Why Greeks and Turks hate each other

by Harry Foundalis

English (this page) Greek Turkish

Sometimes Greeks wonder why Turks hate Greeks so much. Well, not every Turk hates Greeks, but I would say, the average Turk, yes, he/she does. “What did we do to them to hate us like that?” — that’s a common question that often comes to a Greek’s mind. The answer is obvious to a Turk, but completely unknown to a Greek — and I’ll soon explain why. Similarly, Turks often wonder the same thing: “What did we do to them to hate us like that?” Once again, the answer is common knowledge among Greeks, but is not obvious at all among Turks. And so the mutual animosity is perpetuated, without either side understanding how the other one feels about it.

But I need to add a quick note: often the following idea can be heard, from either side of the Aegean, especially coming from well-meaning and peace-loving people: “Our two peoples have nothing that separates them, and feel no animosity against each other. It is only our governments that keep the animosity going, because it serves their interests; the governments, the Americans, and others who sell weapons to both countries, because the animosity helps them sell more weapons and fatten their pockets!”

I wish things were that simple. I, as a well-meaning and peace-loving individual, would like very much that idea to be completely true. All right, it’s not entirely wrong. I’m not saying that Americans & Co. don’t have any interests in selling weapons. Of course they do, but also among their interests is the avoidance of war between Greece and Turkey, as the 1996 incident showed, when the two nations came to the brink of war (fighting over the ownership of some uninhabited islets known as “Imia” to Greeks, as “Kardak” to Turks, and as “dining room” to goats), which was avoided only at the last minute after the intervention of the then-American-President Bill Clinton. But what I’m saying is that the first part of that thought is, unfortunately, wrong. I wish it were true that the average Greek and Turk don’t feel hostility against each other. But that’s only wishful thinking. All one has to do is enter any dialog in some blog where Greeks and Turks participate, to realize immediately how much hostility there is on both sides. Of course there are peace-lovers — they exist everywhere — but one shouldn’t be blinded by one’s own preconceptions and see only what one wants to see. The bitter truth is, Greeks and Turks fight bitterly against each other. Fortunately, now they do so verbally only and in the Internet. This text was written to explain — but to both sides — why that happens. Hopefully, by coming to a mutual understanding the animosity can be reduced.

Now, I said I’ll explain to each side why the other side hates them. And because a text must put things in sequence, I must make a choice and start with one of the two sides. So far things were easy, because I said “Greeks and Turks” (in that order), not because I am a Greek, but because “G” goes before “T” in the alphabet. But now I’m in trouble, because if you are a Greek and I explain first why Greeks hate Turks, you’ll tell me thanks very much, we know all that; and if you’re a Turk you’ll think the same if I choose the opposite order. So the solution I opted for is that I put the two explanations for mutual hatred in two columns in parallel, with the one for the Greeks on the left, and the one for the Turks on the right, as dictated not only by our alphabets but also by the geographical location of our two countries: Greece on the west side (left), Turkey on the east side (right). So, there you go: complete fairness! Anyone who accuses me of being unfair must be a hopeless case!

For Greek readers:

Why Turks hate Greeks

What do our teachers tell us at school, dear Greek reader, about the conduct of our ancestors? “We, Greeks — we never started a war against another nation! We have always been attacked first! We always fought defensive wars, throughout our thousands-year-long history!” And if your memory leaps back to antiquity, and try to argue that Alexander attacked the Persian Empire without first been attacked by them, your teachers are quick to shut your irreverent mouth: “Alexander brought civilization to the barbarians of the East! He didn’t just conquer them, he brought the light of civilization to them! But look, in all other cases we were attacked and we defended our land: the Persians attacked ancient Greece, the Ottomans attacked Byzantium, the Italians and Germans attacked us in WWII. And now, write 1000 times: ‘I will never again argue against my teacher,’ you empty-brained kid, and come back with one of your parents tomorrow!”

Okay, maybe I exaggerated a bit above, but I remember having been told as a child about Alexander and his “civilizing-only conquest”, explicitly. And nothing can be further from the truth. Our ancestors — our very near ancestors, not the ancient ones — did in fact attack a neighboring nation, without being provoked, and without even being threatened by them. We attacked them, burned their villages, killed their men, and raped their women. Those neighbors of ours were the Turks. And that’s the main reason why they now hate us.

You didn’t learn this part of history at school, or if you did, you learned it in a one-sided way only. They presented you things as if we Greeks were the victims, when in fact we were the aggressors. They told you it’s called “The Asia Minor Catastrophe”, which means a national disaster for us Greeks — poor us! Such hapless victims that we are... and those Turks, they caused a catastrophe, a disaster to us! Aren’t we so right to hate them?

Perhaps you didn’t even learn anything, not even the above. The historical events of the “Asia Minor Catastrophe” are strategically placed at such a location in the history textbook that when the time comes to learn about them it’s already spring time, there are lots of holidays, nobody cares much about what is learned — including your teachers — and everybody soon goes happily to the summer recess. “Saved by the bell”, as they say in English. And even if your teacher manages to reach that part of the textbook (perhaps because he/she didn’t schedule the curriculum wisely and arrived too early at that point), you don’t learn what really happened back in the first quarter of the 20th century. The textbook concentrates on the aftermath of the disaster, portraying the Greeks as victims, not on how the whole incident got started.

I know you’ll hate me with all your Greek heart for what you’re about to read now, but, frankly, I can’t care less. Better to learn the truth and hate me, the messenger, than ignore the truth and wrongly blame the victims of the story.

And the story goes like this.

Back then, up until the “Asia Minor Catastrophe”, our ancestors had an idea that was ever-present in their minds. The idea was always speaking to their collective Greek consciousness, and they thought it was a great idea. In fact, that’s how they referred to it: the “Great Idea” — “Megali Idea”. It was the idea of conquering “the lands that once belonged to us” in the East, and especially the city that we have always called simply “the City”: the ex-capital of the Byzantine Empire. Today hardly any Greek knows what the “Great Idea” was, because — especially after the “Asia Minor Catastrophe” — it lost its glory and even its meaning, so we stopped learning about it in our schools. Only the Turks think that we still know what the “Great Idea” is. They think we Greeks still covet their largest city, Istanbul. But they are wrong. (Yes, my dear Turk; since you were curious enough to read what I wrote for the other side, please note that hardly any Greek today knows what Megali Idea is, and only a few die-hard nationalists/fascists and religious fruitcakes still covet your city, thinking “All in due time, it will belong to us again!” But such extremist minorities exist in all places, and in Greece today they play no political role.)

As I said, however, back then our ancestors were thinking of the Great Idea. And once, as WWI reached its end, they thought a great chance was given to them to realize their national dream — eventually managing to realize only their “national disaster”.

There was no “Turkey” back then. In 1919, there was only a crumbling Ottoman Empire, which, having sided with the losers of WWI, was seeing its territories being divided among the winners. The winners included Britain, France, and Italy, and they invited the Greeks to invade the western lands of Asia Minor (today’s west coasts of Turkey), as a reward for siding with them during the war. And our ancestors, with the Great Idea always at work in their heads, agreed and sent their troops there, with the pretext that they needed to protect the large populations of Greeks who were inhabiting those lands since antiquity.

When they first landed in the city of Smyrna (Izmir), in May 1919, there wasn’t immediately any major confrontation. History books say the Turkish army had withdrawn inland, unable to confront not just the Greeks, but the fleets of the Great Powers supporting them. The unfortunate events started a little later.

During the years from 1919 to 1921, the army of our invading ancestors had some successes in consolidating their hold of a relatively large part of western Anatolia, especially the region near Smyrna. They won some battles, such as near the Meander river (Menderes), in Peramos (Karşıyaka), and in Philadelphia (Alaşehir). (To American readers: that’s the original Philadelphia, the one from which your famous city took its name; and the reason why I give those names in Greek is because they were Greek cities originally — since antiquity — and only later the Turks gave them Turkish names.)

Unfortunately, our Greek ancestors didn’t exactly behave like angels. There are reports from independent, third-party sources that describe atrocities of the worst kind. For example:

  • The American Lieutenant General James Harbord wrote, describing to the American Senate the first months of the occupation: “The Greek troops and the local Greeks who had joined them in arms started a general massacre of the Mussulmen population in which the officials and Ottoman officers and soldiers as well as the peaceful inhabitants were indiscriminately put to death.”

  • A British officer reported (according to the historian Taner Akçam): “There was not even an organized resistance [by the Turks] at the time of the Greek occupation. Yet the Greeks are persisting in their oppression, and they have continued to burn villages, kill Turks and rape and kill women and young girls and throttle to death children.”

  • Harold Armstrong, a British officer who was a member of the Inter-Allied Commission, reported that as the Greeks pushed out from Smynra, they massacred and raped civilians, and burned and pillaged as they went.

  • Arnold J. Toynbee, the British historian, reported that he and his wife witnessed atrocities perpetrated by Greeks in the Yalova, Gemlik, and Izmit areas.  Not only did they obtain abundant material evidence in the shape of “burnt and plundered houses, recent corpses, and terror stricken survivors”, but also witnessed robbery by Greek civilians and arsons by Greek soldiers in uniform, caught in the act of perpetration.

  • Marjorie Housepian wrote that 4,000 Smyrna Muslims were killed by Greek forces.

  • Johannes Kolmodin, a Swedish orientalist in Smyrna, wrote in his letters that the Greek army had burned 250 Turkish villages.

  • The Inter-Allied commission stated in their report of May 23, 1921: “A distinct and regular method appears to have been followed in the destruction of villages, group by group, for the last two months, which destruction has even reached the neighbourhood of the Greek headquarters. The members of the Commission consider that, in the part of the kazas of Yalova and Gemlik occupied by the Greek army, there is a systematic plan of destruction of Turkish villages and extinction of the Muslim population. This plan is being carried out by Greek and Armenian bands, which appear to operate under Greek instructions and sometimes even with the assistance of detachments of regular troops.”

But when the Turks started getting the upper hand in battles, mainly after Kemal Atatürk assumed the leadership of their army, the Greeks started retreating gradually from the lands they had occupied. By 1922 the Great Powers had changed their plans, and abandoned the Greeks in Anatolia, who now had not a good line of supplies, not even enough ammunition. They were fighting in a land they never considered theirs, whereas the Turks were fighting for what they considered their own land. That, and the fact that the Turks were getting ammunition from the newly formed Soviet Union (because Lenin naïvely thought of Atatürk as a revolutionary like him), made a big difference. The problem is, the Greeks didn’t just retreat nicely and kindly to return where they came from; they adopted the policy of leaving a scorched earth behind them. They burned villages, killed men, raped and killed women and children as they were heading back to Smyrna:

  • Sydney Nettleton Fisher, a historian of the Middle East, wrote: “The Greek army in retreat pursued a burned-earth policy and committed every known outrage against defenceless Turkish villagers in its path”

  • Norman M. Naimark noted: “The Greek retreat was even more devastating for the local population than the occupation.”

  • James Loder Park, the U.S. Vice-Consul in Constantinople at the time, who toured much of the devastated area immediately after the Greek evacuation, described as follows what he saw: “Manisa... almost completely wiped out by fire... 10,300 houses, 15 mosques, 2 baths, 2,278 shops, 19 hotels, 26 villas...[destroyed]. Cassaba (Turgutlu) was a town of 40,000 souls, 3,000 of whom were non-Muslims. Of these 37,000 Turks only 6,000 could be accounted for among the living, while 1,000 Turks were known to have been shot or burned to death. Of the 2,000 buildings that constituted the city, only 200 remained standing. Ample testimony was available to the effect that the city was systematically destroyed by Greek soldiers, assisted by a number of Greek and Armenian civilians. Kerosene and gasoline were freely used to make the destruction more certain, rapid and complete. In Philadelphia (Alaşehir), hand pumps were used to soak the walls of the buildings with kerosene. As we examined the ruins of the city, we discovered a number of skulls and bones, charred and black, with remnants of hair and flesh clinging to them. Upon our insistence a number of graves having a fresh-made appearance were actually opened for us as we were fully satisfied that these bodies were not more than four weeks old. [the time of the Greek retreat through Philadelphia]”

Park concluded as follows:

  1. “The destruction of the interior cities visited by our party was carried out by Greeks.

  2. “The percentages of buildings destroyed in each of the last four cities referred to were: Manisa 90 percent, Cassaba (Turgutlu) 90 percent, Philadelphia (Alaşehir) 70 percent, Salihli 65 percent.

  3. “The burning of these cities was not desultory, nor intermittent, nor accidental, but well planned and thoroughly organized.

  4. “There were many instances of physical violence, most of which was deliberate and wanton. Without complete figures, which were impossible to obtain, it may safely be surmised that atrocities committed by retiring Greeks numbered well into thousands in the four cities under consideration. These consisted of all three of the usual type of such atrocities, namely murder, torture and rape.”

Those are just a few of the reports of atrocities committed by our ancestors against Turks. You can find them all in this Wikipedia page, which is a good starting point. And since you are so good in heroic cyber-battles, my brave young Greek cyber-warriors, you may go and dig up more information from the Internet, which is all available at your fingertips. Learn first, reserve judgment for later.

Of course I am aware of atrocities committed by Turks against Greeks (the civilians, not the army) after the Turks started getting the upper hand in that war. Of course I know about what we call “the Pontian genocide”. (Start by looking at the same link I gave above.) Perhaps the number of Greeks killed by Turks in the aftermath of that ugly war was even larger than the number of Turks killed by Greeks. But my purpose here is not to become a judge and determine which side committed more atrocities (who gave me that right?). My purpose is to explain to you, dear Greek compatriots, why Turks hate us.

Committing an atrocity cannot be forgiven by pointing out that the enemy, too, committed atrocities against you. Two evil deeds do not cancel each other out making one innocence. This is the error Turks themselves make when they’re accused of the 1915 Armenian genocide. They say, “But Armenians killed us too!” and then they go and try to find out who killed the most people. Don’t make the same error.

Our Greek army, acting as an occupying force (and not as a liberating one) treated the Turks as enemies not worthy of living. To treat other human beings like that, because they’re not “our kind”, is a mentality fitting to the apes. To be human means to regard every human being (and even every animal, in my opinion) as having the right to live. If you disagree, not only are you not worthy of the heavy heritage of your ancient ancestors (of such figures as Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle, who you enjoy bragging about), but you drop your moral stature to the level of the apes.

To understand why Turks hate us, we should try to put ourselves in their shoes. Perhaps the following analogy could help:

Imagine that you live in a house next to a river, and on the opposite side of the river is a neighbor’s house. In the past, you have gone and occupied your neighbor’s house, acting recklessly there when you had power. But now your power is diminishing. Your house keeps falling apart, piece by piece, and each piece that falls is taken by other people, who live far away and are now in power. Suddenly, you see that your house is in fire. While you try to save whatever you can from your belongings, you see that the neighbor who lives at the opposite side is crossing the river and, taking advantage of your weakness, is trying to take away some more pieces of your house. In desperation, you collect whatever power has been left in you, counter-attack the invading neighbor, and kick him out of your house, sending him back to where he came from, to the other side of the river.

That’s how Turks feel. The house in fire, falling apart piece by piece, was the crumbling Ottoman Empire; the river is the Aegean Sea; and the invading neighbor was us, Greeks, our army. If you can’t put yourselves in the other’s situation, then you’re reading this in vain, because you’ll never get it why the other hates you.

The argument “But those lands once were ours, we were living there long before the Turks appeared in the region, so in 1919 we only tried to take back what once belonged to us!” can’t be said in seriousness. Should we invade Italy because there are Greeks living in Southern Italy, in Calabria, in the region that once was called “Magna Grecia”, and they’re there since antiquity? Besides, just because Greeks were living along the west coast of Asia Minor doesn’t make that land “ours”. If we were to invade every place where lots of Greeks live, then we should start by invading the U.S. and Australia. Try that first.

And, the bottom line is, none of those arguments can ever justify massacres. Invasion is by itself a crime; but when accompanied by atrocities then it becomes a heinous, deeply immoral act. We should first apologize to the Turks for our behavior one century ago, and then wonder why they hate us — if they continue to do so. Personally, I would support the Greek politician who would have the guts to offer an official apology to the Turks. And that should be a one-sided apology, without expecting the Turks to reciprocate by apologizing for those things that I describe on the right-side column. But, unfortunately, such Greek politicians do not exist. When you vote you don’t elect real politicians; you elect chickens. Those chickens in the parliament don’t have the guts to face the political cost that an official apology would incur to their political careers. What they worry about is their dear seats, not morality and justice. And you keep re-electing them.

There is a second reason for which Turks hate us Greeks. It is related to the capture of Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the PKK, who now serves a life term in a Turkish jail, and to the support that the Greek State used to give to PKK terrorists. Greeks have almost forgotten this issue, whereas Turks cannot forget it because it concerns them daily, as they still have to deal with the PKK. But this is a big issue, for which I will write extensively in a later version of this article.

For Turkish readers:

Why Greeks hate Turks

Dear Turk, reader of this column, not all Greeks will agree with each other on the reasons for which they hate you. Some will tell you it’s because of the 4-centuries-long occupation of Greece by the Ottoman Empire. Others will lament the demise of Byzantium by the Ottomans. Others will blame you for the massacres that followed what Greeks call “the Asia Minor Catastrophe”, such as the “Pontian genocide” (killings of the Greeks of Pontus) unaware of the massacres that their own army committed (see the opposite column). Others for the eradication of all Greeks who used to live in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) since antiquity, including those of Istanbul, an eradication that started after the pogrom of September 6–7, 1955. Others for the invasion and occupation of Cyprus in 1974. Yet others for very recent events, such as the flights of Turkish military jets over Greek islands, and the trafficking of large numbers of illegal immigrants from the Middle East to Greece, taking place with the blessings of the Turkish authorities. But I — disagreeing with most of my compatriots — am going to offer you a much deeper reason, which in a way is the root cause of all the above. Some educated Greeks, when they read or hear about this reason, will agree with me. But many of them prefer the easy explanations that I already listed above. What you are about to read requires some mental effort.

Dear Turk, why do you think that Greece is lagging behind every other European nation and is trying to catch up with them ever since it was established, in 1827? If you answer, “Why should I care?”, then I’d reply: “Why are you reading this article, then?” The reason Greece is still struggling to catch up in technology, democracy, liberties, justice, and everything else that characterizes a modern Western nation, is intimately related to you; or, at least, to your ancestors.

If you’re patient enough to learn why Greece lags behind every Western nation, you’ll learn that the same explanation applies to your nation, too. You’ll learn why when you want to buy a car you must import it from a more technologically advanced nation, whereas in your country you don’t have the technology to create the car, only to manufacture it, putting its pieces together; why you need to import your computer, your TV, your DVD, or every high tech piece, and cannot create it in Turkey out of raw materials; why when you need a judicial system that’s more trustworthy than yours you apply to the European Court of Human Rights, and you agree that its rulings have higher authority than the rulings that come from your local, Turkish justice; why, although you might want your nation to be all-powerful and do as it pleases, at least in your region of the world, it is in fact not all-powerful and needs the consent of other, more powerful nations — such as the U.S.A. — before it acts in the international arena. I don’t think I need to continue, you get the picture.

You might think: “Well, we are in the south, whereas those more powerful and technologically advanced Western nations are all in the north, so there must be some factor that has to do with the geographic location of nations, which determines their fates. Greece is in the south of Europe, too, so that’s the reason.” Then I would counter back that Italy and Spain are in the European south, too, and I wish Greece was at least equal to them. Both Italy and Spain make cars, for instance (Italy in particular makes some of the finest cars in the world). What do Greece & Turkey make? Cigarettes, textiles, olives, dried apricots, dried figs...

No, there must be some other reason.

Since I mentioned Italy and Spain, let’s think: there was a time, a few centuries ago, when those European nations were not more technologically developed than the rest of the world, right? There was even a time when Arab Muslims were more developed than their medieval European counterparts. But later Muslims stayed stagnant, and even moved backwards in some respects, whereas something new started happening in places like Italy. What is it that started happening? What do we call it? It must have been important, because from the moment that appeared there, the rest of the world could only see the back of the more advanced west European and other nations, such as the U.S.A., Canada, Australia, or even Japan — wherever that thing spread.

That thing, which first appeared in Italy and quickly spread to central Europe and England, back then was known by the name of Renaissance, and was followed in a couple of centuries by another “thing”, even more drastic, known as the Enlightenment. But because labels might not mean much, I’ll try to describe in very simple words what effect those two things combined had in the world.

The crucial effect of Renaissance and the Enlightenment was that people were freed from the grip that religion had on their minds, and were able to seek for explanations of physical phenomena somewhere other than in their holy books. They understood that explanations for physical phenomena must be found by examining nature, and not by studying the scriptures. Thus they developed science. And, along with science, also technology. Science gives the theoretical foundation, and technology is its application, the fruit of the tree that we call science. Although Western science has its roots in ancient Greek thought, the first true scientists — in the modern sense of the word, that is, people who performed experiments in order to verify or reject their beliefs — appeared then and there, at the end of Medieval Europe. One of the first true scientists was the Italian Galileo Galilei (1564–1642), who was followed immediately by one of the greatest scientists ever, the English Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727).

I can’t emphasize enough the dependence of science on freedom of the mind. When religion tells you, “This is the explanation, already given in our holy book, seek no further! (Or else...)”, then you can’t develop science, because to do so you need to question everything, and test if that which you believe is true, by looking at the data. If you don’t question, test, examine by yourself, if you think the answers are already present in your thousand-year-old holy book, then you can’t have science; hence no technology, the fruit of science. You can have your narghile, but not your Internet; you can have your hamam, but not your solar water heater; you can have your textiles and dried apricots, but not your Ferraris and BMW’s.

Now comes the hardest part, a “bitter truth” that’s very hard for you Turks to swallow. But you are reading this because you want to know what the deeper reason is — in this author’s opinion — that Greeks hate you, right? Otherwise you could simply exit this page (there is always the “back” button on your browser).

The bitter truth is that if Christianity is already bad for scientific development, Islam — at least the way it is practiced today — is even worse. Islam is a real killer of science. Here is why.

Back in the Medieval times — also known as Dark Ages — the Christian Church had absolute control and absolute power. It was impossible to express an opinion that was contrary to the beliefs of the Church, because doing so might incur the death of the person. In other words, people were totally un-free to question anything. The beliefs of the religious were imposed by force (by means of the threat of torture and death) to those few who had an inquisitive mind and wanted to search and find the truth by themselves. In the early 1600’s, in Galileo’s time, it was still dangerous to express an opinion contrary to the Church. The philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in the year 1600, because he claimed that the Sun was just one star like all other stars (which is true), and that there are other intelligent beings in the infinite universe (which we don’t know). Galileo himself almost had the same fate because he supported another true idea: that the Earth orbits the Sun, and not the other way around. No wonder those are now called the “Dark Ages”.

However, with the advent of the Renaissance, this imposition of one set of beliefs upon everyone started being loosened.  The Church gradually started losing its absolute control as the scientific discoveries resulted in useful technology that people could make use of in their lives, whereas belief in Christ could at best soothe the believer’s mind. In the centuries that followed, science gained complete authority over questions about the physical world, and the Christian religion was confined to the “spiritual” domain. Today, when scientists say that, for example, humans and chimpanzees share a common ancestor that lived several million years ago, most Christians understand that it’s not their business to go and tell to biologists what is true or false in biology. They accept that their holy book, the Bible, might be speaking allegorically where it talks about Adam and Eve in its first two chapters. There are even some Christians who believe — and this is the big difference with Islam — that the Bible might even be wrong on some points, because it was written by prophets, who, as human beings, might have understood God’s message in a wrong way. So, most Christians keep their beliefs for themselves, and don’t try to impose them on others — and especially on scientists — realizing that some of their beliefs about nature might be wrong.

But Islam is different. Unfortunately for Islam, the Qur’an is not supposed to have been written by human beings, but is Allah’s own word. So, how can Allah have said anything wrong? And how can a scientist be allowed to claim something that’s contrary to Allah’s word? That’s where the root of the problem is.

Islam cannot let a scientist question anything that would contradict the Qur’an, because that would make the scientist go against Allah’s authority. In this way Islam throttles free scientific thought and suffocates science.

Many Muslims prefer to hide their heads in the sand, believing that there is no contradiction between the Qur’an and science. Unfortunately, there are many. As an example, how can the Moon be said to exist “in the midst of the seven heavens” (37:6) and that the stars are “in the lowest of seven heavens” (71:16), when every child knows that the stars are astronomically farther away than the Moon, and that the Moon is the natural object closest to the Earth? (Let alone that there is nothing like “seven heavens”.) How can the Sun be setting into a muddy spring on Earth in the west, which the traveler Zul-qarnain went and visited (18:86), and how can the Sun be rising from another point of the Earth in the east, which Zul-qarnain also visited (18:90)? Didn’t the author of the Qur’an know that the Sun is about 150,000,000 km away from the Earth, and that if the Sun’s sphere is like a soccer ball then the Earth is like the head of a pin? How can the Earth have been created before the Sun, Moon, and even the stars (2:29), when we now know the stars have existed for more than eight billion years before the Earth? How could Allah not know that 1/8 + 2/3 + 1/6 + 1/6 equals not 1 but 1.125? (4:11–12)

These are just a few of the points where the Qur’an contradicts not just scientific knowledge, but common knowledge, and even children’s knowledge. (The reader can find many more here.) Yet Islam is “handcuffed” in its conflict with science because of its belief that the Qur’an is Allah’s direct word. For science to flourish under Islam, Islam has to admit that some Qur’anic statements can be questioned, because questioning everything and seeking evidence is at the heart of scientific thought. But how can a Muslim question something that was supposedly said by Allah?

Islam had this problem from its inception. If you believe that Allah said such-and-such, you cannot then go and question your belief. So Islam has been in bad terms with science since its foundation. People sometimes wonder why Islam showed signs of scientific advancement in the first few centuries of its existence. Well, first, the Islamic civilization flourished precisely at the time when Islam was most lenient and allowed free thinking to exist. And second, I find that claims about the greatness of scientific advancement during the so-called “Islamic Golden Age” are largely exaggerated. Which major discovery can be attributed directly to Islam at that time? I can only think of the development of algebra. Otherwise, Arabs copied the use of paper from the Chinese, the now-called “Arabic numerals” (0, 1, 2,...) from the Indians (including the notion “zero is a number”), philosophy from the Greeks, alchemy and medicine also from the Greeks... Which modern-day object, idea, or practice, with the exception of algebra, is a direct product of the Islamic Golden Age?

In any case, as soon as Islam went back to its fundamentalist religious practices and stifled free thinking, at around the 11th century, its civilization collapsed. What is of interest to us in this discussion is that your ancestors arrived into Asia Minor at around that time, in the 11th–12th century. The Golden age of Islam was already over, and the Seljuq and Ottoman Turks met with an intellectually declining Islam. After conquering Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, the Ottomans inherited the bureaucracy of the Byzantines for running their empire. Thus they passed on an archaic system of governance (the Byzantine one) and an un-free, oppressive system of beliefs (the Islamic one) to all their subjects — including, of course, the Greeks.

That is the fundamental “bad thing” that happened to Greeks because of the Turks. It is not the killings which Greeks suffered for even the slightest reason while they were the subjects of Turks; it is not the taking of Greek children away from their mothers to be raised as janissaries in Anatolia; it is none of the other reasons that I briefly listed at the start of this text. Instead, it is the fact that while the human spirit was taking off in Europe, in the 17th C. onwards, during Renaissance and the Enlightenment, the Greeks were kept in the darkness of the Ottoman Islamic rule, which was unable to produce a single scientific advancement, a single item of technology that we can recognize today as coming from them, a single philosophical idea that stayed with us and is considered important today. Intellectual darkness is what befell the Greeks, thanks to their Ottoman conquerors.

If we go and analyze carefully each of the wrong practices and ideas that plague the Greek society today, we’ll find that they are contrary to European values and norms, and more aligned to the Middle-Eastern values and norms. They are the values that Greeks inherited from their Ottoman rulers. It is very hard for me to find a single positive influence that the Turks had on Greeks. Try as I may, I don’t find any.

Take, for example, this notion in the mind of the average Greek: in order to have your job done swiftly and properly you need to “oil” the gears of bureaucracy by handing some money to public servants secretly. Where did we get that idea from? Not from Europe, right? Everybody knows that this is the bakshish of Turks — in fact sometimes we use that very word to describe it.

Or, take the idea that in order to advance socially and achieve your purposes it is not important to acquire skills and learn things; what’s important is to have the proper connections! Your abilities don’t count; your acquaintances do. Which modern society is based on such principles?

Or, take the notion that for anything bad that happens in our lives we must expect the State to intervene, like a deus ex machina, and solve our problems. We don’t feel responsible for our future; the State is. Which modern, Western society thinks of the State as something above the individual, and not as something that must be under the constant check of the individual? This observation alone speaks volumes about the serious ills of the Greek (and, I suspect, the Turkish as well) society today.

Even the serious financial crisis that has hit Greece during the time I write this text has its roots in a wrong concept of the average Greek, which is that in order to live a “secure” life you need to be hired in the public sector and essentially sleep through the rest of your life there, producing insufficient work but receiving your salary regularly. Which modern society employs the same idea? Go and tell an American about that “life plan” — they will laugh at you. I am not trying to say that the Turks are responsible for the Greek economy crisis that started in 2010. Greeks themselves are responsible for it. But why do Greeks behave in such ways that bring serious troubles to them? Where did they get their ideas from? Why no other European nation is having such serious troubles? Why is Greece not a European-like nation, after all?

For each of the above questions I understand that there are easy, superficial answers. But there are also deeper answers that need more than a minute’s thought to be considered and some historical knowledge to be supported.

My deeper answer for the question of why Greeks hate Turks is that, deep down, we Greeks know that if we had not been kept under the Ottoman occupation during the times of Enlightenment, we would not have missed the ideas that developed then. Back then, the free Greeks were either on the mountains (avoiding the Turks, but fighting with bears, wolves, and jackals), or abroad, in Europe. The tiny intellectual achievements by Greeks of that time, in fact, came from those few who lived in Europe. But they had hardly any effect on the Greek society, which was struggling to survive the occupation, and had no time and no mind for the intellectual paradigm change that was taking place in Europe.

Well, that is what I would accuse my neighbors of. Except that I don’t hate them. I know that history went as it did, and cannot be undone. I only hope that both peoples, Turks and Greeks, understanding the root causes of their problems a bit deeper, can live in peace next to each other.

Readers' Reactions

A Turkish reader of the above article wrote to the author as follows:

“As I analyse the psychological aspects of the economic crisis in your country, and the people’s reactions, the more I learn about how the public administration worked, how public companies (dys)functioned and, most importantly, the more I read about the average Greek’s self-righteousness against any move to correct the system, I tend to think that the greatest curse the Turks did to the Greeks, the worst Ottoman influence was the injection to minds of the figure of State the Father. This is how every Turk refers to the State — State the Father. The hidden thought here is that the State is obliged to give you a comfortable life whether or not you work hard enough to deserve it. You go wrong, and the State tolerates it because it is the Father. You don’t earn a penny, and the Father gives you your stipend. You ask for a fine car, nice clothes, money to go out with a girl, and the Father must support you, although you are a jobless ruin. And if he refuses to continue to support you you rise against him, accuse him of not taking care of his children. And he becomes the Bad Father.”

I can’t agree more. As I’m writing these lines in response to the above, there is a large number of Greeks (several thousands) who have occupied Syntagmatos Square (the most central square of Athens), protesting against the State every day. On the surface, these people protest against the corruption in government and State (and they’re right in that). But deep down they want to say: “The State is responsible for us not having jobs, not having money to keep living as we used to! Take the money away from the corrupt politicians and give it to us!” They refuse to accept any responsibility for the current situation. It is “State the Father” who mistreated them, poor children. It doesn’t matter if, for decades, the only thing they knew how to do well was to “settle” (I’m using their own term) in a job in the public sector and sleep through the rest of their lives. It will take several decades for Greeks to get rid of their antiquated mentality and upgrade it to a more modern version of social thought and behavior.

A Greek reader, in the 3rd decade of his life, wrote:

“When I went to Bulgaria, a few years ago, I was totally biased against a people that was presented in our books as foreign, barbarian, hostile, and uncivilized. Fortunately I was open-minded, contrary to many of my compatriots who stayed there and returned without getting anything. I didn’t acquire a degree but something more important: to wish to understand the opinion of others; actually, the perspective more than the opinion. I realized that the Bulgarian people is similar to the Greek one in many ways: in the influence from Byzantium, in the 500 years of Ottoman occupation, in Great Ideas, in their exploitation by more powerful nations (Russia, Germany), etc. — without meaning to accuse those nations, since it’s not the people’s fault but their politicians who behave like subordinates to their feudal ruler. I loved Bulgaria, and because I learned the language, I can say I love it as much as my own country. I believe the same would happen if I had lived in Turkey, or anywhere else, perhaps because I am a well-meaning person who tries to see how others think. I really feel sorry, however, because although as peoples we have so many things in common, we can’t understand each other. I believe we’ll never make it. Individuals can understand each other, but not people as a whole — because mentalities, some ways of thinking, are so deeply rooted in our minds that prevent us from changing.”

I am more optimistic; I see the glass as half-full. I believe the convergence of minds is a matter of time. The convergence will come through the new generations of people who have the information of the worldwide web available “at their fingertips” (contrary to the older generations, whose information center was the coffee place of their neighborhoods), who have learned to resort to Google when they wonder about something, instead of forming an opinion arbitrarily, or according to their buddy’s opinion. They’re also generations of young people who travel, like the above reader. The boundaries of their lives do not coincide with the boundaries of their vineyards or of their wheat fields. Of course, there will always be die-hard chauvinists and nationalists, but I believe their numbers will keep diminishing. Take racism as an analogy: a century ago, racism was considered natural, and was advocated even by progressive intellectuals. Gradually, however, the wider humanitarian spirit prevailed. Racism is unfortunately hardwired in our brains, but culture and education can help push it in a corner of the mind and keep it buried there. I suppose the same will happen with nationalism, and actually at a faster rate, due to the technological reasons I just explained.

Another Greek, now living abroad, wrote:

I am one of those who were taught at school: “We are a good people, we never attacked others. We were always in defense!”

Unfortunately for me, when I decided to extend my business abroad, my first attempt was in neighboring Turkey (indeed, good people, and it was time for me to abandon the stereotypes of the past...)

Without further ado, I’ll mention that in a discussion with a Turkish woman —a colleague of mine— and in the presence of university students, we started talking about 1922. I won’t forget the feeling of injustice they felt because I didn’t know the truth!

It took me a bit of time, but I did my research and came back with an apology for my ignorance (being a childhood victim of internal Greek propaganda), but also for whatever our ancestors committed back then!

However, I should mention the effrontery that afflicts the Turkish people, who, whereas they ask for apologies from others and the restitution of the historic truth, they themselves avoid to even refer to the deeds they committed (in older and in more recent times), which are horrible, terrible, and pathetic; from which, besides Greeks, other peoples suffered, too!!! I am not surprised anymore that my Turkish colleague doesn’t answer the apology message that I sent her. Perhaps she thinks I passed her the relay baton.

I understand all that you’re saying. But I wouldn’t expect such a reaction from your Turkish colleague. Maybe she simply neglected to reply to you, as it often happens in email, without having the conscious intention to ignore you. I have received very positive reactions from Turks who read my text. Most of them agree, and not only — quite obviously — with the left (blue) column, but also with the right one (red). When they agree even with the red column, I interpret that as an indirect form of apology.


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