The secret history of Turkish-Greek friendship - SÜLEYMAN SEYFI ÖĞÜN

The secret history of Turkish-Greek friendship

Veteran Mustafa Kemal and Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos laid the cornerstone of friendship and rapprochement policies following the War of Independence, which is referred to others by the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Though both states joined NATO at the end of World War II, peaceful relations were shattered particularly through the provocative U.K.’s policies.  We started to gradually comprehend the Cyprus and Aegean issues. The 1974 Cyprus Operation and the Aegean questions followed. Deep animosity emerged between the two peoples. 

 The 1980s were very striking in terms of Turkish-Greek relations. The Greeks who felt the West abandoned them against Turks in 1974, made an emotional decision to leave NATO’s military wing. Following Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979, the U.S. wanted to restrengthen NATO’s southeast wing. Hence, Greece needed to be reintegrated to NATO’s military structure. The political staff in Türkiye, from former presidents Suleyman Demirel to Bulent Ecevit, were strongly against this. There are those who think the Sept. 12 coup was conducted a little to break this resistance. Thus, one of former President Kenan Evren’s first actions was to eliminate the obstacles preventing Greece’s return to NATO within the scope of the Rogers plan. This allowed Greeks room to breathe.

 The cultural world witnessed very interesting events in the 1980s. Türkiye’s left wing, which was struck down by a heavy blow from the military coup, started to form an environment that I refer to as cultural slackening. This was a sort of escape from oneself, a sort of purification. The ground was ready for it. Former President Turgut Ozal had launched a tourism move. The fact that numerous former leftists joining this process and engaging in tourism is thought provoking. Getting close to nature through sea or tableland tourism, minimalist rustic-bijouterie pleasures, interest in sub-cultural histories on a vast spectrum from archaeology and architecture to gastronomy, an approach to arts which are free from ideological nebula or are romanticized, et cetera. The most convenient geographical ground for this was the Aegean, with Bodrum as the capital. The associations were also quite strong. Nazim Hikmet described the Aegean in his The Epic of Sheikh Bedreddin “with its grapes, figs, and honey.” Those like the Halikarnas Balikcisi (Fisherman of Halicarnassus), Azra Erhat, Orhan Burian, Sabahaddin Eyupoglu had left as heritage Bodrum, which is the magnificent composition of history-nature, and pure people “unharmed by civilization.” (Later, Can Yucel’s Datca, Assos, Ayvalik and Mount Ida would join these.) The Aegean’s people were different to Anatolia’s crude and ragged Turks, as well as the Black Sea’s ill-tempered Turks. They could be best described by the siestas by day, and the fiestas by night. It was possible to establish a new cultural republic in this climate, and join it to the EU. (This was perhaps the second republic.) MFO’s “Bodrum Bodrum” track was this secret republic’s national anthem. This group later started its own republic’s defense against the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, which emerged from Central Anatolia and the Black Sea.

 Of course, they were annoyed by certain matters. The nouveau riche was also joining the Bodrum frenzy. Zeki Muren, the state artist who referred to as “The Sun of Art” was also settling in Bodrum with his fans. Bodrum was becoming corrupted. It was fine, the region was untouched. There were always untouched areas. The escape would continue. They did not give up the Aegean despite all their complaints. Lastly, the anti-AK Party sentiment was enough to suppress any likely internal public conflicts arising from minor differences.

 Türkiye’s left-wing culture figures and their counterparts in Greece were busy in the 1980s making frequent visits, reciprocal literature translations, concerts, and holding miscellaneous alliance meetings. The motto was “kalimerhaba,” a combination of the Greek and Turkish words for greetings. This was the expansion area of the imaginary republic. Somewhere in their mind, even if not revealed, there was an Aegean Republic purified of the “Anatolia bile.” Reciprocal Zulfu Livaneli, Theodorakis, Farandori concerts were two a penny. The Bosporus concerts showed the two nations they have a common history, and countless Greek youth were coming to Türkiye to learn Turkish music. There was always a Rembetiko concert. Yeni Turku’s concerts were everywhere. This was, in fact, a fight between the pro-West and the pro-Anatolia, which the sociology wasn’t planned very well, yet the effects were deep. I don’t know what happened on the other side of this cultural convergence, how the process was received in Greece. We should learn about this from a sensible Greek. However, the course of the picture on our side was as above.

 What happened later? In 1996, Türkiye and Greece suddenly came to the verge of war. The consecutive earthquakes in 1999 in both countries united the people. We forgot our issues and helped each other. Turks and Greeks danced sirtaki and horon together. What then? Relations soured and tensions escalated towards the present. We are on the verge of war again.

 It seems Marx’s theory on religion is true for culture and art. Those who want to escape the realities of the world can consume this opium and relieve themselves. Sait Faik said under the influence of this opium, “Beauty will save the world.” Don’t believe it.





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