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Memories of the capital tax levied in wartime Turkey

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  • Memories of the capital tax levied in wartime Turkey

    Konstantinos Kiourtsoglou (left) doing forced labor in Anatolia. His diary
    of the experience is is the basis for a book and documentary from IDISME.

    Memories of the capital tax levied in wartime Turkey




    A diary written in Turkish by a Greek man records days of enforced labor

    It’s a pocket diary, with a week to each page spread, the sort you might use to note appointments and everyday errands. But Konstantinos Kiourtsoglou’s 1943 diary records extraordinary events – the painful experience of internal exile and enforced labor.

    When the Turkish government imposed the Varlik vergisi, or capital tax, in November 1942, the measure fell most heavily on the non-Muslim population. The tax was assessed by the authorities, could not be challenged in court and was payable within 15 days. Defaulters had their property and homes seized and the men were shipped to Anatolia to work in labor battalions.

    Kiourtsoglou, a flour trader, was one of those sent to Erzurum, in eastern Anatolia. His diary, a rare written account by an eyewitness, is the basis of a book and short documentary published by the Hellenic History Foundation (IDISME). The film is in Greek with English subtitles.

    Kiourtsoglou’s son Nikolaos, founder of the Athens-based Eptalofos Library, handed the diary in the original Turkish over to IDISME researcher and historian Irini Sarioglou, who recognized its rarity. Not only does it cover the full duration of the work battalions – January to December 1943 – but it is a personal account, as she notes in her introduction to “Stin Exoria: Erzurum-Askale 1943” (The Exiled: Erzurum-Askale 1943).

    Her chapter on the historical context explains that the tax, supposedly levied to correct the deficit and curb inflation, was also a means of excluding non-Muslims from the market. The levy was set so high that none could pay it and Armenian, Greek and Je_wish businessmen were sent into exile.

    Conditions were brutal. Kiourtsoglou describes a three-day train journey in filthy, unheated wagons. On arrival, the men were accommodated in stables, which they had to share with farm animals and for which they were charged rent. The work was exhausting – clearing the roads of snow or digging to clear new roads. In the bitterly cold winter, 15 men in his group died, he reports.

    Turkish villagers interviewed for the documentary recalled the welldressed men who “weren’t suited to their shovels,” who had nowhere proper to sleep and had to relieve themselves where the animals did.

    Turkish villagers interviewed for the documentary recalled the welldressed men who “weren’t suited to their shovels,” who had nowhere proper to sleep and had to relieve themselves where the animals did.

    Most of the entries refer to routine events: “I walked to the wooden bridge and washed my feet. At midday we had bean soup.” Feastdays are noted, as are fellow exiles’ deaths. Mail is censored but letters do arrive and are sorely missed after a gap of several days. News of property sequestrations in Istanbul feeds anxiety. The weather, meager provisions and squalid quarters are recurring themes. On June 6, Kiourtsoglou describes how the men sleep: “With Karamanoglou’s feet on Papazoglou’s head and Papazoglou’s feet on Karamanoglou’s head, Teperikoglou at one end, me by the wall and Tsalas near the door.”The entry concludes:“There’s no bread or work. Gave Teperikoglou 6 liras for rent.”

    The film, directed by Kalliopi Legaki, uses excerpts from the diary, period footage and photographs as well as interviews to tell the story.

    Interviewed for the documentary, Turkish historian Rifat Ali explained how the capital levy, officially abolished in March 1944, was both an attempt to raise funds and a deliberate attempt to Turkify the economy.

    Putting the tax in context, historian Ayhan Aktar noted that wartime shortages and Turkey’s reliance on imports had made prices rise dramatically. Importers and traders were stigmatized as profiteers, and from that it wasn’t a big step to denouncing them as traitors. But the tax was not successful, said Aktar, not only because prices soon went up again but also because “you can’t create a Muslim bourgeoisie overnight and you can’t get rid of the non-Muslim businessmen.”

    Both the book, which reproduces some original diary pages as well as press clippings and family photos, and the film, narrated by Sarioglou and Michalis Giannatos, with music by Eleni Karaindrou, shed light on an episode which brought suffering to Turkey’s minorities.

    Last edited by Alexandros; 01-22-2010, 02:27 AM.

  • #2
    Re: Memories of the capital tax levied in wartime Turkey

    If those methods is not coming from a fascist country then what dose!
    You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.