'It was just a storm that passed'
“It was just a storm. It passed. Everything is OK.” My friend on the other end of the line sounded quite jolly and consoling. I should not worry, he said, things will sort themselves out. “Believe me. We know better,” he said.
It was helpful to calm me down. Already anxious with trying to absorb the current avalanche of events, to sort out an overflow of news and decipher the meaning of the extraordinary changes that are taking place currently in Turkey, I was taken aback by the reaction of my friend. Is it really a passing storm?
Of course, I should add something very important. My friend is a Rum, a member of the small Greek Orthodox community which is still holding on and trying to survive in a land that once was home to a much larger Greek speaking Orthodox entity. This small introvert cell of Turkish society is keeping its faith and cultural characteristics intact. They are not many and when you touch that sensitive issue of numbers they tell you that it is not the numbers that matter but the spirit of continuity on the land of their ancestors. Since that telephone conversation, which took place the day after the failed coup, I spoke to several other Rum friends as I was curious about their reaction. Most of them showed similar composure and stoicism. Most of them spoke of a “small” thing that was overcome quickly and that things will be stable from now on. For example, another Rum friend, a small businessman in the tourism sector, sounded relieved that “the army could not come back as before” and he was packing up to go and meet his family “who is already holidaying in Greece.” He was equally consoling and dismissive of my worries as to how things would develop from now on. As long as the army is not in power, for him any alternative is far better.
Of course, I understand their past traumas when in various nightmarish phases of contemporary Turkish history they were made to feel as foreign elements or even enemies of this land. And because of that, I had to understand why they were mostly supporters of the Justice and Development Party (AK party) government who during its first years in power gave them some breath of freedom as members of a non-Muslim minority.
But what I am trying to say now is something else and not strictly political. I have always been perplexed by the resilience of this remaining fragment of a centuries-old community with whom I speak the same language but have few things in common. We mainland Greeks have perhaps been overconfident about our identity, our history, our survival – although the latest economic crisis has shaken up these old certainties - we feel we can afford immature politics and lack of consensus at moments of crisis.
Rums are different. Yes, their numbers are slowly coming down, but they survive with an admirable resilience and wisdom built over many traumas and adversities.
In these days, I remember what an old Rum from Büyükada had told me two years before he died. When I asked him what was the definition of a Rum, he had replied: “A Rum is a person of Anatolia who speaks Greek and has a Greek-Christian culture and likes to see the storms of their lives like a sundial clock that shows only the sunny days.”