April 8, 2006


Greek or Turk?: Brian Clark’s exploration of a conflicted history raises profound questions of politics and national identity: a review of Twice A Stranger: Greece, Turkey and the Minorities They Expelled, by Brian Clark (Theodore Dalrymple, 4 April 2006, City Journal)

The Ottoman Empire’s long and tortuous decline, caused by intellectual and technical stagnation relative to European dynamism, resulted in the slow attrition of its European territories. In order to arrest the empire’s obvious decline, the Ottoman Turks could adopt one of three strategies: pan-Islamism (the Sultan, after all, was Caliph as well), Turanianism (pan-Turkism), or what was in effect Anatolian Turkish nationalism. The tide of the times seemed to suggest that the third strategy was the solution, since the Young Turks, above all, believed that it had been the force of ethnically-exclusive nationalism that had allowed the Serbs, the Bulgarians, the Rumanians, the Greeks (and even, eventually, the Albanians, who were predominantly fellow-Muslims) to break away from the empire and form supposedly modern states of their own between 1821 and 1912. Moreover, the era’s great European powers appeared, no doubt deceptively, to owe their greatness to national homogeneity. It was time for Turkey to follow suit.

Yet no part of Turkey was ethnically or culturally uniform. It is true that after the Ottoman Empire lost its European provinces, Turks became a majority in the remainder for the first time in centuries. Until well past 1850, the majority of Ottomans were not Muslims, let alone Turks. A kind of ramshackle tolerance held sway—based on custom and Islamic law regarding people of the Book rather than on Enlightenment first principles—in which minorities such as the Greeks of Asia Minor and the Armenians bought exemption from military service with higher taxes but could sometimes flourish economically, making them the empire’s richest inhabitants.

Turkish nationalism swept away this semi-tolerant multiculturalism as an anachronism. In the process, minorities had to assimilate—become Turkified—or face expulsion or, in the case of the Armenians, death. [...]

In the splendid and moving Twice A Stranger: Greece, Turkey and the Minorities They Expelled by Brian Clark—a journalist whose background in Northern Ireland allows him to understand, in his flesh and bone as it were, the deep complexities and ironies of communal antagonisms—we hear about the human costs of the population exchange agreed to by the nationalist leaders of Greece (Venizelos) and Turkey (Kemal Pasha, known as Ataturk). It is a well-written, skillful, and subtle blend of high politics and personal testimony from the victims of that policy. The author’s desire to record that testimony before no one can record it—for of course, the population-exchange survivors must soon die, as all survivors of the First World War have now died—is a noble one, above praise. He has performed a real service to the world.

In deciding who was a Greek and who was a Turk, the criterion used was religious: a Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christian who knew no Greek was thus a Greek, and expelled to Greece; while a Greek-speaking Muslim who knew no Turkish was Turkish, and expelled to Turkey. Even when those expelled spoke the language of their country, they seldom felt entirely at home in their allegedly “national” homeland. On the contrary, they felt a strong sense of nostalgia for the “enemy” country that they had left behind, where life had been far from a catalogue of misery and hatred; for, as Clark amply demonstrates, the Greek and Turkish nationalist assertion that Greek and Turk could only have antagonistic relations was simply not true. But it was a necessary tenet of nationalist historiography.

And yet, at the same time, there is no doubt that the horrible exchange of populations, that inflicted so much suffering, did lead to a certain international stability for a time. Good fences make good, if not necessarily amicable, neighbors; and only a few years after being at daggers drawn, Ataturk and Venizelos feted one another.

Redefining Sovereignty (Michael Lind, May 16, 1999 , Los Angeles Times)
Through the smoke of villages burned by Serbs in Kosovo and cities bombed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization across Yugoslavia, a conflict over the basic norms of world order can be discerned. The U.S. and its allies claim that the right of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo to a high degree of self-determination justifies foreign interference in Yugoslavia's domestic affairs. Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic insists this is an invasion of a sovereign state. Belgrade is backed by Russia and China, both fearful of a precedent being set for outside intervention in rebellious provinces like Chechnya and Tibet. The fight in the Balkans, then, is more than a war between nations; it is a war between the principles of self-determination and sovereignty. [...]

U.N. protectorates over countries ravaged by internal war are nothing new. But they have been more successful in restoring peace and stability to nation-states experiencing nonethnic civil wars, like Cambodia, than in reuniting territories divided along ethnic lines, like the Palestinian Mandate in the 1940s, Lebanon and Cyprus. In cases of ethnic warfare, peacekeeping missions have become more or less permanent, because communal violence would resume if they left. Indeed, the departure of U.N. personnel in 1994 permitted the genocidal slaughter of as many as a million people in Rwanda.

The alternative to a policy of creating costly international protectorates until permanent peace can be restored would be the formal partition of those entities along ethnic lines. This involves tremendous costs, such as forced population transfers. But the costs of never-ending low-level war may be so great that amputation would be the most humane form of surgery. The partition of a country may violate sovereignty but fulfill self-determination.

Which will it be: preserving existing borders in Yugoslavia at the price of an international protectorate, or carving out one or more new nation-states at the expense of existing borders? In the final analysis, the choice between protectorate and partition, between Yugoslav sovereignty and Kosovar self-determination, may be settled in the U.S. or in other major NATO powers, not on the battlefield.

Of the two options, partition is cheaper, from the perspective of Washington and its allies. It would be easier to equip the army of an independent Kosovo to defend itself than to station foreign troops there for years or even decades. What is more, as the Korean War and Gulf War showed, it is easier to rally international support to prevent a cross-border invasion of one sovereign state by another than to intervene in relations between a capital and a province.

The choice in the Balkans, then, is not between principle and amorality, but between two competing principles: self-determination and sovereignty. Putting sovereignty above self-determination leads to a protectorate over Kosovo; putting self-determination over sovereignty leads to a Kosovo independent of Serb-controlled Yugoslavia. Those who must live with the choice are in the Balkans; but it is a choice the NATO allies ultimately have the power to make.

The hope all along has been that the Sunni won't make it necessary, but it would hardly be surprising to see Iraq end up transferring its Sunni population southwards.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 8, 2006 6:14 AM

... the Albanians, who were predominantly fellow-Muslims ...

This is outrageous. Ya think they're fellow Muslims because their ancestors decided the better part of valor is to convert.

The Turks come into Albania and many Albanians become Muslims, then hundreds of years later, an historian writes a books and says well, Albanians are predominately Muslim anyway ...

Posted by: erp at April 8, 2006 9:20 AM

The responsibility of dominion transcends the fiction of sovereignity.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 8, 2006 1:45 PM

One case not mentioned here is East Timor, where Indonesia tried to swallow up another non-Muslim territory in the wake of the collapse of the remnants of the Portuguese empire, as they grabbed "West Irian" in the '60s. Once the tsunami caused truces expire, the pressures on Indonesia to separate will build again.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at April 8, 2006 3:50 PM

As Clark points out (and it is Bruce Clark not "Brian Clark") in expulsions out of Turkey the use of religion meant that tha those expelled were all ethnically Greek. People became Moslems but no Moslems became Orthodox Christians (an enforced death penalty offense even in the "tolerant" Ottoman empire.)

Posted by: Lind at April 9, 2006 7:35 AM