Prof. Dr. Mustafa Kaymakçı
Rhodes, Kos, and the Dodecanese Turks Culture and Solidarity Association.
Karşıyaka-İzmir, October 18 th 2008
I would like to start my article by expressing our special thanks to journalist and author Bahadır Selim Dilek, who wrote the book ‘’Forgotten Turks of Aegean’’ (Egenin Unutulmuş Türkleri). His book enlightens the reader on several issues. Firstly, millions of Turkish citizens born in Anatolia have been unaware of the presence of their fellowmen living on these islands. Even today, the Turkish citizens visiting these islands are astonished when they see their Turkish fellowmen living in these islands. Their astonisment increases when they see the old mosques, schools, and libraries built by their ancestors. After reading this book, the reader will learn how the cultural heritage and even the presence of Turks are threatened. In my view, the book fulfills an important mission of showing historical facts and giving several examples of bad treatment to our Turkish fellowmen by the Greek authorities.
Why were our Turkish fellowmen living on these islands forgotten? Dilek explains this fact theoretically as follows; ‘’Globalization encouraged localization, micro nationalist movements, and ethnical and regional seperatist movements to increase their interests to a higher degree. The minorities living in countries where the interests of the global capital are of utmost importance are supported. Contrarily, the minorities living in countries where the global capital has no interests are delibaretely ignored and forgotten.Democracy, the supremacy of law, and the rights and equality of minorities are supported and protected and their absence is even seen a reason for coups d’etat in such countries all over the world . However, these international democratic rights are ignored in other countries where they have no economic and political interests.’’
‘’Today our Turkish fellowmen living in Rhodes, Kos and the Dodecanese, which belong to Greece,are regarded as minorities. However, they are ignored and even seen as a threat to the political stability and well-being of Greece. Though, in theory they are equal citizens of a Member Country of the European Union, in reality they are treated inequally as they are regarded as the black headed Turks by most European Countries. As a result of this lack of interest and prejudice, they are not in the agenda of human rights in the European Union. They can not even occupy the headlines of human rights discussions in the meetings held in the European Parliament, and even in the negotiations between Ankara and Brussels. Literally, their presenceis ignored and even worse, forgotten.’’
I completely support Bahadır Dilek’s point of view on this vital issue. Furthermore, I firmly believe that the rights and the conditions of our Turkish fellowmen are of utmost importance for the security and sovereignity of our country, Turkey, too. In this respect, this issue still remains as one of the urgent matters to be solved by Turkey and Greece. Unfortunately, there are circles unaware of the urgency of this issue. Lastly,the report of the Office of the General Staff of Turkey has warned that the Greek Government started to arm Rhodes and the Dodecanese against Turkey by violating bilateral and international. Thanks to this report published in newspapers, Turkish public opinion became aware of the presence of the Turks in Rhodes, Kos, and the Dodecanese as well as the violation of basic human rights on these islands and the real policy of our neighbour country, Greece, to Turkey. As we know, to implement this policy, Greece uses the militia power on these islands.
There are some reports verifying this fact as in the case of a Turkish tourist visiting Rhodes in the year 2000. While visiting the Rhodes Castle, he sees some armed civilians around and he asks the tour guide who they are. Astonished by the Turkish visitor’s naive question, the Greek tour guide explains that they are armed forces against a possible threat from Turkey.
However, some circles in Turkey believe that an increase in the economic activities between the two countries, especially in banking and trade could contribute to solve the present problems. Today, there are efforts to improve the relations between Turkey and Greece. Private sectors in both countries try to contribute to these efforts on the areas of banking and trade. However, despite these efforts, the Greek President, Papulyas, the Prime Minister, Karamanlis, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bakoyanis sent greetings and messages of support to the opening ceremony of the so-called Genocide Monument in Thessalonike. Papandreu, the leader of the main opponent party, Pasok, declared that the world public opinion should accept the Pontus Genocide. However, Turkey didn’t react strongly enough to this hostile action.
As we can see, there is no stability in relations between Turkey and Greece. Following a period of friendship and close relationship, a period of hostility can easily be started by the Greek Governments.
The origins of this hostile policy of the Greek people can be traced back in history. The historical facts reveal that the Greek people lived under the sovereignity of the Ottoman Turks for hundreds of years. This enmity was also increased by their defeat which ended in İzmir in 1922, following their attempt to occupy Western Anatolia to accomplish their ‘’Megalo Idea’’(Great Idea) This enmity between the two nations has continued for years and can still be observed on these islands. There are several examples of this enmity as in the case of two friends Dimitri and Abdurrahman; Rhodes, 1921, while playing and making jokes to his young friend, Abdurrahman, Dimitri grabs his friend’s ear and pulls it strongly and says’’bre (hey) Turko, note this; the Greek Army is now in front of the town of Polatlı near Ankara and Ankara will be occupied soon. Our commanders will grab and pull Kemal’s( Atatürk) ear like this and execute him. Then, we will do the same to you.
To some people, this example could be regarded as an exceptional case. Yet, it also shows how the feelings and attitude of a typical Greek are full of contradictions. All kinds of thoughts and feelings about Turks such as admiration and friendship versus hatred and enmity,the complex of superiority versus inferiority are all mixed in the minds of the Greek people.
In this regard , the politicians, scholars, and the educated people of both countries have a great responsibility for breaking this vicious circle. However, we should also remind that the Turkish people should never be the self-giving side and turn a blind eye to still hostile attitude and policies. The Greek people should also understand that an ever-lasting friendship and peace can only be settled by respecting the mutual rights and interests of the two nations.
Today the problems of the Turks living in Rhodes and Kos can be listed as follows;
• The Greek Governments do not accept the Turkish identity of our fellowmen living in Rhodes and Kos. Therefore, they punish or oppress those who insist on their Turkish identity and culture by using different illegal ways and instruments.
• In theory, our Turkish fellowmen are equal citizens of the European Union. However, in reality, they are deprived of one of their basic human rights of learning their own language,Turkish.
• The Turkish foundations, founded to protect our cultural heritage inherited from our ancestors, the Ottoman Turks, are prevented from fullfilling their duties and responsibilities by the Greek Governments. They don’t permit the Turkish foundations to repair and restore the mosques, schools and works of art. They disinform and deceive the public opinion by only pretending to restore them.
• Our Turkish fellowmen living in Greece can not start their own business unless they have Greek business-partners. Today, there are some reports showing that these restrictions have been a bit lessened recently.
• Turkish university graduates can not be employed as reserve conscript officers in the Greek Army. Also, they are not employed as officers in the publıc sector except for municipalities.
• The Turks, who visit Turkey and stay more than a year are expelled from the Greek Citizenship and their property is seized by the Greek State. Presently, the number of these Turks are about ninety-thousand.
We remind all these negative policies of the Greek Governments not to increase enmity between the two nations but to show the real situation to start a fair and ever lasting friendship and peace. At this point, we must stress that Bahadır Selim Dilek’s book should be regarded as a call for friendship and peace but not a call for naivety on the Turkish side. Otherwise, Turkish-Greek friendship and peace never could be settled.
In order to settle an ever lasting friendship and peace between the two nations, the present problems and points of disagreement should be uncovered and discussed in both countries. Otherwise, crisis could easily break-out between the two countries at certain intervals. An example to this reality is the recent war-plane accident. A Greek and a Turkish war plane crashed into each other in the international air-space over the Aegean Sea. The Turkish Government informed the world opinion that the flights were organized under the control of NATO. Yet, the Greek Government insisted on accusing Turkey of the accident.
As we know, to determine and solve the present problems, both countries continue some preliminary negotiations. Among the points of dispute are Continental Shelf and Territorial Waters and Air Space over the Aegean Sea as well as the Armament of the Greek Islands and the Sovereignity Problem in some Islets. Furthermore, some new areas of dispute emerge each new day. The so-called Pontus Genocide claim has been carried to the agenda of the international platform, which creates another point of dispute between the two nations.
In fact, the origins of the present problems can be traced back in history. Starting from the primary schools and even from the kinder-gartens, the minds of Greek children are filled with hatred and enmity against Turks. Trying to change historical facts, the Greek authorities manipulate the Greek people for their political aims. Not only all political parties in Greece but also the Greek Orthodox Church use this imaginary enmity against Turks.
What can be done to settle an ever-lasting friendship and peace between the two nations? Firstly, the Greek public opinion should not be disinformed about Turks. To serve this purpose, the Greek History and History books for schools should be re-written objectively taking into account the historical facts only. At this point, the Greek scholars and educated people have a great responsibility.
Secondly, a new programme of student exchange programme could be useful, too. This programme could be enlarged by starting from the closer frontier towns and cities. Both nations could teach and learn each other’s language at schools, which would conribute to increase the success rate of this programme.
Thirdly, cooperation between the local authorities and cultural activities organized in both countries could be usefull, too. However, even when announcing ‘’ Friend Cities’’ in Turkey and Greece, the Greek authorities do not refrain from expressing enmity against Turks. As we know, while the Municipality of İzmir was planning to announce Thessalonike as ‘’Friend City’’, the Municipality of Thessalonike opened the so-called Pontus Genocide Monument. Upon hearing this hostile act, the Municipality of İzmir had to cancel this organization.
My fourth suggestion is even more practical. As we know, both nations do not know each other very much. We should increase tourism between the two countries. In this respect, however, we encounter difficulties which stem from Greece.The Turkish citizens have difficulties in getting visa to travel to Greece. In some cases, it is almost impossible for the Turkish citizens, who were born in Greece and later immigrated to Turkey, to get visa to travel to Greece. Tourism between the two countries could help us solve some problems as the Greek people would see that in reality there is no potential threat and enmity from Turkey to Greece.
In short, there are several answers to the question of how an ever lasting friendship and can be settled between the two nations. The possible answers are interestingly bound one another like the pieces of a chain. The most important factor is the feelings and thoughts that the Greek people have about Turks. In time, they could change from hatred and enmity to friendship. At this point, we all should be realistic since this enmity does not only stem from politicians who take advantage of the present situation.
Above all, the so-called imperial powers do their best to worsen the present problems between Turkey and Greece. Similarly, Bahadır Selim Dilek uses a realistic approach to the Turkish and Greek relations and the problems of the Turks living in Rhodes, Kos, and the Dodecanese. Therefore, it is almost impossible to find solutions to these problems and points of dispute without seeing and resisting the interests of the global capital and the related imperial powers both in Turkey and Greece as well as the hidden policies of the Greek authorities. Is it only coincidence that the Greek authorities tried to hide seperatist PKK terrorists in Greece and the leader of this terrorist organization in one of the Greek Embassies? Since 19 th century Greece has been one of the most favoured countries of the global capital, called ‘’Düvel-i Muazzama’’ by the Turks at that time. These powers want to use Greece to deterioriate the present relations between Turkey and Greece and take advantage of the present problems as they implemented the same policy to the Ottoman Empire in the past. This fact should never be disregarded by the politicians, civil organizations and people from all classes in our society. Good relations and an ever lasting friendship and peace could only be possible in the light of these facts. This is primarily vital for not only Turkey but also for our Turkish fellowmen living in Rhodes, Kos and the Dodecanese. It would also enable them to protect their cultural heritage and historical buildings and monuments inherited from their ancestors, the Ottoman Turks. In this way, over hundreds of thousands of their relatives, who were forced to immigrate to Turkey, would also be happy as they would know that their relatives, whom they had to leave in Rhodes, Kos, and the Dodecanese, could be equal Greek citizens and lead a free and a prosperous life on these islands.
In summary, I firmly believe that Dilek’s book could also serve to settle an ever lasting friendship and peace between the Turkish and Greek people. This book reminds not only the Turkish people in Turkey but also the Greek people in Greece about the problems of our Turkish fellowmen living in Rhodes, Kos, and the Dodecanese. In this respect, it is of utmost importance that the scholars, educated people, and defenders of human rights in Greece be aware of the problems of the Turkish minority in their country.
I regard Bahadır Selim Dilek’s book ‘’Forgotten Turks of Aegean’’ as a book dedicated to friendship and peace. Lastly, I would like to express my deepest gratitute and respect for his arduous work while writing this book.