How to avoid common gaffes and improve Greek-Turkish relations

Born in Turkey in 1940, Iraklis Millas is half-Greek, half-Turkish – think of Greek Americans and Greek Australians. Growing up in Istanbul, he served in the Turkish army and once was the country’s champion in the 100-meter dash. In 1971, he came to Greece, and has lived in Athens ever since. He teaches Turkish literature at the Aegean University in Rhodes. Largely unknown in Greece, Millas has translated and published in Turkish the complete works of Giorgos Seferis and Constantine Cavafy, for instance, along with other works by Greek poets and authors. Millas is about to get more exposure in this country, thanks to his book «Dos and Don’ts – a behavior guide for improving Greek-Turkish relations.» Following editions in Turkish and English, it was published in Greek earlier this year by Papazisis Editions. What is the guide about? It is aimed at anyone wishing to avoid making common mistakes that often lead to misunderstandings and worsen relations between the two countries – though it also lends itself to misuse in order satisfy some people’s – such as Greek and Turkish nationalists’ – aggressiveness. When did you come up with the idea for the book? I often found myself in a difficult position when talking with Greek or Turkish friends. I listened to a Turk defending a position and I could image how this would upset a Greek and vice versa. And this was not malicious or insulting talk, but rather innocent, neutral points of view, expressed by people who meant well. And so I began classifying these sources of «evil» in an attempt to see where these little misunderstandings stemmed from. Names, behavior, body language, for instance. What kind of misunderstandings arise in relation to names, for example? For Greeks, the ancient Greeks are simply Greeks. The Turks, on the other hand, have various names for the ancient Greeks: Greeks, Hellenes, Ionians, Yunan. What is interesting is that both Greeks and Turks are not aware of this source of confusion, yet feel awkward every time the other side uses a strange name. What do you advise? Don’t ever try to persuade the other side that they are using the wrong name or an inappropriate term. If you use the other side’s terminology, it might look like you’re giving in, but the truth is that it’s quite cunning. The other side is likely to be surprised at the way you accept what they think you persistently deny. At the same time, you might impress a third party. Also, the other side might be made to feel inferior by your generosity and might return the compliment by making their own, similar concessions. What I’m really saying is that both sides have their own sensibilities. We have to realize what these are and be more careful when talking to each other. How are you perceived in Turkey? In the best-case scenario, as a good Greek, who is neutral and impartial. Are you optimistic about Greek-Turkish relations given the recent developments? At this point, I’m cautious. Turkey scares me. It is a country standing at a crossroads. Will the parliamentary system work on its own, or will the establishment and the army intervene? Turkey will soon have to make choices. Will it make the right ones?

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