Opening minds through art

ISTANBUL – People say that art transcends borders and brings people from different countries and cultures closer. This idea finds authentic representation in Greek actress Katerina Moutsatsos, one of the stars of a Turkish TV series called «Yabanci Damat» – the «Foreign Groom.» The show, which became popular in both Greece and Turkey, told the love story of a Greek man and a Turkish woman and their adventures. But in many ways, Moutsatsos’s artistic presence in the Turkish film industry started much earlier than on that show, which aired from 2004 to 2007. Even before the 1999 earthquakes in Turkey and Greece and the countries’subsequent «rapprochement,» Moutsatsos took a significant step toward the cooperation of Turkish and Greek actors, by playing in «Kayikci» (The Boatman) in 1998. «That was my first work and my first visit to Turkey,» she said. «We entered Turkey, crossing from Chios island to Cesme.» Moutsatsos said her first memories of Turkey are still very fresh in her mind. She said she remembers contemplating the seagulls while crossing from Chios to neighboring Cesme on the Turkish coast. «I was wondering why we cannot freely fly from one place to the other,» she said. When she arrived, she tried to mix with the locals, using a handful of Turkish words. «I was familiar with the people and we communicated through the language of gestures,» she said. «As all Greeks who visit Turkey for the first time, I went through culture shock when I started realizing how many common words we have,» she said. Take for instance «tavan,» ceiling in Turkish, and «tavani» which means the same in Greek. Or «karpuz» in Turkish and «karpuzi» in Greek, which means watermelon in both languages, she said. While in Cesme, she recalled that when she was a 6-year-old at a French school in Greece, she had a Turkish friend who used to send her postcards from her grandmother’s house in Cesme. «I did not mind that she was Turkish. Our common ground was France,» she said. «We met in Paris again when we were university students and we are still friends.» After her first film in Turkey, Moutsatsos followed an enviable career by artistic standards. She took part in some of the most successful Turkish series, such as «Yilan Hikayesi» in 2001, «Yabanci Damat» until 2006 and «Tutkunum Sana» the same year. In 2005, she was also one of the main presenters on «Kalimerhaba,» a TV show presenting Turkish and Greek culture, which was brought to life by guests from both countries. «I remember the first program of ‘Kalimerhaba,’ when our guests were Kadir Topas, the mayor of Istanbul, and Dora Bakoyannis, now the foreign minister of Greece,» she said. «This was a fantastic experience, as I had my first political interview.» Moutsatsos, who has lived in Turkey for a total of two years since 1998, commented on the change that occurred in Turkish-Greek relations after the earthquakes of 1999. «The earthquakes changed everything. The media changed their attitude. Especially, the Greek media,» she said. «The first time I was in Turkey, I was impressed that the Turkish media would not refer to Greece all the time, as was the case in Greece.» She explained that the media started to show the human aspect. Apart from the earthquakes, Moutsatsos argues that TV programs, such as «Yabanci Damat,» helped to bring the two nations closer. «It definitely contributed to it (better relations),» she said of the popular series. «It focused on the human factor and generally this series was a clever idea, since it was about the love of a Greek man for a Turkish woman and for that reason the series was more easily accepted by Greek society. Turks are more open on these issues.» When the film «Kayikci» was presented to the Greek public in 1999, it did not have the same success because it was about the love between a Greek woman (Moutsatsos) and a Turkish man. The actress will also not forget the displays of love by both Greeks and Turks while she played in «Yabanci Damat» and recalls a humorous interaction she had in an elevator in Athens. «I got in the elevator and a woman turned to me and asked me in amazement ‘You were in Antep. How come you are in my apartment building?» When asked whether she would like to return to Istanbul either to work or to visit she said: «I always return to Turkey. I come to see my friends. Istanbul is my New York.» Of all the areas in Istanbul, she described her favorite area to be by the Golden Horn. «I really like the crossing from Sirkeci to Karakoy at the Galata Bridge, where one can see Hagia Sofia, the Galata Tower and fishermen,» she said. «I also like Bebek, because it is a nice place to live and is glamorous. It combines wealth and history. On the Asian side, I really like Cengelkoy, because it is scenic and quaint.» For the last six months, Moutsatsos has been living in Los Angeles where she is taking courses in producing and dancing. «I like big life changes. From the East I went to the West and I am planning to stay eight more months.» To wrap up, Moutsatsos sent a message to her Turkish friends: «Cok selam soyle komsularima» – «Give my regards to my neighbors.»