It was once typical to discuss such issues as Imbros and Tenedos, or the Aegean as a whole, when speaking of Turkey within the confines of our traditional ethnika themata. Today however, such conversations seem to be primarily fixated on issues concerning Orthodoxy and U.S. Foreign relations with Turkey. More specifically, the struggle for religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate, the reopening of the Halki School of Theology, and the re-examining of the “Turkish Model” as a means of spreading democracy throughout the Middle East. The problem with this, however, is that these are not true ethnic issues.
Perhaps to better understand this misappropriation of focus we should consider the issues regarding religious freedom for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Campaign to reopen Halki. We may acknowledge both as worthy causes in their own right; however, neither is an ethnic issue. They are issues concerning Orthodoxy, a Christian denomination, yet we incredulously present and prioritize them as ethnic issues. What is the benefit of turning a Christian issue into an ethnic one? Would it not be more affective to harmonize the entire Christian population of the United States into taking on such causes?
The Christian Right, for example, draws supporters from different denominations, such as evangelical Protestants, Catholics, and even Mormons. Yet, where are Orthodox Christians in this equation? Why have Orthodox avoided joining such mainstream Christian advocacy organizations? For those who may be quick to say, “This is because most Greeks are left leaning”, there does exist such a thing as the Christian Left. A massive stumbling block is that Orthodoxy is often wrongly perceived as an ethnic religion when it is not. As such, transforming matters of Christendom into ethnic issues in essence ensures them to obscurity and sets them up for lack of effectuation.
This is also the case with lobbying efforts against the so-called “Turkish Model”. How persuasive can our reasoning be, when it can easily be ignored as an ethnic bias on behalf of one disgruntled ethnic community towards perceived geopolitical realities? Wouldn’t it be more effective to take such a case and introduce it to mainstream non-ethnic lobbies?
It is with this train of thought that I suggest re-examining just what our ethnic issues are when it relates to the Republic of Turkey. Therefore, I’ve put together what I believe are three truly ethnic Greek issues as examples of what the real focus of our lobbying efforts should be as an ethnic community.
Recognition of the Ottoman Greek Genocide
Perhaps the most important and yet least spoken about issue, the Ottoman Greek Genocide, has for generations been wrongly portrayed as merely a “Pontian Genocide”. This misconception is historically inaccurate and misleading. The victims of this horrible event were not just Pontians, but all Ottoman Greeks, which includes Thracian and all Asia Minor Greeks. Since many Greek-Americans can trace their ancestry to regions affected by this Genocide, it is only right that this issue stand at the forefront of Greek-American lobbying efforts.
Linguistic Rights for Greek-Speaking Inhabitants
Unbeknownst to most Greek-Americans is the fact that many Turks can trace their ancestry to ethnic Greek converts to Islam. This forgotten ethnic Greek minority, which has been abandoned by Orthodox Christian Greeks because of the fact that they are Muslims, have been the target of discrimination inside Turkish society for their Greek origins. These Turks, who descend primarily from Cretans, Pontians, and Vallahades have gradually adopted the Turkish language. I have found, in fact, many that privately admit their Greek origins and are interested in learning their ancestral dialects, but have no voice inside a society which is hostile towards ethnic minorities. It should certainly be the responsibility of our community to advocate on behalf of these ethnically Greeks and help to foster their ethnic Greek identity.
Fighting Anti-Greek bias in Turkish Society
For as long as the Republic of Turkey has existed there has been a cultural norm that says it is ok to be anti-Greek. A problem, which persists even today, with the most recent outrage coming from the negative portrayal of Greeks in the Turkish TV show “Ustura Kemal”. As Greek-Americans, it should be our duty to fight anti-Greek racism, wherever it exists.
My friends, these are the real ethnic Greek issues we should be advocating when it comes to Turkey. It is time for issues such as the Patriarchate and U.S. – Turkish relations to be left to Christian and non-ethnic lobbies. Instead, Greek-Americans, as an ethnic community, should be focused on issues that directly related to Hellenism.
This article is part of a series of op-eds concerning the Greek American Community and the idea of creating our own unique National Issues, separate from the traditional ones held by Greece, Cyprus, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The purpose of these op-eds is to develop a new perspective on the important issues facing Hellenism and the Greek American Community. Previous Article -- Next Article