The unpredictable oriental neighbour of Hellenism

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By Anastasios M. Tamis*

Our Turkish fellow human beings are generally simple, hospitable, and kind. They come from a group of dozens of nomadic tribes, stretching from Mongolia to the Altaic mountains, who, persecuted by the Chinese, migrated in waves throughout the Middle Ages, mainly between the 6th and 11th centuries. They spoke various dialects of the ancient Turkic language, which then diversified into the modern Turkic languages (or turanic). Their religion was shamanistic with the supreme god Tengri, lord of the blue sky (today of the blue homeland). In the process, however, the majority, especially those who moved westward, converted to Islam from the Arabs and Persians.

After hundreds of years of forced or even free cohabitation with them, we find that they have many characteristics in common with the Southern Europeans and especially the Greeks. Even physiognomically, the Turks, after their multi-ethnic syncretism, have shed the rough characteristics of the Turanian race, retaining their slit eyes, but their manners, habits, dress and even their houyas remained very close to Greek. So strong indeed is Europe within them that they are trying, since they could not conquer it, at least to be part of it.

Ours, namely the “Greek cohabitation” with the Turks, completes more than seven to eight hundred years of regional life. This cohabitation took various forms and shapes, passed through conquest and slavery, loose religious tolerance, and barbaric Islamisation, of which they themselves were victims, constant wars, liberation but also conquering, invasions, and attempts of ethnic cleansing, with all that this entails.

A thorough research in the historical archives and the rich bibliography on Greco-Turkish relations will reveal several periods of quiet and peaceful cohabitation, with outbreaks of absolute brotherhood and amity, coexistence and friendship, but also periods of escalation and constant armed clashes, catastrophes and destructions, mainly, if not exclusively, at the expense of the Greek population.

In the recent past, after the establishment of the modern Turkish State in October 1923, created after the Lausanne Agreement, after the unfortunate and largely aggressive Campaign for the Capture of Ankara (July 1921-August 1922) by Greece, a period of amity, peace and fraternity between the two peoples followed. This period of fraternity, mutual understanding and mutual esteem has always been determined by the national interests of the two peoples. Especially, after the conclusion of the Lausanne Agreement, to which the Ethnarch Eleftherios Venizelos went not as a loser and the moderate Ismet Inonu not as a winner (the war in Asia Minor never ended and Greece never accepted that it was defeated, so it did not pay compensation; in Lausanne the two peoples were simply belligerent), the national interests of the two peoples were limited to one national common issue, that of Cyprus.

Cyprus was a common guiding principle, a common national issue for both peoples. The Turks, always having the colonial British by their side, and encouraged by them, showed rivalry and hostility towards the Greeks and Greek Cypriots when the issue of Cyprus came to the table, simply so that the English could maintain their sovereignty over the island.

Thus, on the occasion of Cyprus and constantly encouraged by the British, (a) when the irredentist struggle of EOKA against the colonial British began, the Turks were convinced that Cyprus was being led to Union with Greece and the September 1955 riot broke out in Constantinople at the expense of the innocent Greeks of Constantinople, for which the generally prudent Prime Minister Menderes later was hanged in order to wash away the national shame felt by the Turks towards their fellow Greeks of Constantinople; and (b) a period of 30 years of sincere Greco-Turkish friendship and amity (1932-1962) was interrupted, and the Turkish planes of dictator Gursel bombed Cyprus in 1962 (this was the first Turkish invasion), because the Turks were again convinced that the Turkish Cypriot minority was in danger after the terrible and deadly intercommunal clashes on the island at the time.

Later, much later, when the energy problem appeared on the international scene, the Turks added to their claims the Aegean Sea to share equally its underwater wealth – kazan-kazan; then added the claim of the Eastern Mediterranean, since the “new” borders of Turkey were expanded, with the force of violence and invasion, absorbing 40% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus by means of permanent illegal occupation.

Then followed the second decade of absolute rule of Erdogan (1912-1923), who managed to turn Turkey into an authoritarian sultanate and in order to haggle over the cooperative exploitation of the Aegean, the Turkish government added the notion of the demilitarisation of the Greek islands, after having previously erected her own Aegean Army in front of the unprotected Greek islands, in a stretch line of about 1,000 kilometres. And finally, to maintain constant tension with Greece and the injured Cyprus, it took out its scout ships every now and then in search of gas and repeated the daily “Causa Belli” at every opportunity that Greece spoke about the sovereign zone of her own islands.

Turkey, during the 100 years of its fledgling state, has shown itself to be a controversial, unpredictable, and often unreliable ally, partner and friend. Sometimes it showed a European and Western face, sometimes it returned back to its Asian roots; several times it used the oriental bazaars it learned from the Persians and Arabs, sometimes it emerged as an embellished Islamic republic, sometimes as a European democracy.

It was Turkey that participated in the joyful events of the Greeks who celebrated their National Independence in the parades in Athens and Thessaloniki in 1934 and 1935 and Turks and Greeks paraded together in amity and Turkish planes flew over the Acropolis and dropped proclamations of friendship to the Greek people, celebrating together the independence of Greece. It was, however, Turkey that, while it signed with Greece the Balkan Agreement of 1933, stipulating that if a third power strikes one of the two countries, they will both intervene against the third, and yet when the Bulgarians and the Nazis entered Greece in April 1941, the Turks hesitated to implement the Agreement to which they put their signatures.

But it was Turkey again, more than any other people, that supported the Greeks during the German and Bulgarians and Italian occupation with food and medicine and clothing and literally saved them from complete destruction. It was Turkey that supplied the Germans during the Second World War with energy and raw materials against the Allied forces, and it was Turkey itself that threatened Bulgaria with invasion if it would continue to tyrannise and torture the Greeks during the Occupation. It was Turkey that asked the League of Nations in 1936 to merge and form a Greco-Turkish Federation and to be recognised as a political formation, where while each of the two states would maintain its national independence, identity, and existence, in matters of trade, culture and education, the two states as a Federation would have a common policy and a single line. It was Turkey itself that initially claimed that Cyprus demographically and culturally belonged to Greece, but later it was Turkey itself that sided with the colonial British against Greece until 1962. It was the Turkish Minister of Education who admitted that Hagia Sophia was the model of learning and creating culture for the nomadic Turks, but it was again the Turks themselves who turned this global cultural monument into a mosque.

I think that the above examples that I referred to are able to convince the reader of the controversial, the unreliable but also the unpredictability of Turkish policy without going into more recent examples – of 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.

In the next edition we will refer to the forces from which the Turkish President draws its strength, and we will dare to touch on the strategies that can contain such a difficult and unpredictable neighbour.

*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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