The events that began on İstiklal Avenue in Istanbul on September 6, 1955, with the news of a bomb being thrown at Atatürk’s house in Thessaloniki, had turned into a major attack and looting directed primarily towards minorities, especially Greeks. The attacks had spread to various neighborhoods of Istanbul, as well as to Ankara and İzmir.
The manner in which the events unfolded indicated that the primary perpetrator was the “state.” Indeed, years later, General Sabri Yirmibeşoğlu would admit to a journalist that the attack and looting were a “perfectly organized special warfare unit operation.”
The outcome of the 6-7 September Events was horrific. According to official sources, 4,214 houses, 1,004 businesses, 73 churches, 1 synagogue, and 26 schools were destroyed. The anger knew no bounds, and 400 Muslim-owned businesses were also looted. 11 people died, 300-600 people were injured, and dozens of women were subjected to sexual assault.
Various accusations were made against the perpetrators of the events. Prime Minister Menderes blamed “communists” and even arrested 45 individuals, including Aziz Nesin, Asım Bezirci, and Kemal Tahir, on this allegation. However, since the sole purpose of this accusation was to divert attention, the trials ended in acquittals.
Other potential culprits were the İstanbul Ekspres newspaper and the Cyprus Turkish Association. Of course, the intelligence organization known as MAH at that time, which is now called MİT, was another possible culprit due to its role in directing these events.
Following the coup on May 27th, the 6-7 September Events were one of the trials in Yassıada where Celal Bayar and Adnan Menderes were prosecuted. In this article, we will attempt to reveal what happened in the 6-7 September trial based on the records of the High Court of Justice at the Grand National Assembly Library, more commonly known as the Yassıada records.
The 542-page transcript of the 6-7 September Trial is available on the internet. The trial of the 6-7 September Events, which began on October 19, 1960, was presided over by Judge Salim Başol, with Prosecutor Altay Ömer Egesel.
Alongside Bayar and Menderes, the trial included Foreign Minister Fatih Rüştü Zorlu, who was Deputy Prime Minister at the time, and İzmir Governor Kemal Hadımlı as defendants.
Additionally, Istanbul Police Chief Alaettin Eriş, Izmir Governor Kemal Hadımlı, Thessaloniki Consul Mehmet Ali Balin, and Deputy Consul Mehmet Ali Tekinalp were also on trial. Furthermore, due to their roles in the Thessaloniki bombing, Hasan Uçar, a night watchman (bekçi), and Oktay Engin, a law student at Thessaloniki University, were among the defendants.
At the beginning of the trial, Bayar’s lawyer objected to the court, stating that presidents could not be tried for “betraying the nation,” but the court rejected this objection, and the trial proceeded. The accusation was that the events were organized to influence the Greek and British public opinions due to the Cyprus issue.
Bayar claimed that he had no knowledge of the events, that his presence in Istanbul when the events began was purely coincidental, that he had no role in orchestrating the events, and that he was not even aware of a “demonstration scheme.”
Furthermore, he denied the allegations that communists and the Cyprus Turkish Association had been blamed as the culprits. However, he stated that the events had “increased interest in Cyprus within the country.”
In contrast to Bayar’s brief questioning, Menderes underwent an extensive interrogation. Although he accepted the accusation of directing the Cyprus Turkish Association, he denied it in court, stating that his speech at Liman Restaurant was a result of Cyprus policy. He also pointed out that there was no evidence to support the claim in the Greek court’s decision that the bomb thrown in Thessaloniki had been sent from Turkey.
When Menderes suggested that the court should investigate how Oktay Engin, who was accused of ordering the bombing, managed to seek refuge in Turkey despite being sentenced to prison in Greece, Judge Başol responded that this was “not relevant to the case.”
Menderes also denied the allegation that he had ordered the bombing to be reported on radio noon bulletins. When it was reported that Istanbul Ekspres had covered the events in its second edition, Menderes claimed that he immediately asked the Istanbul Governor to take necessary measures and even left the Interior Minister, Namık Gedik, in Istanbul for this purpose.
The court’s questions primarily aimed to convict Menderes and his associates, rather than to shed light on the events. Judge Başol’s questions were entirely geared toward this goal.
During the trial, Judge Başol directed accusations of involvement in the events towards both Bayar and Menderes. However, the former prime minister stated that these allegations were baseless. Menderes’s defense focused on issues such as the rapid spread of the events and the failure to take necessary measures in a short period of time.
Menderes also claimed that he had no knowledge of any assistance provided to Oktay Engin, who was accused of throwing the bomb, and that he had no knowledge of Engin being accepted as a scholarship student by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs two years before the events. While sitting in the defendant’s chair, the former prime minister repeatedly denied the allegations that the events were “an organization of the government,” and the prosecution did not press him with detailed questions or attempt to provide conclusive evidence.
OKTAY ENGİN’S INTERROGATION
After Menderes, the then-Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu was interrogated, and he also denied the accusations that the events had been a premeditated organization due to the Cyprus issue, and that he had requested it.
Istanbul Governor Fahrettin Kerim Gökay and Police Chief Alaettin Eriş also claimed that there had not been a delayed response to the events and that there had been no tolerance. In Eriş’s statement, it was even mentioned that the military did not intervene in the events with various excuses even after the army had taken control. However, it is interesting that the police chief did not undergo a detailed interrogation.
Among the individuals interrogated by the court were Thessaloniki Consul Mehmet Ali Balin, night watchman Hasan Uçar, and law student Oktay Engin. The accusation against Balin was that he, along with the consulate assistant, transported the bomb that exploded in Thessaloniki from Turkey to Greece. Balin denied this accusation, stating that it was impossible, and that there was no information about who had actually delivered the bomb.
The court also read the decision of the Greek court regarding the bombing. The consulate assistant also denied the accusation and night watchman Hasan Uçar was interrogated. During his questioning, Uçar stated that he was from the Turkish community in Gümülcine, that he saw a “gendarmerie officer and a gendarme” on the street after the explosion, and that he later called the consulate to report the bomb incident.
Additionally, Uçar claimed that he was pressured to sign a prepared statement, even with a gun pointed at him, under the influence of the questioning judge and prosecutor. However, the court did not ask Uçar further questions, and he concluded his defense by saying, “I am a Turk, Mr. President, I have not thrown a bomb at Atatürk’s house, I have not even stepped on a cat’s tail.”
The Yassıada court also interrogated Oktay Engin. Engin explained that he was studying at Thessaloniki University, and during the summer vacation, he was assigned as an interpreter for Turkey’s participation in the Thessaloniki International Fair. After the bomb incident, he was captured and interrogated by Greek authorities in Gümülcine on September 21st.
During his interrogation, Engin mentioned an interesting detail and claimed that Hasan Uçar had “intervened” to secure his appointment to the consulate. However, Judge Salim Başol interrupted, saying, “Skip this part,” preventing him from providing detailed information.
Engin admitted to signing the statement under duress, stating that his handwriting had been forged. He also mentioned that he had been funded by the Turkish government to study and that after returning to Turkey, he had been allocated “certain properties” by a decision of the Council of Ministers.
Afterwards, Judge Başol again said, “Skip this part,” and asked, “When did you first meet Adnan Menderes?” It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Oktay’s interrogation, like the others, was conducted in a rather “ordinary” manner.
As expected, the Yassıada Trial of September 6-7 resulted in Menderes, Zorlu, and İzmir Governor Kemal Hadımlı being found guilty in line with the court’s intended purpose. The court issued a “non-prosecution” decision for Bayar and sentenced Menderes and Zorlu to six years each and Hadımlı to four and a half years in prison.
In return, Fuat Köprülü, Balin, Tekinalp, and Engin were found not guilty. Eriş and Gökay’s crimes had already exceeded the statute of limitations. Istanbul Police Chief Alaettin Eriş later served as a governor in four provinces and even became a member of parliament in the 12th term. Governor Gökay also entered politics after the May 27th coup and served as a minister in İnönü’s governments.
The Yassıada interrogations were conducted in a hasty manner, with the sole purpose being to ensure that DP leaders Bayar, Menderes, and Zorlu received the harshest sentences possible. Therefore, just like in the trials immediately after the events, the roles of student organizations, unions, and the Cyprus Turkish Association were not thoroughly investigated. The role of the intelligence organization MAH was also not revealed.
Moreover, General Mustafa Behçet Türkmen, the head of MAH, was not among those prosecuted. Türkmen became a lieutenant general in 1957 and later served as ambassador to Baghdad and Oslo. Little information is available about Türkmen, but he is the father of İlter Türkmen, who became the Minister of Foreign Affairs after the September 12th coup.
The rejection of the request to hear testimonies from MAH leaders in court was likely a precaution due to the fact that the officers who formed the coup regime were also considered “suspects.” This way, the events were portrayed as if they were carried out solely by DP organizations, concealing the fact that it was a “state organization.” The May 27th coup plotters were trying to legitimize their regime in this way.
One of the most intriguing figures in the events is undoubtedly Oktay Engin. Despite being arrested in Greece, Engin managed to escape to Turkey. It was clear that he was “protected” from the moment he arrived in Turkey, as journalist Kemal Savcı had discovered.
Savcı found evidence that Engin was provided with a house in Kadırga, received salaries from the Fatih and Istanbul municipalities, and had been assigned to work as a control officer for entertainment venues by a decision of the Council of Ministers on January 17, 1957 (BCA, 30-18-1-2, 145/106/20).
The journalist also visited Hasan Uçar, who was accused of throwing the bomb in Thessaloniki, and learned that he was living “rent-free” in Consul Balin’s house. Uçar stated during the trial that his wife had been taking care of Balin’s mother-in-law’s affairs.
After seeking refuge in Turkey, Oktay Engin completed his law degree at Istanbul University and worked in the police force, serving as Deputy Chief of Police and later as the Chief of Police in Eskişehir. He also served as the governor of Nevşehir in 1992-1993. In a 2001 interview, Engin claimed that he had rejected an offer to collaborate with MAH, although Yirmibeşoğlu later denied his words.
In the end, as always, the state took the necessary steps to ensure that the truth did not come to light, both in the post-events trials and in Yassıada, leaving the fog over the 6-7 September Events largely intact.
- Yüksek Adalet Divanı Tutanakları (6-7 Eylül Hadiseleri)
- Güven, D. (2005). “6-7 Eylül Olayları,” Istanbul: Tarih Vakfı.
- Demir, Ş. (2020). “Yassıada Mahkemelerinde Adnan Menderes (6/7 Eylül Davası),” History Studies, Volume 12, Issue 4.
- “Oktay Engin: Devletin Sorumluluğu Var,” Bianet, Retrieved from https://m.bianet.org/bianet/siyaset/4458-oktay-engin-devletin-sorumlulugu-var (Accessed on September 1, 2023).