Thursday, 27 January 2011

Presidential mistakes

Most people know who the premier of Greece is: Yorgos Papandreou. But lots of people forget that Greece also has a president - Karolos Papoulias. Unlike Papandreou he does not appear that often in the news and I must admit I would not recognize him if I bumped into him in the street. And yet he is the first citizen of Greece. Last week the president of Armenia was on an official visit to Athens and naturally he had a meeting with the Greek president. One of the things Papoulias said to him was: ‘We (meaning Greeks and Armenians) were slaughtered by the same barbarians.’

This was of course a totally bad diplomatic move. By ‘barbarians’ he meant neighbouring Turkey, with whom Greece already has a fragile relationship and so there were angry reactions and threats to call a halt to the traffic of Turkish tourist boats visiting the Greek islands of the Aegean.

Nowadays more and more Turks visit the Aegean islands, amongst others Lesvos, to enjoy the peace and quiet, the sun and sea. They are very friendly people who spend quite a bit of money here and a boycott would I am sure be a sad loss of income.

This incident might also damage current plans to organize boat excursions between north Lesvos and Turkey. Trips would depart from Petra harbour and go over the strait to Assos the old ‘twin’ city of Molyvos, which faces our villages of Argenos and Sykaminia.

In summer season there’s are regular boats from Mytilini to Dikili or Ayvalik - cute little towns where you can go shopping. Because Lesvos has no market, the one in Ayvalik is especially popular and even though you are not supposed to bring back fresh produce the boats are always full of Lesviots who have found bargains in Turkey.

A trip to Assos means more than getting a taste of Turkish atmosphere or kebabs. It’s a beautiful little town rather like Molyvos and has plenty of archaeological sites including a Doric temple dedicated to Athena (from 530 BC). The town was founded long before that by the Aeolian people from Mythimna. For a short time it was goverened by a student of Plato - Hermias of Atarneus. He encouraged philosophers to visit Assos, including Aristotle who even married Hermias’ daughter. The Persians conquered the region, only to be chased out by Alexander the Great. For a short time the kings of Pergamum reigned until the Romans came. After the fall of the Roman Empire the region was ruled from Byzantium (Constantinople/Istanbul), until the Ottomans arrived and later the state of Turkey was created.

At the end of the nineteenth century archaeologists found the old temple of Athena and many other treasures which ended up in the Louvre in Paris. As well as the temple there is also a polygonal wall, graves, and an open air theatre.

So as well as a trip to Turkey an excursion to Assos would attract people interested in ancient Greek culture - something that on Lesvos has either disappeared or is buried under the ground.

Maybe this sea traffic would also encourage the Lesviot municipality to restore the old Turkish baths in Molyvos. Then the Turks who come here can see some of their own old culture. The plans for their restoration have been on the table for years, and there was money for it, but up to now these once beautiful baths are just a Turkish ruin.

Fortunately, lots of Turkish travel agents are against the proposed boycott, so let’s hope this diplomatic spat will be quickly forgotten and that next summer will see plenty of Turkish tourists visiting Lesvos again. With a little bit of luck they might even find a newly restored Turkish bath house, and, in the other direction, you might extend your trip to the north of the island with a visit to the remains of Greek culture in Turkey.

(with thanks to Tony Barrell)

@ Smitaki 2011


  1. Do you know what the word "genocide" mean?
    It's not only the poor Jews exterminated by Hitler...there so many more genocides by the Turks, which is a sacrilege to ignore for the sake of a sailing trip to/from Asia Minor coasts.

  2. Hi Eftaliotis. Chronia pola! I already missed your commends. I do know what happened with jews, Armenians, Greeks, gypsies and a lot more people in those dark times. But we have to work at the future without forgetting the past.

  3. Kali chronia to you,too!
    I agree with you but we have to call the spade a spade and the knife a knife...and barbarians barbarians. History is our witness and if you think modern Turks will be insulted by the word referring to that dark era, then that makes them still barbarians for not having acknowledged and apologized for such barbarian acts...just like modern Germans have.
    Don't you share this view?

  4. ...and the Breaking News is that Holland freezes contacts with Iran after the hanging of Iranian-Dutch Sahra Bahrami.
    Well, how on earth are we moving peacefully into the future?...and it was only one person (half Dutch, in fact), not thousands, just a homocide, not a genocide. Hope now you also feel a bit the way Greeks( Cypriots incl.), Armenians,etc do.

  5. Eftaliotis proves, sadly, that the one-eyed nationalist is alive and well in Greece as well as Turkey. There's really good level-headed book on subject of Turkish nationalism and the legacy of Ottoman and Attaturk: Rebel Land by Christopher de Ballaigue.

  6. Anonymous...right!
    Patriotism is one thing.Nationalism quite another!
    Look them up!

  7. Beware of both: according to the great eighteenth century English thinker Samuel Johnson (look him up) 'patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel'. It certainly hasn't changed since 1775.

  8. If I had to choose between being a patriot or a nazi(ionale), i'd surely go for the former.