Today's zaman
Feb 17 2010

Recently I met a journalist from Greece. We talked about many things,
but his comments about taboos in Greece and Turkey gave me a lot food
for thought.

He told me that he had read many of my articles with disbelief. "How
could a columnist in Turkey dare to touch on the taboos that I touch
on?" he asked. And how dare a newspaper publish my writings?

Well, of course, I enjoyed hearing all of this, but I was really
surprised by what he added at the end: "If a Greek journalist writes
about Greek taboos the same way you write about Turkish taboos,"
he said, "he would be lynched by nationalists." This was really
surprising because I used to assume that Greece was ahead of Turkey
when it comes to freedom of expression. In fact I knew, from the
judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, that Greece had
serious problems with regard to religious freedom, but I wasn't aware
that it failed in freedom of speech as well.

However, having thought a little about the level of nationalism
in Greece, it seems quite natural to me that intolerance toward
unconventional ideas might be endemic in the country. I know that Greek
nationalism is mostly based on opposition to Turkey and Turks. I could,
however, not say the same thing for Turkish nationalism.

Anti-Greek zeal would only be one of the several components of Turkish
nationalism, for the latter really has lots of "ingredients" in its
makeup. From my Greek friend's remarks, however, I also understand
that Turkish and Greek nationalism share another thing: Taboos.

The Greek invasion of Anatolia in 1919 seems to be one of those taboos
for the Greeks. It is also a taboo for Greek Cypriots to discuss what
they did to the Turkish minority on the island of Cyprus in 1974. For
Turks, on the other hand, the "great fire of Ä°zmir" (Smyrna) in 1922
just after Turkish forces recaptured the city from Greek occupiers
or human rights violations carried out by Turkish forces in Cyprus
in 1974 and onwards are taboos that cannot be discussed.

I heard that the 1919 invasion has just started to be discussed in
Greece. Good. When I was a child, I heard horrific stories about the
Greek invasion of Anatolia from elderly people who lived through it.

Do contemporary Greeks discuss these horrific events as well? I do
not know.

On our side, the unspoken issue is the great fire of Ä°zmir,
which broke out when the Greek forces were evacuating the city in
September 1922. Even with my limited knowledge of history, I came
to the conclusion that this fire could not have been started by the
Greek forces that were leaving Anatolia through Ä°zmir. This fire
broke out just after the city was recaptured by Turkish forces led by
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The Armenian region in the old Ä°zmir was just
burned to ground, turning it to ashes. In Turkey we do not discuss
this event and it is simply attributed to the "Greeks." I think this
is one of the many lies that we Turks tell ourselves.

However, lying about the facts and denying one's own atrocities are
not unique to Turks. Greek and Turkish nationalists are quite alike
in this respect.

Just look at the Cyprus issue. We Turks only talk about what Greek
Cypriots did to the Turks before 1974 whereas Greeks only talk about
the military intervention of the Turkish forces after 1974. However,
just before and after the intervention quite serious human rights
violations and barbaric acts took place on the island. Both Turkish
and Greek Cypriots suffered a lot.

Minorities in both Greece and Turkey have also suffered a lot. In this
case, of course, both sides have turned a blind eye to the situation
of minorities in their own countries while trying to highlight the
situation of the minorities in the "other country." Both the Turkish
minority in Greece and the Greek minority in Turkey have been turned
into hostages in their own countries because of this nationalistic
approach to their situation.

To continue to have these lies, taboos and distorted accounts of
history may be a common wish of nationalists in both Greece and
Turkey. I believe, however, the people whose eyes are not blinded by
the nationalist fervor have a lot to do together. We have a common
history; we are neighbors. We, Greeks and Turks, need to rewrite
our common history to create a common future. We should attack our
own taboos and break them down. While nationalists continue to tell
their respective nationalistic histories, democratic people on both
sides should try to tell their people about the suffering of "others."

Nationalism is a disease which descended on the Balkans in 19th
century and made most people in this region blind. We need to regain
our sight and open our eyes. Who burned Ä°zmir? Why did the Greeks
invade Anatolia? Why did the Ecumenical Patriarchate suffer so much
in Turkey? What about the sufferings of the Muslims in Greece, the
military intervention in Cyprus and so many other things?

Nationalists have talked a lot. The democrats of Greece and Turkey
should also talk. It is high time to raise our voices. We, Greek
and Turkish people, have nothing to lose except those nationalistic
illusions and lies!