Theodore G. Karakostas
Remember Constantinople

The date of May 29 is famous (or notorious) as the day that Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. For fifty-five days, the Greeks under Emperor Constantine Paleologos valiantly resisted the Turkish invasion. An army of 7,000 Greek soldiers fought against a Turkish army of 80,000 before they were finally defeated.

The beginning of the end for the Greeks came in August 1071 when the Seljuk Turks defeated the Byzantine armies at the Battle of Manzikert. The Crusades, which had originally been intended to liberate the holy land from the Muslims, savagely turned against the Christian East and invaded Constantinople in 1204. The Greeks would never recover and the Ottoman Turks would conquer all of the Balkans, leaving Russia the only free Orthodox nation.

In response to their requests for assistance, the west demanded that the Greeks give up their Orthodox beliefs. In response the Greeks stated, «Better the Turban of the Sultan than the Cardinal’s hat». Sultan Mehmed, later to be known as «the Conqueror» guaranteed the safety of all in the city if they willingly surrendered. Constantine responded by stating, «I will never give you the City.»

As such, the Orthodox faithful chose martyrdom. The Turkish entry into the city was accompanied by beastly behavior. Murder, rape, and plundering were widespread. Churches, Monasteries, Libraries, and other sites were destroyed. By Islamic custom, any so-called «Infidel» city that does not willingly surrender is allowed to be sacked for three consecutive days without interruption. Boys were immediately kidnapped, converted to Islam, and recruited into the Janissaries. Christian Women were forced into Harems.

Furthermore, Islamic custom demands that the center of religious life for «giavours» (Infidels) be transferred into a Mosque. The Great Church of Aghia Sophia has been lost ever since. Myths have been told of the Priest who was taken into the walls of the Great Church so the Turks would not profane or desecrate the Eucharist.


The Emperor himself resisted calls to go into exile and died in battle. His remains were never found and myths were told about the «Marble Emperor» who allegedly was saved at the last moment by an interceding Angel. The myth states that one day the Emperor would awaken and chase the Turks back to the Red Apple Tree.

Eight years after the Fall of Constantinople, the Empire of Trebizond fell to the Turks. There was some resistance in the Balkans to Mehmed’s expansionism. Prince Vlad of Wallachia kept the Ottomans back for a time.

A century after the fall of Constantinople, Russia began to emerge as «Third Rome» with the Czar taking the place of the Emperor of Constantinople as protector of Christians. In 1589, the Ecumenical Patriarch upgraded the Metropolitan of Moscow to Patriarch and indirectly endorsed the Russian claims. Catherine the Great supported a «Greek Project» which would see the restoration of a Greek state allied with Russia and with its capital in Constantinople.

In 1821, the Greek nation revolted against Turkish slavery. Patriarch Gregory V was hanged in front of the Patriarchate along with twelve Bishops. After a decade of fighting, a Hellenic state was established.

In 1853 and 1878, opportunities for Russia to liberate Constantinople were denied when the imperialist powers used their strength to back the Sultan. In 1915, during the First World War, Britain agreed to give Constantinople to the Russians, but the Bolsheviks denounced the agreement. During the same time, Greece began to emerge as a major power in the Balkans.

Following the Collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Greek troops were among the victorious armies of WW1 that entered Constantinople. In May 1919, Smyrna was liberated. Under Eleutherios Venizelos, Greece was seeking to fulfill the national dream known as the «Megali Idea». Western imperialism interceded to deny the Greeks of Constantinople and Asia Minor their right to self-determination.

The Greek army was prevented from winning the struggle in Asia Minor and was not only prevented from liberating Constantinople, but Greece was forced to evacuate Eastern Thrace as well. Mustapha Kemal emerged to finish Mehmed’s work. Five centuries after the City fell, anti-Greek pogroms led to the Exodus of the City’s Greeks. All that remains is the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Theological Seminary of Halki that is closed.

Islamists in Turkey usually remember May 29. They demonstrate from time to time to turn Aghia Sophia back into a Mosque. The Patriarchate has been bombed on four different occasions. Cemeteries are desecrated, Churches secularized, and individual Greeks murdered.

The Kemalist state has been built on top of the remains of countless Greek, Armenian, and Assyrian corpses. Try as they might, the Turks cannot erase the history that the Greeks have left in Constantinople. The Mosaics on the walls of Aghia Sophia bear witness to Christ and the Orthodox faith, and they also tell the visitor to whom the Great Church and City belong.