Presenter: Assoc Prof Chris Houston
In 1923 Istanbul was a city possessing a history and symbolism that did not easily harmonize with the new political reality emerging in Ankara. An imperial and cosmopolitan port city and a centre of commerce, consumption and production, its built environment reflected both 19th century Ottoman modernization and European economic influence. Although population numbers are not exact, estimates put the non-Muslim population of Istanbul in 1923 at somewhere between 35 and 40%, including local Greeks, Armenians, and Jews. By 1964, however, the numbers of non-Muslims in the city had catastrophically diminished. What happened?
In this talk I trace out 4 political acts that led to the collapse of the Ottoman Greek 'world' in Istanbul, each connected to the unrelenting ethnic nationalism of the new citizenship and economic regime pursued in Turkey in both the singly-party and multi-party period, and expressed through a number of discriminatory laws directed at both non-Turks and non-Muslims. Briefly, these included forced conscription in 1941 of all non-Muslim men in Turkey; the Government’s levying of an extraordinary wealth or capital tax (Varlik Vergisi) in 1942; the State-sponsored pogrom organized against Greek properties, churches and schools on 6th & 7th September 1955; and the the 1964 deportation of Greek citizens. Despite the contemporary existence of a widespread nostalgia in Istanbul for an earlier pre-migration time in which people of different faiths lived together in a neighbourly fashion, a silence about the intentionality of acts that violated the rights of minorities serves to deflect “memory of the inclusive nation that could have or should have been” (Mills 2010: 110).
Associate Professor Christopher Houston teaches in the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University, Sydney. He is author of numerous articles and books on Turkish politics, including Kurdistan: Crafting of National Selves. (Indiana University Press. Bloomington 2008) and Islam, Kurds and the Turkish Nation-State (Berg, Oxford. 2001). His current research interest is on the recent political history of Istanbul, particularly of the years before and after the 1980 military coup.
We'd like to thank the following donor: In mem. of M and G Asproftas.
During the course of the year considerable expenses are incurred in staging the seminars. In order to mitigate these costs individuals or organisations are invited to donate against a lecture of their choice.
You too can donate for one or more seminars and (optionally) let your name or brand be known as a patron of culture to our members, visitors and followers, as well as the broader artistic and cultural community of Melbourne. Please email:
or call 03 9662 2722.
We also like to thank the following corporate sponsors for their support: