The Beautiful City
Destruction of its Greek, Armenian, and Jewish Communities
Foti Jean-Pierre Fotiu
Reviewed by George G. Horiates
There are few times in life when one gets the pleasure of reviewing a book and realizing from the beginning of the journey that you are reading a great work. That is the experience you will
encounter when you delve into Foti Fotiu’s CONSTANTINOPLE. The subheading referencing the destruction of multiple Ethnic communities leads you to a perspective unique to the writer. It sets the groundwork for Ecumenical Hellenism and relates the reader to beware of the tyranny of the majority, and what happens when that tyranny is sanctioned and allowed to continue undeterred.
After a brief history of the “Poli”, the framework for the downfall of Constantinople in 1453, its capture and the effect on Greeks, other Christian minorities, and Jews is done in rapid fashion. It is followed by the Greek War of Independence of 1821 and proceeds to the 1919-22 conflict to recapture Greek ancient lands.
The real story is the testimonial given by the Fotiu family, starting with the author’s father moving to the Poli from Albania in search of a better life. Konstantinos , with a background in construction, finds his bride, starts his family and enjoys financial success. However, dark clouds are on the way to visit the family in the form of the Turkish pogrom.
The storyteller weaves history with policy, referencing all points from the closing of the theological school at Halki to the Varlik (high taxation of foreigners). The description of growing up in the Poli in the 1950’s brings the era to life. The streets are filled with entertainers, markets where even Turks sold icons, of playing with children of other ethnicities and even of openly celebrating Easter at Agia Evangelistria Church. That peace ended for the Fotiu family, and for the community of Constatinopolitans on September 6, 1955.
The Turkish pogrom is underscored by mobs approaching the homes of Greeks, of hearing the screams of other Greek families, of rapes, destruction of churches and desecration of graves … all aimed squarely at the Greek minority. The Fotiou family escaped the carnage by playing Turkish music loudly outside their home. The effect on the family was still significant as Konstantinos never seemed to recover, suffering from post- traumatic stress and never fully recovering economically. An eyewitness interview with Yani Pappas is particularly revealing. Mr. Pappas survived by acting like a Turkish protestor, yelling “Cyprus belongs to Turkey” and waiving the Turkish flag amidst a mob to survive.
The book concludes with a nostalgic visit to Istanbul by the author in 1997. The author bares his soul and brushes aside a painful past, marveling at the modern day beauty of his birthplace. The author’s understanding of the past and never forgetting the pain suffered by our forefathers is a essential ingredient and contributes to the book’s success. The equally significant message of hope for the future, of peaceful and neighborly resolution, and of respect for minorities is a lesson for all in our brotherhood as well as others to cherish.