As if nobody knew
Every year around this time – at the end of a year and the beginning of a new one – we tend to think back on our life, take an account of the year past and make ambitious resolutions for the coming year that we usually fail to accomplish.
Taking this one or two levels higher to a national or international level, this is the time when our politicians are trying to persuade us that the year just passed was not as bad as we thought and that the year about to begin will be better than we hope. It is all about memory and to express it with an analogy from nature, it is about the memory of a goldfish or an elephant.
During the last days of 2011, one particular news story suddenly exploded when nobody expected it: during an interview with a Turkish newspaper and while talking about the “dark years” of the Susurluk scandal in the mid-1990s, former Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz indirectly admitted that the forest fires which wrecked many areas in Greece –especially on the Aegean islands, Crete and Rhodes – were the work of Turkish secret agents operating in Greece in retaliation for the supposed support that Greece was providing for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). An immediate harsh diplomatic reaction by the Greek government and a high-pitched chorus of reactions in the Greek media was perhaps the main reason why the former Turkish prime minister retracted his statement and claimed that he actually meant the opposite, i.e., that when he took over as prime minister, information reached him about Greek secret agents’ involvement in operations to light forest fires on the Turkish Aegean coast.
As he said, he prevented such information from being made public in order not to damage relations with Greece. The reactions in Greece made headlines in Turkey although few Turkish newspapers chose to run their own investigation into the matter, with the exception of Can Dündar, who wrote that a letter from Turkey’s Nationalist Intelligence Organization (MİT) he found in the archives of late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit implied that forest fires in Greece were the work of Turkish secret agents. Their Greek counterparts retaliated in kind. Dündar wrote that when the situation escalated to dangerous levels, Turkish and Greek authorities held a secret meeting on the border and decided to end this undercover war of arson.
There has been no official reaction from the Turkish government, nor any reaction from the opposition. Perhaps they will do it in time because at the moment the Turkish government has to deal with another, hotter potato, the “operational mistake” that killed 35 civilians in Şırnak, in other words, about the current, harsher realities of the Kurdish issue.
Whoever followed what was happening in Turkish-Greek relations during those terrible years preceding the period of “earthquake diplomacy,” they could hardly miss numerous press references to dangerous games of reprisals played by both sides at each other. Arson against precious green areas on the Aegean islands or on the Aegean coast were acts for which both sides have accused each other but have never brought anybody to justice.
The Greek media’s challenge is different. The degree of their reaction to Yılmaz’s statements was not an indication of a short memory. They, too, remember those years, but, going through an unprecedented crisis of economic survival, they are more recently trying to hang on in a political environment which is becoming increasingly more problematic and polarized. If there is one issue that they can act in unison on it is the “national interest” issue that was triggered by Yılmaz’s statement.
A “Turkey” story always sells even if it is an old one.