27 Nisan 2009
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.
13 Nisan 2009
"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.
6 Nisan 2009
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.
23 Mart 2009
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.
16 Mart 2009
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?
9 Mart 2009
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.
23 Şubat 2009
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.
16 Şubat 2009
"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.