2 Şubat 2009
"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.
26 Ocak 2009
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.
19 Ocak 2009
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.
12 Ocak 2009
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.
29 Aralık 2008
As this year is coming to a close, few people in Greece can say that the experience of this month’s riots did not leave them with a deep feeling of bitterness and worry. Bitterness about the things that happened and worry about the things that may come. For more than two weeks that followed the shooting of the young Alexis Grigoropoulos by a special police guard shook the public and prompted a disproportionate violent reaction toward the authorities, experts have been trying to find out what was really the reason for such public outcry given the fact that it was not the first time in Greece that a young person was shot down by a brainless police guard.
They cite several reasons that became more apparent this year. Faced with a string of corruption scandals involving the church, justice and politicians, and having to cope with a serious economic crisis mismanaged by short-sighted politicians, the Greeks have been boiling over for some time. The opinion polls for some time now have been showing consistently a deep mistrust toward their politicians and their national institutions.
A prolonged crisis in an under-funded education sector, a sector which has historically been a vital component for the construction of the Greek nation, proved to be one of the most socially costing for the government. The recent riots dominated by young people Ñ school children and students Ñ were also seen as the latest confrontation between the Greek youth and the state after an educational reform program launched in 2006. The program which introduced also private university education was resisted violently by a large majority of the youth and their teaching staff and have since been put on hold.
In spite of the extent of the reaction and the size of the material damage, many Greeks are feeling that this deep crisis hitting their country is transcending the youth whose problems after all are not unique to Greece. "We have a government even the present indescribably incapable one, but a legal one, we have a main opposition party whose rhetoric has not convinced so far those who challenge the system, we have a right camp, more right that the right which fortunately only few trust and we have a left split into two which does not appear wiser or effective than all the others. The doctrine that there is no dead-end in democracy seems doubtful. Until now there has been nobody strong enough politically or socially whose speech would be heard and who would carve a new lineÉWe are not experiencing a revolution, however, we are living an uprising which even without Molotov cocktails and physical damage will continue in the mind. We have a new youth which sides with a nihilistic perception of politics and social relations. How long will this life of devalued system could be extended?" writes the eminent columnist Richardos Someritis, expressing the general feeling among analysts that the events surrounding the Alexis Grigoropoulos killing should be also read as a warning that there is a systemic crisis unfolding.
But as the memory of the charred shop-frames in the center of Athens in early December is fading away, a hot conspiratorial debate is picking up among political and media circles in Athens on the real reasons behind the current crisis. As usual, the conspiracy scenario involves the United States. Actually, the real story, they say, begins back in April when Greece under the Karamanlis Government made a strategic choice to join the South Stream pipeline project which supplies natural gas to Europe via Italy and sign an agreement with Putin's Russia. South Stream was an additional energy project to the Nabucco Project in which Greece is participating through the Turkey-Greece-Italy Interconnector, or TGI, part of the project.
It was no secret then that the pact between Putin and Karamanlis did not please the Americans. Actually, Mathew Bryza, state secretary deputy assistant for Europe and Asia almost implied that Greece deceived the United States by choosing the South Stream Project. While accepting that it is up to Greece to choose as many pipelines as she wants, he pointed out that Greece will have to concentrate first on the TGI project, "otherwise Greece will be left just with the South Stream," he said. Replying to questions why Greece decided to go with the Russians, Bryza said that Karamanlis' government probably, "decided to upgrade its strategic importance by maximizing the number of pipelines passing through its territory."
The conspiracy theorists are convinced that it was then that the problems started for the Greek government; the Americans were fed up with Karamanlis. They actually believe that the recent student unrest, the ineffectiveness of the police to prevent the destruction of Athens and other cities, the strange shooting incidents by unknown assailants against police and the public, etc. etc. which have continued after the killing of Alexi Grigoropoulos, they all show that something more sinister is going on against Greece.
For the time being though, the government is about to re-launch itself and try to regain its lost popularity by a reshuffle expected after the end of the long Christmas season; Jan. 9, is one possible date. To what extent such a reshuffle would give a new impetus to the government which is trailing behind the main opposition party by 3 to 6 points, is debatable. It will be a "recycling of old materials," critics say. If things do not pick up for the government there is also an option of early elections, perhaps in April.
If there are elections in April and if the prime minister loses, then a leadership contest may be the next step. A similar challenge may be faced by the leader of the opposition party of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement,or PASOK, Yorgo Papandreou, if he fails to give his party an electoral victory.
The latest opinion polls underline the deep public mistrust toward all politicians as 25 percent of the Greek public do not think that any of the current leaders is capable of leading their country; and almost 30 percent believe that it would be better for both government and main opposition to govern the Greece together. Greece enters the new year in a political landscape covered with mist. Who will clear the air with what kind of political initiatives is very difficult to foresee.
22 Aralık 2008
An interesting story caught my eye in Sunday’s Turkish press. The headline used a famous Turkish proverb: "In order to make our eyebrow, we pulled our eye out" which can be translated freely by using another well known Greek proverb: "with our own little hands, we pulled out our own little eyes". These two similar self-bashing proverbs could not be more accurate yet so comical if the story, which appeared yesterday, richly illustrated on the Sunday newspapers, is true. The story goes as follows: the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism prepared a special catalogue for the third Intergovernmental Meeting of UNESCO for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage that took place last month in Istanbul. In that catalogue, the Turkish side presented Karagöz-that famous hero of the Turkish shadow theatre- as an integral part of the popular theatre tradition during the Ottoman period. The main idea was that Karagoz is part of the Ottoman-Turkish intangible culture and not of the Greek popular heritage. However, it seems that the content of the catalogue had some serious oversights which caused the reaction of the people of UNIMA-Turkey, (the Turkish leg of the Union Internationale de la Marionnette) who accuse the Turkish ministry of "surrendering our Karagöz to the Greeks with our very own hands."
Let’s see what does Mustafa Mutlu,the founding member of UNIMA-Turkey complain about: he claims that the producers of the catalogue used figures which appear in the Greek Karagöz, like the figure of the "pig" or the figure of a Jew as a Rabbi. "The pig is not a figure used in the Anatolian Karagöz," says Mr. Mutlu, who seems to be very angry about this "hellenization" of this Anatolian popular culture figure who entertained the people of this land for almost two centuries. "The editor of the catalogue had no idea," claims Mr. Mutlu who is supported by Mr. Hayrettin Ivgın the General Secretary of UNIMA-Turkey, who is planning to send a very severe letter to the Turkish Culture Ministry complaining about the appearance of the "pig figure" in the catalogue and the transformation of the traditional figure of the Jew into a "Rabbi". Mr. Ivgın has got more reasons to complain: "fez" Ğthe traditional red cap used in late Ottoman times by the army first and then by civilians after the 19th century- is wrongly claimed that it was worn in 17th and 18th centuries, he says.
Of course, the strong warning of Mr. Mutlu that Karagöz may be fallen in the worng hands of the Greeks, gave me enough impetus to make a quick search about the Greek claims about Karagöz.
There are of course the "everything is Greek" school where by Karagöz and generally shadow theatre is supposed to be traced back in the religious ceremonies of Kaveiria and Eleusinia in ancient Greece, who were spread to the East by Alexander the Great's campaign and then came back to the West through India, Persia and Anatolia. But the majority of Greek sources believe that the Karagöz figure, that black-eyed shadow theater figure, came from Anatolia to Greece but only after Greece gained its independence from the Ottomans. Whether the original figures can be traced in Indonesia, China, or India, the fact is, experts say, that "the use of shadow to represent life and its reflection of the human figure on the white cloth were probably born out of the fire at the center of a nomadic tent-perhaps around the 11th century.
The general belief is that the Greek Karagöz is a development of the Ottoman Karagöz, although there is a Greek legend that claims the Ottoman Karagöz was the creation of a Greek named Mavromatis (Kara-göz) who was living in China. When falling on hard times around 1850, he decides to set up a "theatre of shadows" where he cut out figures on camel skin and presented them behind a screen of cloth. The main figure was somebody called "Mavromatis" (Kara-göz). Mavromatis at some stage comes to Istanbul and works together with some Yannis Brahalis who then goes to Pireus and starts Karagöz shows in coffee shops.
But the founder of the Greek Karagöz is undoubtedly a Mimaros, born in Patras in 1865, who made very important innovations to the "stage props": he is thought to have established the main stage environment i.e. the poor hut of Karagöz on the left and the Saray of the Vizir on the right. He was the one, also, who adjusted the repertory of the Greek Karagöz with themes of Greek history (but always in an Ottoman fantastic context) and added various Greek heroes who go as far back as Alexander the Great himself!
After coffee and baklava, it does not surprise me that the ethnicity of Karagöz could preoccupy the minds of those who are responsible for safeguarding the tangible heritage of our countries. Culture, like history fall often victim to sentimental or political considerations at the expense of any cool joint effort to put things of the past in the right order. As Vassilis Rotas, the founder of Greek popular theatre at the beginni ng of the last century said: "Karagöz is a Turk who became a Romios here, always hit by bad fortune, always hungry, always beaten up. This spectacle of shadow theatre unknown to the Greek, Roman or Western European culture appeared first in the East."
Talking about sentimental or political considerations: searching through UNIMA sites, I opened UNIMA-Turkey with the figure of the Ottoman Karagöz dominating the page. Then I clicked on the UNIMA-HELLAS to compare the two sites. Unfortunately, I got the now familiar response: "on the order of the Ankara 9th Court of First Instance dated Feb. 4 2008, and according to the ruling number 2008/140 the entrance to this page is prohibited."
15 Aralık 2008
"What happened to your country? He was just 15, what did they think he could do, just 15! How can you lift the gun and point at a child," said Mehmet Bey, the owner of Kardesler market at the corner of my street on the eastern part of Istanbul, as he was giving me the rest of a 50 lira note. "They are the same here. They shoot children too," he said. "But you do not complain," I said. "Yes, you are right. But even if we do, you see yourself, nothing changes."
Mehmet Bey is no stranger to Greek affairs. Due to the cosmopolitan taste of his better customers in the heart of this relatively wealthy neighborhood he often had to fill the shelves of his shop with products from the European Union via Greece: special breakfast serials, special alcoholic fizzy drinks, ready-made cake sponges and soups, even grapes from Thrace. He orders directly or sends his shop assistants by car to Greece or even tries to persuade me -- unsuccessfully -- to bring stuff from Greece. My frequent visits to his 18-hour open shop, a stone’s throw from my flat, include an inevitable conversation about the similarities of Greeks and Turks and "how vital it is to do business together." Over the years these literally over-the-counter conversations have covered important events in the Greek-Turkish calendar like, the Kardak-Imia crisis, the Ocalan capture and trial, the earthquakes in Turkey and Greece, the "Papandreou-Cem" affair, the presence of Karamanlis at the wedding of Erdogan's son as a witness, the developing tourism in the Aegean and the developing bilateral land trade for which he was particularly interested. Frequently those few minute-long discussions end with us agreeing, that what our politics have got also in common is corruption, injustice, easy money etc. Over the last 12 years that I have been living on this street, my conversations with Mehmet Bey have given me an interesting extra view from the "man on the street" although Mehmet Bey with his Mercedes convertible car parked next to his shop, should be seen as a particular success story among the grocers of Istanbul. But, when last Saturday I visited his shop, after a short trip to Brussels, he was not as calm and smiling as usual. And our conversation over the counter took a few minutes longer than usual. It seemed that Mehmet Bey spent his Bayram holiday of the whole of last week, watching every single news from Greece; he watched the fires, the burning of the Christmas tree in the Syntagma Square in Athens and felt great sympathy for his fellow shop-keepers whose shops were smashed up just before the Christmas holidays. This has never happened to his shop. Unruly groups of young Turks frequently gather just on the opposite corner to his shop consuming large quantities of beer until the early hours of the morning and over-excited football fans rally like crazy around the area after their club's game almost every week; but the special night guard, usually an elderly man, sitting inside an iron booth outside Mehmet Bey's market, makes sure that the shop's stock is safe. But his professional solidarity for the financially ruined Greek shop-keepers was not enough to placate his anger at the unwarrantable killing of Alexis Grigoropoulos. In his mid-50s, Mehmet Bey, who, too, has a son of around 30, must have seen a lot of similar killings, in his country. But what probably made him lose his usual calm temper this time, was that the young boy did not have the characteristics which usually relate to the victims of such incidents: he did not have a political coloring, he was not an anarchist, he was not a leftist, he was not an ultra-leftist, he was not an immigrant, he came from a wealthy background, living in an area similar to Mehmet Bey’s shop in Istanbul. In fact he was a boy whose Turkish equivalent Mehmet Bey has been serving for years. For Mehmet Bey and probably for many other Turks, this unlikely young Greek anti-hero has caused a deeper psychological stir than what we may think. The domino affect that the Alexis-incident is having among several countries in Europe, but also in Australia and even in Russia, may prove to be more dangerous than any organized political movement. Mehmet Bey, like many of his compatriots may be in the same position as many millions of other citizens of other countries in the world: they feel that their leaders do not care for them. That citizens live and survive in spite of their leaders; that politicians, policy makers, security keepers, money dealers, war makers, business leaders, faith preachers are not but self-interest seeking bodies disconnected from their societies. And that a growing part of the society is being shaping up which is not represented any longer by main stream politics. These are not necessarily anarchists, ultra leftists, fascists or whatever traditional label one may attach to them. They are ordinary citizens who feel unsafe, insecure, threatened, wronged, poor, blocked and depressed. On Saturday night, one week after the killing of Alexis, a group of school children from Moraitis School, the school of Alexis, dressed in white gathered outside Parliament in Athens and sitting on the pavement they started singing "Imagine" by John Lennon under the eyes of riot police in full gear. One young man stood up and shouted to one young riot policeman. "Is what you are doing worth it, for 1000 euros a month? Is it worth it?" This is what makes the Alexis incident much more than what we have seen so far. And this is what makes people outside Greece go on the streets. This is what makes the unknown young people write graffiti of solidarity to Alexis on the wall of the Greek General Consulate in Istanbul. And this is what the political leaders are mostly afraid of. And I must go back to Mehmet Bey today to tell him something that I heard from my friends in Greece. That one of the slogans chanted by demonstrators in Athens was from Nazim Hikmet’s poetry, "If you do not burn, if I do not burn, if we do not burn, how are we going to have light from darkness?" But maybe not, he may not know or he may prefer not to hear.
24 Kasım 2008
It was long overdue. The launching of the TRT’s new Web site last week in 30 languages was a pleasant surprise. Its sleek, user-friendly Web design, its well selected photo gallery, its RSS and Podcast facilities, its video and audio options and its rich subject list, were a really impressive entrance of the Turkish Radio and Television body into the cyber world.
Of course my immediate reaction was to check the Greek page of TRT World. I must admit that although I have been a member of the, now closed, Greek Service of BBC World for 15 years, I had never listened to the Greek-language program of TRT. However, having had some contact with the program output of Greek-language programs of Deutsche Welle and Voice of America and their Web sites, I eagerly clicked on the ???????? command of TRT.world yesterday to check out the content.
First of all, I checked the news and current affairs column. Yesterday, the editor of the Greek page placed a story, “Missile attack on Afghanistan by American forces,” as the first item; although the literal translation of the first line “Five people were neutralized by missiles launched by unmanned airplanes,” in Greek, sounded somehow funny, as the use of “neutralize” is primarily used together with the word “enemy" and not with “people.” But that was not serious. The second item was, "Erdogan in India," no problem with the wording of that.
The third item, "Aliyef: Nagorno is a threat to security.” Everything was fine except Aliyev did not sign a "communique" in Moscow with the presidents of Russia and Armenia but a “declaration!” Admittedly, however, a common mistake in Greek. The fourth item, “Clinton in the White House," was fine, although when we read that new president Obama is, “of the tendency to announce” Hillary as the next head of the State Department, we would probably smile as we could think of simpler ways of saying the same thing. On the next item, "PKK under close surveillance” I noticed that the “security authorities of Denmark and Austria took PKK’s activities under close surveillance,” even in Greek, the idiomatic use of the verb is the same and you "place" somebody under close surveillance; plus you certainly do not put the close surveillance in a genitive declension.
Next in line comes TRT’s own announcement about their new Web site followed by a Greek interest story, “Karamanlis’s mentioned the issue of early elections to his Parliamentary Group.” That is fine too, but probably he did not "give a signal" for early elections like in automobile use but he “signaled” early elections; and to say that his statement, “sent away the black clouds,” by bringing the deputies closer together, might sound a little bit too poetic for a news item.
Then I turned to the thematic column “Culture and Art” whose choice subjects and line of priority are sometimes more interesting than the political news proper. First item, "Concerts took place in Kommotini (Gumulcine) and Thessalonica,” where we learn that the Ankara TRT choir gave concerts of Turkish classical music and that the, "concert in Thessalonica signaled the end to the nostalgia of the Turks and the Greeks for melodies of classical Turkish music," and also that there was, "a wish of the Greeks who immigrated after the exchange of populations and who know the Turkish language to have such concerts to take place more often.” Next in line, there is another item about TRT, but this time it is about the visit of the director of the Russian Military Academy Choir to TRT, and the possibility of the further development of cooperation in the live broadcasting of music concerts. One small detail; the director of the Russian choir has Mr. Yelesef translated as “chef Yelesef” into Greek, which unfortunately makes more of a good cook than a good musician!
But I should not be so grumpy. On the TRT Web page, in Greek one can find also an audio file with an interview with the new ambassador of Greece to Ankara taken back in May when Mr. Fotios Xydas came back to Turkey as head of the Greek diplomatic delegation in Ankara. And there is also a “listen again” facility by which you can listen to the Greek program of TRT any time.
OK, I should not be grumpy but I could not leave out the following sentence about VOT, Voice of Turkey, which:
“With the guiding principles of impartiality, accuracy and instantaneous, VOT is improving its broadcasts with colorful and fascinating programs, targeting general public regardless of age and status, and strengthens its status as a forthcoming, reliable source of information,” whose translation into Greek runs roughly as follows: