On one of the most popular Greek news sites a sensational posting catches the eye. Under the headline, "New scoop by TO VIMA" you can see the first page of the newspaper with the headline, "For the opening of Acropolis Museum-Obama came," "Friendly to Karamanlis, hearty with Dora, Michelle Obama was an example of stylishness..." Besides the obvious sense of humor for which the site is known for, this grand blunder committed last week by some of the most respectable newspapers in Greece pointed out that journalism ethics is something that we teach in journalism classes but rarely exists in reality. 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.
Of course we wish the prime minister well. Blood pressure is a tricky state of affairs. It can go up or down and the dangers are the same; especially during hot summers. In a way blood pressure is like political pressure. It can go up or down and can be equally dangerous; especially during hot political summers. 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.
"Where do you come from, madam?" -"From Istanbul." "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."
One-fourth of Turks may not know whether their country is a member of the EU, according to a recent survey by Bahcesehir University. And when they cast their votes this time, very few citizens of the EU did not know that Turkey has not become one yet, and a large portion of them said that they did not want Turkey in the EU. 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."
The municipal elections in Turkey on the 29th of March were seen as a turning point for the Erdogan government: a test of its popularity and a start of new domestic political discourse. 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
As if I knew. As I was passing by the graceful old house in the central square of Maroussi in the north of Athens, one strong thought passed through my mind: this time I should definitely visit this place, it is just around the corner from my house, it has been there for more than 20 years, it has been visited by every child and adult in the area and I have not done so. 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.
"Why are we so scared of Bilderberg?," the eminent Turkish columnist Mehmet Ali Birand almost scolded his readers in Posta newspaper, when the annual meeting of the Bilderberg Group was about to start at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in the heart of Istanbul, two years ago, on June 1st 2007. "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.
Celebrating Orthodox Easter has always been something of a unique experience. If you live abroad Ğ in Western Europe, for example Ğ it is usually an incomplete and frustrating event, starting with many expectations and ending the same day, always on a spring Sunday, of course, with an even greater feeling of homesickness. The cause is externalities that others may find trivial. Yet, for us, the Greek Orthodox Christians, they are crucial, like the fact that you can never properly roast a lamb "on the spit" on the green, damp grass of your backyard garden, or that you can never reach perfection in the red color of your Easter eggs, even if you buy imported genuine dye from your local Pakistani delicatessen. English lambs may be considered among the best delicacies in Europe, but they can never produce the crispy crust you can get in any dusty backyard of a provincial house in Greece. During Easter, nothing feels or tastes the same if you are outside Greece. Greek Orthodox Easter, celebrated this year last Sunday, does not even feel the same in Istanbul, where the Patriarchate lies on the shores of the Golden Horn in the neighborhood of Fener.
But this Easter felt different even in Greece. A new and modest archbishop, who had left behind the pomposity of his recently deceased predecessor, and a generally toned-down celebratory mood among the Greek public were just an indication of the political and economic uneasiness being felt about the way things are going. The upcoming elections for the representatives of the European Parliament are seen as yet another date in the political calendar that will gauge the situation.
This Easter marked almost eight months of continuous political confrontation across the political spectrum, whereby the Parliament is mostly used as a platform for the exposure of a string of financial scandals, mainly Ğ but not exclusively Ğ involving the government. Yet, although one would have expected a natural wearing out of the popularity of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, he has somehow managed to retain his position as the most popular and trustworthy leader. This confusing political landscape perplexed me, too, as I was trying to decipher the thoughts of my Greek relatives, friends and colleagues during my recent Easter homecoming to Athens.
Friends and relatives are mainly worried about the economy and job insecurity, no matter who is in power. However, in an atmosphere of crisis, they would trust Karamanlis to steer them out of it, one way or another. At the same time, they are still anxious to hear the opposition parties’ ideas Ğ vaguely expressed so far Ğ on how to get out of the crisis. They are disappointed about the dramatic fall in popularity of the young new leader of the left-wing coalition who was, for a brief moment, seen as the fresh progressive alternative. Yet neither Alexis Tsipras nor Yorgo Papandreou, the leader of the official opposition party, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK, has convinced my lot that they could seriously help get things straight. Colleagues and other sources tried to put things into perspective. Describing the current political situation in Greece as a pendulum, they believe that the government may not only collapse at any moment by losing the majority in the Parliament or by being defeated in a scenario of early elections Ğ as early as this June, together with the Euro-elections Ğ but, they predict, the opposition may secure a result as high as 45 percent. This is what everyone in Greece is discussing.
However, I was more interested to hear an alternative interpretation of the situation, as posed to me by a well-informed source close to political circles. That analysis relies on the personal popularity of the Greek prime minister and the psychology of the public. According to this particular argument, public opinion is based on the simple axiom that "everybody is a thief, after all," so it tends to choose leaders not on the basis of their Ğ or their party’s Ğ honesty, but on their capacity to spell out specific approaches and stand for specific ideas, even if they are not always correct. In other words, consistency and courage Ğ in the old "David vs. Goliath" sense of the word Ğ may in the end be very useful political weapons for Mr. Karamanlis.
When talking about courage and standing up for your principles, inevitably we come to Turkey. My well-informed source believes that the strongest political asset of the Greek prime minister is the "national" card. If he appears to stand up for his country against traditional "enemies" like Turkey, he may gain enough political clout to overcome his difficult position.
This analysis, conducted over an Easter lunch last week, gave me some useful insight into Karamanlis’ recent anti-Turkish rhetoric. Starting from the beginning of this year, we observed him adopting a much stricter rhetoric against Turkey, accusing Ankara of failing to live up to its promises on a number of bilateral and European issues. He recently complained publicly to President Obama about the misbehavior of Turkey toward Greece and Cyprus and traveled to Cyprus himself last week to deliver similarly strict speeches targeting Ankara’s ears.
The old soft and friendly tone towards the Turkish Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government and its leader have been replaced by an almost angry tone of disillusionment, while the populist pro-government press is fuelling guesswork stories about a Turkish plan to encircle Greece using northern Cyprus as a base. Is Karamanlis building up a profile as a "national patriotic leader" in order to overcome his domestic and party difficulties, as my source claimed? Maybe. At any rate, this is a well-known and oft-tried formula. But is this totally one-sided, or is Ankara, with its own domestic problems, also looking toward Greece and Cyprus for a diversion? Needless to say, I am returning to Istanbul with lots of food for thought. I mean, besides the perfectly roasted Easter lamb on the shores of the Euboea.
"If President Obama thinks that Turkey is such an important factor, why does he apply pressure on us to get her into the European Union, why does he not get her into the U.S?" "If President Obama thinks that Turkey is such an important factor, why does he apply pressure on us to get her into the European Union, why does he not get her into the U.S?" That was the question posed by Yannis Pretenteris, one of the most outspoken and popular commentators in the Greek media, in his column entitled "With somebody else’s kollyva.*" The title referred to the well-known Greek saying "They make a memorial service with somebody else’s kollyva," which can be loosely translated as "They adorn themselves with borrowed plumes."
Pretenteris continued, "Nobody challenges the right of the U.S. to think that it needs Turkey. The question is why should Europe pay the bill for Turkey, which is needed by the U.S.? And why should we christen Turks as Europeans, when President Obama could perfectly well christen Turks as Americans who after all would vote for him, too!" The aftershocks of Obama’s visit to Turkey are still being felt on both sides of the Aegean. Greek political and media circles continue wondering and pondering whether the traditional American policy of keeping equal distance from Turkey and Greece has been replaced by preferential treatment of Turkey as a strategic partner. Of course, it is still too early to say what such a choice would imply in the end for Ankara, but as far as Greece is concerned, Obama’s star has started fading. He has been already labeled as a "Turkophile."
In moments like these, Europe seems to be the obvious refuge. In France, where Foreign Minister Kouchner is the latest convert to the "Turkey-out-of the EU" camp, the Greek prime minister was welcomed last week and shared his thoughts on Ankara’s policies with the French president. He found the opportunity to point out once again to his French interlocutors that Ankara is far behind on its promises, especially regarding Cyprus, although he repeated the "unshaken" support of Athens for Turkey’s course towards the EU, "under conditions," of course.
Kostas Karamanlis, whose government about to undergo a major popularity test in June during elections for the Greek representatives at the European Parliament, has many domestic problems on his mind. Besides a shaky economy, and a never-ending saga of corruption scandals involving former members of his government, rumors of a soft "palace coup" by some senior party members later this year are circulating in Athens.
Obama’s visit created another headache for Athens. The strong references the American president made in his speech to the Turkish Parliament about the reopening of the Halki Seminary in Istanbul and the ongoing negotiations in Cyprus showed where the administration in Washington is placing its priorities: on the domestic vote in the U.S., where Greek Americans and Greek Cypriots play an important role. What Obama did not mention in his speech was the Greek-Turkish problems in the Aegean. Nor did the American president make any reference to them in any of his other public statements during his two days’ stay in Turkey.
The absence of any public reference to Greece was interpreted in Athens as Ankara being given a "free hand" by the Americans to deal with Greece as it wishes. This is not good news for Athens at a moment when the presidency of the European Union will be handed over soon to Sweden, a known pro-Turkey member of the union. Sweden, whose Foreign Minister Carl Bildt had the chance to meet many of his European Union counterparts during the recent Alliance of Civilizations forum in Istanbul Ğ including the Greek Cyprus Foreign Minister Marcos Kyprianou Ğ is known to favor a further expansion of the EU. That, of course, means Turkey, which is first in line to join the Brussels club.
What is worse for the Greek side is that Sweden may try to push some kind of arrangement that would give Ankara breathing room in its relations with Brussels. Under such an arrangement, Turkey Ğ which has been given until December to sort out its problems, including its relations with Greek Cyprus Ğ will be granted further time, perhaps as long as 18 months, according to media sources on the island. According to the worst-case scenario, starting in June, we may be expecting a hotter than usual summer in the Aegean. Ankara may feel more comfortable in advancing its positions regarding what it considers its "rights of movement" in the Aegean, knowing that there will be a more sympathetic reaction both from Washington and Brussels. At least this is the worst fear in some Greek circles, which are also expecting a quick solution on Cyprus that favors Ankara.
Of course, all these analyses are done by observers who are not usually taking the domestic situation in Turkey into serious consideration. Obama’s visit overshadowed the darker sides of last month’s local elections and the relative loss of power of the governing party, coupled with the rise of the ultra-right and the emergence of a revamped Islamist Welfare Party under a new leader. In addition, no one yet knows the implications of the continuing economic crisis on the political landscape in Turkey, nor its impact on public opinion.Seen from outside, all roads between Washington and Brussels seem to pass through Ankara, but we have been in this country long enough to wait a little longer before we pronounce our conclusions.
*Kollyva is a special meal made of boiled wheat, sugar, pomegranate, raisins, nuts, sugar and almonds served at Orthodox funerals and memorial services. The word is also used in Turkish, mainly in the Black Sea region.
Calling Costas Karamanlis "Mr. President" was probably a little overstretched, but Barack Obama’s meeting with the Greek prime minister in Strasburg was enough of a diplomatic show to give Karamanlis a helping hand at a crucial time of his premiership. And the broad smile of the American president and his assessment of Karamanlis’ leadership as "outstanding" was another indication that the strong support given to Obama by the Greek American community had somehow to be compensated. These are critical times. The unexpected announcement in Ankara last month by Hillary Clinton that the new American president was going to visit Turkey in a few weeks, dropped a diplomatic bomb in Ankara. But it also created waves of extreme frustration in Athens which set their diplomats and lobbyists in a fast motion to organize a last minute diplomatic counter attack in order to alleviate the negative impact on the Greek side. The result of this effort was the hastily arranged Karamanlis-Obama meeting in the presence of their Foreign Ministers during the NATO summit in Strasburg.
It was the first meeting between the two leaders; it took place just before Obama’s private meeting with Tayyip Erdogan and lasted long enough to compensate for the two days that Obama was to spend in Turkey. Indeed, 40 minutes were enough for the Greek prime minister to put forward again the chronic problem with FYROM over their using the name "Macedonia and to list the Greek complaints about Turkey: "Unacceptable violations of Greek airspace by the Turkish air force, the yet unsolvable issue regarding the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Fener with the related issue of the Chalki Seminary, the Cyprus problem"- a fat dossier of bilateral issues that Obama somehow assured Karamanlis that he was to take up with the Turkish leaders today and tomorrow. At the same time this long meeting ĞKaramanlis speaks good English so presumably no time was lost in translation- was productive enough for Karamanlis to get an unconfirmed promise from the American president that he will visit Athens some time before the summer.
The American president in his usual fluency with words stressed in front of the camera that he is "proud to call the Greek prime minister my friend" and making sure that he does not appear to forget the help in his march to the Democratic leadership, he agreed with Karamanlis on the important role of the Greek American community acting as a bridge between their countries. However, in spite of his broad smile and easy going posture Ğagainst Mr. Karamanlis uptight and a little awkward manner, Obama may not have the state of Greek-Turkish relations at the top of his priorities. The hotbed of Afghanistan-Pakistan, terrorism, energy, Middle East and regional security and of course, economy are enough to fill his plate. He may have talked with his "friend" about the influence of the Greek culture on America, and the influence of the American Revolution on Greece. But he was very clear on what the US wants from Greece by stressing that his country "looks forward to cooperation against terrorism, economic crisis and energy."
Greece, though, declined the call to commit more forces to Afghanistan, offering only to replace the departing existing soldiers of the Greek force. The shock that announcement of the visit by Obama to Turkey bypassing Greece included a powerful after-shock: the initial announcement that the American president was not going to visit Fener, the See of the Greek Orthodox Church. Instead, Obama was to have a meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos together with the other leaders of religious doctrines in Istanbul on Tuesday Ğa move that would have been a blow to the international status of Fener and would help Ankara’s argument that the Patriarch is just the leader of the Greek Orthodox minority of Istanbul. The impression in the Greek side is that Ankara tried its best to avert a visit by Obama to Fener added to the feelings of frustration on the Greek side that the issue of the Orthodox Patriarchate remains a serious stumbling block in the normalization of Greek-Turkish relations. However, even on that, it seems that intense diplomatic efforts brought some results.
According to information from the US and Athens, Obama may in the end have a private meeting with the Orthodox Patriarch in the hotel where the American president will meet the rest of the church leaders. Again the Greek-American community and their church leadership which falls directly under the ecclesiastical authority of Fener seems to have contributed to the last minute change of program, which, though, still has to be confirmed. The warm meeting in Strasburg with the American president must have been a welcome interval for the Greek prime minister who is facing tonight yet another political storm in the parliament over the alleged corruption of one of his former ministers.
The Greek Parliament is set to vote on a motion by the main opposition party on whether there is ground for setting up a parliamentary committee to investigate the allegations against a former minister of Merchant Navy over bribing. With the municipal elections nearing and with his party constantly trailing behind in the opinion polls, Karamanlis may remember his trip to Strasburg with nostalgia.
Costas Simitis, who is the guest speaker this evening at a public lecture organized by the European Institute of Istanbul Bilgi University, has linked his record term as a prime minister of Greece (eight years and two months from January 1996 until March 2004), with an almost obsessive allegiance to the European Union ideal.
An economic technocrat who never appeared comfortable with public speaking had started his term with a major crisis, which almost brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of a war over the sovereignty of a two rocky islets in the Aegean. It was followed by a humiliating hand over of the leader of PKK Abdullah Öcalan to the Turks under American pressure.
Costas Simitis, who is the guest speaker this evening at a public lecture organized by the European Institute of Istanbul Bilgi University, has linked his record term as a prime minister of Greece (eight years and two months from January 1996 until March 2004), with an almost obsessive allegiance to the European Union ideal. An economic technocrat who never appeared comfortable with public speaking had started his term with a major crisis, which almost brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of a war over the sovereignty of a two rocky islets in the Aegean. It was followed by a humiliating hand over of the leader of PKK Abdullah Öcalan to the Turks under American pressure.
He became a hate figure for the Greek Church and was blamed indirectly for the collapse of the Greek Stock Exchange which led to hundreds of thousands of small investors losing their savings. It was during his tenure that corruption surfaced as an endemic symptom of Greek social life, going hand in hand with government spending and major public works.
Yet it was during his tenure that the term "modernization" became an integral part of a new national policy aiming at drastically changing the infrastructure of an ailing Greek economy. Through a program of tough austerity economic measures and the allegiance to the European Union as a panacea of all ills of Greece eventually Ğ his critics say by the help of some "creative" accounting methods Ğ Greece was admitted into the Eurozone.
The visit of Barack Obama, a few days after the critical municipal elections in Turkey, has been a hotly debated issue. Especially after the "short and sharp" visit of Secretary Hillary Clinton to Ankara, the discussion on the probable changes that the new American administration bring upon its relations with Turkey, has divided Turkish analysts. Is Obama going to abandon the approach of his predecessor President Bush in viewing Turkey as a "moderate Islamic" country? Are the Americans going to focus their policies on the secularist democratic character of Turkey as a unique example in the Middle East and use it accordingly? Is Turkey going to be used just to help out the mess of the Americans in the region or is Ankara rightfully winning the war of becoming an important power in the region through its clever and skillful policies?
In Greece, the visit of Barack Obama to Turkey caused a lot of stir as it is not to be followed or preceded by a presidential visit to Greece. In spite of the statement of Hillary Clinton that she talked with her Turkish counterpart the issues concerning the "Ecumenical Patriarchate", the "Chalki Seminary" and the progress of the Cyprus talks- the impression of the Greek side was that the age-old American foreign policy principle of treating Turkey and Greece on the basis of a fine political balance was broken.
Visits by American officials to Turkey were customarily followed by parallel visits to Greece. Take the last visit by an American president to Greece: Bill Clinton came to Athens on Nov. 19, 1999 directly after visiting Ankara. In Ankara Clinton had talked to the leaders about the prospects of Turkey entering the European Union and had consoled earthquake victims, a memory which Secretary Clinton recalled during her recent visit. But the visit to the Greek capital did not have the pleasantries of Turkey. He was received by a barrage of anti-American public protests which were accentuated by the relatively recent impact of the American attacks in Yugoslavia. Still, he steered through well by saying that he understood the anti-American sentiment in Greece and apologized publicly for Washington’s support of the 1967 military coup in Greece.
Five years later, in June 2004 President George Bush was received with equal hostility in Turkey in the midst of Iraq war. One month earlier President Bush in Washington had asked Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to be excused because he would not be able to come to Greece to watch the opening of Olympics of 2004 due to "the election period in the U.S". In order to save the tradition, his father, former president George Bush Sr., came at the head of a delegation to attend the opening ceremony of Athens Olympics.
Ten years after President Clinton’s visit, the geostrategic changes in the Middle East, the expansion of NATO and EU, the change in energy policies, and unresolved regional issues of the American policy, like Iraq or Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan plus the nightmare of a global economic crisis have apparently pushed Turkey more to the centre stage leaving Greece behind. In that sense, much to the displeasure of Athens, Obama’s visit next month will break new diplomatic ground, and redefine a historical diplomatic tradition keeping the triangle of Washington, Athens and Ankara intact. Upgrading the status of Turkey in the region cannot but worry the Greek side who fear that they may not be able to count on the neutrality of their American allies towards bilateral issues like the Aegean, the status of the Patriarchate and the protection of the Istanbul Greek Orthodox minority or even the issue of Cyprus.
However, Greek analysts Ğlike their Turkish colleagues- have not yet deciphered the finer characteristics of this new American policy. "Barack Obama is going to Turkey to avert the tendency of the country to slide "towards the East" and to incorporate it in the new foreign policy he is launching in the Middle East, from the Israel-Palestine conflict to the Syria-Iran relations. At the same time, on a practical level, he needs the cooperation of Turkey for the smooth withdrawal of the American forces from Iraq in the next 18 months," writes a commentator of Kathimerini newspaper who puts forward an interesting point that the US will want to put pressure on the EU to accept Turkey in order to keep Turkey inside the Western camp thus controlling its "Neo-Ottomanist" tendencies. If that is correct then Hillary Clinton’s remark that the US defines a country not on the basis of religion but on the basis of democratic principles" may be a reflection of that new political thesis.
In Greece, with a government and an opposition embroiled in a blatant fight, in an atmosphere of disappointment, rising public protests, steep increase of criminality and a serious economic crisis still ahead, Obama's visit to Turkey became yet another platform for a domestic confrontation. "The problem that our country faces is not the enlargement of its diplomatic presence in the region, because this is simply unattainable," writes a commentator in Imerisia newspaper. "Foreign policy is the reflection of the internal power of governments. Only then they can exert their influence on their environment. It does not come from the fantasies of politicians, academics and professional analysts," continues the same commentator while the anti-government Ethnos accuses the Karamanlis government for leading the country to a "bizarre isolation, a diplomatic agoraphobia, with only one exception; the energy cooperation between Greece and Russia and the veto that Greece put against the admission of FYROM to NATO."
The barrage of domestic attacks about the inability of Greek diplomacy to sustain its importance against Turkey in the eyes of the American administration, reached the Greek-American lobby. Critics in Greece even a suggested that the visit of Obama to Turkey bypassing Greece constitutes a defeat for the Greek-American lobby’s prominent members, some of whom are now members of the new Obama staff. They are quite adamant that this is not a defeat for the Greek side. On the contrary, they say, we should see it as an opportunity. Obama’s trip to Turkey is related at the moment with specific issues like Iraq, Iran, Palestine, perhaps the Armenian issue, they say. Not with Greece or Cyprus.
"Obama most probably will visit Greece (later) but with different agenda which will include Cyprus, Aegean and FYROM," they say.
But does that not confirm indeed that the tradition of keeping a balance between Athens and Ankara has been revised?
If the contemporary meaning of the term "public diplomacy" is meant to be a "truthful propaganda" which may include "all activities designed to appeal to public, to enhance the home country’s attractiveness or appeal, by using media in order to enhance private-private partnerships" then, the appearance of Mrs. Hilary Clinton at the "all woman" chat show of NTV channel was certainly a textbook case for a successful operation. The show "Haydi Gel Bizimle Ol" ("Come and join us") is a free chat show among four successful women from all walks of life: a writer, a journalist, an actress and a model of various age groups appealing to different target audiences, who come together every week and discuss with a different guest anything which falls in that well known category "from sex to politics;" an informal chat which can get very funny or very serious but can also become aggressive or superficial. But it is a show that enjoys constant high ratings in Turkish television.
Still for the new boss of the State Department, who arrived in Turkey on the eve of the International Woman's Day, that was a perfect occasion to exercise one of the main principles of modern style "public diplomacy": using the media especially television, in order to shape the message that her country wishes to present abroad and to use the tools of listening and conversation as well as the tools of indirect persuasion for otherwise diverse citizens in order to promote her message.
And if one of the aims of Mrs. Hilary Clinton's first visit to Turkey as a US Foreign Secretary was to reverse the strong anti-American feeling, then her choice to appear among Turkish women and to show herself as "just another woman" was very clever. Appearances first, Mrs. Clinton sent us the message that she is "one of us" by her outfit to start with. She arrived in Turkey in the early hours of Saturday, wearing a smart yellow jacket and black trousers with minimum make up and jewelry. Then she probably took part in the recording of the chat show Ğwhich was shown on Saturday evening- and then had meetings with the president, the prime minister and the foreign minister; even the visit to the Mausoleum of Ataturk was not an occasion for her to change her attire. The viewers of the chat show who watched her on Saturday night, saw her in the same attire as she appeared on the news during all her meetings all through the day.
Undoubtedly, Mrs. Hilary Clinton’s short trip to Turkey was a good PR exercise both for her and the new Obama administration. She flattered the Turkish public as well as the Turkish government in a most skillful way. But speaking purely on journalistic terms, it did not generate major news stories, per se. That was probably the reason why all the headlines in the Turkish press concentrated only on the new American president’s visit. To what extent for example, the new American administration will define Turkey no longer as a "moderate Islamic country" Ğ as president Bush used to do? To what extent this will have any affect on the "bridge making" role that the present Turkish government has been pushing forward as the main reason for entering the EU or mediating in the Middle East? What role does the US wants to assign to Turkey in the region and will it be different that before? I suppose we will have to wait for Obama’s visit.
Obviously behind the sweet smile of Mrs. Clinton there is a lot of tough bargaining going on behind the scenes and things are not as smooth as they look. One could get a taste of it reading between the lines of the statement by the Turkish foreign Minister Ali Babacan yesterday when talking about the Armenian "genocide" issue: "I can easily say that the current U.S. administration perceives Turkey's opinion and sensitivity on this matter. We have no difficulties with communication in that sense, he said but added that he hopes that the "issue could be solved without any problems and without overshadowing the relations between Turkey and USA."
So we have to wait for a little while. However, we may have some interesting news about Obama’s visit to Turkey, coming from É Greece! As reported exclusively by the private Mega TV Channel, Obama’s visit to Turkey will take place on April 6 And 7 and, interestingly, will not be preceded or followed by a presidential visit to Greece. According to the same information which has not been denied by the White House, president Obama plans to come to Turkey via Istanbul where he will take part in the summit for the Alliance of Civilizations which is going to attended by the General Secretary of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon. There is a thought among Obama’s advisors that he will appeal to the Muslim world by saying, "We are extending out a hand of friendship and cooperation, take it." Whether this will happen or not is not certain but it is almost certain that during his visit to Turkey, he will visit the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Fener. The Americans are traditionally sensitive towards the issue of the statute of the Istanbul Patriarchate as well as the still unsolved issue of the Chalki Seminary. After all the strong presence of Greek Americans in the Obama camp is indicative of the importance that the new American administration is expected to show towards issues related to the Patriarchate as well as to Cyprus. With regards to Cyprus, though, there is nothing to show so far that the new American administration wishes to interfere with a problem that continues to give no indication for an easy solution.
The tormented capital of Afghanistan maybe among the prime considerations of the Americans or even the Turks; but it had never preoccupied seriously the minds or the politics of the Greeks except for occasional historic references to Alexander the Great's campaigns. Yet, as of last week, Kabul entered the jargon of Greek politics and dominated the political commentary showing signs that it is here to stay. Michalis Chryssohoidis, a deputy of the socialist main opposition party of PASOK in Greece, has associated his name with the biggest terrorist catch in Greek history. As Minister of Public Order in 2002 he was credited with the capture of the home-grown terrorist organization "The Revolutionary Organization of 17 November," active since 1975 and responsible for a number of spectacular assassinations. So Chryssohoidis has acquired a sort of informal role of being the "authoritative wise voice" on matters of security which until recently were pushed away from the political agenda as there was no real tangible threat in that respect.
But that recently has changed. And from that unique position of a successful former minister of Public Order, Chryssohoidis delivered a formidable punch at the Karamanlis government last week. In an interview with a private radio, he claimed that "the phenomenon of mass terrorism observed now in Greece and the rationale of an urban guerilla movement can be seen in Greece, Colombia, Baghdad and possibly Kabul. Nowhere else and I am not exaggerating." It was that statement that brought Kabul to the center of Greek politics.
Kabul was of course an exaggeration, may be permissible because it comes from a member of the main opposition party that is steadily running ahead in the opinion polls during the last few months and hopes to win in the next elections that might take place in spring, ahead of their scheduled time. So there was no surprise that Chryssohoidis statement brought an enraged reaction by the government spokesman who accused all those who "use catastrophic scenarios for political gains and who speak negatively of their country with a bulimia for power."
But if one puts aside the party polemics which could only get worse during the period running up to elections, nobody can challenge the bitter fact that some kind of urban terrorism has popped up back in Greece. Only last week two incidents, within hours from each other, brought the issue back to the priorities list of Karamanlis government. Last Tuesday evening four unknown armed helmet-wearing assailants entered the parking area of one of the private TV channels and after opening fire at the cars parked and throwing an explosive device, they disappeared. The attack was claimed by a little-known organization, "The Sect of Revolutionaries," that had also attacked a police station early in February. In its written statement the sect attacks "the snails of media journalism who should know that besides the saliva that they are leaving behind them when they suck up their status quo bosses and their sponsors, soon they are going to leave blood behind them." "Your bullet-proof time is up" announces the sect and warns of further attacks.
A 60 kilogram ANFO home-made bomb similar to the ones that destroyed two synagogues, the British Consulate and a bank in Istanbul in November 2003, was left in a car outside the Citibank branch last Wednesday, was the follow up. Another urban terrorist group, the "Revolutionary Struggle’ claimed responsibility for it while dozens of arsonists and small bomb attacks against politicians, judges and banks in Athens and Thessalonica were claimed by the previously unknown group "Conspiracy of the Nuclei of Fire."
But the most perplexing incident took place last Wednesday. During an academic conference discussing the issue of social care to recently released prisoners, about 50 hooded youths raided the room and attacked a well-known liberal professor of criminology who had to be hospitalized. The conference was taking place at a cultural center which operates under the auspices of the University of Athens. The attackers besides punching up the professor also vandalized the hall before they left the place. Time wise, the surge in terrorism activity in Greece follows the violent riots sparked by the killing of an under-age Greek youth by the police back in December. But the causes of it puzzle everybody.
The degree of violence and rage of the rioters, mainly youth, back in December was then attributed to a combination of a failed educational program and a bad economy exploding into blind violence. But the opaque dividing line between the protesters and the masked club bearing men smashing up small shops and setting fire to the commercial center of Athens has confused analysts. Especially after privately shot videos showed some of those involved in the carnage, mingling with policemen in uniform at a street corner, just before they got their lethal "clubs" and set off to "work."
For the Soviet-style communist party of Greece, there is only one explanation of what is happening during the last few months. Basing their argument on who is benefiting out of all that, they arrive at the conclusion that it is really the forces who want to reduce individual freedoms and rights that have fuelled the upheaval. The offer by the American ambassador to cooperate in combating the problem was for the KKE (Communist Party of Greece) a further proof of their argument. For the rest of the left but also for the ultra right, it is a gross mismanagement on behalf of a falling government while for the government itself it is a matter of "isolated incidents" in unfortunate international economic climate which have to be dealt with new measures. For the police authorities it is a serious escalating phenomenon of blind anarchic-apolitical violence with the cooperation of the criminal world which is profiting from the supplying of arms.
The government with a majority of one is hard at work trying to reduce a huge state deficit as demanded by Brussels. A tightening of all public expenses is to be implemented but further measures may be required which could increase the unpopularity of the government and the queues of unemployed; hence the scenario of quick general election before June. Which brings us back to the "Kabul factor." Whatever reality hides behind the recent wave of urban terrorism in Greece, police authorities are worryingly expecting a more serious attack probably with human victims. If the causes of the recent terrorist incidents are what the police fear, then the "Kabul factor" may be a bigger obstacle in the plans of the Greek government than even the demands by Brussels.
"Tipota, vre, ohi, ne, avrio, simera, nani nani, moraki mou," words scattered in a dramatic sequence of phrases spelled out by trembling mouths accompanied by faces in close-up with watery eyes, staying fixed on the lens, longer that one would expect; Greek words popping up in undisciplined manner among disciplined lines of phrases in Turkish, probably sounding incomprehensive to the small Turkish audience at my local cinema where I watched Tomris Giritlioğlu’s latest movie "Autumn Pain," a new movie which is set in September 1955 in Istanbul against the background of the rampage by the Turkish mob against the Greek and other minorities of the city. The "events of September 6 to 7" sparked after the bombing of Kemal Atatürk's house in Thessalonica, as well as the increased tension in Cyprus, caused a near fatal blow particularly to the presence of Istanbul Rum community. In material damage, it resulted in the destruction of some 5,000 shops, 3,500 residences, 90 churches, 40 schools and 2 cemeteries. 60 percent of the victims were Rums, but there were 20 percent Armenians and 12 percent Jews. As it was historically proven, it was mainly the result of a state policy of constructing a Turkish "national state" and driving the prosperous minorities out. A policy that was, for her special interests, assisted by some little "dirty British tricks."
I had to watch the film. For the last two weeks, the publicity surrounding the release of Giritlioğlu’s latest work had portrayed it as a turning point in the Turkish-Greek painful recent history, as a film which forced the Turks to look back at their dark past with a clear eye.
I had also read a few reviews in the Greek press under such dramatic headlines as "The Turks are shedding tears" by watching the new film etc. In the generally favorable reviews in Turkey, however, some were pointing out certain weaknesses of the film, like the TV-acting style of the players, the TV-serial style of camera work where acting is done virtually eye-to-eye. But that was not my main problem with the film. After all, we can all understand the budgetary restrictions faced by film producers trying to make ends meet, and I accept wholeheartedly the convenient principle of "artistic convention" which allows our imagination to ignore such mundane details. My problem was the story. Or rather the scenario.
When the film ended and the lights went up, I was left with a feeling that the real story had not been told. Or that I had watched two films running together on a parallel line, occasionally intercepting but rarely genuinely fusing into one logical sequence.
One film was the love story of Behçet, the son of a nationalist land owner who had dreams of seeing his son in politics one day, and Elena, a young Istanbul Rum girl whose Fellini-esque grandmother was pushing her as a prostitute to powerful Turks. An unlikely love affair blooms between the two literally through the window glass of their apartments facing each other on one of the side streets of Istiklal Avenue. After lots of dramatic episodes indirectly, but only indirectly, related with the September 6 to 7 events, the girl is killed during the riots. But the prostitute Elena looks too fresh and innocent still playing with her dolls and roaming through the crowded streets of Pera at the centre of Istanbul’s Rum community, wearing her Christian cross on an excessive low cut modern dress. She also looks too emancipated for her time when at a dramatic moment of the film she enters an aggressive Turkish nationalists march and grabs a Turkish flag from the mustached flag bearer.
Which brings us to the second film, the political and social drama of the September 6 to 7 events. This second film runs as a background setting to the front text of Elena-Behcet story, loosely related to it. I mean, one could run the Elena-Behçet story with different background historical sets and it could still be credible as much as any other Greek-Turk cinema and TV love story can be. Actually Elena brings faintly into memory the Turkish bride in the successful TV serial "Yabancı Damat" (Greek title: The borders of love) shot three years ago.
But the "socio-historical" film running in the background of the love story, has got several problems. To start with, the story of the September 6 to 7 pogroms is projected as the result of rightists-fascists and leftists-communists students, a discourse which actually transfers the story to a decade at least later. The angry Turkish mob that pillages the minority shops and premises around Istiklal Avenue is shown as local Istanbullu or even angry students, as opposed to people actually ferried by buses from other parts of the country in order to "do the job," as historical evidence has shown. One of the most dramatic sequences of the film involves scenes of organized "markings" of premises to be attacked. Groups of Turks sneaking in the middle of the night, carrying buckets of red paint and painting red crosses on the entrance of the houses or businesses to be hit later.
Actually they did not need to do that. As Dr. Dilek Güvenç showed in her most authoritative study of the events, the "job" was very well prepared. The neighborhoods that were to be attacked were controlled by three-member groups whose leader was showing to the mob the places to be hit. The groups had lists of the houses and businesses belonging to minorities. Those lists were prepared during World War II by the Republican Peoples Party, or CHP, "just in case the minorities would cause a problem." So there was no need for the red paint as much dramatic that was seen on the screen. A better research of the sources, a study of the numerous personal accounts would have made the background set less of carton pier film set.
"What did you think of the film?" I asked a Jewish friend of mine whose husband is Turkish. "The film is okay, but the Rum girl is a prostitute. That means that only prostitutes can have affairs with Turks or that Turks see minority women as prostitutes. Imagine what makes me then!" she said with a good laughter.
"Imagine what makes me, too," I replied.
"How come the Greek government was absent this year from Davos World Economic Forum, when every country, by trying to increase their political and diplomatic capital, participates in the discussion for the solution of issues that supersede their own?" asked Yannis Loverdos, the shadow minister of foreign affairs, to Dora Bakoyiannis, the Greek foreign minister, in a written question. Behind the official language of the spokesman for the opposition party of PASOK, one could detect a feeling of frustration. Because Davos was an international platform from where Greece was absent and Turkey was very much present; for better or worse. The Arabic world has been traditionally a friendly ground for politicians of recent Greek history.
From its beginnings, at the end of the 60s, first as PAK (Pan-Hellenic Liberation Movement) and then as PASOK (Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement), the large popular political group founded by Andreas Papandreou to overthrow the dictatorship in Greece and then to rule the country, maintained strong ties with the liberation movements of the Middle East. The period when the government of Andreas Papandreou, the leader and founder of PASOK, was in power (1981-1996), the relations between Greece and the Arab world were at their highest point.
One of Andreas Papandreou’s ideas was to promote the idea of friendship and cooperation of the socialist forces around the Mediterranean. To the displeasure of Israel and the United States, Arafat and the Libyan leader Muamar Gadaffi were his personal friends. When Yasser Arafat died two years ago, Karolos Papoulias, the present President of the Greek Republic and long time foreign minister during the period of PASOK governments, spoke about his "28-year friendship" with the historic Palestinian leader in an interview with the Greek newspaper Elefterotypia.
As Papoulias remembers "Andreas Papandreou as prime minister and me as foreign minister had arrived at the conclusion that the creation of a Palestinian state was and is a condition for the final solution of the Middle Eastern problemÉ If there was no PASOK government or Andreas Papandreou, possibly we would not be talking now neither about Arafat nor about the Palestinian issue."
Papoulias was perhaps referring to the most striking incident in the PASOK-Arafat relations when in December 1983 three Greek ships were sent under the order from the Greek government to Tripolis in Lebanon to transport Arafat and his 8,000 fedayeen to Algiers and Tunis. It was a 12-hour operation "in spite of the threats and warnings from Israel, the United States and the Jewish lobby," says Papoulias who even today believes that "the gates of peace can only be opened with the three keys of Israel, Palestine and Syria."
For a few weeks now, Turkey has been suffering under negative treatment by politicians and media alike in Greece. The beginning of this year saw a marked change in the atmosphere between the two countries to a cooler temperature fuelled by mutual claims for incidents over the Aegean and rumors of a "change of heart" on behalf of the Greek government toward Turkey. At the same time the Karamanlis government is desperately trying to retrieve its fading popularity after a terrible autumn marred by violent riots, strikes, scandals and a financial crisis.
Last month he changed unpopular ministers in an effort to bring back his disgruntled voters who were losing faith in his future. Recently, the unexpected and weird "confessions" and denials of Turkish actor Atilla Olgac, about his war crimes in Cyprus during the war in 1974, added to a strange feeling of tension in Athens and Nicosia that the current fluid political landscape in Turkey may erupt at any moment and spill over to its next door neighbors. The "Davos incident" came to add to that tension.
The infuriated Turkish prime minister who "had the guts to defy the Israeli president, defy the Americans behind him, defy the Jewish lobby, defy the diplomatic norms, etc," appealed to a historically anti-American and pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian nation who since the 70s has been hosting myriads of Palestinian refugees in their lands.
But since he is a Turk, this acceptance of a "brave stand off" has been diluted quickly with: "How can he dare to say that he is angry about the children of Gazza, when he killed thousands of Kurdish and Greek Cypriot kids!"- the angriest of the Greeks, at the same time are scolding their prime minister for not ever standing up against the Americans and the Jews.
However, those most angry are the traditional voters of PASOK. "What Erdogan did was that he took the place of Andreas Papandreou as the leading supporter of the Palestinian struggle," they say.
This is unacceptable for their historic pro-Arab leader who had led the pro-Palestinian camp among the Europeans much to the frustration of his Western allies. It is that feeling that one can detect behind the public statements of the Greek official opposition.
Atilla Olgac's gesticulating bravado on Kanal Turk last week about his capacity to shoot nine Greek Cypriots and one 19-year-old captive Greek Cypriot, overshadowed any other news in both Greece and Cyprus; even in Turkey, the reactions to such a performance made us momentarily switch our attention from another ongoing saga, that of Ergenekon. Once again the speed with which the news spread, and most importantly the readiness by which the Greek side Ñ media most of all Ñ accepted the story as true without making an effort for the sake of balanced reporting, reminded us once again, that below the thin surface of a relatively calm atmosphere between the two sides, raw feelings and memories are still there ready to pop out and thus easily to be exploited.
Still, that is not to say that I have not been fully convinced about who is right and who is wrong in this matter. Olgac's panicky apologies and his agonizing efforts to persuade everybody that he was making everything up, is too weird. And the instant assurances by Mr. Hilmi Özen Ñ an ex-adviser of the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash Ñ and a "Director of Cyprus State Theater" in 1974, that Olgac, scared to death by the war was just peeling potatoes in the kitchen of his regiment in Cyprus in 1974, is too much of a quick repair job to be fully credible. And although we were led to believe that it was all a big mistake, that it was done just "to test the reaction of the audience" for a future "scenario on the line of "the ’Saving of Private Ryan’" based on an idea that the actor has had in his mind for 30 years," it was interesting that the full story of Olgac's original "I killed 10" claims appeared immediately on the Kurtlar Vadisi's Web site.
Obviously, the administrators of the site saw nothing strange in this fantastic story by one of their main actors.
But Kurtlar Vadisi team is no stranger to controversy. "The Valley of the Wolves- Iraq" the first sequel of the extremely successful, "The Valley of the Wolves" original TV series, was set up in northern Iraq where "cruel American soldiers were capturing brave Turkish special forces soldiers, and humiliating them."
Strong references to Abu Ghraib and the infamous Blackwater security firm and a strong nationalistic line against all the perceived external enemies of the Turks, had fueled enough anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism in Turkey for the series and film to gross almost $30 million at the box office, $25 million of which in Turkey.
It was enough of a profit to convince the producers to continue with yet another "hate" and "conspiracy" sequel. This time the "Valley of the Wolves: Terror" targeted Kurds of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, and it was probably going to hit new record earnings if it had not to been censored on its first episode, February 2007, by the Turkish High Board for Radio and TV, or RTÜK, due to scenes of extreme violence.
But conspiracy, violence and hate sell. In its latest mutation launched last April, the "Valley of the Wolves," is dealing with money and the absolute power over Turkey’s economy supposedly held by only four Turkish ruthless families. A new season of this latest series called "Valley of the Wolves-Ambush" was going to be launched soon.
Atilla Olgac became a celebrity overnight. He was known anyway in his own country where he has been working for 45 years as a theater actor. But his recently acquired regional celebrity status now covers also Cyprus and Greece. His face is known and hated. He, claims that his "acting career is finished." But if he is right, then his last act on the small screen was spectacular: dressed all in black and looking quite determined, was targeting an imaginary audience of KanalTurk's program "Orada Neler Oluyor" showing everybody how he had shot those poor Greek Cypriots 35 years ago.
But what he did not know then was that, at the same time he was shooting his own foot. By that real or surreal claim, he put himself in a position where we have no other choice but to think of him as a psychologically disturbed "mythomaniac" who makes up stories to cover his cowardice or a cynical killer Ñ like his TV persona "Kilic."
The dilemma may be bad for him. But not for the producers of the series. The publicity that the series got through the Olgac incident surely would increase the ratings of the latest sequel; by an audience which is now addicted to the traditional recipe of nationalism, chauvinism and xenophobia.
During the last three weeks or so the cold waves of the Ergenekon storm have been hitting our screens with formidable force blinding our visibility. And when new tsunami waves originate from a cold lake like that of Ontario, then our vision of what is really happening in Turkey becomes really blurred. When a young colleague from Athens called me the other day to ask me about the "forgive me" campaign, I reacted as if I had just been woken from a deep sleep.
"About what?" I asked again. "You know, about the Armenians, Turks feeling sorry about and all that." What could I say, but the obvious: that I had forgotten all about it.
Since I chose Turkey as my place of residence, there have been periods when I have been seriously disturbed about the tricks played to me by my memory. There are periods which I can remember with great accuracy, and other longer periods which have settled somewhere in the back of my mind covered in a mist of nothingness, neither black nor white, periods of events that were little analyzed or explained to us, hence quickly forgotten.
Yet, there are some periods that I remember very well, like it was yesterday.
For example there is a picture in my mind that can never go away. It is the picture the "casino king," Omer Lutfu Topal, on the first page of a Turkish newspaper, leaning over the front seat of his car, just after being shot dead, with blood running down his face. From that same period of time, I also maintain a very clear recollection of a personal video shown again and again on Turkish television of a well-built man who was playing at home with his child. It was Huseyin Kocadag's in one of his last moments alive before his fatal accident at Susurluk. Of course, I remember that famous black Mercedes 600 SEL being shown over and over again after the accident, even the unfortunate driver of the truck, Hasan Gokce, who was held responsible for the crash and then could not pay the fine.
One of strongest TV faces for me those days was Mehmet Agar in his chic camel coat delivering strong speeches defending his devotion to the Turkish state and then later in a devastated state at the funeral of his daughter. I remember like now opening my balcony door every evening at 9 p.m. and checking how many people on my street would flash their lights and bang their pots and pan in protest of the Susurluk scandal. And there was another strong face on our screens then: Tansu Ciller, the prime minister, whose modern dress style had impressed my father so much that he had predicted that Turkey "had a great future with a good looking woman at the helm."
The year 1996, was a memorable year. For me, too. I had just moved to Turkey and Turkey was a country where you could immediately feel that there was a very fine line between legality and illegality, politics and corruption, light and dark. And it was then that I learned the most frequently used phrase in Turkish: "derin devlet."
Thirteen years later that first impression of Turkey is coming back as strong as the first time. As if very little has gone on in between; of course this is not true and a great deal has changed in Turkey since then. But that is how my selective memory wants me to believe.
However, there may be a reason for that; that is probably how I have caught myself during the last few weeks stuck in front of my television screen checking how many of the suspects who appear on endless "flash news" interruptions to the program flow, were the faces I first came to know from the much fewer TV screens back in 1996.
And they are many. Veli Kucuk, Ibrahim Sahin, Korkut Eken and many others whose faces I knew from 1996, they are now led as suspects of the Ergenekon case to their police cells waiting to be tried, in this gigantic legal case whose framework and legal logic is still expanding.
But many are missing; and those are the politicians who were then the legitimate face of the Turkish state.
The avalanche of events that are popping up constantly around the Ergenekon issue has been so powerful that has made us shut off parts of our brain in order to concentrate on this. So when three weeks ago we were all debating the rights and wrongs of a group of Turkish intellectuals to ask forgiveness for the Great Catastrophe of the Armenians in 1915, three weeks later we are discussing whether 1996, the year of Susurluk is organically linked with 2008 the year of Ergenekon. We are now hooked upon our daily dosage of police catches of caches of dangerous weapons, we became experts of lethal arms and dangerous explosives; we now prefer to watch police grab excavators digging out in deserted forest areas under strong spotlights for more hand grenades and bullets and regret the fact that a humble ancient pot can delay the work. We are secretly enjoying the humiliated retired generals dragged out from their homes, from the hospital, from their offices by emotionless guards who do not protect them against the ruthless TV cameras.
Long before the trials have taken place, we have already declared every suspect guilty. The Turkish media of all formats are supplying us with enough food for not thinking but judging. We have become a bulimic audience who wants more and more of the same food which these days, is called Ergenekon.
So as long as the Ergenekon monster continues to produce new flaming hisses, there is no place for Armenians.
The Armenian issue can be shelved for later. No time for the moment.
Despite the fact that Hrant Dink was assassinated two years ago, today.
It is one of those occasions where you are called to decipher a strange phenomenon and to give a logical answer: the media of two countries while reporting on each other, are seeing a totally different picture: as if two people are looking at the same landscape, yet they are seeing entirely difference scenes. This is the case between the media of Turkey and Greece now. "Do what you like. We are not going to leave from here. This is where we were born," said one of the hundred or so inhabitants of Agathonisi or Gaidouronisi or Esek adasi in Turkish, just off the coast of Turkey, one of the Dodecanese Islands in the southern part of the Aegean Sea. The islander who was standing in front of a background of white washed pretty houses festooned around a beautifully shaped natural port full of fishing boats, was referring to a small formation of Turkish F16s which had just slashed the bright sky over his head creating a deafening noise.
The islander was not particularly angry; he looked as if in the past he had many similar one-way conversations with Turkish pilots who have been passing over his blue sky for years. He actually said this to the anxious Greek TV reporter who had arrived to this miniscule Greek island in order to check what the majority of the Greek media have been murmuring for the last few weeks: that Turkey is setting the agenda for a "hot incident" in the Aegean in order to bring back the issue of the "gray zones." Seeing the Turkish F-16s with his own eyes, the reporter reported immediately the "hard evidence" live to his TV studio in Athens; but the islander was more stoic. "They have been doing it all the time. For years. We are used to it." But Athens has already decided that Ankara has changed gear.
If the information going through Greek media lately is true, then Athens is about to set its relations with Ankara on a new tougher ground in response to an increased "aggression from the Turkey." Already the visit by the Greek president Mr. Karolos Papoulias to another small, inhabited island near Agathonisi, Farmakonisi (Mulamac Adasi) for the celebrations of Epihpany Day on Jan. 6, was meant to send a message to Ankara that Greece is not pleased. Strong official statements implied that Greece would resort to every means in order to defend the sovereignty of its islands. In an interview yesterday to the new newspaper "Real News," the Greek Minister of Defense, Evangelos Meimarakis, called the recent Turkish military activity over the Aegean "unacceptable, especially for a country that wants to enter the European Union," and warned that Athens's response to the "escalating actions by Ankara" will not be limited to the diplomatic level, but "will be given to other appropriate circles."
"The Turkish actions on Farmakonisi-Agathonisi are unacceptable. They are in blatant violation of international law and hamper the efforts being made to improve Greek-Turkish relations. I have instructed that the appropriate demarches be made," said Greek Foreign Minister Bakoyiannis in a statement Jan. 7. According to yesterday’s "TO VIMA" newspaper, the military leadership of the Greek Ministry of National Defense is "being placed on alert, by increasing the degree of responsiveness for certain units and increasing the number of personnel in the observation posts on the islands of both Central Aegean and the Dodecanese. Reinforced air force and navy units are also on alert in order to fully monitor the Athens FIR and the Greek territorial waters. The Greek side is adamant about its position.
They think that Ankara is planning to create a legal precedent by claiming an opening to the Aegean Sea, by challenging issues like the continental shelf around the Aegean islands, the air traffic control and the right of the exploration of the Aegean depths. Some loud nationalists are calling out for the use of casus belli now, in order to "teach a lesson to the Turks." The Greek media who are quoting "reliable military and political sources" are more than sure about their analysis: There is a "new provocative stance by Ankara, they claim, which is aiming at scrapping the international treaties which define the Aegean frontiers like Lausanne Agreement of 1923, Italy-Greece agreement of 1932 and Paris Agreement of 1947, and challenge the status quo in the Dodecanese islands, with continuous hostile actions in the air and sea. The landscape of the Aegean seen from Athens is strongly reminiscent of the days before the Imia-Kardak crisis in 1996. Needless to say that the "crisis with Turkey" is pushing other hot domestic issues in Greece out of the main headlines: economy, the killing of the young student by a special police guard last month, students riots, the serious injuring of a policeman by "terrorists", etc, to the inside pages.
There is a new agenda now. The widely expected government reshuffle which replaced the unpopular economy minister - but not the economic policy Ğ and the education and the public order ministers and brought in younger popular conservative figures in the government, did the trick: It reduced the gap with the opposition by giving the new Karamanlis cabinet some valuable extra points of popularity. This latest cabinet will be an "election cabinet" as it is widely anticipated that Karamanlis will go for early elections perhaps in the spring. On the other side of the Aegean, the landscape seems strangely calm. At least the total absence of any official statement by government officials or military leaders on the "war mongering" in the Aegean, plus the almost complete lack of coverage or analysis in the Turkish media, is giving a surreal twist to the story.
However this is not completely true. On the web page of the Turkish General Staff, there is regular daily list of the "incidents in the Aegean" by Greek F16s harassing Turkish jets and Greek coast guard vessels, and fishing boats entering Turkish territorial waters. It is the story seen upside down where the bad ones are the Greeks and the good ones are the Turks. When asked by journalists whether he can say that there is lately an unusual upsurge of Turkish military in the Aegean, the well known retired ambassador Hristos Zaharakis replied that he did not think so, but he pointed out that, "With such a neighbor, we will always have to be on alert."
If there is something sinister going on in the Aegean, as the Greek side is claiming, and we do not hear anything about it in Turkey, then for the sake of the proclaimed good neighborly relations of both sides, the leadership in Ankara should pause from its local election considerations, the Ergenekon pit, the Gaza bumpy diplomacy, the new scene in the United States and the slippery ride to Brussels, and explain to us what is really going on. But whatever it is, one gets the impression that Athens is doing a lot of hard rethinking about Turkey and its support for the AKP government. The original policy of Karamanlis government that the European Union vision will cause a more lenient stance toward Athens may be going under revision. It is too early to foresee the changes in the Greek policy toward Ankara, but it looks likely that the days of "best men, best friends" are over. After all a tension with Turkey may also prove very helpful for the Karamanlis government as it will put the whole of the electorate on a patriotic foot against which no opposition party can have an alternative view.