Letter from Thessaloniki

Apart from the five prizes awarded to the movie «Enas Delikanis» («Crazy Blood,» as it was translated in English), directed by Manolis Scouloudis, at the Thessaloniki Film Festival back in 1963, and the award that Ilia Livykou received in San Francisco for her performance, I have not heard the word «delikanis» (young rash man) for a very long time. At least not until very recently and then in a completely different context. It happened earlier this month when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lost his cool during a heated debate over the Gaza conflict at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and stormed angrily from the podium, threatening never to return to Davos before departing on his plane. In the film, it was the actor Alkis Yannakas who is remembered for his portrayal of an angry young man. In the case of the 54-year-old Turkish premier, this was also a performance that the world is unlikely to forget anytime soon. One Turkish commentator ridiculed his premier for having behaved like a «delikanli.» Erdogan often brags that he comes from an Istanbul neighborhood that produces courageous fighters: the Kasimpasa waterfront district. In Turkey, the word «delikanli» is used to describe young men in puberty who are no longer children, but are not yet adults. As for us Greeks, we have inherited many Turkish words from the time the country was under the Ottoman yoke. ‘Forewarning?’ Last Wednesday «Anihnefsis,» one of the most somber and unexciting talk shows on Greek TV, broadcast from Thessaloniki, aired a program with the title «Is Erdogan’s behavior in Davos a forewarning for the status quo in Southeast Europe?» (For it is clear that Erdogan is currently riding a wave of popularity in the Muslim world.) After Davos, Arabs and Iranians in particular could hardly believe their ears: a Turkish prime minister behaving more radically toward Israel than most of his Muslim counterparts? Centuries of Turkish-Arab mistrust seemed to have been flushed away in an instant. In his talk show, anchorman Pantelis Savidis argued quite an audacious theory. Turkey, he maintained, could well be compared to pre-Hitler Germany – a country that was obliged to accept the humiliating Treaty of Versailles (1919) following World War I, which was received very badly within Germany. And now – Savvidis opines – it is evident that Turkey, which has long wished to cast off the constraints of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) imposed by the Allies on the Ottoman Empire after World War I, may see an unexpected opportunity to revise the latter treaty. A separate agreement between Greece and Turkey provided for the compulsory exchange of minorities. As for Greece, it has seen its ethnic minority population in Turkey diminish from several hundreds of thousands in 1923 to just a couple thousand today and claims that this was caused by the systematic enforcement of anti-minority measures. Furthermore, both Germany and Turkey have been using the exact same term, «Lebensraum,» which literally means «living space,» the territory a country considers necessary for its national survival and growth. Now, could the Turks really consider this an appropriate time to push for a revision of the Treaty of Lausanne? Let’s go back and remind ourselves how things kicked off some 20 days ago. ‘Barbaric’ During a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres, Erdogan called the recent Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip a «crime against humanity» and «barbaric.» After complaining that the moderator was not giving him the chance to respond to Peres, Erdogan wiped his eager-to-please grin off his face and predicted that a «curse» would fall upon Israel for their actions during the 22-day military operation, before promptly walking out of the session. Now, you would be hard pressed to find a leader in the Muslim world, other than the Iranian president, who has spoken out so harshly on this issue. Some days after the incident, Kathimerini editor-in-chief Alexis Papachelas in an editorial likened Erdogan to an outspoken Greek politician -to the late Andreas Papandreou, when he was prime minister. «Andreas, as a leader, was more concerned with his image within his country, even if he was aware that his anti-American rhetoric might not be exactly what our allies wanted to hear.» So the same applies to Erdogan who, on the other hand, may have been motivated by upcoming municipal elections in Turkey in March rather than a desire to become holier and closer to God. And the diplomatic game of exchanging insults between Turkey and Israel has since continued unabated. On Friday, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Major General Avi Mizrahi, a veteran professional officer, called on Erdogan to look in the mirror. What happened next was history in fast motion. The reaction came swiftly the next day. On Saturday. The Turkish Foreign Ministry delivered a diplomatic note to Israel concerning the harsh remarks made by the Israeli general. On his part, the Israeli general took a step further as he promptly countered, accusing Turkey of «committing the massacre of the Armenians as well as the suppression of the Kurds.» Mizrahi also mentioned the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus.  There are serious questions that arise after all this mess: Is Ankara moving away from its Western course, in favor of courting Muslim nations? And it is important to keep in mind that, along with Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran and Egypt, Turkey – now the world’s 17th-largest economy – is one of only five major powers in the Islamic world with enough economic and military might to affect anything beyond their immediate neighbors.

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