Sunday, November 12, 2006

Istanbul, November 12, 1942

While much of the recent news in the media have addressed current events or events that took place during a period leading to the First World War, we should not forget that today is the 64th anniversary of a horrible event that struck Armenians, entrepreneurs in particular, in Istanbul. Indeed, I would be remiss if I did not say a word or two on the treatment of Armenian and other minority (jewish, greek, and assyrian) businessmen in Turkey during the Second World War.

On the morning of November 12, 1942, the citizens of Turkey woke up to the most draconian wealth tax ever envisaged. While the tax in theory applied to the entire predominantly Muslim nation, in practice much of its burden rested with the minority Christian and Jewish communities who primarily resided in Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople. Neither the rate of taxation nor the taxable base and its derivation were made public. Tax assessments were arrived at in secret, and individuals were directed to settle their government assessed liabilities within two weeks, without any appeal provisions in place. The penalty for Christians and Jews who failed to do so within a month was deportation to forced labor camps in eastern Turkey in addition to having their property confiscated.

Faik Okte, the administrator of this tax at the Turkish Ministry of Finance wrote a book on the subject documenting all of its features and naming its victims. The book has been translated from the Turkish "Varlik Vergisi Faciasi" into English and is entitled "The Tragedy of the Turkish Capital Tax," by Geoffrey Cox, Croom Helm, 1987.

Because the tax was at best arbitrary, the effective tax rates that businesses had to pay fluctuated widely. The assessed tax often exceeded the entire wealth of business owners which inevitably led to their deportation to labor camps in addition to the confiscation of their properties. C.L. Sulzberger, writing for the New York Times, documented how burdensome this tax was, and in particular the pain it inflicted on the Armenians. See below:

Effective Tax Rates by Religious and Ethnic Affiliation
Merchants by Affiliation ...... Tax Rates (%)
Muslim Merchants ..................... 4.94
Greek Orthodox Merchants...... 156.00
Jewish Merchants.................... 179.00
Christian Armenian Merchants 232.00

Source: C.L. Sulzberger, “Turkish Tax Kills Foreign Business,” New York Times, September 11, 1943.


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