And both countries ‘surrendered to flames’

And both countries ‘surrendered to flames’

There are many common expressions used in both Turkish and Greek languages. One person who was in the best position to affirm that was Hercules Millas, a “Rum” born in Istanbul but living in Greece for many years, a literary translator, writer and academic teaching in universities of both countries.

When relations between the two countries were much better, when we all hoped that the process that started with the so-called “Earthquake diplomacy” two decades ago would open the channels of peace and cooperation, Millas was a person who translated his knowledge of both languages into a practical teaching tool. When he was teaching Turkish to Greek-speaking students in 1999-2003, he used his “catalog of 4,600 common Greek and Turkish words and 1,300 common expressions and proverbs.” So, his students “learned” in a short time thousands of words of the other language. In 2007, this catalog took the form of a book: It was published as “List of common Greek and Turkish words, expressions and proverbs” both in Greek and Turkish. Not surprisingly, the book became a very popular companion to a lot of people on both sides.

Watching on both Geek and Turkish TV another common natural disaster unfolding simultaneously in both countries, this time, it was a wave of forest fires. I was able to focus on the use of language by reporters who covered the terrible events for at least a week. I observed the choice of words and the intensity of descriptions, as well as the cliché terms used by Turkish and Greek reporters on the ground. Especially when it came to cliché expressions, I could not stop myself from noticing how many linguistic similarities existed between these two nations when describing adverse situations and strong feelings.

Describing the huge flames enveloping houses in Marmaris in Muğla and Varibobi in Athens, reporters on both countries chose to say that “they were burning like torches,” that their owners rushed to their houses with “their soul in their teeth,” while watching their properties disappearing before their very eyes, “drowning in tears.”

Watching a Turk holding a burnt tortoise in Bodrum or a Greek trying to save a torched dog in Varibobi, people’s hearts “bled,” their “insides bled” and “their brain stopped” not being able to digest what was happening. And while the fires were blazing, firefighters “continued their wild with wild flames” and at some point, they reached “the critical point of the battle.” When the firefighters came very near a big fire either in Varibopi or in Manavgat, they “had reached a breath’s distance,” reporters described.

The danger of new fires spreading to other areas is still very real. The “battle with the flames” continues. Neighborhoods, forests and houses, “have surrendered to the flames.” So far eight people lost their lives in the forest fires in Turkey, none in Greece. The Greek prime minister “prayed to God that we did not have any loss of human lives. Houses can be rebuilt,” he said. Something similar we heard in Turkey. Many people are very frustrated with their leaders and the state mechanism for not protecting their properties and their crop. People became explosively angry as “gunpower.”

We can go on with our observations on the linguistic similarities of Turks and Greeks. The coincidence of a natural disaster showed us that the languages of both countries still use similar semantics to express their feelings. “We are from the same dough” is the expression used by both Greeks and Turks. To what extent these common expressions reflect a similar view of the world is difficult to tell. But the use of so many common expressions by contemporary media in both countries to describe a similar catastrophe indicates that deeper bonds still hold. After all, these two countries lived together and fought against each other for many centuries.

Perhaps it is worth ending with a part of the forward from Millas’ book: “In the age of nation states and identities where our ‘supposed’ specialness serves as a positive reference point and the ‘supposed negative’ otherness of the other reinforces our identity. We see that we have common points with the other. Thousands of words remind us that finally, we belong to a wider space where people exchange common values and signals. The ethnically airtight spaces have less relevance.”

Ariana Ferentinou,