Sunday, 8 April 2018


I frequently watch the TV news in the UK on-line, and am always interested to see that there is never even a mention of the Greco-Turkish relationship and its current 'condition'.

Every night there's something about 'Brexit', about Mr. Trump's latest pronouncement or faux pas (not to mention Boris Johnson's too!), about the 'Salisbury Poisoning' and then, quite often, the problems with funding for either the Police or the NHS.

OK, so I do note that the UK TV channels are considerably richer than the Greek ones and thus can afford to have reports on their bulletins from correspondents in all the world's top hot-spots, like Syria, China, Moscow and Washington DC. Here in Greece every channel insists on running hour-long News shows, the major part of which are often taken up with reporters looking most earnest while interviewing shoppers in an Athens market about the price of food or the scandalous electricity bills. The best overseas news you can expect from the very repetitive Greek news bulletins is a report from Italy. It seems that most channels can afford to have a reporter based in that country and so every night they look for an excuse to have a report from there about something which is often quite tacky. When it comes to Washington or Beijing, though, invariably they'll 'rent' a report from the BBC or CNN and show it with subtitles, if they show it at all.

One story that's perpetually in the headlines here in Greece, and understandably so, is the fast deteriorating situation between Greece and Turkey. I do occasionally expect one of the 'incidents' that occur on a daily basis between the Greek coast guard and the Turkish navy, or between the two countries' air forces, to reach the UK media, but no, it seems they don't deem it of sufficient importance or interest to the British public, and thus the majority of these remain in ignorance of what's 'going down' in the Aegean.

Yet for those of us living here it is becoming more 'hairy' by the day it seems.

Now, let me start by making it clear that I am first and foremost a 'humanist'. I am not an atheistic humanist. What I mean is that I am someone who does not subscribe to blind nationalism, preferring to consider every human an individual and thus in essence my brother or sister. Most of the squabbles, be it between the USA and China, the UK and Russia, or indeed Greece and Turkey, are caused by a handful of politicians behaving suspiciously like kids in a school playground.

I aim to come at this purely as an outside observer, like an alien who's just landed and is trying to make some sense of what he's witnessing.

Firstly, let's get one thing out of the way. On my excursions every season without fail I end up talking to a guest or three about why these islands are part of Greece when they're so close to Turkey. Why we have to split the planet up into 'sovereign' territories at all is a crying shame, but to answer the question logically, it's simple. These islands have been Greek in language and culture for over two thousand years. Turkey, as a nation, is a relative newcomer and thus the international community agreed in the late 1940's to re-unite the eastern Aegean islands with Greece because the inhabitants all speak Greek and follow (largely) the Orthodox religion. I'm not going down that route because I have deep issues with all the ritualistic churches, but that's another story. 

It's odd that some 'rulers' should feel that proximity alone should be the governing criteria in deciding to which country an island or island chain should belong. That's plainly absurd. I mean, why should the fact that there's an expanse of water separating parts of a country one from another, and perhaps that expanse is larger than the one between the island(s) in question and a neighbouring country, have any bearing on the matter? Ought not history, tradition, language and culture also play important parts? I mean, one doesn't see (well, apart from when someone like Hitler comes along) Luxembourg declaring that parts of Belgium ought to belong to them merely because these areas are touching Luxembourg's border. "Ooh, that town Arlon is much closer to our capital than it is to Brussels, so we ought to have it!" I don't think it works like that. Yet, to some governments it seems that if an expanse of water comes into the mix then they can indeed play that card.

For the past few years now, Turkey's President, the rather irritable Mr. Ertogan, has been cranking up the rhetoric about a lot of Greek islands which are situated close to the Turkish coast. He's been sending gunboats into Greek waters (one recently rammed a Greek coastguard vessel) and, as far back as when I first moved to Rhodes in the summer of 2005, Turkish military jets have regularly been invading Greek air space in an attempt to goad the Greeks into reacting. We read once that the Greek pilots and their Turkish counterparts even quite enjoy their cat-and-mouse games, as it hones up their skills at the joystick. Odd really isn't it? I mean, one Russian jet crosses a tiny piece of Turkish air-space in November of 2015 and the Turks shoot it down. If Greece had taken similar action every time a Turkish fighter had entered Greek air-space in the last ten years, Turkey wouldn't have any aircraft left.

See, whenever a politician changes the rules so that they can avoid being elected out of office, then the problems seem to escalate, don't they? That and the fact that they happily 'allegedly' fix the elections anyway, just to make sure. 

Who was it that said: "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" ? Lord Acton I believe, and not Winston Churchill. Thanks Google, I might have got that wrong had I not checked! Witness North Korea's course since Kim Jong-un got into office, Russia's increasing isolation from normal relations with the rest of the world (which improved markedly under the Nobel Prize-winning Mikhail Gorbachev) under ex-KGB man Putin, and, of course Turkey under Ertogan.

It seems to the unbiased observer that the Turkish President is trying his damnedest to get Greece to fire first, so that he can lay the blame at Athens' door. Yet Greece appears to be exhibiting an extraordinary ability to keep calm and avoid confrontation, to the extent that this is possible. Am I the only person who wonders how the Turkish authorities could have stood by and watched thousands of unfortunate migrants, fleeing war-zones further east, go down to their western beaches and board rusty old hulks and overloaded inflatables with nothing but a lifejacket and the clothes they stood up in and set out across choppy seas in oft-fatal attempts to reach the Greek islands?

It's all very complicated and I'm no expert, but I'm certainly deeply cynical about humans and their ways of running things and as an alien recently landed, I can't help but note how a few men who are allowing their grip on power to go to their heads are destabilising the planet at quite a pace at present.

Tourism is one of the greatest industries on earth. Well, when you set aside the arms industry, human trafficking and drugs. Tourism, although it has its downside in the areas of erosions and pollution, brings people at grass-roots level together in wonderful ways. Mr. Ertogan's current shenanigans are seriously threatening to hit tourism in his own country right where it hurts if he carries on like this. Seems, though, that he's of the school of thought that it scores him points heavily in his own country when he rattles the sabre at all and sundry, especially his next-door neighbour, Greece.

The fact is, though, that as people begin to cotton on to the increasing tension that's being ratcheted up along the Western coast of Turkey and the Greek islands that stand so close to it, they are going to be making other holiday choices. They're going to go elsewhere and the economies of both Greece and Turkey will suffer as a result.

Like I said above, I'm a conditional 'humanist'. Whilst I'm by no means an atheist, I do have an aversion to ritualistic religion, but people, young Russian families, my Turkish friend who runs a heel-bar in Rhodes town for his Greek father-in-law, Germans, French and Italians, all of which come here at present for their vacations, these I meet and talk to and - I may be mistaken, but - I believe that most of them just want to get on with their fellow humans (and humans are what we are, first and foremost)...

..And to be able to go visit another country to enrich their experience of life on this amazing planet of ours.

Anyway, know anywhere where they take Gold-pressed Latinum as currency? I need to re-fuel my rocket and get out of here.


  1. Totally agree with you John. I read the Greek papers--translated (!!)--so am aware of all the shenanigans that Turkey is indulging in. I tell my friends as well--and always refer to the Dodecanese as "front line islands. May seem a bit over blown, but when grown men start playing irresponsibly with "big boys toys"--anything can happen. Amazed it hasn't hit responsible newspapers here

  2. Very unsettling John, I too have seen very little in the news as reported over here in UK. Will be looking a little beyond the mainstream news from now on....