The truth about the love-hate relationship between Turks and Greeks

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ speech at the U.S. Congress and its endorsement by practically everyone present signals a historic breaking point. The tense course of events that followed this speech should be considered only natural. 

The Turkish-Greek alliance that started in 1922, in other words, after the Greek defeat in Anatolia, and continued for decades, somehow took an opposite turn as of the 1950s, driving the two countries to the verge of war time and again. We are well aware that we have had a series of issues for over half a century now—regarding matters such as Cyprus, armed islands, the continental basin, airspace, et cetera. We witnessed dangerous escalations as well during this period. But the latest developments are being considered as just another one of the rings in this chain of escalations, however, it would be a terrible mistake to think this time the sparks will die down as they have in the past.

Greece was never as proactive or provocative as it is today. When it took a couple of steps forward, it would immediately backtrack. We need to see for once that they are acting more provocatively, more determined than ever to achieve their schemes. While Türkiye is being excluded by the EU, and the U.S. in NATO, it is also suffering from an economic crisis. They think Türkiye is at its weakest state. Hence, their plan is, with the full support of the EU and the U.S., to “seize the day.” 

It has always been said that the matter is entirely political, and that there is no issue among the people. There are many stories based on cultural similarities confirming this theory. There are concrete events that also confirm this. I remember how the Greeks lined up during the 1999 earthquake in Türkiye to donate blood, saying from the other side of the Aegean Sea, “Hang in there Mehmet, we are here.” Then, in the earthquake that hit Greece shortly afterward, the Turks did the same. We said, “Hang in there Yorgo, we are here.” We also remember the friendship between Yorgo Papandreu and İsmail Cem, and how they danced the Sirtaki together. Cultural exchanges were used on many occasions as a bridge between the two countries’ intelligentsia and people. Some examples were the Zülfü Livaneli-Maria Farountori Theodorakis concerts, and the relations forged by the Constantine Kavafises, Yannis Ritsoses, Nazım Hikmets, and Yaşar Kemals of the two states. Numerous concerts and performances were put on, and books were translated. Yet, what was the result? A big fat nothing. Frankly, I have never set much store by the peoples’ theory of fraternity. Of course, emotions are complex in the world of the everyday man. Turks both love and hate the Greeks. The same applies to the Greeks. There are numerous reasons in the collective memory to justify both love and hate. The political conjuncture dictates which of these emotions will be suppressed and which will be dominant. This is exactly what is happening today. 

One other question on my mind is, if the people truly love each other, then why do they not question the political class or leaders about the Turk-Greek alliance during elections? The far-right and anti-Turk Golden Dawn Party, which is outside of the political domain, received 7 percent of the vote at one stage. The Greek Solution Party founded by Kyriakos Velopoulos, on the other hand, garnered 4 percent of the vote through a more moderate discourse, and won seats in parliament. KINAL-PASOK, led by Nikos Androulakis, who beat Yorgo Papandreou, whose political power withered after Syriza, remained at 8 percent. Don’t forget that this party is an advocate of “pan-Hellenic” socialism. Pan-Hellenism includes a dose of anti-Turkish sentiment. Meanwhile, Mitsotakis’ New Democracy Movement received 40 percent of the vote. His operations are obvious. Accordingly, almost 60 percent of Greek voters cast their votes in favor of parties that are against peace between Türkiye and Greece. Syriza and the Greek Communist party are in the minority. 

When voting, people in Türkiye and Greece first think about their livelihood, not the “peoples’ brotherhood.” Regardless of who comes into power, they use the public, which has contrasting emotions, in the direction required by the conjuncture, which we need to take into consideration. The current conjuncture cannot be strictly reduced to Turkish-Greek relations. It is more serious than that this time. The context is the West-Eurasia showdown. Eurasia, primarily Türkiye and Russia, is being pushed away by the West. While Vladimir Putin’s Russia is being put in a quagmire through Ukraine, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Türkiye is being treated similarly through Greece. Look at Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and you will see the resemblance to Mitsotakis. Zelensky provoked Putin’s Russia with the West’s pressures, and now, Mitsotakis is similarly provoking Erdoğan’s Türkiye. Let’s hope the result will not be similar to what’s happening in Ukraine. 

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