The beginning of the end of the Ottoman Occupation of Greece in 1821, which gave birth to the modern Greek state, and the fall of Smyrna in Asia Minor a century later in 1922 were the bookends for revolutions which changed the country forever and perpetuated enmity toward Turks.
But that’s ancient history, and hating people because their ancestors fought with yours is futile. Otherwise, Americans wouldn’t have bought Toyotas and Japanese televisions and we could trace hate back to cave man days.
As the character Kwai Chang Caine, played by the late David Carradine in the TV series Kung Fu, said in a memorable episode, Eye for an Eye: “To hate is like drinking salt water. The thirst grows worse.”
But that doesn’t mean you have to respect – and certainly not revere nor worship – people who caused evil to yours, and that’s where Thessaloniki Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, an ecologist and self-loathing Greek who took office almost two years ago, has gone too far.
During Greece’s crushing economic crisis, Boutaris rightly is welcoming Turkish tourists, in the same way Turkey invites Greeks, if only to come to see the once-Greek city of Istanbul, which Greeks still call Constantinople, apparently forgetting to buy a new calendar after 1453. Turkey is a modern, secular country, a bridge between Asia and Europe and would be a member of the European Union if only it too had remembered what year it is and that it needs to withdraw its occupying army from Cyprus, admit Cypriot ships and planes, and re-open the Halki Seminary.
Turkey is as wrong in not doing so as Boutaris was shortly after he took office nearly two years ago and came up with the brilliant idea of building a mosque, and a monument to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was born in Thessaloniki before moving on to creating the Republic of Turkey by drowning it in Greek blood at Smyrna and bayoneting Armenian babies.
A shrine for a conqueror? Why not put a souvenir shop next to it, selling Ataturk T-Shirts showing Smyrna burning? A monument to him in Greece would be akin to a statue of Hitler in Tel Aviv, or a shrine to Tojo in San Francisco. Maybe Demetris Christofias, the failed Communist President of Cyprus – who studied in Moscow – could raise one to Stalin, who’s right up there in the Genocide Top 10 List. And remember that it was Lenin who supplied Ataturk’s armies with weapons.
So polarizing is Boutaris that the bishop of Thessaloniki threatened to kill himself rather than swear him in and vowed to do everything in his power to stop this “Bulgarian traitor,” a reference to the mayor’s roots in the Latin-speaking Vlach minority. Boutaris branded him a ”mujahideen” and took his own “cosmic vows,” weird enough to make you want to check the fillings of his teeth to make sure aliens weren’t using them to send signals from space.
It’s too bad Boutaris isn’t paying more attention to Greeks being impoverished by austerity measures and build a homeless shelter or free clinic for the poor instead of an altar for a man whose armies butchered Greeks. Turkey is invading Greece again now, in other ways: Turkish soap operas, including Suleiman the Magnificent, are all over Greek TV stations and the Turkish government wants to offer them free to a number of countries to spread Turkish culture. They could hire Boutaris as their PR consultant.
The movie 1453 shows in shameless fashion a one-sided story of how Turks liberated Constantinople, and a few years ago a Turkish movie depicted its armed forces defeating the United States, Europe and NATO in a war, a bit of a stretch since its basketball team got pummeled by the Americans at the World Championships in 2010.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Boutaris said Greece should capitalize on the chance to show visiting Turks all the sites in Thessaloniki where their ancestors ruled. “Thessaloniki was a booming city of the Ottoman Empire,” he said during a recent trip to Istanbul, leaving out the part about Greeks being enslaved, which means you don’t have to worry about a minimum wage for workers. He also said that while many Greeks despite Ataturk’s memory that, “He is a child of Thessaloniki.” Yes, and Hitler was a child of Ranshofen, Austria.
Boutaris is betraying Greece to a conqueror and that has nothing to do with inviting tourists from Turkey, who are welcome in Greece. He has rightly tried to embrace his city’s Jewish past – much of it wiped out by Hitler’s minions. This is a big year for Thessaloniki, the 100th anniversary of its liberation by the Greek military from Ottoman occupation and the mayor has besmirched that memory by bowing down to Ataturk.
The revulsion runs deep. Two monks interrupted a ceremony of the delivery of an icon from Mt. Athos to the city by screaming at the mayor: “Boutaris, you bum!” Another yelled “Anathema!” And,as police dragged them away, another screamed at him, “Turk lover!” Boutaris has tried to spin his admiration for Ataturk. “If our perspective on history here in Thessaloniki is hostile to everyone else who has lived in this city before, who will be left for us to do business with?” Antonis Kamaras, an aide to the mayor told the Journal, trying to defend the idea of worshiping Ataturk.
But why stop there? Invite Germans to the spots where Nazis committed murder in Thessaloniki. Perhaps the villages of Kalavryta and Distomo, where the populations where slaughtered by Nazis, should put together an Atrocity Tour since Boutaris doesn’t think Greece should be hostile to potential visitors.
But, as a Leftist to the Left of Che Guevara, he’s an apologist and unbowed and said he’ll do all he can to bring more Turkish tourists to Thessaloniki, even if that means getting on his knees and praying to the memory of Ataturk. Boutaris even refused to attend a parade re-enacting the Greek army’s liberating march into his city in 1912, an event which included hoisting the biggest Greek flag in his country, although maybe he’d prefer to live in Istanbul with his buddies or raise the Turkish flag again over Thessaloniki.
He said that displaying Greek pride was “ethnic populism,” and, in telling words, told the Journal that, “I feel closer to the Turks than to the Swedes. With the European Union, I feel like a partner.” he added, “With the Turks, I feel like a brother.” Greeks and Turks today should live in harmony and resolve differences but let’s leave Ataturk out of it.
As Zorba said, when explaining to his boss, the Englishman who’d seen scars on Zorba’s body inflicted by both Greeks and Turks: “What do I care if a man is Greek or Turk? All I care is that he is a good man.” Boutaris has many progressive ideas that benefit his city and country and should stick to that. He may be a good man, but he’s not a good Greek.