Anti-Greek Backlash in Salonica, 1821

From Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950, by Mark Mazower (Vintage, 2006), pp. 126-129:

The Greeks in the city rang their church bells, rode through the streets on horseback, wore fine clothes and did not step down from the pavement when they passed a Muslim. To us this indicates the extent of non-Muslim influence there; to [mollah] Haïroullah it was shockingly bold behaviour which would not have been tolerated in Istanbul; prohibited by imperial decree, it was explicable only in terms of the corruption of local police officials.

Despite his dismay, however, at the arrogance of the infidels, Haïroullah did not regard himself as “a fighter of unbelievers”; this was a term he reserved for the high-spending deputy pasha, the notorious Yusuf Bey, whom he also described as “rough and tyrannical,” a man who so intimidated the mufti and the janissary agha that they sat quietly with crossed hands in his presence. Yusuf Bey’s father, Ismail Bey of Serres, had been described by Leake as “one of the richest and most powerful of the subjects of the sultan, if he can be called a subject who is absolute here, and obeys only such of the sultan’s orders as he sees fit, always with a great show of submission.” With wealth based on the booming cotton trade, Ismail Bey was enjoying a quiet retirement while his son exerted an almost unchecked mastery over the city. Haïroullah—according to his own account—dared to challenge him at their first meeting. When Yusuf Bey warned that the Greeks were preparing to rise up and would have to be struck a brutal blow, Haïroullah protested: “My God! Who would dare to revolt against Your just power and strength? Rather than tyrannize them better let us behave towards them as friends, so that they will feel gratitude towards us and will not complain.”

Haïroullah clearly saw storm clouds ahead. After consulting the Qur’an, he met with the Greek archbishop and advised him to keep his flock in check, “to be more faithful to the laws of the shari’a and to obey the orders of the governor.” The two men sat and drank coffee together “like old friends,” a fact which spies reported to Yusuf Bey. His suspicions about the mollah’s sentiments were strengthened on learning too that one day, sitting at a large cafe outside the Kazantzilar mosque, Haïroullah had been upset by the sight of the body of a dead Christian being carried past, and had exclaimed, “May God forgive them!” Yusuf Bey accused him of having become a giaour—only a Christian, he insisted, would thus have sympathized with the suffering of other Christians—and on 27 February 1821, just as the Greek revolt was about to begin, Haïroullah Effendi was imprisoned in the White Tower. It was from that strategic if unpleasant vantage point—life there was frightening, he wrote, “if one is not accompanied by the thought of all-powerful God”—that he watched the terrifying events of the next months unfold in Salonica.

His fellow prisoners were Christians whose only crime had been to fail to salute Yusuf Bey in the street, or to meet in the cathedral to talk about the Patriarchate, or merely to be a prominent notable in the community. Many were suffering from starvation and thirst. An emissary of the revolutionaries, Aristeidis Pappas, was brought in, badly beaten before he was handed over to the janissary agha to be executed. “Before he left,” writes Haïroullah, “forgive me for this, Your Majesty I embraced him and kissed him, because in truth, he was an honourable man and if he was to blame it was out of the goodness of his heart.

A few days later another Greek, Nikola Effendi, was brought in. He had shocking news: the Morea was in revolt, and there was intelligence that the Greeks in and around Salonica were planning to do the same. Yusuf Bey had demanded hostages, and more than four hundred Christians—of whom one hundred were monks from Athos—were under guard in his palace. All these, naturally, were being beaten and mistreated; some had been already killed.

Shortly after this the order came through from the Porte for Haïroullah’s release. Yusuf Bey’s attitude towards him now changed entirely, and he was sweetness itself; nevertheless, he would not allow him to leave the city immediately: the countryside was not safe and villagers ready to revolt. To Haïroullah’s horror, he learned that Yusuf Bey intended to put the hostages to death and was unable to dissuade him: “The same evening half of the hostages were slaughtered before the eyes of the uncouth moutesselim. I closed myself in my room and prayed for the safety of their souls.”

“And from that night began the evil. Salonica, that beautiful city, which shines like an emerald in Your honoured crown, was turned into a boundless slaughter-house.” Yusuf Bey ordered his men to kill any Christians they found in the streets and for days and nights the air was filled with “shouts, wails, screams.” They had all gone mad, killing even children and pregnant women. “What have my eyes not seen, Most Powerful Shah of Shahs?” The metropolitan himself was brought in chains, together with other leading notables, and they were tortured and executed in the square of the flour market. Some were hanged from the plane trees around the Rotonda. Others were killed in the cathedral where they had fled for refuge, and their heads were gathered together as a present for Yusuf Bey. Only the dervish tekkes—whose adepts traditionally retained close ties with Greek monks—provided sanctuary for Christians. “These things and many more, which I cannot describe because the memory alone makes me shudder, took place in the city of Salonica in May of 1821.”

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Filed under Balkans, Greece, Mediterranean, nationalism, religion, Turkey

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