Monday, 17 April 2017

April 14 – A mad neighbour

(Turkey seen from Eftalou)

Spring is in the air and everywhere they mop, sweep, paint, mow, prune and brush: Lesvos slowly enters a new season full of surprises. Once again a new ferry connection between Petra and Turkey has been announced (at the moment there is only one, between Mytilini and Turkey). This has happened so often that everybody just thinks: “ I’ll believe it when I see it”. Moreover the much wanted ferry is not coming at a fortuitous moment: German and Dutch people are not particularly welcome on the other side of the Aegean. The Turkish ‘Sultan’ is looking for troubles with the island, as proven by daily violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets, with the biggest provocation being a Turkish helicopter flying above Mytilini for some minutes.

As far as I know the Greeks – if they do not have any connection with the Gülen-movement – can shop what they want in Turkey without being afraid. I’ve not heard of any Greek having an account at the wrong bank in Turkey and now cannot return home (like it happened to tens of Dutch/Turkish and German/Turkish people who are not allowed to go back to Holland or Germany anymore). Not all Turks seem to be afraid of the tensions created by the Sultan because they still come to visit Lesvos. Although I wonder which people they are, who still get issued a visa allowing them to travel abroad.

The Sultan would love to occupy this beautiful island (and others lying close to Turkey’s coast). Millions of years ago Lesvos was attached to the country that flies the red flag with a shrinking moon and a star. The remains of dinosaurs and mammoth-like elephants prove that Lesvos once belonged to a mainland. Much later mighty Ottomans ruled the island for a few centuries. That is right. But they ruled from an enormous empire that stretched as far as the Arabian countries up to Israel/Palestine. Those countries the Sultan has not claimed yet, has he? And has Mister Sultan forgotten his history? Before the Ottoman empire, plenty of Turkish regions were inhabited by Hellenic people (that is why there are so many Greek temples in Turkey). But we already knew that the Sultan is not good in history.

Just like Bashar Al-Assad is ruling his beautiful country with I-do-not-know-what-kind-of craziness, the Sultan also seems to be leading his country towards a steep ravine. More and more tourists no longer feel comfortable in Turkey, thousands of people, not to the Sultan’s taste, have been arrested, bank accounts are frozen and the economy wavers. Maybe the Sultan no longer knows how to get Syrian people to make the dangerous crossing on leaking dinghy's towards Europe, if he continues like this there may soon be another refugee fleet of creaky boats coming to the island this time with Turkish people.

Of course there always have been tensions between Greece and Turkey. This is nothing new. For example it has not always been possible for tourists to make the crossing from the Greek islands to Turkey. The atmosphere depends on the rulers and for sure the Sultan is now steering towards a pretty dangerous horizon. It wouldn’t take much to happen and the ferry line between Petra and Turkey can be closed again.

It was not that bad living under Ottoman rule. Due to its great nautical and mercantile traditions Lesvos earned lots of privileges and became one of the wealthier areas in the Levant, doing business in a great part of the world, trading in olive oil, soap, wine and ships. When the Greek flag again was raised on the island, the wealth melted like ice in the sun and lots of factories and impressive houses now remain only as silent witnesses of this golden century of Lesvos.

A few years ago Lesvos became one big geopark (Unesco), but that has not brought masses of tourists, as it has to the Nature Parks of the United States, and so ‘new times’ of great economy – (partly because of the Greek crisis) has not come. Additionally there are people that think that refugees are still hiding all over the island behind the great tapestry of flowers the red poppies, the pink tamarisks, the many coloured anemones, the blankets of orchids. Yet, when you climb up green Olympus and cast your eye along the capricious coasts of the Gulfs of Yera and Kalloni, when you become enchanted in the mountains above Plomari or clean your spirit on the deserted beaches around Sigri, you will not meet a single soul (meaning also no refugees).

Were I ever to become Sultan, I would immediately take Lesvos and make it a private island. All ingredients for a paradise are here: mysterious caves, gurgling waterfalls, steep mountains with jungle-like vegetation, all the fruit you could wish for and everything surrounded by the wonderful blue Aegean sea. The Turkish mainland boarding the Aegean is growing, so with a bit of time, the Sultan will not even have to move one finger before Lesvos will be touching Turkish soil. Although, that will take lots of patience because the land is growing at only about 1 mm a year. That the country is shifting is proven by all the earthquakes felt in the Lesvorian region, whose epicenters are mostly to be found in Turkey.

Long before that will occur, the island is entering a new season. Spring has been late, yet came pretty hastily when she decided to come, causing an explosion of flowers. The island is now at her prettiest, even though there are regions which are clearly too dry for this time of the year and are not so generous with flowers as other years.

But Lesvos is rich with water sources and will not be quickly defeated by the warming up of the earth. Just as the inhabitants keep on combatting the crisis. After all bad things that have happened the island has now been given a present, and this from the Sultan. Tourists who do not want to go to Turkey may venture out and to look for new holiday destinations under the same sun, and of course the new ferry line from the most touristic region of Lesvos to the country of the Sultan, where a Greek temple and the twin sister of Molyvos, Assos, are waiting. Or could this new ferry line bring hundreds of Turkish tourists to the island? Let's hope that this will then not turn out to be a Trojan horse.

(Last week came also the announcement of a new ferry line, a fast one, between Mytilini and Dikili)

(with thanks to Mary Staples)

© Smitaki 2017