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February 28, 2007 am28 9:01 am

Took a couple of days off blogging. It was nice to spend some extra time reading, and to get to the movies.

Twice a StrangerI’ve been interested in Greece and Turkey for some time. I’ve been to both countries, including last summer when I crossed the border by railroad. The Ottoman Empire ruled a large area, including both modern countries, and Greece gained independence for the Peleponnesus and the area north of the Gulf of Corinth almost 200 years ago. Yet Greek civilization was spread over a far wider area – in some sense the modern Greek state was begun in the area with the strongest physical connection with the ancient Greek city-states, but with the weakest connection to 19th Century Greek culture. Athens really was rebuilt from a little village.

Last summer I was in Thessaloniki. As Ottoman Salonika, it had had large Turkish, Greek, Jewish (Ladino-speaking) populations (along with Bulgarians, Albanians, Bosnians, Romanians…). Today it is a Greek city, with but a few reminders of its multi-community past. But many other cities had large Greek populations. Some of them are now completely Turkish cities: Istanbul, Izmir, Samsun, Trabzon.

(read on) ——> Two summers ago I was on Crete, in the capital, Chania. In a small shop I tried to buy little kids clothes for my nieces and nephews. The young woman’s English was poor. She led me into the back part of the shop, where an old man sat at a desk. She repeated my order to him, in Turkish! Now I only know a few words of Greek, but I can stumble through some basic communication in Turkish. This was good! “Yes” I said in Turkish “a shirt for a small child.” Something flashed in the man’s eyes. “Where are you from?” he asked in halting English. “New York.” “Then we will speak English.”

The story of how Christians ended up in Greece and Muslims in Turkey, and how (watch this carefully) Turkish-speaking Christians ended up in Greece and Greek-speaking Muslims in Turkey is the story of spasms of war during and after WWI, with ugly violence against civilians, and great power machinations. Eventually “ethnic cleansing” was turned into a treaty-approved population exchange involving 1-2 million civilians, mostly Christians from Anatolia, but also Muslims from Greece.

Bruce Clark tells some of their stories, often in the words of the refugees’ own reminiscences, in Twice a Stranger: The Mass Expulsions that Formed Modern Greece and Turkey. Harvard University Press, 2006.

Fascinating, and far more complicated than I learned in school. I am half-way done, and will definitely finish. I still don’t know why that shopkeeper spoke Turkish, though.

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