Letter to The New York Times, August 25, 1996

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036-3959

To the Editor:

David Bonner's August 4th article, "Greek Lawyer Pleased To Defend Serb Leader", conjuring up Greek complicity in Serb war atrocities where only sympathy based on historical and cultural ties exists, was misleading, myopic, and decidedly biased.

Taking the views of one man--Alexandros Lykourezos, a Greek lawyer who has decided to defend Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic who has been indicted on war crimes charges--and implying that all Greeks share the same opinion is as patently misleading as divining white America's views on race issues based on an interview with David Duke (or Spike Lee for that matter).

Moreover, it is wholly misleading to single out the minor participation of a few dozen Greek mercenaries in the Yugoslav conflict and somehow give the impression of Greek participation in ethnic cleansing by Bosnian Serbs. Many more individuals from countries such as Holland, Russia, Britain, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and the United States have taken part in the civil war--should we then fix responsibility on those nations for the ethnic cleansing campaigns of the Croats and Bosnian Muslims?

Moreover, Mr. Bonner's representation that the Greek press selectively reported events in Yugoslavia is not only inaccurate but stands on moral quicksand. According to UN officials and military commanders as well as journalists from around the world who have witnessed the conflict firsthand, the American press has itself been highly selective in its own reporting of atrocities to the point of censorship and distortion.

In contradiction to the anti-Hellenic posture of Mr. Bonner's article, Greece's good relations with Serbia has resulted in her playing an invaluable and constructive intermediary role in helping to contain the Yugoslavian conflict. In the grim days of 1993 when there was no hope for any negotiations between the combatants, Athens brought the warring parties together and got them to agree to a cease-fire. More recently, Athens again kept the Dayton Accord alive by getting the leaders of Croatia and Yugoslavia to begin the process of recognizing each other.

Possibly even more offensive than Bonner's disingenuous implication of Greek complicity in Serb war crimes is his dismissal of what was arguably the most traumatic occupation any European peoples have had to undergo since the invasions of Genghis Kahn. Akin to minimalizing the Holocaust for Jews; Greeks, Serbs and other Christian subjects did far more than simply "chaff under Ottoman rule." The brutality and savagery of the Turks against their Orthodox Christian subjects was so nightmarish that it still influences the geopolitics of the region hundreds of years later. Particularly during the waning years of their empire, the massacre, mass rape and selling off into slavery of thousands of an island or province by the Ottomans was an all too frequent occurrence. The Christian giaours (or infidel slaves) had to pay a "head tax" (signifying what they would lose if they did not remunerate their Ottoman overlords), and a Jannisary tax, having their firstborn males wrested away from their families to be converted to Islam, brainwashed and trained as soldiers used to kill, for the most part, other Christians. Hiding one's children (or money) from the sultan's agents meant an instant death sentence. Being a Greek, Serb or other Orthodox Christian meant living in constant and daily fear of murder, rape, torture, loss of children, slavery, and genocide.

The highly accomplished Byzantine Christian civilization, one that helped jump-start Europe's Renaissance, was all but annihilated by the invading Turks, setting back the entire region to a savage 500-year dark ages under Turkish Muslim rule from which it has yet to recover.

The ill-feelings Hellenes and other Orthodox peoples feel towards Turks is fueled by continuing Turkish atrocities and human rights violations. Greeks have been persecuted by Turkish authorities in Istanbul, they have been murdered by Turks in Cyprus, they have been threatened by war if they refuse to cede islands in the Aegean, and they have been bullied into renouncing their legal right over territorial waters. And all of this while Turkey commits rampant human rights atrocities against its own Kurdish population, blocks US aid to Armenia authorized by Congress, and engages in commercial activities with Iran in direct violation of US interests, policy, and law. A reproachful finger should indeed be pointed towards the Balkan bogeyman who is largely responsible for the region's legacy of violence and instability, but you have unfortunately once again pointed it in the wrong direction.

Very truly yours

Professor Nikos Zahariadis*

Associate Media Director

cc: Raymond Bonner

*Dept. of Political Science State University of New York at New Paltz

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