American Hellenic Media Project
P.O. Box 1150
New York, N.Y. 10028-0008

Please find below:

(1) Article by Carmen J. Lee, "Crusaders for Forgiveness" in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette;

(2) American Hellenic Media Project (AHMP) letter in response published 10/18/98;

(3) Carmen Lee's response; and

(4) Op-Ed submission by the Executive Director of AHMP, "Reconciliation Walk Headed in Wrong Direction". This submission was not published.

(For "fair use" and educational purposes only)




Sunday, October 04, 1998

Carmen J. Lee
Post-Gazette Staff Writer

"Let me tell why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. . . . Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors of the world. . . . Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand - shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."

— MATTHEW 5:13A, 14A AND 16, from a New Testament paraphrase called "The Message."

The verses lingered in the air as one by one we lit our slender white candles from the flame above the wider, deep-red one in the center of the room.

Cathy Nobles knows a thing or two about staging.

As field coordinator for the Reconciliation Walk, Nobles was preparing us for the task of apologizing to Muslims in Turkey. We had come from various western countries to repent for Christian atrocities during the Crusades from the 11th to 13th centuries.

But this was a spiritual journey, requiring inspiration as well as information. Throughout the two-day orientation in Istanbul, Nobles and her assistants tried to maintain the balance.

The commissioning service that Tuesday night was the last time the nearly 50 people in our group would meet together. The next day we scattered to different cities in Turkey, a country that is 99 percent Muslim.

The occasion was ripe for dramatic illustration. It seemed an appropriate touch to set the scene with candlelight and a reading from our theme text, Matthew 5.

During the previous two days, our group had sat within the salmon-colored walls of the Romance Hotel and listened to Nobles' crash course on Crusades history and Turkish culture.

Then she and others led us in informal worship services. The songs and prayers revealed that although our group included people from England, Ireland, Australia and America, we shared a common spiritual heritage.

That was part of the idea, to acknowledge our common Christian history, with its negative and positive repercussions.

The Reconciliation Walk was designed to bring together western Christians who believe that the brutalities against Jews, Muslims and eastern Orthodox Christians during the Crusades, are among our faith's bitter legacies.

Although our apologies cannot change the past, among the goals of the project are to acknowledge the wrongs of that period and to help heal wounds of bitterness and mistrust they created - hence the use of the word "reconciliation."

For two years before I joined the walk, others before me had been assigned to cities, towns and villages along the route of the Crusades, beginning in Europe. They shared a message of apology with the different religious groups for the killings and injustices inflicted on their ancestors 900 years ago.

I had heard about the Reconciliation Walk from a friend, Celeste Allen of Wilkinsburg, who had learned of it through her church. She was planning to participate and asked me to be part of a support group that would pray for her trip. One of her concerns was finding teammates who would join her. After thinking and praying, I decided to sign on.

By the time our team of two joined the walk for 10 days in May and June, nearly 800 people from more than 20 different countries had participated. That number swelled to more than 1,000 by the end of the summer.

The Reconciliation Walk staff expects at least 200 more participants between now and April 1999, when the walk covers Lebanon. It's too early to say how many people will join the last leg, which ends in Jerusalem on July 15, 1999, the 900th anniversary of the fall of the city to the Crusaders.

Volunteers are instructed to leave all tracts and extra Bibles at home.

In fact, Nobles told us not to expect that our act of repentance would be followed by an evangelistic program.

"Are you waiting for step two? Would you be sorry if the second step never happened?" she asked during one meeting. "Did you really come to ask repentance? If you didn't, why are you here?

"An apology is a free gift, given with no strings attached, free for the receiver to walk away from or to accept."

As an African-American Christian, I joined the walk to experience Western Christians repenting before other cultures. I was appalled by the accounts of slaughter and rape by Crusaders and wanted to participate in the reconciliation effort.

At the same time, I believed "my people" had been as much victims of so-called Christian countries as any other group. I was eager to see a grass-roots movement in which Christians admit mistakes - any mistakes - made by their forefathers rather than glorifying the past.

Over the next 1 1/2 weeks, I was excited and sometimes nervous about sharing the apology, but I was always touched by the gracious receptions we received.

I would discover that, despite cultural differences, sincere gestures of repentance can be warmly welcomed and become the foundation of new friendships. It was a lesson that would come sooner than I had expected.

Hours before the commissioning service, I was eating breakfast with Celeste and two other women from the group, Colleen Hatton and Gina Godfrey, both of Fort Worth, Texas. They had become friends while working for World Relief, an organization that helps refugees settle in the United States.

The four of us were chatting about something forgettable when Gina, turned to Celeste and me.

"Has anyone white ever asked you to forgive them for slavery?" she asked in her rich Southern drawl.

Celeste, the only other African-American in the group, and I said no. Then we waited for the next turn in this suddenly weighty conversation.

"How would you respond if someone did that?" Gina continued.

If you've ever felt like you were teetering on the brink of a moment that could be particularly touching or disappointing, you can imagine the emotions that began to churn within me.

Celeste probably said something coherent; I don't remember.

All I know is that not wanting to make assumptions about the next phase of our discussion, I launched into automatic pilot.

I babbled sterile lines about such a gesture being a nice first step but actions must follow and time will test the sincerity, and so on.

Gina listened quietly. Then she said very simply, her blue eyes filling slightly with tears, "Well, I would like to do that. I want to ask your forgiveness for slavery."

While the lump grew in my throat, she elaborated on how terrible she felt about what was done to black people throughout history. She said that as a Southerner, she felt a special remorse.

It was an experience both awkward and moving.

The skepticism in my earlier remarks floated through my mind, but when confronted with the real thing, the actual apology, such a response seemed too cold and distant.

"I forgive you," I said smiling, my eyes filling with unshed tears. The words sounded so small and simple, yet I was at a loss about what else to add.

Celeste nodded and echoed my comments. Perhaps we could have said more, but I think it was enough because it was the truth.

That night at the Romance Hotel, I thought about Gina's apology while I sat in the meeting room holding my candle. I also thought about the backgrounds of the others in the group.

Among us was a man from Belfast, Ireland, and a group from England, American Southerners and Northerners, blacks and whites.

The potential for tension existed, but we had come to offer reconciliation. We had the chance to demonstrate it as well.

Before we left Istanbul, Celeste and I were placed on a team with a couple in their 60s from Sidney, Australia, a family of six from suburban Philadelphia - the children were ages 4, 7, 8 and 14 - and a man from Palm Bay, Fla.

We were the most diverse team in the group. Our destination was Mersin, a city of about 1.5 million people in southern Turkey, on the Mediterranean.

Gina, Colleen, Colleen's sister Amie, and her mother, Ruth, were assigned to the same Mersin hotel, and so our team grew to include them, too.

Sitting in the meeting room, I considered the upcoming days.

Would our apology touch hearts as Gina's had touched mine? Would any of this make a difference?

Day melted into night as seven of us sat sipping soft drinks in a Mersin clothing shop, watching the owner carefully turn the pages of a blue folder.

Zulfu Aras' gray eyes flickered across the text of the apology. You could tell he was searching for the words to ask why.

Why had we come so far to repent for something that happened 900 years ago?

Eventually, he began asking questions in Turkish. Muhammet Hasan, one of several Turks who befriended various members of our group, translated.

Has anyone apologized to the American Indians for how they've been treated in the United States over the years?

History is filled with examples of man's inhumanity to man, so why did we feel the need to apologize for the Crusades now?

The questions came in slow, steady drops as Zulfu read and reread the apology.

Muhammet patiently smoked a cigarette while he waited for his friend to formulate each thought.

Both men appeared to be in their mid- to late 40s. Each had receding hairlines and were casually but neatly dressed.

The seven of us, all women, had hopped a bus from our hotel on the outskirts of downtown Mersin to the city's center to patronize Muhammet's shop. We arrived after he had closed, but ever the gracious guide, Muhammet offered to help us find whatever we wanted elsewhere.

His only request was that we stop in to see his friend who wanted to know more about this group of foreigners who traveled to Turkey to repent for the Crusades.

That evening, Gina had the most direct answer to Zulfu's questions. She explained that we had come to Turkey because we believed the brutal killings by Crusaders were wrong and did not reflect the teachings of "Isa," Jesus. The Crusades also gave an incorrect impression of Christ, which we were trying to remedy.

"Those things were done in the name of Isa," she said. "We are followers of Isa, and that's not what we believe Isa is like."

Before we left after an hour visit, Zulfu asked for a copy of the apology. Gina gave him hers.

As Muhammet started to escort us down the street, he called back to Zulfu, telling his friend that he would borrow the apology later and make a copy for himself.

So went the Walk.

I heard of no Turkish people formally telling any of us, "We forgive you," but each step was a chance to build bridges with Muslim people.

Each encounter was an opportunity to reaffirm our common human desires for dignity and respect.

Each conversation was an occasion to slice away at stereotypes of all Christians and Westerners as greedy, imperialistic clods.

The people we met may be getting another apology soon: The newspaper La Republica reported last week that Pope John Paul II, who has already publicly expressed regret for the Inquisition, the role of Roman Catholics in the Holocaust and the burning of any number of "heretics," is under pressure from his advisers to address the Crusades. The report said the key act of repentance would be on Ash Wednesday, March 8, 2000, and "is intended to be the basis for the Roman Catholic Church's climactic, definitive and all-embracing 'Sorry' on the occasion of Christianity's 2,000th anniversary."

Of course, corporate gestures of contrition are not new. Apologies have almost become a trend in the '90s - witness President Clinton's for his sexual indiscretions.

In recent years, people from different religions, ranging from Christian to Buddhist, have traveled through the U.S., Europe and Africa to pray in repentance at historical sites connected to the slave trade.

In May, nearly half a million white Australians filled "sorry books" with apologies to that country's aborigine people.

They wanted to show remorse for the decades in which government policies sanctioned removing up to 100,000 aborigine children from their families and putting them in government care. Many of the children were physically and sexually abused and never saw their families again.

Clinton has apologized for U.S. radiation experiments on thousands of Americans during the Cold War and for syphilis experiments on nearly 400 black men in Tuskegee, Ala. During a visit to Africa earlier this year, he also expressed regret for slavery.

Many have questioned the sincerity or constructiveness of such acts, and there's probably room for skepticism.

Days after thousands of Australians signed the books of repentance, polls showed a surge of support in Queensland for the One Nation Party.

The right-wing group is known for its pro-gun ownership, anti-immigration stance. It also has pushed to block land claims by aborigines and to cut their welfare budget.

Some in this country not only questioned the value of Clinton's comments about slavery but also wondered whether his statement - "European-Americans received the fruits of the slave trade. And we were wrong." - actually constituted a national apology.

Still, I believe those of us who were in Turkey this summer were not trying to keep up with a trend. From what I observed, we all sincerely wanted to demonstrate our regret of past injustices.

Our efforts also appeared to pay off. We were warmly received by many people who impressed us with their kindness and hospitality - often displayed by persistent offers to serve us tea.

And our methods were quite simple.

Each of us was given a blue folder containing the apology message in Turkish. And we purchased T-shirts with the words "We Apologize" in Turkish on the back to help spark conversation.

The idea was to meet people in the country and as we became better acquainted with them - to the extent language barriers and time constraints allowed - we showed them the apology.

The T-shirts definitely helped. People often wanted to know what we were apologizing for.

But a few lessons in Turkish culture and Muslim modesty also proved beneficial.

Just as we were apologizing for Christian brutality, we wanted to offer a picture of Western morality different from what had been imported from Hollywood.

Many people in Turkey, probably the most open country in the Islamic world, live and dress in a manner similar to Western countries. But we decided to lean to the conservative side to avoid offending any group.

The women among us wore long, loose-fitting pants or skirts and kept scarves handy for donning inside mosques or homes of conservative Muslims.

Touching the opposite sex in public was kept to a minimum. No friendly hugs, just handshakes.

All of those admonitions from mothers and grandmothers about proper conduct were also dredged up from the recesses of our memories. The Turkish are a polite people.

If we had food that could be shared like fruit or candy, we offered some to those around us. When meeting or leaving a group of people, we took the time to greet or say farewell to each person individually.

We committed our fair share of faux pas, but I think overall we did our mamas proud.

One of our most treasured compliments came from the owner of the hotel where we stayed in Mersin. Murat Ozdemir told one of the men on our team that when he talked to other people about us, they were shocked.

We were not like the Westerners they saw on TV, in films or read about in newspapers. We seemed to be just like good Muslims.

For Murat and his friends, that was high praise indeed.

By the time Celeste and I were preparing to return to Pittsburgh, members of our team had shared the apology with dozens of people.

We had shown it to men and women we met on the streets, in shops, in restaurants and even on the beach as waves of the clear, blue-green Mediterranean lapped at our heels.

The men in our group shared the apology with a local religious leader called an imam, or teacher, and with the mufti, who was head of all the imams in the city.

One afternoon, the women on our team - outfitted in our scarves and long skirts - visited the home of an imam to have tea with his wife, mother-in-law, daughter and two female family friends.

The language barrier prevented us from doing much more than nod, smile and fumble through our English-Turkish dictionaries. But some of us managed to share bits of lives as well as the apology while looking at family photographs and eating homemade cake.

Our largest audience was at a local high school, where the principal said the apology would be published in the school newspaper.

During our visit there, we broke into small groups of three and four and talked with students in different classrooms.

The teen-agers got the chance to practice their English by asking us questions that ranged from "Where are you from?" to "What Turkish pop star do you like?" We had the opportunity to explain why we came to apologize. The arrangement worked out well for both sides.

As we tried to leave, packs of students clad in uniforms similar to many in this country - combinations of blue, gray, white and plaid - swarmed around us in the courtyard.

Several asked for our home addresses.

"Don't forget me," said two eager teen-age girls. I scribbled my address on pieces of paper and quickly dug around in my backpack for postcards of the Pittsburgh skyline to give them as momentos.

All of our apologizing didn't stop us from being tourists.

We scaled the ruins of a Byzantine castle, bent and stooped our way through a cavernous underground city, toured cave-like chapels carved into mountainsides and enjoyed sea and sun at a Mediterranean beach.

The last time we were all together as a team was during an overnight trip to Cappadocia in central Turkey.

We decided to close out the evening with an informal Communion service in one of our hotel rooms.

Our elements were sour cherry juice from the dining hall and the remains of a loaf of French bread we shared for lunch that afternoon.

While we sat on the edge of beds and in chairs, Carol Nance of Australia started reading the Bible from the Book of Joel - something about the day of the Lord and destruction.

As if on cue, the electricity went out, leaving only the moon and the stars as illumination.

After we finished giggling, someone found three candles that had been saved from the commissioning service in Istanbul. The slender white tubes were lit and set on hot wax drippings in a glass ashtray.

As the light from the flames danced on the walls and our faces, we sang hymns like "How Great Thou Art" and gave thanks for our time as a team in Turkey.

The candlelight enhanced the sense of reverence and closeness.

We had come to this country to apologize. In the process, we had made friends and become friends. Reconciliation in action.

After about 30 minutes, we ended our service with prayer. Then, just as we began talking about our plans for the next day, the lights came back on.

Talk about staging.

For more information about the Reconciliation Walk, call 719-540-0914, 719-527-9594, Ext. 2010, e-mail or lookup the Internet.



The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sunday, October 18, 1998



Why Turkey?

Carmen Lee's Oct. 4 Sunday Magazine cover story ("Crusaders for Forgiveness") about the "Reconciliation Walk" overlooked the historical and moral absurdities of a group of Christians visiting Turkey to ask forgiveness for the Crusades.

The goal of the Crusaders had been the retaking of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and its atrocities were inflicted upon the Mideast's Arab population, both Christian and Muslim, and not upon Anatolia's Turkish one.

Moreover, the same Arabs who suffered the brunt of the Crusaders' atrocities were, in turn, conquered and occupied for centuries as a subject people by the Ottoman Turks. As a result, the Arabs' inspired civilization was downgraded into a provincial backwater, and the culture of brutal authoritarianism inherited from its Ottoman conquerors continues to plague the Middle East today.

Yet the most disturbing aspect of the Reconciliation Walk is not the imprudence of its historical mistakes, but the magnitude of its moral ones.

Turkey is arguably the most repressive Islamic nation in the world today toward its own practicing Muslims. Istanbul's Islamist mayor was recently sentenced to prison for reading a poem in public with a Muslim theme.

Turkey's elected Islamist Prime Minister was ordered to step down last year by the generals who still rule Turkey, Oz-like behind a thin veil of democracy.

Religious Turks are subjected to harsh discriminatory laws, Muslim parties are outlawed and Muslim-oriented newspapers have been closed, their journalists imprisoned or killed for their views by government-sponsored death squads.

Where is the rationale in seeking reconciliation with Muslims from a nation that continues to persecute them?

Yet there is another reason why Turkey is the last country from which Christians should seek forgiveness: Turkey has not only killed, purged and persecuted more Christians because of their faith than any other nation this century, but it also has pursued a well-financed campaign of denial to cover it up.

Turkey has spent millions to deny its genocide of 1.5 million Armenians as well as its massacre and ethnic cleansing of millions of Greek Orthodox Christians during this century. The same deeply ingrained ethic of reflexive denial that has led Turkish apologists to deny past and present horrors continues to stunt Turkey's moral and spiritual growth.

However well-intentioned, the participants of the Reconciliation Walk — by encouraging one of the most repressive regimes on Earth — may unwittingly be helping to perpetuate current transgressions in order to find absolution for those committed a thousand years ago.

P.D. SPYROPOULOS Executive Director American Hellenic Media Project New York, N.Y.



The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sunday, October 18, 1998



Editor's note: In response, Carmen Lee said, "The Reconciliation Walk organizers realize that Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire during the Crusades. Project organizers also know that Eastern Orthodox Christians who lived there and elsewhere were mistreated and killed by Crusaders. The story included Eastern Orthodox Christians among those who suffered injustices at the hands of Crusaders. It also stated that throughout the walk, apologies are being made to Eastern Orthodox Christians as well as Muslims and Jews.

Where the different groups live now is not necessarily where they lived at the time of the Crusades. The Reconciliation Walk follows the route of the first Crusade, without getting embroiled in the politics of each country. As a result, apologies are being made to Muslims in Turkey because the people who live in that country now are mostly Muslim. Apologies have been and are being made to Eastern Orthodox Christians along the route of the Crusades where they are living today."



Op-Ed Submission to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

by P. D. Spyropoulos*

Reconciliation Walk Headed in Wrong Direction

When many Orthodox Christians learned of the "Reconciliation Walk", a group of Christians from western countries that recently visited Turkey to ask forgiveness for the Crusades, the responses ranged from guffaws and expressions of disbelief, to betrayal and anger.

That a group of educated and well-intentioned individuals could invest so much time, effort and resources into a project that is underpinned by a historical gaff of such great proportions is highly troubling. The goal of the Crusaders had been the retaking of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, and its atrocities were inflicted upon the Mideast's Arab population, both Christian and Muslim, and not upon Anatolia's Turkish one. In short, if anyone deserves an apology for the Crusades it is not the Turks but the Arabs.

The participants would have been on far better footing in achieving their goal of Christian-Muslim reconciliation had they approached Indonesians, Malaysians or any other number of non-Arab Muslim nations for four reasons. The first being that the same Arabs who suffered the brunt of the Crusaders' atrocities were in turn conquered and occupied for centuries as a subject people by the Ottoman Turks. As a result, the Arabs' inspired civilization was downgraded into a provincial backwater, and the culture of brutal authoritarianism inherited from its Ottoman conquerors continues to plague the Middle East today. Given that continuing hostility by Turkey against adjacent Arab countries has recently led to multiple military incursions into Iraq and threats of military strikes against Syria, perhaps a delegation from the Turkish Government should have joined the Reconciliation Walk in an effort to make amends with its Arab neighbors.

The second reason why Turkey makes a poor choice for pursuing reconciliation with Muslims is because Turkey is arguably the most repressive Islamic nation in the world today towards its own practicing Muslims. Turkish women and men who wear traditional Islamic dress have been barred from attending university, practicing law, appearing in public offices or working as public servants. Istanbul's Islamist mayor was recently sentenced to prison for reading a poem in public with a dissident Muslim theme. Necmettin Erbakan, Turkey's elected Islamist Prime Minister, was ordered to step down by the generals that still rule Turkey, Oz-like behind a thin veil of democracy. Erbakan's Welfare Party was then banned and twelve of Turkey's most prominent Muslim political leaders are now being prosecuted on trumped-up charges. Muslim-oriented newspapers have been closed, and journalists have been imprisoned, tortured and killed for their views. Where is the rationale in seeking reconciliation with Muslims from a nation that continues to persecute them?

The third reason why apologizing for the Crusades in Turkey is plainly absurd is because, rather than having been victimized, the Turks owe a great deal to the Crusades for what they still celebrate as their greatest success, the conquest of the Byzantine Empire and the taking of Constantinople. It was the Fourth Crusade's shameful sack of Constantinople that triggered the deterioration of the Greek Byzantine civilization and led to its subjugation by the Ottoman Turks. Perhaps the participants of the Reconciliation Walk chose the right country to seek forgiveness for Crusader wrongs after all: while in Istanbul they could have found the few remaining Greek Orthodox Christians left and asked them for absolution.

Yet the most disturbing aspect of the Reconciliation Walk is not the imprudence of its historical mistakes, but the magnitude of its moral ones. The fourth reason why Turkey is the last country Christians should seek forgiveness from is because Turkey has not only killed, purged, and persecuted more Christians because of their faith than any other nation this century, but because it continues to do so and has pursued a well-financed campaign of genocide denial and false historical revisionism to cover it up.

Stanley Cohen, Professor of Criminology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has written that "[t]he nearest successful example [of 'collective denial'] 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." Princeton professor Heath Lowry, for example, is at the center of a scandal involving his clandestine communications with the Turkish Embassy coaching them on how to most effectively deny the Armenian Genocide among academic circles.

In addition to Turkey's extermination of its Armenian Christians, the depopulation of Greek Orthodox and Assyrian Christians from Asia Minor has been part and parcel of Turkey's policy of eliminating its Christian minorities through the use of genocide, pogroms, and ethnic cleansing campaigns. In November 1979 the New York Times wrote: "[a]ccording to the most recent statistics, the Christian population in Turkey has diminished from 4,500,000 at the beginning of this century to just about 150,000. Of those, the Greeks are no more than 7,000. Yet, in 1923 they were as many as 1.2 million". In 1974 Turkey invaded Cyprus and ethnically cleansed 200,000 Greek Cypriots from the northern third of the island. Human rights organizations have documented the widespread destruction and looting of Greek and Armenian churches under Turkish control, and the few enclaved Greek communities in Cyprus' occupied territory continue to live in a constant state of fear. The roughly 2,000 Greeks left in Istanbul today are subjected to similar threats, hate crimes and violent attacks.

The same deeply ingrained ethic of reflexive denial that has led Turkish apologists to deny past and present horrors—from the Armenian Genocide earlier this century to the ethnic cleansing of up to three million Kurds from southeastern Turkey today—pervades every aspect of Turkey's self-evaluation and continues to stunt its moral and spiritual growth. However well-intentioned, by encouraging one of the most repressive regimes on earth the participants of the Reconciliation Walk may unwittingly be helping to perpetuate current transgressions, in order to find absolution for those committed a thousand years ago.


*P. D. Spyropoulos is a former New York City prosecutor of child abuse cases and Executive Director of the American Hellenic Media Project (AHMP), a non-profit think-tank created to address bias and misinformation in the media. AHMP's letters, commentaries and articles have been published in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Economist, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The Irish Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Village Voice, The New York Post, The St. Petersburg Times (Florida), El Nuevo Herald (Miami), Greek America, The GreekAmerican, The Greek American Review, and The Hellenic News of America. Mr. Spyropoulos has been interviewed on Reuter's Television, Orthodoxy Today, Aktina-FM, Antenna Satellite-FM, and other TV and radio programs.