One of Hellenism's Greatest Challenges Into The 21st Century
by P. D. Spyropoulos*
Hellenism and Greek Orthodox Christianity are now facing one of their most important struggles, but unlike those of March 25th, October 28th and November 17th fame, Hellenes have failed to answer this call to arms. This battle is not being fought in trenches or behind barbed wire but in news bureaus, universities, and television sets. The volleys are not of bullets and bombs but of broadcasts, books and editorials. And, unlike those prior contests, it is not being fought on Greek soil but in the hearts and minds of people thousands of miles away in Europe, other parts of the world and, especially, in the United States. Yet how Greeks fare in this war of ideas will be just as determinative of Hellenism's future as these earlier struggles.
The driving force behind this onslaught against journalistic integrity and democratic ideals stems primarily from the Greco-Turkish relationship within the larger context of Balkan, European and Mideast geopolitics. A small cadre of newsmakers have successfully spun a media environment that is at best unfavorable and at worst hostile to Greeks, Greece and to Hellenic issues -- which, when defined broadly, include larger Armenian, Kurdish, Balkan, European, international legal, economic and human rights issues.
Notwithstanding that the factual, moral, and policy interests diametrically oppose the West's foreign policy agendas vis-a-vis Greece and Turkey, the inaction on the part of the Hellenic leadership both within Greece and in the Diaspora has placed Hellenes at a severe disadvantage. In the English-language media, and particularly in the U.S., Greeks and Greece are repeatedly portrayed as being parochial, anti-Semitic, supportive of international terrorism, nationalist fanatics, "ethnic hysterics", militarily belligerent and even expansionist towards Turkey and are, at best, placed on equal footing with Turkey. Greeks, their church and religion, their history and heritage have all been subjected to a steady onslaught of slurs, misstatements and distortions.
In a September 1998 commentary in The Daily Telegraph, Auberon Waugh declared that "modern Greeks have little or nothing to do with the ancient Athenians . . . Modern Greeks are largely of Turkish descent, as is shown by their short, hairy legs and low-slung bottoms". Britain's Sunday Times published an article in March deriding Greek food and proclaiming that "the Greeks [have] become a bad-mannered, misogynist, lazy, self-important fat bunch".
Along the same vein, the National Review's Senior Editor, David Klinghoffer, sneered that "Greeks hate Turks, so on your next trip to Athens don't say this out loud, but the truth is that modern-day Greeks basically are Turks, without the mustaches" and proceeded to attack ancient Greek civilization (5/17/99).
In March of 1999, the host of a Chicago-based, nationally broadcast radio program, The Mancow Show, stated "keep your girlfriends away from Greeks because they walk up with their dirty open shirts, their gold jewelry hanging out, they put their hairy arms around your girlfriends and grab their breasts . . . all Greeks are con artists . . . all Greeks are scummy bastards."
In his 1995 book, The Pillars of Hercules, celebrated American travel-writer Paul Theroux wrote: "The whole of Greece seemed to me a cut-price theme park of broken marble, a place where you were harangued in a high-minded way about Ancient Greek culture while some swarthy little person picked your pocket . . . The Greeks were not Greek, but rather the illiterate descendants of Slavs and Albanian fishermen, who spoke a debased Greek dialect and had little interest in the broken columns and temples except as places to graze their sheep . . . the Greeks struck me as being more xenophobic than the French, and more ill-tempered and irrational, in a country more backward than Croatia . . . Greece is the degraded fringe of Europe, basically a peasant society, fortunate in its ruins and its selective memory."
In July 1998, Stephen Kinzer, The New York Times Istanbul bureau chief, quoted ethnic slurs such as "narrow-mindedness", "chauvinism" and "ethnic hysterics" to characterize Greek-Americans who successfully protested against a film hagiography about Ataturk.
A December 1997 ad in The New York Post proclaimed: ". . . Israel knew that the goal of the Second Temple era was the . . . kindling of a small Menorah that could banish the darkness of Greek culture. When that happened, it was time to celebrate . . . we are grateful for the triumph of Torah's light over Greece's darkness."
The New York Times featured an April 1994 Op-Ed that asserted: "Rarely has a state visit threatened to do more damage to American interests than that of the Greek Prime Minister . . . To impose sanctions against [Macedonia, a state that] is protected in part by hundreds of American soldiers is a hostile act toward the U.S."
There are an increasing number of mainstream articles that read as if they were press releases from the Turkish Embassy, and that incorporate strategies of disinformation identical to those disseminated by Turkey's multi-million-dollar public relations machine. For example, an August 1998 article in The Baltimore Sun by Robert Freedman unquestioningly adopted Turkey's pretext for its invasion and occupation of Cyprus: "Turkish troops landed in northern Cyprus to protect the Turkish community of the island . . . [the Turkish government] is not willing to agree to [demilitarization], lest the Turkish community on Cyprus be threatened."
An October 18, 1999 article in The Financial Times repeated the same misleading statement, asserting that Turkey's invasion of Cyprus was launched "to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority from a Greek Cypriot coup". The article also uncritically adopted the Turkish government's misleading figures regarding casualties from inter-communal fighting before the invasion: "Dozens of villages were destroyed and hundreds of Turkish Cypriots killed by Greek Cypriots in the process."
The Associated Press often disseminates the same fiction when summarizing the Cyprus conflict in its reports: "[Cyprus] erupted into crisis 25 years ago this July 20 when Turkey dispatched troops to protect a Turkish minority from Greek Cypriots. That sparked fighting that led to Turkish occupation of a section of the island" (July 17, 1999).
Inter-communal fighting had ended years before Turkey's 1974 invasion and after Turkish Cypriots had already retreated into autonomous enclaves. The Greek-backed coup which served as the pretext for Turkey's invasion was a bid for control of Cyprus' government and not a campaign to attack Cyprus' Turkish minority -- the Turkish Cypriot community was neither harmed nor targeted during the failed coup.
"Operation Attila", as Turkey's military called its invasion, had little to do with the protection of Cypriot Turks—its objective was the ethnic cleansing of 200,000 of the island's native population through the use of killings, rapes and mass executions to wrest control of Cyprus' northern territory.
Pretexts for the invasion invoking the defense of Cyprus' Turks did not become creditable until years later, after memories had faded and after history was gradually rewritten to accommodate the West's current policy of appeasement towards Turkey. A more sincere treatment would have given greater credence to the argument that the motivations behind the invasion were strategic and not humanitarian.
In a 1996 article in The Baltimore Sun, Robert Freedman quipped: "The petty squabble of Greece and Turkey, lining up warships around a pile of rocks off the Turkish coast, demonstrates that neither deserves membership in the European Union. Yet one is in and one is out . . . Yet how much more European could Turkey be? It was the home of Byzantium." In addition to revising history in a hurtful manner, by attributing Byzantine civilization to the very historical group that destroyed it, the Sun article merely parroted the general media's "spin" on the dispute by omitting the readily ascertainable fact that the island in question, Imia, was explicitly recognized as Greek territory by treaty and was uncontested by Turkey until Ankara launched its blanket policy of disputing Greek territorial rights in the Aegean in the 1980s.
An October 1992 Time magazine article by Strobe Talbott, who subsequently became Deputy Secretary of State, asserted that "Greece is reminding the world that it too is a Balkan country, the inhabitant of a region where history often induces hysteria . . . Partly because the Greek position [on Macedonia] is so preposterous, the suspicion persists that the complaint about the name camouflages a revival of Greece's own age-old expansionistic ambitions . . . Mitsotakis has secretly discussed the partition of Macedonia with Serbia and perhaps with Albania and Bulgaria as well . . . In the U.S. [Greece] has the additional help of the powerful Greek-American lobby." Rather than discuss the fact that the Greek government had long ago renounced all territorial claims outside its borders and that Greece has instead chosen a progressive, pan-European vision, Talbott opted to advance irresponsible conspiracy theories and conjure up a racist stereotype that was once widely used against Jews of a dark ethnic power working behind the scenes against American interests.
The Washington Post recently employed incendiary language to perpetuate negative ethnic stereotypes, characterizing Greeks as supporting "rabid anti-U.S., anti-NATO, anti-EU, anti-Turkey, anti-Western nationalism" and berating all Greeks as having "deep-seated ethnocentric Balkan prejudices" ("Greek Terror", 11/9/99).
Likewise, The Boston Globe published an Associated Press report by Brian Murphy that used incendiary terms such as "unanimous outrage", "feverish", "ang[ry]", "zealots" to berate Greeks as a whole and perpetuate negative ethnic stereotypes ("Anti-American winds building in Greece before Clinton visit", 11/8/99).
The Chicago Tribune recently published an editorial by senior writer R.C. Longworth declaring that: "Greece might be the last truly Balkan nation.. . . the Greeks seem determined to live up, or down, to the worst stereotypes of Balkan emotionalism. . . Greece lives on the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula, where Europe slides into the Islamic Middle East. It is a peasant land . . . its politics, food and music are closer to Istanbul or Damascus than to London or Paris. Passion too often dominates reason. . . a millennium of rule by Byzantine and Ottoman emperors meant that Greece, like Russia, missed all the great events . . . that created the skeptical and cooler Western mind. . . So it was barely 50 years ago that Greece's history diverged from the Balkan norm. . . Fifty years, apparently, is not enough to shake off the Balkan mind-set--instinctive nationalism, brooding victimization, an obsession with history and a reflexive hostility toward neighbors--that inspired Serbia's assaults on the rest of the former Yugoslavia. . . These disputes keep Greeks in a ferment that boils over whenever there is trouble in the region, as there was over Kosovo. . . Reason takes a holiday and demonstrators take to the streets. . . In a post-Cold War world, Greece could be a luxury the West no longer can afford. . . It is legitimate for the West to tell the Greeks that it saved them from Stalin and protected them from Turkey and that it expects more in return than tantrums. . ."
At the end of his editorial, Longworth concluded that "[m]ost Balkan states, except for Serbia, clearly want to join the West. The Greeks already are there, but only precariously and perhaps temporarily. Poised between Europe and the Middle East, they haven't really decided where they belong. One day, their exasperated allies may settle the issue for them" ("Whose Side are Greeks On, Anyway?", 11/28/99).
This cliché of Hellenes as "ethnic hysterics" (New York Times, Stephen Kinzer, "Banderas Quits Ataturk Film After Protest", 7/16/98), has repeatedly been used by journalists, political propagandists and others to dismiss legitimate Hellenic concerns and to disenfranchise or marginalize Greeks and Greek-Americans themselves.
As with all harmful stereotypes, part of its power lies in the fact that it contains an element of truth that rings true and thus can be successfully magnified, emphasized to the exclusion of competing assumptions, or used to promote wider misperceptions and agendas among the uninformed or among those predisposed against a particular group. As is also the case with all harmful stereotypes, this grain of truth is also used to piggy-back a mountain of inaccurate, misleading or simplistic perceptions to attack a particular group.
In the Greek case, the element of truth behind the stereotype of hysterical chauvinism has eroded considerably over the past thirty years as Greece has evolved considerably towards becoming a progressive-minded and globally-oriented European democracy. This means that anti-Hellenic pundits such as Longworth from The Chicago Tribune are disseminating a double-falsehood, counting on the longevity of long-outdated notions of Greeks to both reinforce these notions and to distort current events to fit within the framework of their ideology.
When California State Treasurer Phil Angelides had the courage to stand up as a publicly elected official against a report by a pension fund consultant intimating the denial of the Armenian genocide, the attack that was immediately leveled against Mr. Angelides was that he was "a Greek treasurer who doesn't like Turks".
Likewise, The National Review's senior editor, David Klinghoffer, began his attack on Greeks and on classical Greek civilization by asserting that "Greeks hate Turks". Similarly, while discussing a successful protest by Greek-Americans against the production of a film hagiography of Ataturk to star Antonio Banderas, a broadcast journalist on National Public Radio dismissed larger issues of false historical revisionism and the glorification of totalitarian rule and declared that the protesters were acting "because Greeks believe the only good Turk is a dead Turk".
That the media has unhesitatingly used this negative stereotype of Greeks as irrational and fanatic nationalists but has felt constrained by the prevailing environment of political correctness from using these same blanket characterizations for Italians, Hispanics, Jews, African-Americans, Albanians, Irish, Turks and other groups with strong national or group identities, a strong emotive cultural component, and/or a tradition of forceful national or political activism evinces a double-standard that betrays a patently anti-Hellenic bias.
The chilling effect this has had on academia, politics, journalism, business and other fields cannot be underestimated. Any allusion to being considered a Greek "nationalist" can ruin reputations and destroy careers both in the mainstream world as well as within the Hellenic community itself. Arguably, the "nationalist" aspersion has the same destructive power in the Hellenic world as a call of anti-Semitism has in the larger community.
This ethnic stereotype has commanded such a powerful hold, that it has eclipsed international law in the Imia dispute and the Cyprus issue, historical truth in the Macedonia-FYROM controversy and, most recently in the wake of Clinton's visit to Greece, legitimate humanitarian and geopolitical concerns over U.S. foreign policy.
That Strobe Talbott, Kevin Myers, David Klinghoffer, William Safire, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal and other demonstrated anti-Hellenists consistently use this stereotype to disparage Hellenes, dismiss their concerns, or ratify the denial of crimes against humanity attests to its fundamentally misograecist nature.
An integral part of anti-Hellenic bias has also included the denial of past genocides and other atrocities by the Ottomans and the Turkish state, and the rewriting of Greek, Armenian, Turkish and Asia Minor history. This ranges from minor factual misstatements, such as the frequent reference to St. Nicholas, a 4th Century Byzantine Saint from Myra, as a "Turkish saint", to the revision of entire histories, such as Hillary Clinton's statement in an April 1996 issue of Liberal Opinion that "Turkey has a long history of religious tolerance, having been the birthplace of Orthodox Christianity and a meeting point throughout history for many of the world's great religions."
Another example: an entry in the 1994 Encarta CD-Rom Encyclopedia regarding 1922 misstated that "A large Greek army captured Izmir [Smyrna] and invaded southwestern Anatolia, but massacres of the Turkish population led the Allies to withdraw their support from the Greeks". Of course it was over a million and a half Greeks that were forced out of Asia Minor by Ataturk's troops subsequent to the wholesale massacre of Smyrna's Christian population in 1922 and the burning down of that once-cosmopolitan city.
This same strategy of adopting or acquiescing to arguments placing blame on targeted minority groups in Turkey to justify their victimization has also been incorporated by the mainstream media to deny the Armenian Genocide and to marginalize Kurdish human rights abuses by dismissing Kurdish insurgents as "terrorists".
Closely related to the psychology of denial that continues to pervade our media's silence regarding Turkey's elimination of its Christian populations, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Associated Press and other staple US news organizations have pursued what is in effect a policy of genocide denial by refraining from using the word "genocide" when referring to the Armenian Genocide and instead describing the Turkish state's systematic extermination of its Armenians as "massacres" or "deportations".
For example, the Associated Press has recently decided upon a policy that places the actuality of the Armenian Genocide into question by either using the term "alleged" when referring to the Genocide or presenting it strictly as an inter-ethnic squabble with two sides to an issue, i.e. 'the Armenians claim a genocide occurred but the Turks deny it and claim the deaths were a result of civil war'. The AP has taken this position despite decades of global scholarship, recognition by genocide studies centers, and despite formal recognition by numerous governmental bodies. These have included the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Association of Genocide Scholars, the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, and the Institute for the Study of Genocide in New York.
However offensive, shocking or hurtful -- hate speech, false historical revisionism and other attacks against the Hellenic and other related heritages nevertheless comprise only a small percentage of anti-Hellenic bias. Most expressions of bias are far more subtle, often unintended, and usually just a reflection of a larger environment of misinformation that is either manufactured by, or a byproduct of, influential ideology-makers in the information establishment.
While media bias is often a result of complex, multi-faceted, cumulative and subconscious processes, much of our media's disinformation on these issues does intentionally emanate from a small yet diverse group of individuals, organizations and institutions with varying degrees of explicit or implied commitment to the agendas that encourage its dissemination.
Like an avalanche started from a pebble atop a mountain, this type of disinformation gains its power and authority from repetition. As a result of the absence of a credible voice in opposition early on in this process, the synergetic effect this produces may transform a distortion of reality over time into an unassailable truth.
A September 1996 Washington Times article disingenuously asserted that "There is no question that what the Greek government is doing with the PKK makes them supporters of international terrorism", failing of course to note that this appellation could just as easily be applied to the foreign policies of Turkey, the U.S., Germany, Britain, France and countless other nations supporting insurgencies, separatists or, as in the case of Turkey, repressive governments that target civilians. This is why Danielle Mitterrand, the president of the France-Freedom Foundation and widow of the late French president Francois Mitterand, declared that "if you judge Ocalan as a terrorist, you should also judge and impose sanctions for state terrorism represented by [Turkey's] official army."
As the manhunt and capture of Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan made front-page news in early 1999, the press uncritically reported Turkey's propaganda bite that "[s]ome 30,000 people have died in PKK attacks" (The Boston Globe "Ghost of Papandreou Hovers Over Greece", 3/29/99). This powerful figure designed to garner sympathy for the Turkish government's position and to demonize the PKK, and by attribution marginalize the entire Kurdish rights movement in Turkey, was repeated by numerous newspapers including The New York Times ("The Capture of a Kurdish Rebel", 2/17/99). To its credit the Globe published a letter, that was disseminated to hundreds of media sources, correcting this misconception, clarifying that this figure represented all deaths suffered by both sides in the war and further clarifying that "official death tolls reported from Ankara demonstrate that the lion's share of the war's more than 30,000 deaths has been inflicted by the far better-equipped, well-trained and more numerous Turkish armed forces [and that] the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths have been Kurdish ones [mostly] the result of attacks by government forces against entire Kurdish villages deemed to be sympathetic to the secessionist cause." ("More light on death toll", The Boston Globe, April 2, 1999, letter from AHMP). Our press' uncritical adoption of the 30,000 deaths being attributed to the PKK rather than to the Turkish military, the actual perpetrator of the vast majority of these fatalities, becomes even more disturbing given that Human Rights Watch has attributed nearly six times as many civilian casualties to government forces than to Kurdish separatists.
An April 8, 1997 article by Celestine Bohlen in The New York Times imputed a policy of genocide denial, and a degree of culpability for Germany's destruction of Thessaloniki's Jewish community, on Greece. Bohlen accomplished this through the use of unsupported assertions, strained comparisons, insinuations, and the quoting of other people's statements to present assertions that she could not credibly make herself. The journalist's imperative of building a report on verifiable fact was substituted by these devices and they alone supported the central argument of her article:
"As at Babi Yar, the notorious Nazi mass grave in Ukraine where Soviet authorities for decades refused to acknowledge that most of the victims were Jews, Salonika has been slow to recognize that its large and vibrant Jewish community was singled out for annihilation. . . All evidence of this past is virtually gone now, and not only because of the Nazis . . . Greece, a country where more than 95 percent of the population is Orthodox Christian, is still suspicious of its minorities . . . 'It is impossible to live within the European Union without being really European,' said Mr. Sefiha. 'Greece still has to make a lot of steps in this direction.'".
Bohlen's omission of any reference to well researched government, church, partisan, individual and other vigorous efforts by Greeks to protect their native Jewish population from the occupying Germans, and the omission of other comparable facts necessary to a balanced and responsible examination of Bohlen's subject matter, serves as a prime example of how media bias is for the most part subtle and difficult to detect, particularly by an audience that has sparse independent knowledge of the issues covered.
A useful comparison to highlight the impropriety of Bohlen's complete censorship of these key facts in her article can be made when looking at Martin Petetz's notorious anti-Orthodox article in The New Republic (May 10, 1999). In "Holy Wars", Peritz launches a blanket attack against Orthodox Christianity, and holds all Orthodox churches responsible for "the near-genocide in Kosovo, as they were partners in the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia". Despite the openly hostile intent of Peritz's article, even he felt obliged to admit that "Bishop Damaskinos of Athens helped that city's chief rabbi, Eli Barzilai, escape the country; Damaskinos was one of many Greeks who helped Jews escape."
In an open and democratic society such as our own, media bias usually has far more to do with the manufacturing of perceptions than the reporting of false facts or more obvious forms of propaganda. In Bohlen's article, this is accomplished through the selective inclusion and omission of facts and issues; the reliance of the public trust on the authoritativeness of the media source as a method of validating self-supporting conclusory statements; and the distortion of facts and histories to fit a particular argument or agenda.
While Europe seems to be closing the gap between negative misconceptions and informed realities regarding Hellenic issues, this gap appears to be widening in the U.S. For example, The Financial Times, a conservative London-based newspaper often highly critical of Greece, published a series of reports in December of 1998 on the substantial progress Greece has made both politically and economically in the past two decades (e.g. "'Black Sheep' on the brink of acceptance", 12/8/98). Compare this with an October editorial in The New York Post calling Greece "a semi-civilized place".
This negative perception of Greece is not simply a matter of national pride, but lies at the heart of international press coverage, of laws passed by legislative bodies and, ultimately, of U.S., E.U., NATO and U.N. policies towards Greece. Unlike other issues that are at the forefront of the public eye -- or issues that enough citizens have independent and accurate information on to ensure an informed, diverse and robust discourse -- Greek and Balkan issues are obscure, remote and unfamiliar to most Americans, and thus more susceptible to disinformation strategies perpetuated by a relatively small group of actors that wield the authority to disseminate facts, define the parameters of discourse, and establish the truths underpinning a projected ideology.
A small cadre of foreign policymakers and individuals in the media intelligentsia have created an environment where disinformation concerning Hellenic issues is disseminated, an environment that has produced everything from misograecist slurs to more subtle and deceptive arguments about Greco-Turkish geopolitics. This has created a media culture of denial and doublethink concerning Turkey and the realities of its history, its government, and the impact our policies are having on Turkey's and the region's future. This environment has also served to undermine the integrity of American journalism with regard to numerous other foreign policy issues vulnerable to government, corporate, political, religious, ideological and other disinformation agendas, and contributes significantly to a general erosion of the quality, independence, and health of our nation's media. This in turn has repercussions on world press coverage due to the fact that America's media establishment wields unprecedented global reach and authority; CNN, The New York Times, News Syndicates such as AP and Reuters, and dozens of Hollywood films exported every year being prime examples.
Although the sources of anti-Hellenic media bias are diverse and complex -- and the result of both larger currents beyond the Hellenic world as well as of temporally distant sources particular to Hellenic issues -- the increase of this bias in a media environment that has otherwise generally become more sensitized to racial or ethnic bias is a direct result of our Executive branch, military-industrial complex, and foreign policy establishment's Turkish agenda. Despite the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of Turkey's role as NATO's southeasternmost flank against Soviet communism, Turkey's role has been redefined into a client state that is central to our Balkan, Mideast, Central Asian and European foreign policies. Only a handful of governments, such as Great Britain, Israel (and in the past Pakistan), have been lavished with the same intimate support by our foreign policy establishment.
The incestuous partnership between the Turkish government on the one hand and influential corporate arms dealers, the Executive, the Pentagon and the National Security Council on the other has contributed significantly to establishing a larger environment of misinformation and bias in both the government as well as the media.
The US has supplied 80% of Turkey's arsenal and will likely be the primary patron of Turkey's mammoth $150 billion weapons renewal program over the next 30 years. The Turkish Daily News recently reported that an official U.S. document revealed that "U.S. weapons suppliers have quietly doubled their share in Turkeys entire defense procurement since 1996, taking advantage of Turkey's strained ties with the European Union" (10/20/99). This report, distributed in a general release by the public relations firm of Manatos & Manatos, further indicated that "U.S. defense sales to Turkey have reached $2.3 billion, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the country's overall defense procurement".
In order to sustain and encourage U.S. backing of a government who's domestic and international activities would have long ago earned it a reputation as a dangerous rogue state, the Turkish government has been investing millions of dollars into what is probably the most ambitious propaganda campaign directly orchestrated by a foreign state that Americans have seen to date. University chairs in our most prestigious universities are purchased by the Turkish Government. Both journalists and academics favorable to Turkey are promoted or given wide-reaching platforms while dissenting voices are marginalized.
Ads on everything from newspapers to city buses proclaim that "Turkey [is] the center of civilization" showcasing primarily ancient Greek and Byzantine ruins. Books exalting Ataturk and overlooking his crimes against humanity are distributed in New York public schools, while college students are taught contrary to the great weight of historical evidence that Alexander the Great was not Greek, and that he was a ruthless, drunken slaughterer—even as judged by his own times—rather than an enlightened Hellenistic ruler who introduced egalitarian concepts such as universal brotherhood into the world's vocabulary.
Propaganda pieces by influential journalists in the guise of syndicated columns are published throughout the U.S., such as James Glassman's article heralding Turkey as "a beautiful bird in a small cage"; European racism -- not Turkey's human rights epidemic, its continuing occupation of a foreign country, its troubled economy, and its backward and authoritarian political system -- being responsible for keeping Turkey behind and out of the EU. Book reviews in The New York Times by journalists such as Robert Kaplan -- among the small group of consensus-makers who's credibility as Balkan experts is bolstered to a large degree by their sharing of each other's underlying precepts to the exclusion of alternative views -- celebrate their apologia of Turkey's authoritarian government with pronouncements like Turkey's "fluid hybrid regime -- whereby the military and a democratically elected Parliament patrol each other -- will probably outlast both the suffocating dictatorships of neighboring Arab states and the paper democracies of Russia and the developing world."
In addition to having the active assistance of much of the American government and media establishment, one important factor underlying Turkey's success in the U.S. media seems to be that its agenda is being supported by major Jewish-American organizations. This stems from the growing Israeli-Turkish alliance which has, in turn, been bearing upon U.S. foreign policy. In an essay published in the December 10, 1997 New York Times, William Safire heralded what many (including ex-Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu) called the region's new "axis", explaining that in addition to military, and intelligence cooperation "Turkey will look to Israel . . . to urge the U.S. to help Ankara."
During a recent lecture at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, keynote speaker Efraim Inbar, Director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, stated that "the Turks are also hoping that the Israelis will be able to help them on the Hill and in Washington. And they have a correct perception that Israel has certain clout in this country which can be mobilized in their favor, and Israel is indeed willing to help in this area."
Moreover, in an October 1998 article entitled "Warmer ties prod Israeli lobby to back Turkey in U.S.", The Dallas Morning News reported that America's foremost Jewish-American organizations "will be flexing their political muscle in Washington on Turkey's behalf". According to the August 30th Jerusalem Post, during Turkish PM Mesut Yilmaz's meeting with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Yilmaz was "expected to thank [Netanyahu] for the support pro-Israel and Jewish organizations in Washington have demonstrated for Turkey."
In her article "Power Bloc: Turkey and Israel Lock Arms" (The Progressive, December 1998), Jennifer Washburn, a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute, reported that:
"Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai has confirmed that 'Israel is assisting Turkey on the American political scene and encouraging Jewish organizations to follow this example.' Earlier this year, according to The Economist of London, Turkey 'was pleased to have the support of the powerful Jewish lobby in Washington,' which 'helped to get Congress to unfreeze the sale of two frigates' to Ankara. The Wall Street Journal notes that Turkish interests 'are now on the agenda' of groups like the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a Washington-based think tank, and the American-Israel Public Action Committee (AIPAC), an influential pro-Israel lobby. JINSA has spoken out against foreign aid cuts to Turkey and has organized meetings between retired U.S. military officers and their Turkish counterparts."
Washburn continued that in "February [of 1998], all the threads of this intricate alliance came together at the annual conference of the American-Turkish Council, a lobbying group in Washington that promotes closer U.S.-Turkish business and military relations. There, some of the largest U.S. weapons companies -- Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Textron, Raytheon, Sikorsky/United Technologies -- were in attendance, which was not surprising, since representatives from these firms either sit on the Council's board of directors or have other leadership posts in the organization. The conference also attracted U.S. officials like Senator Jesse Helms (Republican of North Carolina), Commerce Secretary William Daley, and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Ralston."
When the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League took out a large ad in the November 8, 1998 New York Times—emblazoned with the Turkish flag below the word "CONGRATULATIONS!" in English, Hebrew and Turkish congratulating Turkey for "its democratic and secular values" —Harvard professor James Russell, a prominent Jewish-American scholar, called the ad "blasphemous" and "diabolical".
Which underlines the fact that it is of paramount importance that Jewish-Americans be informed and educated regarding the dire moral and tactical mistakes their leadership is making on these issues. They must be informed that by supporting the Turkish government, their leadership—which was instrumental in America's civil rights movement and which has traditionally been at the forefront of progressive and egalitarian causes—finds itself supporting genocide denial, false historical revisionism, transnational aggression, authoritarian military rule, crimes against humanity, and one of the worst abusers of human rights in the world. There is a moral absurdity about the children of the survivors of one genocide collaborating with the perpetrators of another, and it is this moral Achilles heel that must be emphasized when educating Jewish-Americans about the Mephistophelean trade their leadership has struck for questionable political advantage.
As a result of information disseminated both by the mainstream American media and by the leadership of Jewish-America's most established and influential organizations, Jewish-Americans are being misled about the history of Jews in Turkey, and not informed about the plight of Jews as non-Muslims during Ottoman rule of the region, Turkey's extensive collaboration with the Third Reich, Turkey's culture of anti-Semitism derived largely from its Muslim past, its expulsion of and discriminatory practices against its Jewish and Christian minorities after WWII, the Turkish government's threats against Turkey's remaining Jews in response to an Israeli genocide conference's inclusion of the Armenian Genocide, and the uneasy existence of Jews in Turkey today amid a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism induced by the government's repression of practicing Muslims.
Turkey has the largest army in NATO other than the U.S.'s and is quietly developing a nuclear weapons program. While their leadership is busy trying to sell them on an Israeli-Turkish alliance, Jewish-Americans are largely unaware of the threat a militarily powerful, undemocratic, increasingly Islamist, nuclear, and expansionist-minded Turkey will pose to peace and stability in Israel's immediate neighborhood in the near future.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Greek Government and the Diaspora's inaction in the face of the rewriting of Greek history, the marginalization of Greece, and the Serbianization of the Greeks themselves, is that even a modest investment of resources to confront this alarming situation and fill the void of silence with a voice in opposition would yield exponentially large returns. My experience has taught me that even a small group of knowledgeable, media-savvy and dedicated volunteers can make a comparatively big difference in exposing these policies of disinformation and in credibly presenting genuine facts and responsible perspectives that journalists have not otherwise been exposed to. One can only imagine what a far more organized and dedicated effort could do.
Significantly, the very reason why Turkey is so obsessed with prettifying its image is the very reason why a comparable investment of resources by Hellenes would produce overwhelmingly favorable results: like Sisyphus, Turkey is struggling mightily against the weight of moral and factual truth to promote its agenda. It would take perhaps a finger to halt its advance, and perhaps one firm push of the hand for it to come tumbling down. A primary reason why it has been so easy to mislead the American press is due to the fact that very few have the independent knowledge or insight to see through this pervasive cloud of misinformation given the obscure and specialized nature of the region's geopolitics and history. Consequently, the mantras that are repeated by this small cadre of government officials, academics, editors and policymakers become adopted without much second-guessing by members of the media. When approached with hard facts and alternative viewpoints on these issues in a professional, credible and reasoned manner, experience has shown that most American journalists will genuinely listen, and many will even change their minds and temper their reporting on these subjects.
A second reason why placing a priority on media education in the U.S. would yield greater returns than the Turkish propaganda machine has been able to achieve (despite its considerable success) is because, unlike Turkey, Greece has a vast resource of highly qualified, U.S.-educated, and deeply concerned Greek-Americans, Armenian-Americans and other individuals of conscience who could communicate their message of human rights, international law, and democratic rule in an effective and persuasive manner.
Finally, there is one compelling argument some have made regarding the prudence of Greece's allocation of its resources: one fighter jet will cost Greece billions of drachmas to purchase and maintain. If, instead, these resources were invested into educating the U.S. (and European) media, its academia, and its intelligentsia, the long-term benefits would be exponentially greater and would substantially contribute to the security and economic prosperity of Greece, the Balkans and Europe as well as help Hellenism thrive and become a major catalyst for a stable, democratic, secure, prosperous and peaceful neighborhood. Speaking as an American, there would be an important additional benefit -- the rehabilitation of one of the foundational institutions of American democracy: its press and media.
One of the primary challenges facing Hellenes and Greek Orthodox Christians going into the 21st century is to narrow the gap between the outdated stereotypes and negative perceptions of Greece and Hellenes that are perpetuated abroad and the reality of Greece as a fundamentally progressive, resourceful, and pluralistic European democracy that will serve as a stabilizing presence and a fountainhead of democracy and economic development in one of the most explosive regions in the world—yet a region that also has among the most promising future potentials.
One of Hellenism's most decisive battles has already begun, yet the guardhouses are empty and there are but a few soldiers manning the front lines. It is time we answered its call to arms.
* P. D. Spyropoulos is the Executive Director of the American Hellenic Media Project (AHMP, www.ahmp.org), a non-profit think-tank created to address bias in the media and encourage independent, ethical and responsible journalism. Commentaries. letters and opinion-editorials by AHMP have been published in The Baltimore Sun, Billboard, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Daily Republican, The Daily Telegraph, The Dallas Morning News, The Economist, El Nuevo Herald (Miami), The Financial Times, Forbes Global, The Fresno Bee, The Irish Times, The Knoxville News-Sentinel, The Miami Herald, The National Review, New York Newsday, The New York Post, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, The Orlando Sentinel, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Plain Dealer, The South China Morning Post, The St. Petersburg-Times (Fla.), The Star-Ledger (NJ), The Tampa Tribune, The Toronto Sun, USA Today, The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and World Press Review.
Posted: January 14, 2000