Letter to The New York Times, January 18, 1997

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036-3959

RE: "Strange, That's Santa in the Seat of the Sultans!",

December 21, 1996

To the Editor:

After exploring Istanbul's growing adoption of Christmas traditions Stephen Kinzer concludes, in his 12/21/96 article entitled "Strange, That's Santa in the Seat of the Sultans!", that "[i]n a sense, then, Turkey's new interest in Santa is bringing him back to his roots."

St. Nicholas, after whom (as Mr. Kinzer correctly states) Santa Claus is patterned, was a 4th century Greek saint living in a historically Hellenic geographical area that was eventually conquered by the Ottoman Turks a millennium after his existence. What seems odd then about Mr. Kinzer's characterization of St. Nicholas as returning "to his roots" in Turkey is that the Byzantine saint not only predated Asia Minor's Turkish invaders but predated the Turkic peoples themselves. More importantly, what is deeply disturbing to Greeks and other Orthodox peoples about Mr. Kinzer's strained association of the Orthodox saint with Turkey is the fact that the Turks were single-handedly responsible for the extinction of Christianity in Asia Minor through exterminationist policies against the Greek and Armenian communities which had been living there for millennia.

Arguably among the most traumatic occupation any European peoples have had to endure, the brutality and savagery of the Turks against their Orthodox Christian subjects was so nightmarish that it still influences the geopolitics of the region hundreds of years later. The massacre, mass rape and selling off into slavery of thousands of an island or province by the Ottoman Turks was an all too frequent occurrence (see e.g. Delacroix's Massacre at Chios). The Christian subjects were forced to pay a "head tax" (signifying what they would lose if they did not remunerate their Moslem overlords), and a janissary tax under which their firstborn males were forcibly taken to be converted to Islam and trained as fanatic holy warriors used to kill other Christians . Hiding one's children (or money) from the sultan's agents meant an instant death sentence. Being a Greek, Armenian, Serb or other Orthodox Christian in the Ottoman Empire meant living in daily fear of murder, rape, torture, kidnap of one's children, slavery, and genocide.

Thus the highly accomplished Byzantine Christian civilization, one that helped jump-start Europe's Renaissance, was all but annihilated by the invading Turks, setting back the entire region to a savage 500-year dark ages from which it has yet to recover. The final curtain for the Christians of the Ottoman Empire was a tragic one: the bulk of the Armenians and Greeks in Asia Minor were exterminated and the rest ethnically cleansed from a land they had been living on for millennia. It is this sinister reality that should provide the focus of any genuine and conscientious examination of the relationship between Asia Minor's Christian and Hellenic past and its present-day inhabitants.

P. D. Spyropoulos, Esq.


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