, the Greeks of Constantinople were thus held accountable for 20% of its taxes. The inability to meet these extreme levels of taxation resulted in the closure of dozens of businesses and their transfer together with considerable land and housing to Turkish hands in exchange for degrading amounts of monetary compensation. The minorities, which even after liquidating all their property still owed taxes to the government, were transfered to the depths of Anatolia for slave labor at government projects under very adverse conditions.

  • 1955 The night of the 6th to 7th of Spetember, the Turkish mobs were let loose in the streets of greek neighbourhoods in an orchestrated orgy of violence and plunder. Over 4,000 Greek businesses were ruined, more than 2,000 homes burgled, churches and schools were incinerated, and cemeteries desecrated. While the Turkish government admitted a toll of 3 dead and 40 wounded, later reports raised the actual figure to 15 deaths. The Worldwide Council of Churches estimated the damages at $150 million, although other sources raise the value at $ 300 million. In the aftermath of these events, a new wave of Constantinopolitans abandons their homes in search of safe haven.

  • 1964 In March, the Turkish government responds to the escalation of tensions in Cyprus by deporting the Greeks of Constantinople as "dangerous to the internal and external security of Turkey". At the same time, Turkey freezes their properties and bank accounts. By September of 1965, the number of deportees, without including their accompanying family members, reached 6,000. According to official population statistics, in 1965 the orthodox christians in Turkey amounted to 76,122 (from 106,611 in 1960).

  • 1974 The Turkish invasion of Cyprus revives the climate of fear and insecurity for the Greek community of Constantinople. In the months following the invasion, hundereds of Constantinopolitans head for Greece.

  • 1974 to 1995 The members of the Greek minority are constantly decreasing. In the summer of 1993, the estimated size of the Greek community in Constantinople was around 2,000. Today, due to the advanced age of these few remaining Constantinopolitans, the Greek community is likely to be even smaller.

Note from the Translator: As set forth by the Treaty of Lausanne, the counterpart to the Greek minority in Turkey, namely the muslim minority in Thrace, has been allowed by the government of Greece to flourish to approximately 140,000...

Translated by Leandros Arvanitakis from Margarita Poutouridou's text in Kostas Sakellariou's photo album "Oi Teleytaioi Ellnves tns Polns" (The Last Greeks of Constantinople), AGRA publishers, Athens, Greece, 1995. Many of the figures regarding the Greek minority in the later years have been taken from Alexes Alexandris' book, "The Greek Minority of Istanbul and Greek-Turkish Relations, 1918 to 1974", Center for Asia Minor Studies, Greece, 1992.

Ελληνισμός: [Διασπορά] [Πρώην ΣΣΔ] [Μικρά Ασία] [Τουρκία] [Βόρειος Ήπειρος] [Πόντος]
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