Greek-Turk feud

(May 24, 2001 06:12 p.m. EDT - They aren't listed in the World Almanac, but there are a dozen countries whose people hate the people from a neighboring country because of some centuries-old event in their mutual history.

On Easter, I did a television essay called "The Faces of Christ" in which I made the mistake of saying that Turkish artists in Byzantium had done mosaic images of Christ. Some full-time Greeks in America were furious. They sent me 600 e-mails, countless letters and kept my phone busy accusing me of blasphemy.

I was excoriated by a Greek newspaper whose editor wrote and called a dozen times demanding an apology. The letter writers all pointed out that there were no Turks in Byzantium when those mosaics were made and if there had been, Turks would not have portrayed Christ because they were Muslims.

There was no question I had made a dumb mistake, although one that none but a few hundred Greeks absorbed in their own history, out of a "60 Minutes" audience of 10 million, would have noted. Nonetheless, the angry, orchestrated demand for a retraction continued. I say "orchestrated" because the wording in the letters was identical. Many referred to the name of the segment as "The Different Faces of Christ." It was not called that, and it would have been unlikely that everyone writing had made the same mistake. It was made by the person who wrote the form letter they all used.

They sent letters to my boss, his boss and the boss of both of them, CBS president Leslie Moonves in Los Angeles. That letter included a long diatribe on what happened to Byzantium when the Turks invaded it around 1400 AD.

Moonves is a successful television programmer, but I do not think that the man who brought us "Survivor" would spend a lot of time poring over letters about Greek history sent by someone angry at one of his employees.

While I was sorry and embarrassed to have made the mistake, I was more annoyed than abashed by the Greek-American reaction to it. We'd all be better off without these old feuds that have no bearing on today's world. However, nothing will change. The Jews and the Palestinians are not about to make peace. Common sense is not going to overrule emotion in Northern Ireland. India and Pakistan won't be merging. Castro will never get a dinner invitation to The White House. The Greeks and the Turks will never be best friends.

Neither can I understand why the people of any nation who choose to leave it to live in the United States do not choose to be thoroughly American.

A wise friend came into my office when I was reading letters from angry Greeks. I showed him a few and, without a moment's hesitation, he said, "What those people missed was going to a New York City school," he said. "I was Jewish, but by the time I was in the sixth grade I wasn't differentiating between my black, Hispanic, Jewish or Irish Catholic classmates. I liked some of them and didn't like others but not because they were black, Hispanic, Jewish or Catholic."

I'm proud of my Irish heritage, but I'm not Irish. I'm not even Irish-American. I am American, period. If Greeks wish to continue hating the Turks for eternity, I wish they'd do it in Greece.

The Greeks of the past made some of the greatest contributions to the culture and civilization of our world. It is regaining this stature to which present day Greeks should aspire. 600 angry e-mails to Andy Rooney isn't going to do it.

Copyright 2001 Nando Media
Copyright 2001 Tribune Media Services
Tribune Media Services