Sunday, December 14, 2014

Ankara for Greek visitors


If you glance at the history of Modern Greece and Turkey, there is one special target city (not only Smyrna). In 1922, the invading Greek armies lost a long and terrible war just 80 kms short of Ankara. Ankara became the new capital symbolizing the birth of Turkey. In 1930, Venizelos and Ataturk met in Ankara to discuss a lasting peace. They thought of forging a joint foreign policy and even the possibility of a federation of the two countries. Upon Venizelos' visit, Ankara was dressed in the blue-and-white colours of Greece. Could this be the end of war?

But since then, Athens and Ankara have been at odds, our last war in 1974 does not seem 40 years ago to us. Or far Cyprus. Athens and Ankara are divorced. Although capital cities of neighbouring NATO states, there is no direct airline flight between them. A Turk in Athens, a Greek in Ankara, sounds like a cold war spy story.... 

I visited as a scientist seeking collaboration; on three short trips in '13 and '14. I was surprised that so many people had never seen a Greek in Ankara...although the history of modern Turkey says so much about us. Greeks are the 'defeated' and the 'missing people'. The mass population exchanges between the two countries in the 10s and 20s, the wastes of war and nationalism hype...this has removed nearly all who speak Greek from Asiatic Anatolia (and North Cyprus). And our mass expulsion from Anatolia gives deep pain to us and raises many questions in so many Turks. Why can we not live together?

A trip to Ankara is a pilgrimage of sorts. Historic, modern; an unknown city. Everything cultural is stimulating here. The people are warm, even in their sprawling and sometimes cold capital.  We met so many fascinating people in places of great contrast. In their poverty in shanties, in university halls, in museums, in luxury restaurants: smiley good-hearted people, incredibly hospitable. And a youth full of energy for change and rebellion against backwardness, against oppression. Such a beautiful cultural fabric, and such contrast from a typical European city.

I share some snapshots of our November '13 visit to Ankara. My wife, Vasso and I hiked around the castle hill, pondered on the history of rocks and old walls, visited two museums and shopped till we dropped - all in a single day!

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