AHMP Letter to the New York Times, October 9, 1995

To the Editor of The New York Times:

The title of your 10/1/95 travel section, "Turkish Marvels, Ancient and Not", represents in a nutshell the revisionist outrage the Turkish Government has spent millions trying to perpetrate. Whether through their use of costly public relations firms such as Hill & Knowlton or their purchasing of highly effective mouthpieces in academia, such as the new Turkish chair in Harvard,[1] Turkey seems to be accomplishing its dual objectives of de-Hellenizing the lands its people conquered five centuries ago, and somehow retroactively "Turkifying" the civilizations that existed centuries before the Turkic onslaught during the 15th and 14th centuries.

Changing its past approach from a defensive posture, encompassing a strategy of denial of possibly the most oppressive and ruthless overlordship any European peoples have had to endure,[2] to an offensive posture Turkey is now involved in a well-orchestrated campaign to further rewrite history to its advantage. The present-day heirs of "The Great Destroyer" are not only attempting to deny the Ottomans' and post-Ottoman Turks' predominantly destructive, and culturally and politically retarding, hegemony over its Orthodox Christian, Arab and Persian subjects, but are arguing that the Turks have actually preserved and inherited the three-thousand-year Hellenic heritage of Asia Minor.

Nevertheless, despite the Turkish Government's multi-million-dollar revisionist campaign heralding the Ottomans and modern-day Turks as the great preservers of Western and Byzantine civilization Turkey's genuine place in European History is that of an alien and savage conqueror, whose misunderstanding of Islam's teachings froze tens of millions of European Christians in a cultural and socioeconomic black hole; just as the rest of Europe was beginning to emerge out of one and into a glorious renaissance (one that was, ironically, founded upon a rediscovery of Greek thought).

The notion of a multi-cultural, pre-Ottoman Asia Minor promoted by Turks to discount the exclusivity and permanence of the mostly Hellenic civilizations that preceded them is as transparent as it is misleading. Despite periodic and usually temporary incursions into the area by an assortment of conquerors, including Romans, Venetians, Ottomans, Celts etc., by far the single most defining cultural and ethnic presence in western and northern Asia Minor for the past two thousand years has been that of the Hellenes. Up until 1922, when this presence was wiped out permanently as a result of a horrific ethnic-cleansing campaign effected by the Turks after a failed Greek military offensive, Asia Minor had been a focal point of Greek civilization (well exemplified by your writer, Corinne Hoexter's, excellent article on the Hellenistic city of Pergamon).

This reality, too damaging for even educated Turks to admit, explains why some of the most treasured ancient and Byzantine Greek ruins are still found captive in modern-day Turkey. It also presents a far more convincing explanation as to why Turkey has been shrugging its shoulders at, if not actively encouraging, the wholesale destruction of ancient Greek and Byzantine treasures within its borders. Conscious of its status as recent conqueror, Turkey has been pursuing the "Turkification" of Asia Minor, a cultural pogrom which entails the erasing of Asia Minor's pre-Turkic memory.

Most nonsensical is the Turkish Government's efforts to conjure up a nexus between the Turks, a non-Indo-European tribe of Central Asiatic invaders, with the civilizations they not only post-dated by centuries, but whose remnants they are still in the process of destroying. The title for your travel article ("Turkish Marvels" as opposed to the more appropriate "Turkey's Marvels") unwittingly aids and abets the Turks' ruthless and, essentially, racist attempts at consummating the complete cultural as well as physical annihilation of the Greek presence; wiping out not just the Hellenes' physical presence in Asia Minor, Cyprus, and Eastern Thrace, but their culture and history as well. This is a heritage which is priceless not only to Greeks but to Western civilization as well, and to watch it either become physically destroyed or rewritten out of existence by pseudo-academic revisionists is not just a loss to the Greeks but an even greater loss to the West.

Not only do the pre-classical Greek, classical Greek, Hellenistic, Greco-Roman and Greek Byzantine archeological marvels which Asia Minor is saturated with have absolutely nothing to do with Turks and Turkish culture, but the Turks' occupation of this, what had been for millennia a predominantly Hellenic land certainly culturally and linguistically when not politically has been the greatest single cause of the destruction of Greek cultural property. The Parthenon's near destruction on the Greek mainland (the Turks used it as a military stronghold and its marble for cannonballs) served as a precedent to an even greater destruction of cultural property at the hands of the Turks in Asia Minor.

In Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus v. Goldberg and Feldman Fine Arts, Inc., a landmark 1990 decision affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, a United States Federal District Court ordered the return to the Church of Cyprus of four priceless sixth century Byzantine mosaics pillaged from a church in Turkish-occupied Cyprus and sold illicitly to American art dealers by a Turkish national. The Court stated in its decision:

Since the Turkish invasion in 1974, the Republic of Cyprus has learned of the theft or destruction of much cultural property in Cyprus. Many churches, museums, and private collections have been looted, and other property has suffered destruction or loss . . . At some point in the latter 1970s, during the Turkish military occupation of northern Cyprus, the mosaics were removed from their hallowed sanctuary . . . The mosaics are unique. The paramount significance of their existence is as part of the religious, artistic and cultural heritage of the Church and the government of Cyprus. Therefore the Court orders that possession of the mosaics is awarded to the plaintiff, the Autocephalous Greek-Orthodox Church of Cyprus.

The European Commission for Human Rights, Asme-Humanitas, UNESCO, Europa Nostra, The International Council of Museums, and countless other organizations have protested the widespread and "highly organized" looting and destruction of cultural property effected by Cyprus' Turkish occupiers. The Sunday Times reported soon after the invasion that "Scotland Yard and Customs Officials are uncovering a highly organized smuggling network behind the trail of antiquities looted in Cyprus", April 4, 1976.

Yet the financial rewards gained by the pillagers can only partly explain the "Cyprocaust". In fact, the purposeful destruction of this cultural property contradicts any such pecuniary motives. As in Istanbul, the goal is to erase the land's Greek past: "[n]ow that Northern Cyprus has declared itself a separate state, federated with Turkey ... the process of obliterating everything Greek has been carried out methodically." The Times, May 5, 1976.

The ultimate irony lies in Turkey's recent campaign to "repatriate" Greek antiquities pillaged from within Turkey's political borders an endeavor that often involves lawsuits against U.S. museums. Although the absurdity of Turks claiming Greek cultural property needs no elaboration, its reconciliation with Turkey's campaign of de-hellenization does.

Yet Turkey has discovered that the Greek treasures within its borders have become a main attraction to tourists. More importantly, Turkey is now trying to appropriate Greece's history, joining the ranks of an unlikely assortment of pretenders such as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the "Black Athena" afrocentrists in the United States. Turkey is using Asia Minor's Greco-Christian past a past which the invading Moslem Turks themselves forever displaced as evidence of a European heritage. Unfortunately, as with most Turkish demonstrations of westernization, they are isolated pageants orchestrated specifically for the eyes of the international community. Despite all the expensive grandstanding by Turkey about deeply-held western leanings, its wholesale disregard for the historical legacy of the European civilizations that invading Turks had displaced in Asia Minor betrays Turkey's lack of a meaningful allegiance to the West.

As Turkey has made itself keeper of the land that arguably holds the lion's share of Hellenic and early Christian archeology, Europeans should expect Turks to do their part in the preservation of the West's historical heritage by asking Turkey to put its money where its mouth is. This should certainly take the form of more effective enforcement. Yet another approach could involve a program whereby developers and others who report archeological finds and otherwise aid in the preservation of Europe's historical treasures are rewarded financially. With billions of dollars spent annually on a gargantuan military machine, Turkey can afford to cut back on some of the weapons it has poised to destroy the modern Greeks, in order to preserve the precious legacy left by the ancient ones.

Very truly yours,

Phillip Spyropoulos, Esq.

[1] Possibly the most dangerous example of the Turkish Government's promotion of its revisionist agenda was reported in the March 9, 1995 Harvard Gazette: "A new professorship in Modern Turkish studies will be established at Harvard, thanks to a recent gift from the Turkish government" the acting director of the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Edward Keenan, stated. "It is also important to remember, Keenan added, that Turkey's present-day leaders, such as Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, who visited Harvard in 1993, are 'the direct functional descendants of the rulers of the Ottoman Empire, a very diverse and sophisticated class.' These ruling elites, centered in Istanbul, were the inheritors of the culture and political structure of the Byzantine Empire. This background helps explain Turkey's political stability as well as its reputation as one of the most Western-oriented countries within the Muslim world, Keenan said."

[2] For example, Stanley Cohen, Professor of Criminology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem writes:

Here, we are more interested in the colective level, what is sometimes called 'social amnesia' - the mode of forgetting by which a whole society separates itself from its discreditable past. This might happen at an organized, official, and conscious level - the deliberate coverup, the rewriting of history - or through the type of cultural slippage that occurs when information disappears. Let me comment briefly on these two types of collective denial . . .

The nearest successful example in the modern era is the 80 years of official denial by successive Turkish governments of the 1915-17 genocide against the Armenians in which some 1.5 million people lost their lives. This denial has been sustained by deliberate propaganda, lying and coverups, forging documents, suppression of archives, and bribing scholars. The West, especially the United States, has colluded by not refering to the massacres in the United Nations, ignoring memorial ceremonies, and surrendering to Turkish pressure in NATO and other strategic arenas of cooperation.

"Law and Social Inquiry", Vol. 20, No. 1, Winter 1995, pp. 7-50 (quote from pp. 13-14), published by the American Bar Foundation, University of Chicago Press.

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