Greek Question

The history of Turco-Greek relations is one of conflict. The cause of this conflict must be sought in a number of factors-geographical, religious, ethnic and above all, historical. Geographically, both Turkiye and Greece are contiguous, with a common land frontier in Thrace (Trakya). Some of the Greek islands in the Aegean are just a few miles from the Turkish mainland. This contiguity has caused numerous frontier disputes and other incidents between the two states, culminating in the present conflict over the Aegean Sea and the island of Cyprus.

Ethnically, the Turks and the Greeks belong to different races and religions, the former being Muslim and the latter Orthodox Christian. They also have different cultures. The Turks have been reconciled to the loss of their (Ottoman) empire, and under the wise guidance of Kemal Ataturk, have relinquished their expansionist ambitions. The Greeks, however, enthralled by the reputation of ancient Greece (Hellas), have been bedevilled by notions of self-aggrandisement, often at the expense of their neighbours. Even the skilful Cretan politician, Eleutherios Venizelos, did not succeed, as Ataturk did in Turkiye, in saving Greece from this obsession of striving recklessly for territorial expansion rather than greatness in the sense of unity, territorial integrity, development and progress within its national boundaries.

Until recently, Greece was a monarchy based on a peasant economy, augmented by tourism, with the Orthodox Church pervading every aspect of Greek life, including the political sphere. Dictators have come and gone, but the social sub-stratum of Greece did not undergo much change despite the German occupation during the World War II. Turkiye, however, waged a war of liberation, followed by a social revolution, which completely eradicated the ancient regime and introduced laicism, a new order based on the secularisation of the state. Moreover, Turkiye has a more extensive land area, much larger population, with greater resources and better scope for development.

Historically, the two countries have frequently been at loggerheads, mainly because Greece, before 1830, was part of the Ottoman Empire and had to stage a long, bitter and bloody struggle in order to gain its independence. Once independent, Greece continued its self-aggrandisement by adopting an expansionist, irredentist policy, mainly at the expense of Turkiye. In the words of the Greek scholar Gerasimos Augustinos, “The ethnic, expansionist, and revivalist nationalist movement of the Greeks had not been able to surmount the political discord (dichasmos) of the country. Weakened by this, and without the united support of Western powers, it failed before the rival ethnic and integrationist nationalist Turkish movement. While the Greeks had looked to the past in formulating their nationalist ideal, the Turks broke with the past and based their movement on the present, in terms of ethnicity and territorial unity. Although both movements were aggressive, that of the Greeks was expansionist and tended unwittingly to the growth of a multi-ethnic state, while that of the Turks was exactly the opposite, contractive and ethnically unified.

There are several issues of conflict between the two countries which, by themselves, are far from insoluble. The main stumbling block in reaching compromises in all of the areas seems to be the Turkish hatred ingrained in Greek psyche and nurtured by successive political and religious policy makers since their independence in late 1800s. In contrast, Greek presence in the Aegean has always been a non-event for the Turkish people who consider Greek noises more of an annoyance than anything else-a fly in the soup-.

In stark contrast to Greeks, Turkish side does not perpetrate hatred for Greeks in their education system, media, arts, film industry or religion. The Turkish people realise the extent of the Greek antagonism only when they travel overseas to Western countries where they experience their organised and well funded misinformation campaigns.

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