As deadly violence and hate speech spiralled in Turkey this week between Turkish nationalists and its minority Kurdish community, Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew I has urged the nation to learn from its past ethnic tensions.

“How can one part of society look at another part of society with so much animosity and do whatever it takes to persecute them?” he asked. “If we can find out the answer, then we can learn from it and prevent it from taking place again.”

The cleric’s remarks came as his church marked the 60th anniversary of the 1955 pogroms that targeted Istanbul’s ethnic Greek and other non-Muslim communities.

A memorial liturgy on Sunday, Sept. 6, at the Yenikoy Panayia Greek Orthodox Church was the first public commemoration ever held in Turkey for the victims of the 1955 attacks.

The riots on Sept. 6th and 7th 60 years ago left 15 dead and 300 injured, along with 73 churches and more than 5,000 homes and businesses damaged. The attacks had been sparked by false rumours that the birthplace – in present-day Greece (then part of the Ottoman Empire) – of Turkey’s founding president Kemal Ataturk had been bombed. Most of Turkey’s 65,000 ethnic Greek citizens at the time have since emigrated: they now number less than 3,000.

Mutual mistrust between ethnic Turks and Greeks still persists; they’ve fought four wars during the past 200 years.

“Because these types of events have not been fully analysed before. . .this leads to the possibility of them being repeated,” warned Bartholomew, who in his role as Ecumenical Patriarch leads the Eastern Orthodox Churches’ 300 million adherents worldwide.