Thursday, January 18, 2007

Is There A Cultural Thaw Developing Between Greece And Turkey?

From the IHT comes this interesting article about a perceived new era in Greek and Turkish relations.

A short decade ago, a blink in the centuries of bad blood between Greeks and Turks, there was "no way" a Turkish store could have opened at a fancy mall in Athens. So said Elena Kanellopoulou, 60, as she meandered through Athens's first megamall, stopping a few steps from an upscale women's shop with a clock in the display window showing the time in Istanbul.

I am pressed for time after a long day, but I would be interested in hearing from my European and Turkish readers, on this new wave of cultural reconciliation. Is there hope that two traditional adversaries can put away a long history of hostility?


Shah Alexander said...

This is an interesting issue. I have posted a related one.

This is what I have been feeling for a long time. Turkey must be accepted to the EU.

ms. miami said...

i'm not sure if a "thaw" is afoot, but i know that i'd have to see it to believe it.

i spent some time in turkey, years ago, and was really taken aback by the constant hostility i saw towards anything greek. i've never seen anything like it anywhere else.

Always On Watch Two said...

I can't say that I agree that Turkey be admitted to the EU. The bestselling book there is Mein Kampf.

Turkey is, in some ways, quite Westward in outlook, but not so in other ways.

Furthermore, were Turkey to be admitted to the EU, travel for Islamists--certainly in Turkey as evidenced by various reports--would have an easier time traveling throughout Europe.

Anonim said...

//Is there hope that two traditional adversaries can put away a long history of hostility?//

In a sense, it's like fighting terrorism. You need to be successful all the time whereas it suffices for your opponent to be successful once. Builders vs. saboteurs dilemma. So, it's an uphill battle.

Post-earthquake thaw is real, and it helped put the countries on a hopeful track. But saboteurs exist, and set-backs are happening. (Fresh news just in today: Unknown gunmen shot dead Hrant Dink, a well-known and outspoken Armenian-Turkish journalist. Fucking bastards... I am against death penalty, but treason -which this act is- could be an exception. Just a wish in a moment of frustration. Apparently, Dink's life was made a living hell by threats and all, and authorities allegedly failed to provide adequate protection. If true, those in that failing chain of authority should be punished to the maximum extent as well.)

As for EU, I'm not gonna say anything in defense of the idea of Turkish admission. The sooner Turkey wakes out of that dream, the better. I am not even offended a bit any longer by the ill-conceived objections like Islamists' gaining easier access to Europe should Turkey be a member state. Europe had long harbored rabid anti-secular-Turkey Islamists in its midst; they woke up somewhat after 9/11. But they can't turn around, affix the suspicion to Turkey, and be serious at the same time. Mein Kampf (rising nationalism) appears to be a legitimate concern. But there, too, you are looking at a chicken-or-egg problem. Nationalism in Turkey is on the rise in good part because certain European saboteurs hijacked the process, snubbing Turkish efforts tirelessly. Don't forget to also consider the regional destabilization threat emanating from Iraq. In fact, both Mein Kampf and another doomsday novel (about a future Turkish-American war) became best-sellers after an unfortunate operation by the US military against a group of Turkish officers legitimately stationed in a Northern Iraqi city.

ms. miami: What kind of everyday people had you hung around with to make those observations? I would have argued just the opposite. I am from Western Turkey, where the Greek forces wreaked the most havoc, my own grandparents barely escaping death. And, yet I haven't once witnessed any deep seated hostility around me towards Greeks. In my experience, any negativity (from ordinary people) is extremely superficial. You could easily press someone uttering a, say, hateful sentence, and his second sentence would be something like "well, we are the same people; it's all politics" (which we are, of course).

ms. miami said...

anonim- let me respond to your question and add a few general comments on my impressions of turkey.

i spent a few weeks visiting a turkish friend (who was a student in the u.s.) with his family in istanbul (kadiköy, to be exact).

i heard lots of little comments about how american tourists shouldn't go to "useless" greece, how horrible it is that people think that baklava (or other food from the region) is greek, or how greeks (or others balkan peoples) actually "had it good" under ottoman occupation (a debateable point, i imagine).

also, it's apparently a common pastime (among a certain crowd) to sit around discussing the tactics of how one could physically invade and take over greece. i saw this a few times.

it's probably true that the comments i heard were "superficial." however, i couldn't get over the fact that it was more or less non-stop.

my general impressions of turkey (at least the part i saw- i realize that other regions can be very different) are that it's a very schizophrenic society.

this particular family would only define themselves as european (they were educated in french schools) and, despite the evidence, wanted to deny any arab or persian influence on their culture.

at the same time, when it was convenient, they would tout various buildings, factories, etc. as being the biggest in "the middle east."

i found this sense of self very disturbing. i think that any society will be "stuck" until it can look clearly in the mirror and fully acknowledge what it really is.

Anonim said...

ms. miami, thanks for the response.

//lots of little comments about how american tourists shouldn't go to "useless" greece//

At one time, it was a common gripe of Turkish tourism agencies (and was probably true) that Greek tourism agencies were actively discouraging foreign tourists visiting Greece from also visiting Turkey by negative propaganda. And, such Turkish reaction was commonplace. I'd imagine, starting from mid-fifties (Istanbul pogroms; tourism wasn't big prior to that time anyways) to Cyprus difficulties from early 60s to 74 and beyond (well into 80s, maybe also 90s). American tourists being the most generous spenders of all, they were particular objects of jealousy. Besides, Turkey is arguably a richer tourist destination than Greece (in terms of size, history of the geography, etc.) Another debatable point maybe... In any event, I hear that the cooperation in the tourism sector is carrying the day today.

//how horrible it is that people think that baklava (or other food from the region) is greek//

Gee, isn't it horrible really? ;) This is a national sport of both Turks and Greeks; I imagine Armenians and Arabs might want to stake out their bragging rights here, but they seem to be more sensible than us about baklava. We may have soujouk & basterma issues with Armenians on the other hand (wish that was all).

Semi-seriously, to count this on Turkey's 'minus'es side, you should have missed the shy dissatisfaction heard from some Greek quarters about the "Turkish delight" featured prominently in that movie last year (the one where kids pass through a closet into a fantasy world where there is a lion resurrecting; damn, I forgot the name). How about Greek Cyprus's banning the cross-border trade of Turkish delights labeled "Turkish delight" (or some such obstruction)? How about Turkish coffee known as such to all including Greeks until 1974, after which time Greeks decided it was Greek coffee?

Really seriously, how about this: San Diego State's Turkey Problem (This is quite disturbing IMO; the rest is small stuff, let us sweat it...)

//how greeks (or others balkan peoples) actually "had it good" under ottoman occupation (a debateable point, i imagine)//

Yes, I imagine so, too. Provided you don't over-debate it into denial of modern times and values.

//a common pastime (among a certain crowd) to sit around discussing the tactics of how one could physically invade and take over greece//

I'm tempted to ask what year that was. At times, such as when respective armies mobilized over some rocks in the Aegean as they did on a few occasions, this would be quite typical. At other times, it is not normal, is certainly not "common" pastime. (Can't speak for your over?-educated family).

Actually, 1998 was a year of such an occasion. I was visiting Phoenix for a conference right on the days when the crisis was at its peak. About 20 of us Turks, looking for a neat place to have lunch at, decided to go invade a Greek restaurant in the spirit of the crisis. You need to have seen the restaurantor, who was affixed to the TV tuned to a Greek channel from Greece showing all about the mobilization when we arrived. It was a successful invasion; the restaurantor was out of "Turkish shish kebobs" for the rest of the day.

By the way, our common pastime is to gather together to discuss "how we can save the country" over coffee or something else to drink or eat. We are certainly not short of people who know everything. You gotta read Robert D. Kaplan's Balkan Ghosts, and see how pretty much all Balkan peoples know everything. So, we may not be very different in that respect, either.

French wannabe type of intelligentsia is a long-time phenomenon in Turkey (goes back to Ottoman times). Denial of Arab & Persian influences is a more recent manifestation of that, IMO. In any event, neither is wide-spread. Mostly confined to the over-educated, a subset of the educated urbanites.

ms. miami said...

anonim- yes, i've got kaplan's book in my library- a wonderful exploration of that area at that time.

my visit was around 1995 if memory serves. there was no particular military event going on that i remember. however, this topic just kept coming up.

How about Greek Cyprus's banning the cross-border trade of Turkish delights labeled "Turkish delight" (or some such obstruction)? How about Turkish coffee known as such to all including Greeks until 1974, after which time Greeks decided it was Greek coffee?

indeed, i've not singled the turks out as the only ones busy with fruitless (imho) debates. i just haven't yet been to greece (to the delight of turkish tourist agencies, i'm sure).

anywho, i hope to get back there sometime to see other parts of the country. and greece... whatever anyone wants to call it, the food is great in the entire region!

Anonim said...

ms. miami:

//indeed, i've not singled the turks out as the only ones busy with fruitless (imho) debates.//

Having read your measured take on cultural issues elsewhere, I'd have been surprised if you had.

About this over-educated-ness, or "snobbery" issue, I want to relate a story.

Here, where I live, we have a Turkish family of three, all very close friend. The wife came to the States when she was 7, the husband came in his 20s, and has been here for over 30 years now. They have a daughter, born here, in college now.

The daughter, upon finishing high-school one year in advance of her peers, wanted to go to Turkey and spend her spare year there as an exchange student. She was placed with a well-to-do family in Ankara. The parents were going to go visit with her and the host family for a short week or so during the year. They didn't know Ankara much, so they asked us about what to see, taste, etc. To taste, we immediately recommended them a hard-to-find, but totally-rewarding-once-found, small, old-timer type of place.

This place is in the middle of a small business district (blue-collar kind; no glitter or pomp) isolated from residential neighborhoods, and quite far away from where the host family lived, tough still in the metropolitan area. They serve one and only one thing: sheep meat cooked whole in an underground oven. I say "sheep" b/c I saw what they lowered into the pit once; it was no lamb. And they serve it in the old tradition. You order it by the pound (grams, that is). No forks or knives; you have fingers, don't you? Good if you order "ayran" (a yogurt drink; what Iranians call dough); if you order coke or something, they serve it but only grudgingly. In short, the food is something to die for if you're a reasonably healthy person, not likely to actually die at the table after all that fat.

So, we convinced our friends to try this must-try place, and also warned them to be insistent about it. For we suspected what could happen depending on the host family's lifestyle. Anyhow, they went and came back home, and we asked "did you try that place?" They said, "Nah, the family didn't like the idea; they said, c'mon, who goes there? We were embarrassed to insist. We went to shiny places instead." Just as suspected. Pity...

LASunsett said...

Interesting discussion here. I knew that MsM had been to Turkey and Anonim is from there. Naturally, I had hoped they would weigh in. So, thanks to them for their perspective.


//Furthermore, were Turkey to be admitted to the EU, travel for Islamists--certainly in Turkey as evidenced by various reports--would have an easier time traveling throughout Europe.//

I am a bit ambivalent, on this. I think this is certainly a valid concern, on one hand. On the other, what's to stop them now? There are a lot of Muslims there already.

Turkey's Islamist population does not present itself in the same manner that other countries' populations do. Since news coverage is quite limited in the US, I cannot say this for a surety, but I do not think that their Islamist population is nearly as violent, nor do they export that violence to other countries, the same way that others do.

With that said, I have to look at the long-range forecast here, when I say this. In the back of my mind I cannot help but think that on one hand, EU membership for Turkey would be good for the purpose of bridging the gap between the western world and the Muslim world.

But as you say, there is a valid concern that if the Islamist problem in Turkey were to foment and grow, who's to say that the problem you state, could be something to deal with down the road.

I know Europe is very divided on this issue and that many in France are resistant to this happening. But I am not sure how this is playing out in Turkey. Anonim?

LASunsett said...

Shah, I read this post some time ago and you make some compelling arguments. For those of you that didn't get his link that was cut off here is the post he refers to, here.

Thanks for visiting, sir. And I like your new look, at your site.

L'Amerloque said...

Hi SF !

Amerloque doesn't want to be a party pooper here (well, not too much, anyway), but Shah's prose about Turkey ... viz:

"In addition, the Ottoman Empire hired assimilated Europeans, called jeni sarries"

indicates to Amerloque that there's obviously some kind of misunderstanding here.

As Wiki so forcefully point out, in its entry on the Janissaries:

//The first Janissary units comprised war captives and slaves, selecting one in five for enrollment in the ranks (Pencik rule). After the 1380s Sultan Mehmet I filled their ranks with the results of taxation in human form called devshirmeh: the Sultan’s men conscripted a number of non-Muslim, usually Christian, boys – at first at random, later, by strict selection – to be trained.

Initially they favoured Greeks, Albanians (who also supplied many gendarmes), usually selecting about one boy from forty houses, but the numbers could be changed to correspond with the need for soldiers. Boys aged 14-18 were preferred, though ages 8-20 could be taken. Next the devshirmeh was extended to also include Serbs, Bosnians and other Balkan countries, later especially Ukraine and southern Russia. The Janissaries started accepting enrollment from outside the devshirmeh system first during the reign of Sultan Murad III (1546-1595) and completely stopped enrolling devshirmeh in 17th century. After this period, volunteers were enrolled, mostly of Muslim origin.[3]//

Hardly what mighe be termed "voluntary" hirings of Christians, no ?

In Amerloque's view, Turkey will never be admitted to the EU. Ever. No matter what. Period. The border of Europe ... with Iraq ? Never. (Of course, that's just an opinion.(grin)).

BTW, Amerloque has been to 'Stamboul several times. He has always dreamt of a yali overlooking the Bosphorous.

It's not to be in this lifetime, though. (smile)


Anonim said...

//I know Europe is very divided on this issue and that many in France are resistant to this happening. But I am not sure how this is playing out in Turkey. Anonim?//

LA, in your address to AOW2 prior to this last paragraph, you voiced some valid doubts about that "keep Islamists out" rationale. In general, the rise of Islamism as a mass movement is not happening in a vacuum, say, out of Islamic scripture or something. The interplay between the West and Muslim countries should be taken into account. The critique of colonialism, of post-colonial excesses, and the like may have tired us, but that doesn't mean the critics were all wrong.

In the particular case of Turkey, where colonialism explanations don't apply, the situation is quite different in many respects and somewhat similar in others. All in all, it's an interesting story, which I haven't reflected on closely. Not sufficiently enough to answer you here anyways. I might make an attempt to tell it to you sometime, thus broaching the subject for my understanding also. The argument of "bridging the gap between the western world and the Muslim world" has some validity to it, for example, but in what sense? Not in any simplistic sense for sure. Egypt for example is as closely linked to the West as Turkey is; in terms of historical and intellectual interplay at least, if not institutionally like thru NATO. So...

I'm tempted to answer L'Amerloque in regard to Janissary "misunderstanding," but I don't see exactly what he wanted to say there. I should read "Shah's prose" first, I guess. Suffice it to say at this time, the Wiki quote is superficial and doesn't convey the whole meaning of the devshirmeh system although it is factually correct for the most part.

Always On Watch Two said...

Excerpt from the January 20, 2007 WaPo, emphasis mine:

Hrant Dink, the most prominent voice of Turkey's shrinking Armenian community, a man who stood trial for speaking out against the mass killings of Armenians by Turks, was shot and killed in broad daylight Friday at the entrance to his newspaper's offices....

Many Turks assumed that the shooting was politically motivated, a reaction to Dink's public statements that the mass killings of Armenians during and after World War I constituted genocide. Nationalists see such statements as insults to the honor of Turks and as threats to national unity.

In Turkey, people speak freely at their own peril despite generations of Western-looking reformers. The Committee to Protect Journalists said that in the past 15 years, "18 Turkish journalists have been killed for their work, many of them murdered, making it the eighth deadliest country in the world for journalists."...

Turks vehemently deny that their ancestors committed genocide, however, and saying so is deemed tantamount to treason....

Because of your posting here, LA, I paid attention to an article which I might otherwise have skipped reading. Turkey as a bridge to understanding may not be effective, IMO.

When I mentioned easier travel within Europe, I was referring to there being less security checking for those holding EU passports/visas.

LASunsett said...


I understand what you are saying. In this case however, I think that this killing was motivated by nationalistic concerns, rather than from fundamentalist Islamist ones. But, no matter how one looks at this issue, acquiring EU membership is going to be a longer process than many proponents may desire, for a variety of reasons.

Always On Watch Two said...

I'm not so sure. I just found THIS.

Anonim said...

Quickly... as I don't have much time presently...

The murder of Hrant Dink serves a narrow-minded ultra-nationalist segment who wish to derail Turkey from its traditional path (so, LA is right). As such, it is an act of sabotage. Although there was once an attempt to synthesize Islam and Turkish nationalism, this attempt didn't go too far, it didn't take root in the society as a cogent ideology. One has to ask how or why it is that the present government, with its strong Islamic credentials and wide public support (the widest in recent history), pushed the hardest for reforms for alignment with the EU. The size-wise greatest and religiously moderate middle segment of the society is the biggest backer of democratic and other (economic, etc.) reforms in the country. So, one has to stop and think before conflating such distinct notions as Islamism and nationalism. In Turkey, these have been in mutual contradiction and conflict more often than not.

A similar conflation, that is equally unhelpful and destructive, would be to accuse the Midwestern religiosity for the Oklahoma City bombing.

As I said before, I am not saying any of this to argue for Turkey-in-EU. I want that idea to be done away with sooner rather than later. One reason is, its useful life appears to have expired. It's becoming a damaging factor in front of our very eyes. It's helping to expand the gray area, where Western and Turkish skeptics alike find assurances they seek, and saboteurs & manipulators find abundant opportunities to work with. And it all is very fitting with the clash of civilizations prophecy.

LA is right about his "time frame" reservation also. Turkey's full admission to EU was not to be realized in less than a decade (according to optimistic estimates). It is hard to think all the hoopla that unfolded in 2006 was all that innocent or justified. But what is done is done; and, done is some fundamental mistakes by the Turkish government as well. So...

Anonim said...

FYI: Here is a TDN article which is directly relevant to this thread:

Turkey's Future: EU Member or Islamist Rogue State? (I)
By Dietrich Jung
Turkish Daily News
Saturday, January 20, 2007

The author comes across in support of the Turkey-in-EU idea, but otherwise I seem to agree with him. In particular, he highlights the democratization reforms by the present "Islamist" government. He also points to the interesting timing in the recent turn of tide:

"[...] the contribution of historically deep rooted stereotypes to making the country's accession an uphill struggle cannot be denied. The public debate in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit of the EU in December 2004 made it clear that Ankara's sense of having to struggle not only with political and economic standards but also against deeply entrenched cultural prejudices was not entirely wrong. In this respect, the timing of the protest against Turkey's potential membership was revealing. The European opposition against Turkish membership raised its voice precisely at the same time as the new Turkish government launched significant reforms to meet the Copenhagen criteria."

So did the Turkish skeptics, I might add.

Anonymous said...

To my understanding, Greeks are quite eager to tell you that baklava or other delicacies are of eastern origin in their cuisine. They don't seem particularly proud of them although they seem to enjoy them! Many Greeks have also told me that they do share a lot of similarities with the Turks. For me, however, those similarities are not really there. The last 30 years, Greece has seen a rapid economic growth and development that makes particularly the vast area of eastern Turkey looking dramatically different. And I have the impression that Turks do not seem to realize this. They usually tend to compare themselves with the Greeks as these two countries would enjoy the same economic growth, education or development. Greeks seem really concerned (together with other Europeans as well) about Turkey's poverty and low education. In fact it is these two issues that really frighten Greeks so much that they often tend to exaggerate. It would be for the interest of Turkey to try to gain a positive image not for its military (which only gives an image of a third world, violent country) but for its rich culture. Most Greeks as well other Europeans are completely unaware of it.

Frank said...

I agree with Anonymous. There are big differences between Greeks and Turks in terms of education and development. But Turks do realize that very well. Of course, the problem is that -in contrast with many Greeks that do travel in Turkey- Turks rarely visit Greece and, thus they cannot really judge on their own. For instance, comparing the island of Mykonos or Rodos with Bodrum or Marmaris is self telling. But then again, the Greeks would tell you that they are the only ones in Europe that can really understand the Turks. Which means that there is something there that unites both nations beyond the "obvious".

Giorgos said...

I am Greek and I have to admit that indeed most Greeks are really scared by the immense military power of Turkey coupled to its poverty and low education. This is something that mass media keep reminding us all the time here in Greece..! And then, although Greeks actually support Turkey in EU (to boost stability and growth in the region), the latter treats Turkey with some dishonesty hurting those Turks that really care to listen. For the cultural thaw, I think there are some positive signs indeed. There is room for more though! And yes baklava is Turkish as well as Lebanese and Syrian. But definitely, it is not Greek:) did we ever say so? :). We have some other food as well that Turks might recognize albeit their slight different names: kefte, brizola, kataifi, loukoumi and so and so on...all great genuinely Greek stuff :) And tasty too!

LASunsett said...

Giorgios, Frank, and Anonymous,

Thanks for commenting. I apologize that I didn't see these comments sooner, as they have been buried in this dated post. If any of you do come back ad read this, feel free to jump in at anytime and participate in whatever discussion interests you. Whether one agrees with me or not, is not important. I just ask that everyone refrain from ad hominem attacks, that's the ONLY rule I have.

Again thanks and sorry I didn't see your comments sooner.