Professor Anastasios Tamis: We can live with the Turks

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By Anastasios M. Tamis*

In my previous article, we referred to specific historical moments that showed that Greco-Turkish relations were maintained two-way, ambivalent, controversial and their successive governments made decisions and solutions that sometimes brought the two peoples together and sometimes brought them into rivals. 

The question that affects every Greek is how we can form healthy bilateral relations with Turkey, to limit and control tensions and prevent a clear cause of armed collision. 

What is certain is that we are compelled to live with the Turks, we are destined to live and create good neighbourly relations with them for the good of the generations to come, to leave them a quiet neighbourhood, without daily challenges.  But how feasible is this with a difficult and unpredictable neighbour?

In the previous article we gave also offered examples of friendship and hostility, examples of both sincere and brotherly support by the Turks but also savage persecutions against the Greeks; we gave incidents of amity and solidarity towards the Greeks but also snapshots of military aggression on the part of successive Turkish governments.  These examples were given in order to prove historically the controversial, the unreliability but also the unpredictability of Turkish policy without going into more recent examples, a policy that sometimes goes to one side and sometimes to the other, which sometimes comes as an ally and friend and sometimes as an aggressor and an age-old enemy of Hellenism. 

Finally, let us close with the twenty-plus year rule of our neighbour country by Erdogan. Erdogan’s political and personal profile as leader, during his first ten-year term in office is completely different to what Turkey and the world has experienced during his second ten-year term. The policy of tolerance, of cultivating interactive political, social relations with Greece and the Europeans which characterised Erdogan’s first decade of government unfortunately was turned into an authoritarian and totalitarian regime, enacting policies which sometimes beat and sometimes embraced, sometimes isolated and sometimes included neighbouring countries and traditional friends.

Worst and most tragic of all, however, is that Erdogan’s stance and policy has fundamentally divided Turkey politically, socially, and economically. It is a social, economic and political dichotomy. On the one hand the Turkey of the coasts of Asia Minor and the big urban centers with the rich bourgeoisie, the small businessmen, the shopkeepers, the educated, the social elite, and on the other hand the hinterland, the vast Anatolia, a Turkey of misery and poverty with the hordes of hungry, afflicted proletarians, the vassals of the ruling class. And we are not talking about a Turkey of 13 million when the Lausanne Agreement was signed. We are talking about a Turkey of 90 million, where 15 million live as pashas, and 65 million are trying to seek hope in the next elections.

Turkey’s social and economic division was most strongly illustrated in recent elections. The coast was won by Erdogan’s opposition. The hinterland of the Anatolia was won by Erdogan. Even the Kurds, who did not put forward their own independent representative party in the elections this time, overwhelmingly voted for Erdogan. Between two evils, less evil is preferable, as our grandparents proclaimed. The fact that Erdogan has better communication mechanisms, that he “speaks to the heart of the people,” etc. remind me of Trump’s case with US Republicans. Erdogan was voted for by the religiously oriented people, the mullahs, the Turkish proletariat of the Anatolia, ordinary people, those who see only what is seen and cannot understand what is being woven beyond the obvious.

We read that a report analysing the mistakes of the Turkish opposition in the recent elections was prepared by Istanbul Mayor and Republican People’s Party (CHP) official Ekrem Imamoglu, according to the Cumhuriyet newspaperciting the categories of voters who supported Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. The largest pool of votes for the Turkish president was women wearing headscarves, of whom 70.1% voted for Erdogan. At the same time, he was supported by 62.3% of people with lower educational level, 62% of religious people, 61.3% of housewives, and finally 57.7% of nationalists. On the other hand, the main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu received 52% of students, 57.8% of university graduates and 58.3% of Kemalists. His approval rating among devout Muslims and nationalists, however, was low, with just 33.6 percent and 35 percent respectively choosing him in the second round of the presidential election.

Erdogan now has absolute political dominance. He is a great politician. Can we trust him? Is he reliable? We will continue to have convergences and divergences, we will continue to live with the bazaars, the Buddha and Kuda. My view is yes. As Hellenism, unfortunately, we no longer have any more Hellenism to mourn in Turkey. The existence of Hellenism there is marginal. The Ecumenical Patriarchate operates institutionally, which, either under pressure from the Americans or under pressure from the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy, will remain in Istanbul with all Its holy symbolisms, as will the monuments of Christianity there. Neither Imvros nor Tenedos has Hellenism anymore for the Turks to blackmail Greece and the Greeks. The hostages were contained. They took care to wipe them out and exile them. 

Greece has only two options in the face of this order of things. To arm itself and strengthen its alliances. With these two strategies, it will be able to stand up to every revisionist challenge, every imaginary threat, every bargain. Erdogan, like all of us, is here to go. Turkey and Greece are here to stay. Both countries need statesmen not showmen to be ruled. Both countries deserve to live in peace and amity. We need to see the forest, not the tree. Unfortunately, the real, sincere voice of man is the voice of fear. Whoever is afraid, is not afraid, the old Cretans used to say in their wisdom, and they were absolutely right.

*Professor Anastasios M. Tamis taught at Universities in Australia and abroad, was the creator and founding director of the Dardalis Archives of the Hellenic Diaspora and is currently the President of the Australian Institute of Macedonian Studies (AIMS).

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