I have often been asked by my American friends why the Greeks and Turks can't seem to get along. Why all the enmity between two peoples that have lived side by side for centuries. Why can't Greeks and Turks shake hands and put all their differences aside? It seems so easy. Then again everything is easy for we Americans, friends become enemies and enemies become friends, overnight.
Before my family immigrated to the United States we lived in Turkey. My great grandfather left his native village of Politsani in Northern Epirus and established himself as a merchant in Constantinople around the turn of the century. There he prospered in a small village located on the shores of the Bosporus called Neohori, a suburb if you will, of the great city. The population was predominantly Greek with a number of Jews, Armenians and Turks as well. Later he passed on his business to his eldest and most capable son, my grandfather Panayiotis, who moved his family from Politsani to Constantinople. My mother and her siblings grew up in Turkey, she married my father there and a few years later I came along. We left Turkey in 1956, having survived a pogrom that hardly drew a mention in the New York Times. We fled to Greece, where a similarly protected Muslim minority suffered no outrages by avenging Greeks. That minority by the way has grown in size, is represented in the Greek parliament, and is subsidized in part by the Greek government. Within a few years a vibrant and "protected" community of over 100.000 Greeks was sent packing, never to return. Years later I would return as an adult to the country of my birth, now properly cleansed of its former unreliable inhabitants, in my capacity as a U.S. Marine. We were working on the planning of a joint exercise when my Turkish counterpart asked me if I spoke any Turkish. I replied that I had learned a few words from my mother. His eyes lit up, "She's Turkish?" " No, she's Greek but she grew up here." I answered. He quickly dropped the subject and never mentioned it again, although he never let me out of his sight during the entire visit to the Division HQ.
I would say that as a family we have had ample opportunity to live side by side and understand the Turks and Turkish attitudes toward Greeks. In Turkey, Greeks have always walked a tightrope between a shimmering prosperity and imminent disaster. On a people to people basis, Greeks and Turks who have lived side by side are capable of a grudging respect and a live and let live view of things. Underneath this patina of mutual humanity however, the two peoples have a shared history which is long, bloody and terrible to behold. This history is exemplified by a relationship in which Greeks, no matter how rich, how accommodating or how wily and smart were always in a subservient relationship to Turks. The only way Greeks have been able to sever that relationship was when they waged war. Similarly, the only way that Turks could maintain that relationship in a acceptable equilibrium is when they could achieve a mastery over Greeks and maintain it. Add to this explosive mix the underlying conflict between Islam and Christianity and one realizes that Greeks have had to live in an alternating universe in which Islam goes from tolerance to dhimitude, from peaceful co-existence to jihad.
To understand the connection between Ottoman Turkey and modern day Turkey one must comprehend that Turks see themselves as heirs to an empire and that they are still a major world power that demands respect. Within this empire there is no longer room for troublesome minorities such as Armenians, Assyrians, Kurds or Greeks. Turks have no friends but Turks and so it is. In order to establish Turkish racial purity and obtain lebensraum for "real" Turks, minorities must be expunged either through genocide or ethnic cleansing. Quite frankly the Turks have become extremely adept at it, as evidenced by their successes in the last one hundred years. Nowhere is that more apparent than than in Cyprus, a historically and intrinsically Greek island where 83% of the population was not only Greek speaking but considered themselves wholly Greek. If Greeks yearned for "enosis (union)" with the fatherland, Turks wanted the equivalent, by another name, "taksim." Turkish minority status was not an impediment because Turkey, in keeping with its founder's wishes was able to occupy almost half the island, cleanse it of its Greek inhabitants, repopulate it with Turkish settlers from Anatolia and essentially execute a de facto partition while declaring all their actions legal.
The facts of Cypriot history can be argued ad infinitum. Needless to say it's an emotional subject for those of us with the sunny Mediterranean dispositions. I daresay that we could ascribe to many different parties all kinds of blame. The ones that we should not blame however, are the innocent victims who lost their homes or their loved ones. They are merely pawns in a wider game. The Greek Cypriots have responded to the loss of their ancestral homes, the destruction of their churches and cemeteries, the looting of their historical legacy not with violence but instead, admirably, with a demand for justice. They have made and continue to make every attempt to achieve a just and equitable settlement. Being willing to talk and even compromise does not mean settling for crumbs off the occupying power's table. It means justice for all.