This morsel of news was simply irresistible. But it happened. Yes, Turkey is bent on helping its neighbor. Its favorite child. That’s what the newspapers said. And something I never thought I would see in my lifetime was the flags of both nations, raised in partnership, and displayed at the gates of Parliament. Blue and Red.
How coincidental, I thought.
For 2 nights ago, after my trip to Syntagma, to see the Anarchists rally, and as I was getting ready to leave, a veteran stopped by Costa and began to talk to me about the crisis, while drinking his coffee and smoking his cigarettes. And what he told me was something I hadn’t thought about, and therefore I found it interesting. But I now realize he was not only an interesting old man with a long memory, but his words were a bit omen-like, filled deep suggestions and possibilities.
But first I must tell you about my memory and association of all things Turkish, to put it in the proper context. It’s only fair. One must always attempt to be balanced.
I had heard about the appeal Turkey had for Greece when I was still a child. Indeed, I had read about this interest of theirs, that is today worn on the pleats of the Guards of The Tomb of The Unknown Soldier, the ones who pay perpetual vigil to this soldier, on this side of the gates of Parliament. 400 pleats. That’s what those thick woolen skirts contain, worn on soldiers whose bodies never appear to sweat, while they stand motionless and look ahead—into eternity, I think.
Why 400 Pleats?
I asked the other soldier, the one who guards the guards, the significance of this number. And he told me each pleat represents one year of the Ottoman rule over Greece, which finally broke in 1821 (note Elgin had by then loaded his booty) when the people organized in the South—where I come from—and the revolution against oppression began. So that’s the story about the pleats, their significance and weight.
And by the time I was born the memory of this piece of History was still fresh—alive and beating—in the minds of latter generations. I say this because I had an opportunity to witness it first-hand.
My mother was a highly (but subtle) dramatic woman who loved going to the Greek movie theater on Sunday afternoons, towing me along, a sister, and my mother’s best friend, and her daughter (my best friend) to the Avon on west Fullerton Avenue in Chicago. It was a journey that required several different changes of buses and trains and took over 2 hours to get there. Once there we sat for hours and watched Greece exported to the States via celluloid. We began our trip early in the morning and returned late at night, around 10 PM, and when I was in class on Monday morning, I was often groggy from the trip of the day before.
But during the return journey, my mother who had a photographic memory, would entertain us. She favored comedy instead of tragedy, and therefore chose to replay those movies in detail, and perfectly scripted. And so while we waited for Illinois Central Railway to usher us to South Shore, and huddled to protect ourselves from the brutal weather of Chicago, my mother acted as court jester, and kept us laughing, thereby numbing the cold.
My Mother’s Education…
Was elementary. She never reached high school. But she loved books and magazines, and fed her thirst for knowledge through them. She was also a bit sensitive. And although she concealed her sensitivity well, there were times when it would slip out and into the open.
It was that kind of day that day.
The day when a Turkish man came to eat at our restaurant. I was there, sitting in the booth at the back of the restaurant, dawdling with my notebooks, when I saw my mother looking worried and moving toward the back rooms, which were private. Alarmed by what I saw, I followed her and asked her what had happened. She had become frightened, she told me. By the man.
“He was a Turk,” she said.
And she looked at me firmly but still frightened and said: “If only you knew what they had done.” And that was the end of our conversation. But her reaction puzzled me for years. I also remember how her body had trembled.
Eventually I studied the history of The Ottoman Occupation of Greece, and then understood why my mother had been so frightened.
You see, The Greeks and The Africans have a lot in common. Both were people forced into submission and slavery, their cultures threatened and invaded. The Greeks moved with stealth during the Ottoman Occupation—an indifferent Imperialistic body—to preserve their history, language, and their ideals.
And so it seems—to me, at least—a bit peculiar to see the Turkish flag flying over Athens today. But that is not my point. My point is to share what the veteran had shared with me the night of the demonstrations.
First, he said: “America has abandoned Greece. America has forgotten what Greece did during the war, how Greece held back the Nazis from advancing, the role Greece played in that war of oppression.”
But he was not hostile toward America. He simply felt an acute injustice. Furthermore, he showed empathy for America. “America,” he said, “Has fought a fierce struggle with Euro. Now things are starting to level, and this is good for America.”
But it was what he said last that left the greatest impression on me.
“Look,” he said. “We have other problems here.” (Besides the economy.) “Can’t you see?” he said. “Turkey, sitting like a cat, ready to pounce on us?”