Monday, 16 July 2007

Aegean rumbling

Every morning I read the paper. Well, reading, I mostly surf the Dutch headlines on the internet and then I go to a site for Greek news in English. Although there are Lesvian papers online, I don't read them because my still poor knowledge of the Greek language doesn't permit me to take in all the local news. Maybe just as well, because otherwise I would give you the latest news about which roads are closed, local politics or which Lesvian have gone to heaven.

Some days ago, amongst the articles about national Greek politics, reports of some minor earthquakes, the heat and the wild fires, I read the headline: "Conflict between Persians and Greeks". I was perplexed reading about the growing tension between the Persians, led by their new King Xerxes who prepared to attack Greece, and the Athenians, also preparing for battle. The article finished by saying that no doubt a conflict would soon take place.

And there has been a conflict. At the battle of Salamis (near Athens) in 480 BC the mighty Persian army was defeated by the Greeks, which meant that the Persians would soon withdraw from Greece. A curious article for the summer of 2007...

Like many other Greek islands, Lesvos was at that time occupied by the Persians. They were treated so badly that they had no choice but to fight with 60 ships alongside Xerxes against the Athenians. However a year later, at the battle at Mycale between the Persians and the Greek city states, the Lesvians sided with the Athenians.

Occupation by the Athenians was also not nice, so the Lesvians were still suffering. In 440 BC the whole of the island, except for Molyvos, rose up against the Athenians. Later the island was conquered by Spartans, then the Athenians returned, and then again the Persians and so on. It used to be a rough time here on the island, with wars always going on and always new occupiers.

Nowadays it is a lot quieter on the island, but you still keep reading articles that make you worry about the enemy of Greece that consciously or not tries to shatter the stability. What I'm talking about is the continual harassment of Turkish jets flying into Greek air space. According to the Turkish Daily News this month Greek jets already harrassed Turkish F-16s 58 times. Sometimes they have so-called dog fights, sometimes they are just chasing each other. If you believe the papers, it looks like a kindergarten for the pilots above the coast of Turkey. The politicians try to stay as polite and diplomatic as possible, while the military leadership and the pilots make it seem like war.

When I look over the blue sea, beyond which the Turkish mountains climb to heaven, I can only see a lonely windsurfer, far away a freighter or a ferry and sometimes a majestic old sailing ship with many sails catching the wind. The jets, I hear regularly, but those things are so fast that I rarely see them, and I definitely will never see if they are Turkish or Greek.

In the time of the Persians they used to have huge warships, the triremes. They had three rows of rowers at each side and one big sail. Well, that would've been a nice sight, seeing them passing by. At the battle of Salamis there were 371 Greek ships and 1,207 Persian. If I'd seen such a fleet passing I definitely would have called the papers, telling them something was in the air.

But as long as I live here on Lesvos, I'm used to the rumbling sound of these jets. Just like I'm used to reading about the chases of other jets. Except that last year a Turkish and a Greek jet collided in the air, not far from Crete, and the pilot of the Greek jet did not survive the crash. Even then the politicians didn't make a big deal out of it and kept the fragile peace between Greece and Turkey.

Last weekend there was a totally different reason to quarrel: a concert by the famous Greek singer Giorgos Dalaras was cancelled at short notice by the Turkish government, without any reason. The concert was to take place on Saturday night at the Rumeli castle, on the European side of the Bosphorus in Istanbul. They say that they didn't want Dalaras to sing because he is outspoken about the occupation of North Cyprus by the Turkish. It's not sure how big the quarrel will get, but it's for sure that relations between Turkey and Greece will always rumble on.

When I hear the grumbling of jets far away, I rather think of a juicy thunderstorm with lots of rain. The heat wave is gone (a new one is approaching though), the days keep on being warm. The only effect of the strong winds that sometimes blow is making the danger of wild fires greater. The fires at Polychnitos and Agia Paraskevi were extinguished. The Persians are gone. That's all the news there is this week...

Copyright © Smitaki 2007

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