After a recent visit to Athens, it seemed strange to me that the Greeks and Turks don't get along better than they do. They share so much history -- both were a part of the Greco-Roman Empire -- so much culture, music and food, but in the 20th century became bitter enemies. The Greeks could not accept that Turkey was awarded the Aegean coast; the countries fought bitterly over Cyprus, and Greece harbored Kurdish independence movement terrorists in hopes of weakening Turkey and maybe even hoping that it would fragment so that Greece could pick up the pieces. I'm told that Greeks and Turks, when they meet outside their countries, become great friends, but inside their countries, where politics is concerned, they stare at each other warily.
We in the West have glorified and romanticized Greece -- see Edith Hamilton's classic, The Greek Way -- and pretty much ignored Turkey because it was Muslim and therefore "the other."
When I asked, Why are there so few Christians in Turkey?, on this blog, I didn't realize what a complicated question I was asking. One reason there are so few Christians in Turkey, aside from those I mentioned in the earlier post, is that Christianity was associated almost completely with the Greek Orthodox Church, and so if you were Christian, you probably spoke Greek rather than Turkish and were considered loyal to Greece or a disloyal Turk. Religious services were held in the Greek language, not Turkish language. Back in the 20s in the midst of nationalist fervor on the part of both countries, Christian Greek Orthodox Turks were forced to move to Greece and Muslim Greeks were forced to move to Turkey. That population exchange of approximately two million people was terribly unfair and painful for individuals and families, of course, but author Stephen Kinzer says it might have been the best alternative to war, constant insecurity and suspicion of the citizenry on the part of both countries.
Now Greeks and Turks are trying to mend fences politically and become friends again. See Greek Cafe in Heart of Turkey Signals a Thaw in Relations. See also background articles on Pope Benedict's 2006 visit to Turkey.
- Climbing the Acropolis in Athens, Visiting the Foundation of Western Civilization and Democracy »-- It's interesting that Istanbul was founded by the ancient Greeks. In 657 B.C., after the peak of Athenian influence, and once Greece was already a part of the Roman state (but before it became an empire) a colonist named Byzas from Megaria, sailed up the Bosphorus River and founded what is now Istanbul, or what became known then as Byzantium, the Eastern Roman Empire, which did not fall until 1453 to the Ottoman Turks. So, early Greek and Turkish history had many of the same influences.