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My Constantinople: Part 2

After spending a few weeks of bliss visiting the wonderful sites of this magnificent city, it was time to settle into the reality of work.


Uncle George owned a large import/export business in the Fanar district where he produced beautiful handmade furniture for export to Europe and sometimes received orders from America. His furniture was renowned for its quality and received many letters from satisfied customers. He imported carpets and rugs from Smyrna which were simply exquisite and sold a variety of other goods.


He owned a large emporium where he sold his merchandise directly to the public. Much of his clientele were wealthy and middle-class individuals who could afford to pay high prices for his goods. I was employed as a salesman but also worked in the office processing accounts when there wasn’t much else to do on the sales floor. He was tough on his staff but treated us all with courtesy and respect.


My living expenses were minimal which allowed me to save money so I could open my own business one day. We worked six ten-hour days and Sunday was our rest day. That’s when I went to Church to thank God for giving me good health and the opportunity to save money for my future endeavors. I never worried about shopping for food as my aunt arranged for all that. Sometimes when she was busy, she would send a servant to buy the food from the Grand and Spice Bazaars.


My daily routine varied little but there were events outside the emporium that would have a major impact on Uncle George’s Emporium. The political situation in Constantinople was tense with the Empire facing major challenges from the provinces in the Balkans and Asia Minor. Macedonia was the center of this political struggle with violent clashes taking place between the Ottoman army and Bulgarian guerrillas. The Constantinopolitan newspapers published daily accounts of these events. However, the accuracy of these reports was difficult to ascertain due to the imposition of censorship in the capital.

There was a large Bulgarian community in Constantinople who went about their daily lives without stirring up Turkish passions. They seemed to be loyal citizens and never said anything about the guerrilla bands operating in Macedonia. A regular Bulgarian customer named Vladko told me that some of his relatives had been terrorized by these Bulgarian guerrilla units. In one case, they pillaged and burned his uncle’s village around Florina. One of the guerrilla leaders told his uncle (Goran) that if he reported them to the Ottoman authorities, they would return and kill all of them.


When the Ottoman troops came to the village seeking information about the guerrillas, Goran told them it was the Greeks who committed this dastardly act. During this time, Greek, Bulgarian, and Serbian insurgents fought for supremacy in Macedonia with the abject goal of driving out the Ottoman Turks. Whilst their intentions seemed noble but attacking and killing innocent civilians didn't help their cause. As a Greek, I wanted Macedonia to be liberated and to come under Greek control.


The Greek press condemned the actions of these marauders who terrorized our folk in Macedonia. They reported events in a way that avoided the ire of the censor. The local Bulgarian press condemned the actions of the guerrilla bands using very strong language. Both the Greek and Bulgarian newspapers supported the Ottoman government’s action in crushing these insurgents. It seemed from press reports that our Greek guerrillas “co-operated” with the Turks to crush the Bulgarian units. From what I gathered reading press reports and listening to Vladko that there was an intense hatred between the Greeks and Bulgarians in Macedonia. I thought as Orthodox Christians cooperation would have been possible to drive out the Turks. However, this rivalry suited the Turks allowing them to drive a wedge between the warring parties.


The great European powers forced Sultan Abdul Hamid to institute political and civil reforms for his subjects in Macedonia. Nonetheless the Sultan never publicly expressed his displeasure of this external interference in his empire. The Turkish press was mute over the intervention of the European ambassadors in Constantinople. Some wealthy customers who knew members of the Ottoman Cabinet told us that the Sultan was seething over this interference in the internal affairs of Türkiye.


The summer of 1908 was a momentous time with the Salonika becoming the epicenter of political change which shook the empire to its core. A group of Turkish officers (Young Turks) rebelled against the Sultan demanding the reintroduction of the 1876 Constitution that guaranteed freedom and rights to all subjects of the empire. In Constantinople, I witnessed for the first time Turks, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, and Jews embracing and hugging each other with such brotherly love. That moment proved illusory. Next year, all this changed when the Young Turks espoused “Türkiye for the Turks.”


Despite the political turmoil, Uncle George’s business performed well until 1910 with rumblings of war between Greece and Türkiye. The two issues were over Crete and a spat between the Greek ambassador Gryparis and the Grand Vizier. The former was the center of Greek-Turkish relations with numerous rebellions occurred with the Cretans demanding union with Greece. These uprisings were brutally crushed by the Turks. The latter was over words uttered by the Grand Vizier which Gryparis took offense and returned to Athens for "consultation."


Meanwhile, the Sultan ordered the mobilization of the army near the Greek frontier. Athens responded in kind. I prayed that no war would eventuate. The Ottoman government ordered a Turkish boycott against Greek ships and tradesmen. This decision impacted a part of my uncle's business who depended on Greek ships for the import/export of merchandise from Greece and Europe. The Turkish press fanned its hatred towards the Greeks in Constantinople. We kept silent throughout this entire time to avoid Turkish reprisals and to be able to continue business as usual. Interestingly, the Turkish pashas continued to order their handmade furniture from Uncle George. Our silence proved golden from a business perspective.


My uncle lodged a compensation claim for loss of business and surprisingly the Ottoman court accepted it without demur. Another chapter to follow soon.

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