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A crucifixion debate for Christmas

HDN | 12/20/2009 12:00:00 AM | Ariana Ferentinou

This year, the occasion is a different "crucifixion" – the statement by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew that by living in Turkey he feels a person "daily crucified."

“Your father crucifies me before giving me housekeeping harçlık,” or pocket money, my mother used to moan regularly to me, adding another nail to my father’s cross.

He was blamed for everything that was going wrong in our family. She was not entirely right in her accusations over his stinginess, but the expression “crucifies me” was suitable for her to boost her image as an all-suffering, self-sacrificing, child-raising mother of two in an Athenian suburb in the 1960s who was trying to make ends meet at a difficult time for Greek post-war society.

Her frequent use of the term “crucified” was, of course, done intentionally to spoil my blind adoration of my father, who could do nothing less than perfect, let alone indulge in acts of “crucifixion.”

But, of course, this is not the occasion for childhood nostalgia, even if, with Christmas around the corner, my “crucified” mother demanding a temporary raise in her weekly fee “for clothes for the children” comes vividly to my mind.

But this year’s Christmas, the occasion is about a different “crucifixion” – the statement by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew to the CBS network, that by living in Turkey he feels a person “daily crucified.” This statement – it is still unclear whether he actually said it as a full statement or as an answer to a reporter’s question – has become an subject of hot controversy over its political and linguistic implications.

More than anybody else, the Turkish foreign minister, the eminent academic Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu got particularly offended on behalf of the political and cultural history of his country over the use of the term “crucifixion.”

In order to add some more lexicographical notes to this debate, let me cite some useful definitions, copying from one of the old trusted dictionaries of Modern Greek Language, that of Manolis Triantafyllidis. There, the verb “stavrono” or “stavronome” (to crucify, cross or be crucified or crossed) means: 1a. To place someone on a cross in order to execute them; 1b. (metaphor) To make somebody’s life difficult or hell, to make someone suffer. Example: He crucifies me everyday with his constant complaints; 2. To make the sign of the cross or put the sign of a cross somewhere (usually next to the name of a school child who is absent from the class). It can also mean to cross somebody’s hand or legs in the shape of a cross; to meet somebody’s eyes, to meet somebody accidentally, to find and earn money or to find a new husband, wife, lover or even a client.

Bearing in mind that the verb has been in wide metaphoric usage not only by my mother but by generations of Greeks, it was surprising to see Davutoğlu, whose deep knowledge of the history and culture of this area has been widely acknowledged, choose to react to the literal meaning of the word.

“In our historical tradition, there has never been a crucifixion,” Davutoğlu claimed.

But, maybe, if one would use the term metaphorically, meaning “suffering,” as Patriarch Bartholomew certainly did, then they may find many occasions for its usage during the period on which Professor Davutoglu is an expert, the Ottoman period.

“I don’t find this comparison compatible with the mature personality of the Patriarch,” said Davutoğlu, who found “crucifixion” an “extremely unfortunate comment” and said he hopes it was “a slip of the tongue” on the part of the Patriarch.

“The Turkish Republic does not evaluate its citizens according to their religious identity,” said the Turkish foreign minister.

There is a lot to comment on these statements, and, of course, the events of 1955, 1964 and 1974 are strong evidence regarding the state of the Istanbul Rum community.

Patriarch Bartholomew is certainly not an immature personality; it takes quite a generous reserve of maturity to be able to act both as a leader of a faith and of a diminishing community and at the same time appear as one of the strongest advocates of your government’s “national target,” i.e., to be accepted as a member of the European Union. In their frantic diplomatic effort to convince Europeans that the “EU has no future without Turkey,” both Davutoğlu and Mr. Egemen Bağış would be greatly helped having a religious leader such as Bartholomew on their side instead of scolding him for his “slip of the tongue.”

Let us not forget that only a few weeks ago, the same Patriarch, in an interview with daily Zaman, had given full support to the government’s efforts to unravel the “dark forces” who “work to overthrow the government” and had stated how hopeful he was “that the troubles of the Greek minority and other minorities in Turkey would soon be resolved, thanks to the government’s democratic initiative, which aims to grant more rights to citizens.”

It was the same person who said: “We are very positive about the initiatives of our government. It is imperative all over the world that minorities should be treated with goodwill.”

But, as a wise man, he then balanced his statement by adding: “It is sad to hear that our foundations are been referred to as ‘foreign.’ We are Christians, but we were born here and we were raised here. I was born on Gökçeada. I love my country and village. I did my military service for two years. I pay my taxes. Our only difference is our religion. But we are equal citizens under the Constitution.”

The “crucifixion” incident has added unnecessary tension to an already tense political climate in Turkey. But with Christmas only four days away and with the memory of the literal crucifixion of Jesus Christ according to the Christian faith, many months away, maybe there is time to make things up.

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