When Simitis says "Enosis" in Cyprus...

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Wed Apr 23 14:06:17 UTC 2003

I am forwarding this message to the Lg-Policy List, since it seems
germane.  It came unsolicited to me from Neophytos Loizides
<loizides at chass.utoronto.ca>


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2003 20:14:46 -0400
From: Neophytos Loizides <loizides at chass.utoronto.ca>

When Simitis Said "Enosis" in Cyprus...

By Neophytos Loizides

Published in Hamamboculeri (literally "cockroaches") an online Turkish
Cypriot journal.


Comments: loizides at chass.utoronto.ca

An ostensibly insignificant error made by Greek Prime Minister Kostas
Simitis in a speech he made while he was visiting Cyprus, and the
subsequent reactions to that error from both Turkish and Turkish Cypriot
media and politicians, have provided the impetus for the present
commentary. In brief, the incident is an excellent case study of how
nationalist misrepresentation works, how some media fail to provide
accurate and complete information, and how civil society and authorities
in the region are unable to deal with even insignificant "crises."

What Did Simitis Say?

Although I live abroad, I listened to Simitis's Nicosia speech online on
ERT (Greek State TV). Simitis delivered his speech to Greek Cypriot people
gathered outside the Ledra Hotel after the mayor of Nicosia, Michalakis
Zambellas, had honored him for his support of Cypriot accession to the EU.
Simitis's response to the mayor spoke to the purpose of his visit: he did
not intend to celebrate, nor did he wish to antagonize the Turkish people.
Rather, he wanted to warn Greek Cypriots that even after securing their
accession to the EU, moderation and compromises are needed. A further
purpose was to consult (for the first time) members of the Turkish Cypriot
political parties, while at the same time, bolstering Greek Cypriot
commitment to the UN plan. Speaking in front of a Greek Cypriot crowd,
Simitis gave an account of the success of the Cyprus accession process,
while emphasizing the political efficacy of compromise, flexibility, and
cooperation in foreign policymaking.

          I froze when I heard Simitis (in Greek) saying that with this
positive attitude "we" achieved "enosis" (union).  Unfortunately, the word
"enosis" could easily be interpreted to mean union between Greece and
Cyprus (not the European Union as the PM probably meant), obviously the
most contentious issue in the 20th century history of Cyprus and its two
"motherlands," Greece and Turkey. In Istanbul, for example, I was warned
by a minority Greek shopkeeper not to say the word "enosis" in public, as
it can electrify the country.  The words "enosis," along with "Megali
Idea" (the idea of Greek expansionism) are Greek words that all students
learn in Turkish schools. They appear in every history book on the Cyprus
problem written from a Turkish perspective.

          In this instance, Simitis immediately clarified that "we" had
achieved the "entaxi stin Enosi" (accession to the European Union).
Nevertheless, the atmosphere appeared strained until the mayor of Nicosia
called a Greek and a Turkish Cypriot girl to jointly offer Simitis a
flower basket in the shape of Cyprus. "I enosis tis Kyprou" (the
union[reunification] of Cyprus), the mayor added nervously.

How were Simitis's Words Perceived and Utilized?

Not surprisingly, the news of Simitis's speech made headlines in Turkish
and Turkish Cypriot newspapers. Milliyet reported Simitis statement under
the heading, "Simitis Aðzýndan Kaçýrdý, Enosis'i Baþardýk'' (in Turkish,
"It Escaped from his Mouth: We have achieved Enosis"), thereby
representing the statement as a gaffe and without offering any background
information on how this could happen in the Greek language, or any
alternate meanings for his phrase.  Citing rightwing Greek Cypriot daily
Mahi, Milliyet (20/4/2003) further said that Simitis interpreted Greek
Cypriot membership in the EU as the realization of enosis (i.e. union with
Greece). Although Milliyet mentioned Simitis's immediate correction, he
did not bother to explain to its Turkish readers that the word "enosis" in
Greek means simply union, and is now used in the Greek language as a short
form for European Union. In fact, most Greeks today use "Union" to signify
European Union, not thinking at all of the long ago and largely forgotten
struggle of Greek Cypriots to unite with Greece in 1955-59.

          The misrepresentation of Simitis's statement caused an immediate
knee-jerk reaction from the Turkish and T/C political leadership. State
Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullatif Sener said on Sunday, April
20, that Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis's comment ran counter to
international law and facts, and that the words which disturbed them must
also have greatly disturbed the European Union (EU).  And although
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdullah Gul openly doubted whether Simitis
had actually made such a statement, in an interview on TRT 2 television,
he did not refrain from commenting on the whole issue:

Such remarks, however, will not serve peace and will prove to the whole
world to what extent the Turkish Cypriot side is right. Turkey's and the
Turkish Cypriot side's concerns are justified if such remarks are made. I
believe, however, that no such statement was made. We have to take it at
face value that such remarks were not made since they were denied. If such
remarks are made, however, the extent that the Turkish Cypriot side is
right in its concerns is proved. If such remarks are made, it proves the
extent that Mr Denktas, Turkish Cypriot leader, is justified in his
statements. (see BBC Monitoring 04/ 20/2003)

Finally, Denktash grabbed the opportunity to attack his moderate opponents
in the Turkish Cypriot community who ignored his wish and met with Simitis
this past weekend. In a statement to the TRT, Denktash said that with
these words, Simitis demonstrated his true intentions. What must actually
be viewed with apprehension is the fact that certain circles in northern
Cyprus are defending this, rather than the remarks uttered by Simitis.
Denktash stressed that enosis is a political expression in Greek
literature. (BBC Monitoring 04/21/2003).

What does this incident say about Cyprus and the Greek-Turkish Politics
of Nationalism?

There are at least two lessons one can draw from this story. Firstly, our
societies do not receive reliable information, as some media may not
present the whole story during times of crises. Firstly, Greek and G/C
media tried to ignore the event or simply stated that the Turkish and
Turkish Cypriot ones are falsifying Simitis's statements (CYBC).
Meanwhile, Turkish media have selected parts of the story that served
their purposes giving no indication how the word "enosis" is used today in
Greek.  The problem is exacerbated by the absence of adequate numbers of
journalists or academics with even basic bilingual skills.

            Secondly, given Simitis long-standing positive attitude
towards Turkey, it is disappointing how easily a misrepresentation of his
speech error resonated among media, policymakers, and the Turkish public
in general. There are extreme nationalists in Greece and Cyprus but
Simitis is certainly not one of them. In his seven years in power, Simitis
took a great deal of political risk to improve relations with Turkey. He
is one of the strongest supporters of peace in Cyprus combined with
progress in Turkish membership into the EU. While his government probably
shares some responsibility for the development of past crises, his
political courage prevented Greece and Turkey from a devastating war in
1996 over Imia-Kardak and a possible confrontation over the deployment of
the Russian S-300 missiles in Cyprus.  Then, after Cypriot accession to
the EU, Simitis visited Cyprus to rally for moderation and compromises on
the basis of the "Annan plan".

            If it is possible to misrepresent Simitis's intentions, it
must be also possible to falsify anything in Greek-Turkish relations.
There are few solid interpretive anchors around which decisions are made
or political action takes place while reactions to crises depend primarily
on how "realities" are framed by actors rather than on "objective"
conditions. Nationalist ideologies, schemes and objectives remained
unquestioned, to the extent that our media and policymakers make realities
out of these misrepresentations. It is strange how the word "enosis" can
still make headlines in the press but the sad conclusion is that our
societies are still unable or unwilling to engage in a process of
"cognitive liberation" (in Doug McAdam's words) from what is the
traditional way of framing and thinking Greek-Turkish relations.

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