By Cengiz Çandar
Late at night on Jan. 25, more than 500,000 Twitter followers of Selahattin Demirtas, the co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP) in Turkey, were dumbfounded by seeing him tweet in the Greek Cyrillic alphabet, which is fully incomprehensible to Turks.
But, for careful eyes, the same tweet was reproduced in Turkish below the one in Greek. It said: “On the road for the downtrodden and workers, bon voyage, my brother.”
A Turkish-Kurdish political leader born in 1972 was hailing a two years younger Greek counterpart on his election victory, wishing him well and calling him “brother.”
Even if it comes from a Turkish politician with a Kurdish origin, it would have been unthinkable about a decade ago to call a Greek counterpart a “brother.” Turkey and Greece were two words always pronounced jointly ever since the end of World War II, but never in fraternal terms.
Though joint recipients of the Marshall Plan that became NATO members jointly in 1952 and applied for membership for the EEC, the precursor of today’s European Union, they were considered each other’s nemesis. The emergence of the Cyprus question pitted them against each other and, since 1974, so have the questions on the Aegean Sea that they share, ranging from continental shelf to territorial waters to airspace.
The two countries that constituted the southeastern flank of the NATO have become a permanent headache for the United States. In 1996, the two countries had, once more, come to the brink of war because of a dispute on the sovereign rights on a small, unpopulated rocky islet on the Aegean. The intense telephone diplomacy of Richard Holbrooke averted the war, therefore the collapse of NATO’s southeastern flank. That was the Imia/Kardak incident US President Bill Clinton made fun of in his memoirs.
Greece became a member of the EU while Turkey declined to apply at the time. Greece managed to use its EU membership to block Turkey’s entry. It augmented the seemingly intractable problems of the two neighbors. The Greek national security doctrine in the 1980s was shaped against “the threat coming from the East” and two countries’ historiography stated that the national independence of each was won against the other.
Abundant commonalities from their common heritage were simply forgotten.
In Greece, being anti-Turkey had been a lowest common denominator for the parties on the right mainly, but also for those on the left and Turkey’s political spectrum had reciprocated in being anti-Greece when it came to issues of a nationalistic agenda.
The exceptions were confined to peace activists on both sides of the Aegean and to internationalists, mainly on the far left. Syriza, the new radical left of Greece that won a stunning electoral victory Jan. 25, was the most outspoken of those in Turkey’s neighbor.
Syriza was amazingly vocal in Turkey’s Taksim-Gezi upheavals in the summer of 2013. Its banner in English during Gezi that read “The Sea Separates Us but the Dignity Unites” was unforgettable for Turkey’s young activists. Also, one of Gezi’s victims targeted by police bullets, Berkin Elvan, 14 — of Alevi origin — became a symbol of solidarity for Syriza. The posters carrying his image with the slogan (also in Turkish) “You are our brother, Berkin” were seen during the Greek election campaign.
Syriza is very sensitive to the Kurds’ plight in and around Turkey. A Syriza delegation visited the Turkish-Kurdish frontier settlements near Kobani in November, while the Kurds were engaged in their epic resistance against the Islamic State (IS).
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