1744) 'The Terrible Turk' To Be Driven Into The Sea

Do you not think, dear friends, those from Europe . . . . in particular, that your policies on Turkey are increasingly being held hostage by the irrational stance of some of our beloved neighbors?

A good friend of mine from Australia told me a few months ago he was troubled that the innocent idea of nationalism he grew up with is far removed from the existing variety he has come to see here in Turkey and its neighboring countries.

“In Australia,” he said, “it was one of pride when the anthem was played after another Aussie had won Olympic gold in the pool or us beating the English yet again at cricket.”

He was right. In this part of the world, even simple sporting events between neighboring countries resemble the bloody and dark battlefields of the distant past. What matters is merely victory. The reason in my view is very simple: nationalism of every people in this region is simply positioned against the “other.”

The situation is more complicated particularly among ex-Ottoman subjects. In the Ottoman case, the two most important traits of the nation building process of successor states has become a sense of communal victimization as well as the notion of the “bloody other,” but particularly “the terrible Turk,” who is held responsible for every single historical disease.

It is precisely for this reason that I have continued to argue for a while now, dear readers, that the final settlement of the Ottoman Empire has pretty obviously not been accomplished yet, particularly among the conflicting nationalisms of the ex-Ottoman subjects.

Neither in the Balkans and the Caucasus, nor in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean ... In this part of the world, the ghost of the Ottoman legacy still haunts reason and common sense. We all are slaves to history. Those from my generation, for instance, grew up in this country with the concepts of Enosis, Megali Idea, and Greater or Lesser Armenia constantly in our minds. Our time will eventually end, but I regret that my children will unfortunately not have a different or better destiny, with one big exception. To these concepts a new one is being increasingly added: “Greater Kurdistan.”

Mamma mia, the Greeks are coming!

What prompted this extremely pessimistic judgment to come to mind? Is it, as some notorious and illustrious experts, both in and outside Turkey, claim it to be, the Turkish paranoia? No, not at all… I rather must have been inspired by a recent opinion poll conducted by the Greek Political Research and Communication Center of 2,000 Greek participants.

For those of you who have missed it let me relate its most striking parts: Asked if there is still “Greek soil under foreign rule waiting to be liberated,” 38 percent of those surveyed pointed at Istanbul. While 36 percent indicated the Aegean coasts, 32 percent mentioned the coastal regions of Turkey along the Black Sea. Almost 60 percent stated they regard the island of Cyprus merely as Greek soil. What is most paradoxical, however, is the fact that 31 percent of the interviewees subsequently maintained that the rivalry between the two countries basically derives from “Turkey's hostile stance toward Greece.”

Turkey's hostile stance toward Greece?

My purpose in touching on the results of this survey is really not an attempt to simply tease my sensible Greek friends and/or readers. They shouldn't feel the need to defend themselves and say the poll does not reflect the Greek people in general. As a matter of principle I always try to avoid generalizations, keeping in mind what Alexandre Dumas wisely wrote: “All generalizations are very dangerous, even this one.” If they do, nevertheless, I can present a more concrete example that will help us better understand what I am asserting.

Just recently, three Turkish banks were sold to Greek companies. At first, it stirred up discontent among the Turkish public but soon Turks, by and large, became acclimatized to this reality. It was part of Turkey's apt attempts for a proper market economy and global integration nonetheless. Do you know what happened to a Turkish bank (the state-owned Ziraat Bankasi) in turn which applied to the Greek Central Bank for the opening of two branches in Greece, one in Athens and the other in Komotini (Gümülcine in Turkish)? Let's just say that they are still waiting to get permission. They are still walking for the “El Dorado” they were promised. Eventually, in retaliation to this highly controversial move by the Greek Central Bank, the Turkish Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency has not approved the transfer of the last of these three banks (namely, Anadolu Bank) to its new Greek owners.

‘The terrible Turk' again…

In such a milieu, some of our Greek friends insist on the recognition of Pontic “genocide.” But only a few choose to recall that Turks were not immune to mass deportations, killings or having their property confiscated by those who claim to have suffered such atrocities. Those who are interested in the other side of the coin as well may read of the Turks' own tragedy in Professor Justin McCarthy's brilliant account entitled “Death and Exile: The Ethnic Cleansing of Ottoman Muslims, 1821-1922.”

And do you think that the situation in our other neighboring countries, in Armenia, for instance, is actually any different? In response to my analyses on the “Armenian genocide” or Armenian-Turkish relations, I sometimes receive inspiring remarks from Armenian readers. Unfortunately, some of them are indeed hopeless cases. They even have the temerity to ask the Turks, on behalf of myself, to “get out of their homeland.”

With sorrow I witness that a new people is increasingly being added to this group: our northern Iraqi neighbors, or the Kurds of “southern Kurdistan,” as they choose to call themselves in messages they are sending me. I cannot believe my eyes when I see the content and substance of these messages profoundly removed from reality.

And Turkey is believed to have a hostile stance towards Greece…

Be sure, my criticism on that point is really not a tactic to undermine dissent or defend the prevailing status quo in Turkey that our dear western friends as well as some of my beloved intellectual compatriots have been complaining about for quite some time. But please tell me how is it only the Turks who are accused of being (ultra)nationalist, fascist, racist, ego-centric, irredentist, tyrannical, reactionary, or whatever you choose to describe them further? How it is merely they who are assumed to be persistently resisting reconciliation with the past? Have I lost to that extent touch with the reality I encounter, or the society I live in? Or is this profound contradiction simply politically motivated? Do you not think, dear friends, those from Europe in particular, that your policies on Turkey are increasingly being held hostage by some of our beloved neighbors' irrational stance? Do you not realize that you are increasingly being caught up by a kind of Stockholm syndrome, in which the hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker, regardless of the danger in which the hostage has been placed?

I regret to say it, but the more you insist on your campaign, the more the Turkish people will become either what you are complaining about, or what you are zealously and in a self-sacrificing way trying to “save” them from.

Have you indeed missed ‘the terrible Turk' to that extent?..

June 13, 2007


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