29 Haziran 2009
The issue was the falsely reported meeting between the prime ministers of Greece and Turkey by a group of respected Greek newspapers, headed by TO VIMA, (and followed by Ethnos and Elefterotypia). The meeting was going to take place when Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan was to visit Athens two Sundays ago to participate in the opening of the new Museum of Acropolis. At the last moment the Turkish delegation cancelled their trip but their "visit and meetings" were reported as if they took place on the Sunday editions of those newspapers. Being one of such instructors, but trying to work as a journalist covering Turkey and Greece, I have found myself often fantasizing together with my students about this media world where journalists would never report on news that never happened, never publish news without double or triple checking their accuracy, separate facts from comments and even sacrifice their jobs in order to defend their story: a whole series of nice sounding principles that the students would rarely use in their professional life should they be lucky to find a job.
The chief editor of TO VIMA newspaper apologized for the "monumental gaffe" and explained that it was due to the fact "that the Sunday editions of newspapers, due to their high circulation, begin to be printed on Saturday morning. Hence often they include articles that refer to scheduled meetings É as if they had already happened," he states in his published article and goes on. "The gaffe by TO VIMA is the biggest as it also published a story about what the two prime ministers [would] have discussed between themselves. It is not unusual for a text to be written in advance regarding leaders’ meetings as unofficial but reliable sources (i.e. government sources or persons from the leaders’ staff, as well as the official government spokesmen) allow information to be leaked to accredited journalists about the meeting and the position of each side. This practice leads to gaffes as was this last one," he admits.
The press editors may be right. Newspapers are not online outlets, they cannot catch last minutes changes and this is one of their biggest disadvantages in their tough struggle for survival against the "flash news" journalism culture introduced by the advent of Internet. So gaffes occur and will occur. It is an occupational hazard of the medium itself. But that does not mean that in order to compete with the speed of Internet we manufacture news that have never happened! This is trespassing on the limits of what we mean by the very essence of journalism.
In the murky waters of Greek-Turkish relations newspapers and commentators have often encountered difficult dilemmas over keeping journalism principles away from what their respective government policies are. I still remember my TV editor asking me to include in my report on the 2003 synagogue bombings in Istanbul, that "I saw tanks on the streets" in order to keep the story juicy. But also I had to lose one of my childhood friends and a now an important player in the financial world when my Turkish editor chose to give a sensational negative headline to a relatively simple financial reporting story. So when a gaffe like this becomes really dangerous is when reporters try to "enrich" their (false) story with negative elements and innuendos. This meeting was between two elected leaders of neighboring countries and the way a story is written especially by respected press, has a serious influence on the public opinion. I remember taking part in the first Greek-Turkish journalists meeting in Athens in which the then Greek and Turkish Foreign Ministers Yorgo Papandreou and Ismail Cem also participated just after the tragic earthquakes in both countries over 10 years ago. The Imia-Kardak crisis was relatively fresh and the earthquake diplomacy had just started to bear fruit. There were lots of outspoken statements then by Greek and Turkish journalists, some of whom are today at the head of media outlets especially in Turkey. There were many grand statements about "what we did wrong" and many lofty promises to "leave the stereotypes aside and set up our own watchdog system to catch the ones who do not behave according to rule, to excommunicate misreporting, etc." Ten years later all negative stereotypes are there and independent and verified reporting on Greek-Turkish issues is very rare.
On the top, 10 years later, there is Internet. And Internet means that there is a new platform for the battle of misreporting, hate reporting and stereotypes. And as a lot of negative atmospheric pieces find their way to countless sites, the air in the media of the two countries cannot be cleared. For example, one of my apparently faithful readers - a Greek Cypriot - who is a blogger (address available) and I presume resides in London, was very keen in judging my journalism qualities on moral grounds. "This Greek woman regularly prostitutes herself for the Hürriyet Daily News, purporting to provide insights into Greece and Cyprus, but in fact she knows nothing about Cyprus, her knowledge of Greek politics is superficial and she generally adopts those positions most flattering and satisfying to her Turkish pimps," he wrote recently. There is indeed a cold atmosphere and sometimes it becomes difficult to smile.
22 Haziran 2009
The last minute cancellation of the Turkish prime minister’s visit to Athens to participate in the glamorous inauguration of the new Museum of Acropolis, officially made everybody upset. Unofficially it made many suspicious about the diplomatic character of the illness. Those suspicious ones claim that Erdogan could have ordered his Foreign Minister to replace him in his visit to Athens and not cancel their trip all together.
Should Erdogan had gone to Athens, though, he should have found his Greek counterpart and his Foreign Minister waiting with a plate full of bilateral issues to discuss. Actually, both Costas Karamanlis and Dora Bakoyiannis, had made sufficient statements last week as to leave no doubt to anybody what they wanted to talk with Erdogan and his Foreign Minister during their visit to Athens. First, it was the issue of illegal immigration from Turkey. Athens managed to push the issue as a priority problem of the EU during last week’s EU summit and Karamanlis speaking from Brussels asked Turkey to do more to curb the problem of illegal immigrants through its territory that count for almost half of the over hundred thousand illegal immigrants entering Greece.
Mrs. Bakoyiannis talking last week to Turkish public television was expressing the wish that the visit of the Turkish prime minister was going to be an opportunity "for us to discuss and agree to fight with all our powers the problem and to send the message that we are not going to accept illegal immigration and both parties had to apply the relevant Protocol."
But last week we also witnessed an interesting arm wrestling between the Turkish government and the Greek side on the thorny issue of the Istanbul Patriarchate. During the last month or so, the possibility of the re-opening of the Halki Seminary has surfaced again in Turkey with various scenarios floating around about a possible formula which might overcome the constitutional impediment of Article 24 (which does not allow private religious education to be supplied outside the control of the Turkish state’s educational institutions).
In an unusually outspoken interview, the press representative of the Patriarchate, father Dositheos Ğ spoke of the lack of real progress on the matter and lack of genuine will on behalf of the Turkish side. He also put forward their proposal for a solution: "the Halki Seminary to re-open as a superior technical college under the control of the Turkish Ministry of Education but bearing in mind our own suggestions, too. In other words, as it was before".
In her comprehensive interview to Turkish public television, Dora Bakoyiannis had also pointed out that the issue of the status of Ecumenical Patruiarchate is not a bilateral issue but an issue of freedom of religion. She had pointed out that if the problems of Patriarchate had been resolved it could have been the best ambassador for Turkey abroad. The answer came almost immediately in the form of another interview given by the Speaker of the Turkish Grand Assembly Koksal Toptan who in short explained that there is enough political will on behalf of the Turkish government to re-open the Chalki Seminary but no law to do it. As the Constitution cannot change, the only way out, he said, is for the Halki seminary to be part of a theological school in a Turkish state university. Which is something that Patriarchate does not wish to do. So, the ball was thrown to the Greek court showing the Patriarchate unwilling to compromise.
If Tayyip Erdogan had gone to Athens with his new Foreign Minister, he would only have stayed for a few hours. And already issues like the illegal immigration and Halki would have taken enough of his time as the two sides do not see things in the same way recently. Actually the climate, at least on the Greek side, is said to have cooled a lot towards Turkey.
But any discussion between the two sides, as brief as might be, could not have excluded the most thorny issue, that of Cyprus. Again Bakoyiannis talked about the support of Greek government to the Christofias-Talat negotiations, asked for the implementation of Ankara Protocol and the necessity to open the Turkish ports and airports to the Greek Cypriots as part of the EU acquis. The reply came again from Mr. Toptan who had returned fresh from Northern Cyprus. It can be summed as this: the Turkish side has important sine qua nons, it wants a separate constituent state and separate jurisdiction. Regarding the prospects of the talks, Mr. Toptan speaking personally, confessed "I am not very hopeful".
Personally I do not think that Erdogan’s illness was a diplomatic one. Domestically, he has had every good reason to feel exhausted. Even we, do, by trying to cover what is happening in Turkey recently between a polarized society, media and state institutions.
But if he had been able to visit the Greek capital in its highest show of archaeological wonders and cultural diplomacy, I am sure he would be coming back with a very tiring portfolio of bilateral problems. Better to wait for the Swedish presidency of the EU in a few days.
15 Haziran 2009
"Really! Do you actually live there, madam?" -"Yes."
"How long for" -"More than 10 years""...
""Are you not afraid?" -"Of whom?" -"Of the Turks!"
The conversation went on for a little while along the same lines, all the way from Larnaca airport to Nicosia. It was more or less a conversation that I had had with another taxi driver two years ago when I had visited Cyprus for the first time. Judging from my conversation with the taxi driver of my visit this time, very little had changed since last time I was there; at least regarding the public sentiment toward the Turks; or to be more scientific, regarding the sentiment of Greek Cypriot taxi drivers toward the Turks.
Of course, on paper, a lot had changed. Since February of last year a new administration led by the former general secretary of AKEL, Dimitris Christofias is trying his luck to solve the Cyprus issue. His interlocutor Mehmet Ali Talat is an old friend of his, and the talks have been continuing since then. A lot has been said about the "chemistry" between two. But a lot had been said about the "chemistry" between two previous leaders, too, Clerides and Denktash. They could not manage it.
The enthusiasm and hope that accompanied the election of Christofias has now been replaced by a growing feeling of frustration that the talks are eventually going to hit the wall. The recent Euro-elections saw a significant fall in the votes for Christofias’s AKEL in favor of his main opponent DISY. Greek Cypriots do not believe the optimistic statements that come out of the mouths of their politicians or the government supporting media, which "we are very near a solution." They believe that whatever solution comes along, if indeed there is one, it will be far from their expectations and it may disturb their equilibrium in their southern part.
"This time I got the impression that C.P. Kavafi’s poem "Waiting for the barbarians" might have been written for your island," I said with enough insolence to a Greek Cypriot professor of Political Science, as we were enjoying a wonderful meal of Cypriot "mezes" under the moonlight, in the back yard of an old Nicosia house converted into a restaurant, in the company of over a dozen "Turkey" experts from all over the world, who camer here to attend the conference. I was describing to him how amazing it was for me that the Cyprus issue and consequently the whole society was engaged in the Turkey-bashing syndrome for so long. "What would happen if one day there is no Cyprus issue! How would you cover the vacuum?" I asked the professor who smiled politely no doubt over my disrespectful comment. "We don't think about that," he said and explained that when he was living and teaching abroad he was thinking that it is wrong for his compatriots to invest so much of their energy on the issue.
"But when I came back, gradually I, too, became engaged in that way of thinking. You cannot escape from it. It becomes a way of life," he explained while in the background a Greek Cypriot troubadour was singing a melancholic song by the most famous modern Greek Cypriot song Alkinoos Ioannidis, about the sea and the homeland. I only stayed in Cyprus for two days. But after the first day I, too, felt myself trapped in the Cyprus issue. Not only because I had to explain that mainland Turks have not attacked me, spat at me or terrorized me so far. But also because of a particular urge I felt to put myself in the shoes of Greek Cypriots who, if nothing else, may be the only Greek community still maintaining the most ancient pronunciation forms of the Greek language.
The conference was to be launched by the presidential Commissioner George Iakovou. Instead his aide delivered a speech on his behalf explaining that the Commissioner was called upon urgently by "the President" for another round of talks with Talat. "As you can understand this was a higher priority," he pointed out to us. The common denominator was that there is no solution without Ankara’s green light; whether Ankara wants to light it up, this is debatable. There was nobody from the north. "It is very complicated," I was told. "He would have to go to Ankara, then to Athens, then to Nicosia. He cannot cross the green line directly". Turks born in Turkey and living in the north have to go through that complicated itinerary to reach the south.
Later on the same day, we listened to the news that during that day’s meeting "there was progress. Christofias and Talat are very close to an agreement for the opening of the Limniti roadblock on the southeastern part of Cyprus". It was the 32nd meeting of the two leaders. In Ankara, Erdogan is meeting Eroglu and declares full support to his government. They repeat their positions: two states, two peoples etc. No word from Athens.
Real politics are discussed in cafeterias. In the cafeteria of hour hotel I came across some types I had met two years ago: journalists, academics, lawyers. The prospect of some kind of honorable division is now been discussed as a desperate alternative. Of course, the colonial ghost of Britain is hovering around, as most think that their island is doomed as long as the Brits keep their sovereign base there. For some, though, it is business as usual. A successful lawyer who made his money by keeping the accounts of foreign companies (mainly Russian), confided to me his new business venture: "I have now set up my own de-mining company," he told me. "There is lots of money in that."
My new taxi driver who took me back to Larnaca airport was young and educated. His parents came from the north. "My mother had a hotel called "Nostalgia". The Turks grabbed it and they now operate it under the same name. You see, it is a good name for every language," he told me.
"If there was chance for a solution, what would you like", I asked him. "I would like a good compensation for our hotel and let them keep it. And I want the wall to go," he said.
"But I do not want to lose anything we have managed to build up here after 74. I do not know, perhaps let it stay as it is, madam."
8 Haziran 2009
Whether Turkey will be a member of the EU or not is certainly not going to be decided by the 736 members of this new European Parliament.
But among the 9,000 candidates who entered the race in all the 27 member-states, there was a sizeable number who touched upon a raw nerve of the European public by reminding them of the dangers of Turkey becoming a member of their club. The rhetoric may have been anti-Islam, anti-Koran, anti-immigration, economy or European culture.
But in the subconscious of many Europeans, Muslim is an adjective implying mainly to the Turks, and the prospect that this big Muslim country with its problematic democracy and perplexing culture may become the 28th member of an already problematic union, has sent shivers through many European voters. Especially to many unemployed European voters who see a Turk as well as a third world immigrant a serious threat to their job security.
This column has been written hours before the announcement of elections’ results, so it is premature for any analysis. However, the results of Euro-elections in the Netherlands unduly revealed Friday, confirmed the predictions of most observers: that two years after the failure of the Lisbon Treaty and in the midst of an open-ended unprecedented world economic crisis, the Europeans are growing even more skeptical over the idea of this supra-national economic-political union whose cohesion has proven doubtful.
Euroskeptics are proven to be a stronger and better defined entity, which may prove to be an erosive force in Europe depending on how long the economic crisis will last and how many labor rights and freedoms are going to be sacrificed. The general decay of the EU may reflect in the low participation in these elections. In Cyprus, a record 41.12 percent of the electorate chose to abstain from voting. For Cyprus, which made most of its calculations on its national policies and its relations to Turkey on its allegiance to the EU, this huge absence must send an important message to Brussels as well as to Ankara.
The Europeans have also become more conservative Ğ the expected Berlusconi victory will prove the trend Ğ more nationalist and more xenophobic. Geert Wilders’s surprise victory in the Netherlands was a case in point. His anti-Islam anti-Koran, anti-immigrants campaign of his Freedom Party, or PVV, may win almost 17 percent of the votes and four out of the 25 Dutch seats in the Euro-parliament. This is a party that had no seats in the European Parliament up to now. The case of the Netherlands may be followed by Austria. In France, the 80-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen is running again with his National Front while in Greece the far right party LAOS whose party slogan includes "no to Turkey in Europe" has conducted a campaign demanding a return to a more "Greek Greece."
Talking about Greece, yesterday’s polls were a dress rehearsal for the general elections. With just one seat parliamentary majority, the government of the conservative New Democracy party is trailing behind the main opposition party of socialist PASOK, which is expected to come on top. For both leaders, the Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and the opposition leader, Yorgo Papandreou, it is a major test to their leadership. For Papandreou, it is the last chance to prove that he can remain as a leader of his party after last two defeats in the general elections.
For Karamanlis, who remains the most popular politician across the board, it is a crucial test inside his party after a series of sleaze scandals that have marred his second term in government and made him lose a number of his ministers.
The latest issue about politicians from both major parties being bribed by Siemens over a number of years became the only issue of these elections with the economy and Turkey being totally pushed on the sidelines. Unlike many other country members, the Greeks did not include the Muslim-Turkish danger among their prime concerns. And unlike many countries of the EU, the Greeks (watch the news) did turn up to vote although a significant number of Eurosceptics chose not cast their vote.
True to say, though, that it was not out of their concern about European affairs but out of their political introversion that grades partisan politics their most popular pass time. By the time I finish this column, I admit that I do not know the final results of the Euro-elections in Greece.
But I know the title of the next political musical which is inspired by them and will be staged this summer in Athens. It is: "La Parliament au Folles."
1 Haziran 2009
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is no stranger to raising controversy and stirring up debate. He is known both for his surprising, outspoken statements against the secularist and military establishment in Turkey, and for taking back what he has previously said, or saying or doing the exact opposite. In other words, although his popularity still remains high Ğ if somewhat diminished Ğ his credibility has been tested several times, even by his own followers.
In domestic politics, this has happened often. The international audience got a dramatic introduction with the anti-Israel show put on during the last Davos summit in the presence of Israeli President Shimon Peres, an incident that was followed by an intensive diplomatic effort to restore bilateral relations.
For the Armenian and Greek audience, it happened last week in an unrelated context: While defending his government’s bill to allow foreign companies to take on the job of removing landmines along the Turkish-Syrian border, the prime minister made a half confession about Turkey’s attitude toward its minorities. He called that attitude Ğ that of systematic persecution and expulsion Ğ the result of a "fascist way of thinking."
It was no surprise that one of the two immediately interested recipients of that comment, the Rum, or Greeks who hold Turkish citizenship, detached it from its context Ğ granting state contracts to Israelis Ğ and blew it up as if it was addressed just to them.
The thus-labeled "historic admittance" by Erdoğan about the evil practices of the past secularist Kemalist regime added to the arms cache of the liberal intellectuals in Turkey who are piling up their anti-Kemalist discourse. It also fell on alert ears among the government’s supporters, as it constituted another blow against the Republican People's Party, or CHP, opposition, albeit one pumped out from their country’s common past. Numerous articles and television debates in Turkey were prompted by this statement: Did Erdoğan mean it or not? Is it good or bad? Is it right to call the Turkish Republic a "fascistic" one? And so on. In Greece, "the Turkish apology" took on even bigger proportions, with commentators calling the expected visit by Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu on June 20 to attend the official opening of the new Acropolis Museum a suitable platform to carry forward this apologetic attitude into some applicable policies.
Besides anything else, being a member of a minority in Turkey means that you develop a cautious attitude in direct relation to your experience. This is not so with the mainland Greeks. When they talk about Turkey, they tend to indulge in "map exercises" that range from optimism to paranoia but often lack firsthand knowledge of the Turks or Turkey. The Greeks with Turkish citizenship, as part of the history of this country, remain suspicious about everything relating to them and prefer to see deeds before they pronounce their thoughts.
So they were cautiously suspicious of Erdoğan’s statement, claiming Ğ correctly Ğ that they "had heard similar statements in the past, and had been led to expect improvement of [their] conditions in the past, but to no avail."
When it comes to Greek and Turkish liberal analysts, there is a common stance toward Erdoğan. To both sides, he is a hero who is fighting a tough war against the autocratic, secularist, anti-democratic militaristic establishment personified by the official opposition and the military. So far, that is OK.
But when it comes to the application of the brave proclamations, both sides have been characteristically generous with their leniency. For them, making a first step is more important than actually continuing walking until the end of the road. In the case of the relations with Greece, there have been many "first steps" Ğ on both sides, actually Ğ that everyone hailed as a "new beginning." Six years later, we are still waiting for the application of the promised "new policy." I personally face a dilemma: Shall I side with the camp that says, "At least he said it, and that is a good thing, never mind if nothing happens"? Or side with the Rum and their historic memory? Shall I side with the ones who say that it is better to bring up past sins, even if you have no intention to do anything about them, because at least the public becomes familiar with an issue about which it otherwise would have been ignorant or amnesiac? That, even if Erdoğan was actually thinking about how to push the landmine contract to Israeli companies when he referred to the "fascistic attitude" of past Turkish governments, we should be happy about it because he stirred a discussion among the Turkish public Ğ or, as a Greek commentator put it, that "he created an earthquake and many aftershocks"?
I do not know the answer to that. It is the same argument that was put forward about the recent film by Tomris Giritlioğlu, "Autumn Pain," a well-intended phantasmagoric pastiche of the 1955 events of September 6 and 7 against the Greek minority in Istanbul. There, too, I was told it is better to talk about past sins rather than to not talk at all Ğ and that Turkish public opinion is at last learning about its past, albeit in a distorted way. This may be right, to some extent. In a recent random poll of students at Bilgi University, several did not know what Rum means; some thought that they were a community of "1 million people living in Turkey." Similarly, many did not know what the Halki Seminary controversy was about. So, perhaps, for many young people the "historic statement" of the Turkish prime minister may have prompted some of them to try and find out whom he was referring to. Perhaps some who have seen the film have already done so.
My problem is with the credibility and consistency of politicians. The impact of impressive initial statements, promises, proclamations, launches, etc. is so over-projected by a media system that blows the "first shots" out of proportion that whether what has been promised is actually realized in the end does not get so much attention. On this basis, politicians and public figures become popular, get elected and re-elected Ğ while little attention is given to the "follow-up story." This, of course, is not a symptom particular to one country, but a symptom of today’s relationship between media and politics.
In that respect, I think I will side with the Rum and trust their instincts. Which means I will wait and see what will come out of Erdoğan’s statement in terms of the present-day problems of the minorities. Until then, I will try to take everything I hear with a grain of salt.
25 Mayıs 2009
It had all the makes of a general election including a prolonged and aggressive campaign with political leaders getting on the throat of each other and the media, more polarized than ever, going for an all out often dirty war on the party leaders. The actual issues of local administration were hardly taken into account. Greece as well as 26 other members of the European Union is about to go to the polls in two weeks time to elect its 22 deputies to the European Parliament (two less than last time due to the expansion of the Union).
Greece’s approximately 9 million population is among 500 million Europeans who are going to elect the 736 members of their Parliament in Brussels making this the biggest ever transnational elections in history. Yet in Greece the elections of the 7th of June have little to do with the EU policies in Brussels; instead, a ruthless personalized campaign by the main political leaders, an increasingly polarized public opinion and a partisan press, provide all the elements for these polls to be seen as a rehearsal for general election; in other words, a crucial test for the popularity of the government.
Against most predictions, the municipal elections in Turkey showed the beginning of a downward trend in the popularity of the Erdogan government.
The Euro-elections on the 7th of June are expected to confirm the predictions of a dangerous decline in the popularity of Karamanlis government and perhaps launch a challenge to his leadership inside his party. On both occasions, the role of the media has been seen as a major factor of the electoral process.
And it was that very importance of the media on the elections of last March and coming June that this Seminar between fifteen Greek and equal number Turkish students from the Departments of Communications of Bilgi University, Istanbul and Panteion University, Athens, came to discuss. Under the moderation of Turkish and Greek professors the students presented papers which ranged from the "Society polarized Ğthe role of Political Islam in Turkey and the role of the Church in Greece" "Relations between Media and the Military in Turkey", to "Media Strategies of Politicians in Election Campaigns and Media coverage during the Municipal Elections in Turkey", "The media scene in Greece and the coverage of last municipal elections" etc.
A one day Seminar which brought together the students of both countries who presented, debated, argued upon and fought over issues that in many ways are common in the socio-political realities of their two countries; but at the same time it was an opportunity to see for themselves that there are also many societal, systemic and political differences which made them realize that simplistic analyses of Greek-Turkish affairs have done more harm than good.
They all agreed that a free and productive dialogue based on proper knowledge aiming at a contemporary civilized interaction has not been achieved yet between the two countries, in spite of the public proclamations for the opposite. Intentional or unintentional ignorance and a stereotypical approach to each other (either over hostile or over-friendly) still keeps the two societies apart and prevents the media of both countries to settle for an acceptable level of professionalism.
More than a decade of "earthquake diplomacy" we are still at the beginning.
But the Seminar in Bilgi University showed a way and a method; they way is to invest in the future by using young people and the method is to use them during their formative years of education but only adhering to the strict rules of an academic framework of "thesis-antithesis and synthesis", as one of the moderators of the discussion reminded us.
The Seminar "Political Communication and Media
Coverage of the Elections in Turkey and Greece" organized by the Communication departments of Istanbul Bilgi
University and Panteion University, Greece took place
on May 22-24, 2009 in Santral Campus, Istanbul
11 Mayıs 2009
I must do it, this time. But once again, other priorities kept me away from visiting that two-story, old house with the garden in the front that has been converted into the "Spatharis Museum of Karagöz."
"Next time I am in Greece, I will definitely go and meet him," I said to myself. After all you could personally meet Eugenios Spatharis either in his museum or sometimes in the few local tavernas where you could easily spot this white haired long faced man with thick sideboards, in his striped shirt with braces and a characteristic strong versatile voice. Living away from your country involves a complicated feeling process. It relates to separation from people but also from locations. It also involves a strong tendency of procrastination on your part to delay everything that you think you have to, as if there is always going to be a next time. But often, there is no next time. And you are left to deal with the feelings of remorse and self-accusation for not doing what you should on time. In reality, it is time that you want to prolong and that is in fact impossible.
When I heard that Eugenios Spatharis died at the early hours of Sunday, it was as if I was expecting it. Since my last visit to my home suburb and my half visit outside his Karagöz Museum, Spatharis had strangely entered my long must-do list. After returning to Istanbul, I had already planned my visit to his museum and had already browsed through its colorful Web page where I learned that Eugenios Spatharis, the most famous Greek Karagöz player, was born in Kifissia another Athenian suburb next to Maroussi, in 1924. I also learned that he started performing shows in 1942 touring around Greece; but also that he performed his lively shows abroad in such diverse places as Carnegie Hall, Canada and Cuba in 1953. His spectacular career took him around "touring and teaching the art of Karagöz all over the world besides staging innumerable shows in Greece."
When the art of Karagöz started to wane with the rise of television in the 1970s Eugenios Spatharis transferred the Karagöz "perde" to the TV screen. He devoted his life to that Greek-Turkish popular hero, the barefooted, big black-eyed, two dimensional shadow figure who, through Spatharis, had marked the childhood of the last three generations of Greeks. With such memorable plays like "Alexander the Great and the cursed snake" he enriched our lives with an incredible range of Greek (and Turkish shadow theater heroes) and gave us the first taste of a theatrical experience full of colors, music and humor.
He inherited the art from his father, another legendary Karagöz player, Sotirios Spatharis who through his autobiography published in 1950, turned the attention of the Greek intellectuals to Karagöz theater as a valuable species of people’s theater. Sotirios died in 1973 "holding his beloved leather Pasha in his hands," as we read in his son’s notes.
His son was the reason why I -- as well as almost everybody in my generation -- got hooked on Karagöz theater. Growing up Athens during the late 50s, a summer open air Karagöz performance usually in the central square of any neighborhood or suburb, meant that you could get a full audio-visual treat with lots of good laughs and at the same time get a free popular history lesson through the adventures of this devilish black eyed hero whose shack of a house opposite the Saray of the Sultan or the Vezir or the Pasha -- as the case may be -- simplified the Greek Turkish relations as an issue of rich and poor or clever and stupid. Still for us in a pre-school age, the Spatharis Karagöz Theater was a platform of huge historical primary knowledge as it was the first time where we saw how handsome and brave our country’s national heroes looked in their white and blue attire against the ugly mustachioed enemies-usually Turks, also addressed at as "Agarine dogs" - and where the penniless but clever Karagöz would show us that anybody can beat even the most powerful through the power of his mind; and who would put us under such philosophical dilemmas as, "why should we wash the dishes, if we are going to eat again!"
Eugenios Spatharis who died two days ago, at the age of 85 was active until the last moment. Actually in a way he died "on duty," after suffering head injuries from a fall on the stairs coming out from the Goethe Institute in Athens where he was honored for his work. In 1995, after a life in performing, he set up a Museum of Karagöz in Maroussi where he was living. It was the first Museum of its kind in Greece with a valuable collection of old shadow figures - among them the unforgettable Turkish figures of the daughter of the Vezir, the Hanim, the Pasha, the Hacıvat, the Bey. But he also provided the information for the techniques of making those wonderful figures from carton paper, to gelatin, to leather and finally to plastic. "We did not want to make Karagöz a museum piece, but as Karagöz theaters are now lost from the neighborhoods of Athens and the provinces, in order not to lock him in a trunk, we decided to find Karagöz a permanent place: a place which the adults will visit to remember their childhood and the children will learn about the history of shadow theater," he had said when opening his museum.
I never had the chance to visit his museum. Even when I could, two weeks ago, I put it aside as a cultural duty to be paid at a later date. But digging deeper I think it was probably something else, too that prevent me from going. I did not want to remember my childhood, yet as I still insist that I have time.
4 Mayıs 2009
"Bilderberg meetings constitute a forum where international developments are discussed, debated and where participants learn a lot from each other. It is not much different from a seminar or a conference organized by an upscale NGO," Birand was arguing then, adding that the presence of the Bilderberg Group in Istanbul otherwise named as "the shadow World Cabinet", would give an opportunity for Turkey to be included among the other important topics of the meeting.
But the conspiracy theorists Ğ and they are many Ğ do insist that this secretive world club, whose proceedings are not made public and whose meetings are closed to the outsiders, are something more than an innocent gathering of world sages. An institution active since 1954, it consists of the world’s most powerful figures in economics and politics, under such "luminaries" as Henry Kissinger, European royals and high representatives from world financial institutions. According to their enemies, the members of that elite group want : "(1) to place political power into the hands of chosen people and eliminate all intermediaries; (2) to establish a maximum concentration of industries and suppress all unwarranted competition; (3) to establish absolute control of prices of all goods and raw materials (Bilderbergers make it possible through their iron-grip control of The World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization); and (4) to create judicial and social institutions that would prevent all extremes of action"*.
The Istanbul 55th meeting of Bilderberg Group which ended with a lavish ceremony on the shores of the Bosphorus on the 3rd of June, 2008, was hosted on behalf of the Turkish government by Ali Babacan, a regular guest of Bilderberg meetings and then an Economy Minister. The future of the war in Afghanistan and the unwillingness of the United States’ European NATO allies to help out by committing troops to the Tora Bora mountains, was, according to information, among the hot topics of the discussions. Whether any of the world financial leaders gathering in Istanbul had foreseen the storm of the economic crisis coming, we will never be in the position to know.
Two years after the Istanbul meeting, the Bilderbergers are meeting in Athens. Characteristically Ğ as it happened in Istanbul Ğ the exact date of the meeting remains uncertain. Initially, the event was planned for the 15-16th of May but the date may change at the last moment.
However, the venue seems almost certain. It will be the Astir Hotel Complex in Vouliagmeni, on the shores of Saronicos gulf outside the city of Athens Ğ a place which also housed the first meeting on Greek soil by the then Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal and the Greek Prime Minister Andrea Papandreou twenty years ago.
According to the Greek media, this naturally secluded complex on the tip of a promontory will be protected by the Greek army and navy who will make sure that no adverse incident disturbs the discussions of the distinguished guests. Henry Kissinger will be again among the top expected guests although he may decide not to turn up in the end, information has it. The Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, Dora Bakoyiannis the Foreign Minister and the leader of the main opposition Andreas Papandreou have all been invited to join as well as few other former Foreign and Economic ministers from both parties. Interestingly, the Athens meeting of Bilderberg will see faces from the new Obama administration like White House new National Security Adviser Jim Jones, the new Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner and a Bilderberg "regular", now special envoy of president Obama for Afghanistan, Richard Holbrook. Other ’regulars" include the Dutch and Spanish queens, Beatrice and Sophia. Carl Bildt, the Swedish Foreign Minister, his Spanish counterpart Miguel Moratinos and the president of the European Commission Jose Baroso Ğ whose term is finishing very soon Ğ are expected to be among the guests.
During the Istanbul meeting the Coca-Cola Company was represented by its Executive Director Muhtar Kent. In Athens, the Greek-Cypriot powerful businessman and president of Coca-Cola 3E George David will carry the torch to represent the American soft drink giant. Mr. Takis Arapoglou, the CEO of the National Bank of Greece and one of the best known banking personalities in Turkey due to the purchase of the Turkish Finans Bank by NBG, is thought to be among the guests.
Interestingly enough, Ali Babacan Ğ another regular of Bilderberg meetings since 2003 Ğ will be present in Athens again as a Minister of Economy after the May 1 government reshuffle in Turkey. He will be very busy discussing issues of his new ministry if the information that the main topic will be the world economic crisis is correct.
True to the traditions of the Bilderberg Group, nothing is fixed until the last moment regarding the organization in Athens. But besides the nature of this mysterious elite club, there is also the nature of Greek politics. May, may turn out to be the hottest month of the year if the Karamanlis government decides at the last moment to hold again early general elections just before or on the same day as the Euro-elections on the 7th of June. If that happens, then it might be wiser for the wise men of Bilderberg to visit the Greek capital at a later date.
* The Corridors of Power, Raja Petra Kamarudin. Nexus Magazine, Volume 14, Number 5, August - September 2007.