Turkey and Greece relations are almost always tense and diplomatically sour. The two countries have had a historical and cultural connection since the time immemorial, while the Turks and the Greeks coexisted for 363 years under the Ottoman rule. Both countries have been amalgamated in socio-cultural characteristics spanning over a geography known as the cradle of civilizations.
These similarities are not only limited to food, music, and lifestyles. Most importantly; hospitality, tolerance, and dialogue which are seen as distinctive features of Anatolia are also important characteristics of the Greeks as well. Sadly, Turkey and Greece share another common historical aspect: the socio-economic crises that have originated from the corrupt political practices which are summed with the term, “Mediterranean Dictatorships” denoting the most countries around the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey and Greece suffered a lot from the military coups too.
Turkey and Greece’s problems are not that simple, and some administrators seem not serious about the solution of these problems. The despotic Erdogan regime ruining Turkey sees Greece and the problems that arise from the Greece conflict as a political advantage and opportunity for the continuity of his reign. There are some cards in Erdogan’s hand to change the agenda at home, and one of them is picking fights with Greece. Whenever Erdogan fell in any difficulty in Turkey in terms of politics, fractions in the Turkish Armed Forces run to his help and create artificial conflict in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean.
The ultranationalistic state discourse since the early years of the modern Republic of Turkey has generally been based on the hostility against the countries which fought against the Ottoman Turkey and the National Militia during the National Struggle for Independence; most notably Greece, Armenia, and partially Russia. Eighty million-strong Turkey firmly believes that Greece is the enemy since 1920s and especially after the 1974 Cyprus crisis, and that it needs to be strong against Greece with zero tolerance. The Greek invasion force in the Western Turkey, long-lasting Aegean Dispute over the islands, and the Cyprus conflict establish Greece as the enemy of the Turkish state. Is it fair? With all these problems, the doctrine of the hostility against Greece in Turkey seems extreme. If the reasons listed above are reasons to proclaim a country as hostile, the Turkish state would do the same to the UK, France, Italy, and Russia. Yet, this is not the case. Given the strength and influence of these countries, picking up fights with them would not help anything; meanwhile, Greece is the best option as a cut-to-size neighbor country feasible for usage as a political instrument when needed to manipulate the public at home. The state has been successfully using this for years, even in 2021, and the public buys them all.
While all these political tensions and crises happening in the Mediterranean, these two great nations are estranged on cultural, social, and humanitarian grounds. I do not know the Greek doctrine against Turkey, but Greeks are considered as enemies at national level in Turkey because of the harsh rhetoric. With all the brainwash, we even could not think the opposite.
While the Mediterranean gas dispute went on, the Greek media outlet Mega TV introduced Fethullah Gulen in one of its morning shows through the Greek translation of a book written about his life. Mega TV is the first and the oldest private television network in Greece. Introducing the book titled “Fethullah Gulen: A Life of Hizmet” to its viewers, the channel explained that the book had been translated into Greek from English and published by Papazisis Publishers, a leading publishing house in Greece. Sending an exclusive video message to the channel, Fethullah Gulen stated, “As an important country for us, Greece was once a brotherly realm too. We were separated from each other in time while once we had been loyal friends and fellow travelers. Perhaps, our peoples will come together again. If God makes it happen by these small efforts, these efforts should be appreciated. Thanks to this brotherhood, we remember them with gratitude and appreciation. [What Greece did] will be written on the glorious pages of history with gold and silver. ” he said in one part of his short speech.
This special introductory news about Fethullah Gulen and a book on his biography was unwelcomed by the authoritarian Erdogan regime, and it quickly condemned Greece for making the propaganda of the Gulen Movement. It was most likely ironically expecting the Greek media to praise on their TVs how successfully the regime in Turkey oppressed and silenced the dissidents but was frustrated by seeing Fethullah Gulen, who has been oppressed and deprived of his fundamental rights along with the participants of the Hizmet Movement by the Erdogan regime. Now, everyone began intensely talking about the Gulen Movement positively and globally, while the Erdogan regime in Turkey is in throes of collapse. This has been hard for Erdogan and his stooges to accept, and their uneasiness shows it all.
Katerina Marku, Chief Editor of the Papazisis Publishers, said, “We have been hearing about Fethullah Gulen, but have not had much information about him to this date” in the TV program. Most recently, people in Greece have started to show a closer interest in Gulen and the participants of the movement he pioneered, especially in the aspects of who those people were and why they were purged in Turkey by the Erdogan regime. As a consequence of the witch-hunt and purge of the Erdogan regime, thousands of Hizmet participants fled Turkey to Europe via Greece. Greek people have had several chances of meeting these participants of the Hizmet Movement, and both sides have been impressed a lot with each other.
This was not the only news made by the Greek media outlets. Thousands of the participants of the Movement crossed Greece to reach to the heartlands of the EU, while several of the innocent souls perished in the Aegean Sea and the Evros River during the crossings. When five kids were drowned in the Aegean, the news was shared by the media in both countries differently. While the Greek media broke the news as “the angels who perished in the Aegean,” the Turkish media served the same news as “terrorists died on their route of escape.” The so-called enemy of the Turkish state wired the same news of the tragedy of the Turkish people who died in the sea by calling them angels, but the country of their own labeled those people as terrorists.
Greece was shocked by the fact that Turkish-origin asylum seekers who could make it to her shores are highly educated, open-minded, and highly skilled people. This was not common as the other European countries were also experiencing such a thing first time in their history. They all wonder why the Erdogan regime is against this group of highly-educated people and purges them publicly. Yes, educated people might have migrated to these countries from many other countries, but the outstanding feature of the Hizmet participant has been their educational qualifications and open-mindedness.
Turkish origin Hizmet participants have also realized that the Greek culture is so close to the Anatolian culture, and the people in Greece are in majority friendly and hospitable. This was a shocking experience for them, especially for those who were taught in line with a hostile rhetoric against Greeks for years. Most likely, it was the same experience for the Greeks against Turks as well.
A couple of my friends stayed in Greece for some time before they migrated to other EU countries, and their experiences were also the same. They told me that Greek people opened their homes, shared their food, and showed great empathy for them. My friends even said they felt themselves as no strangers in Greece due to the closeness of the cultures. They could easily find many Greek people who knew Turkish language at different levels but always keen to communicate. One of them said, “That was not the Greece I knew, and I felt pity about thinking political against these beautiful-hearted people.”
I think the philosophy and the teachings of the Hizmet Movement appealed as precious and something different for the Greeks. They most likely used to hear about Kemalist, Nationalist, Ultranationalist, and the Islamist political movements of Turkey, while none of these helped eradicate the problems at the grassroots whatsoever. Both countries with any alternatives failed but helped the problems persist and even get bigger. Most recently, the peoples of the both countries have encountered one another not politically, but on humanitarian grounds within the context of an oppressed group fleeing Turkey with their aim to spread peace, love, and tolerance to every part of the world regardless of the people’s color, faith, and ethnicity.
The encounters among the Hizmet participants and the Greek people may be a positive thing for these two countries’ relations in the long term, and as Gulen emphasized in his speech, “Perhaps, these people will come together again.”