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Leonidas Karakatsanis, Turkish-Greek Relations: Rapprochement, Civil Society and the Politics of Friendship

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Review of Leonidas Karakatsanis, Turkish-Greek Relations: Rapprochement, Civil Society and the Politics of Friendship. London and New York: Routledge, 2014. xxi + 283 pp.
Book review, Historein Vol.18, No 1 (2019)
Leonidas Karakatsanis
Turkish-Greek Relations: Rapprochement, civil society and the politics of friendship
London and New York: Routledge, 2014. xxi + 283 pp.
Anthony Derisiotis
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens
Dr Leonidas Karakatsanis book “Turkish-Greek Relations: Rapprochement, civil
society and the politics of friendship” is an approach to the longstanding bilateral
tension between the two countries that follows a different path than that of the published
works on the history of Greek-Turkish rapprochement in International Relations
literature. The book covers a lengthy period of time, spanning from 1974 to 2013, but
also refers to the period after the 1919-1922 Greek-Turkish War, as well as the post-
Second World War Greek-Turkish alliance against the Soviet threat.
Dr Karakatsanis’ book is influenced by the work of Jacques Derrida, Ernesto Laclau
and Chantal Mouffe and, instead of relying on what Evgenia Vathakou calls
“bargaining processes between governmental agents”, it focuses on initiatives and
actors that have promoted rapprochement between the two societies, and underlines the
constant pendulum-like swing of the reconciliation process between enmity and
friendship. The author involves Ernesto Laclau’s term floating signifier to describe the
post-1974 ‘Greek-Turkish friendship’ as a unifying element between diverse groups.
The volume is divided in two parts, where the first part is an analysis of Greek and
Turkish leftist politics during the 1970s-1990s period and analyses the role of the Left
in shaping an approach to the ‘friendship between the people of Greece and Turkey’.
The author underlines the importance of this role for the rapprochement efforts in the
1990s and he also explains the reasons this role declined after 1996.
Chapter I draws on the concept of the Spectre and the work of Jacques Derrida, in order
to explain the leading role of the Left in both Greece and Turkey in the post-1974
Greek-Turkish friendship. The author argues that visions about the Left, about
democracy and friendship developed simultaneously in Greek and Turkish societies in
the late 1970s and early 1980s. He then draws on the parallels between the development
of the Left in Greece and in Turkey that have created the political links between them
and demonstrates how these links were the basis of a ‘leftist’ discourse of friendship.
Chapter 2 is focused on a small radical left organisation in order to examine the role of
the radical Left in the reconciliation process. The Association for the Solidarity Between
the Greek and Turkish Peoples, with the Greek acronym EAMLET, was established by
the Turkish political refugees from the 1980 Turkish military coup and their Greek
supporters in Athens. This chapter studies the EAMLET’s history and unveils what the
author calls a ‘new Turkish-Greek hybrid identity structured upon an articulation
between friendship, comradeship and hospitality’, arguing that the relation between the
‘self’ and the ‘other’ can promote challenges against nationalism. It concludes that
EAMLET affected the future of Turkish-Greek rapprochement in two ways: first, as an
initiative that became the basis for the creation of new political subjectivities, and,
second, as a ‘spectre’ of the Left that played a wider role than just a stimulus for the
Greek-Turkish rapprochement.
In Chapter 3, the author works his way through his fieldwork, his extensive archival
research in local libraries of Turkish Aegean towns and adjacent Greek islands and
interviews with involved actors, aiming at presenting the history of the cross-border
communication that was built by the Left and by the centre-left local governments in
the 1980s and 1990s. The chapter engages the work of Carl Schmitt on the ‘political’
and J. Derrida’s deconstructive approach to it, through which, the author argues that a
cross-border political frontier between nationalism and pacifism has managed to unite
the local Greek and Turkish societies and helped them to overcome the national
frontiers between them.
Chapter 4 returns to the concept of the ‘Spectre’ and focuses in the period between the
mid-1990s and the end of the 2000s, at a time when the Greek-Turkish relations where
on their way to normalisation, after the Helsinki EU summit. The concept of ‘Greek-
Turkish friendship’ was served by mainstream political actors, business elites, NGOs,
in contrast to its past radical character and the author attempts to explain why the Left
lost its pioneering role as the promoter of ‘Greek-Turkish friendship’. The chapter also
describes the transformation of several significant actors of the Left from both
countries, from supporters of the ‘Greek-Turkish friendship’ to strong critics, citing
examples such as Mikis Theodorakis and Stefanos Linaios.
The second part of the book is divided into 3 chapters that look into the 1974-2013
period, focusing on political discourses that are related to the emergence of ‘Greek-
Turkish friendship’, but this time on different ones than those invoked by the Left in
the first part of the book. The author looks into liberal and all-inclusive political visions
for regional peace and he describes non-leftist initiatives that promote Greek-Turkish
friendship, such as the Abdi İpekçi Peace Prize, the Greek-Turkish Friendship
Committee and the Turkish-Greek Friendship Association. This part of the book also
analyses the rise in ‘civil society’ rapprochement initiatives that run parallel to the re-
emergence of the ‘friendship’ discourse into the post-1999 bilateral political agenda.
Chapter 5 describes the contribution of the intellectual elites in Istanbul and Athens to
the ‘Greek-Turkish friendship’, through a comparative research of Greek and Turkish
sources. The author focuses on the history of the longest lived initiative on ‘Greek-
Turkish friendship’, the Abdi İpekçi Peace and Friendship Prize and the two committees
that were established by intellectuals, the Greek-Turkish Friendship Committee and the
Turkish-Greek Friendship Association. He underlines the common elements between
these initiatives, with the most significant one being the transformation of the ‘Greek-
Turkish Friendship’ into a project that supersedes political frontiers, despite the leftist
influence on these initiatives. Additionally, he involves Aleta Norval’s concept of
aspect dawning to explain the convergence of Greeks and Turks through cultural
proximity.
Chapter 6 is focused on a very specific four year period, one that had a profound effect
on Greek-Turkish relations. It begins with the Imia crisis in 1996, which triggers an
internationalisation of the Greek-Turkish rapprochement and ends in 1999 with another
swing of the pendulum between enmity and friendship, with the Öcalan crisis in 1999.
The author attempts to explain the proliferation of new rapprochement initiatives in the
aftermath of the Imia crisis. He suggests that during this period there was an emerging
of new approaches to rapprochement, through a reshuffling to the meaning and practises
attached to the ‘Greek-Turkish Friendship’, together with a gathering of activists
around new political signifiers, such as ‘civil society’, ‘common interests’ and the EU.
He identifies the influence of a European ‘civil society’ through the establishment of a
Greek-Turkish branch of the Helsinki Citizen’s Assembly network of NGOs and the
Greek-Turkish project of the Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l’ Europe
(AEGEE). He also refers to other NGOs, such as the British Royal Services Institute
(RUSI), the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), Harvard University, etc. He also,
refers to the emergence of common interests that triggered the involvement of business
circles and the resumption of the Greek-Turkish Business Council activities that was
semi-dormant in the years prior to the Imia crisis.
Chapter 7, which is the last chapter of the book, is about the post-1999 period, up to
2013. It begins with the 1999 disastrous earthquakes that shook İzmit and Athens and
the dispatch of the EMAK and AKUT rescue teams that triggered a shift in popular
perceptions of the ‘other’, which in turn paved the way for a number of shifts,
previously unthinkable, in the official positions of the two states. Also, the 1999
Helsinki summit became an EU terrain of cooperation for the two states, instead of
conflict, after the removal of the Greek policy change towards Turkey’s EU accession.
The author presents the involvement of new actors in the call for friendship’, such as
EU-funded civil society organizations, political and business elites and the media. He
argues that they have over-circulated the ‘Greek-Turkish friendship’ slogan, which he
concludes, led the concept to fade, after losing its affective power as a political
message; a condition he calls aspect dusk.
Dr Karakatsanis’ book is an innovative attempt to approach the Greek-Turkish
friendship concept and the efforts for rapprochement that relies on discourse analysis
as the catalyst, instead of aspects of international relations theory, which have been
extensively used in the past. Methodologically, the book is supported by a combination
of ethnographic research, political discourse analysis, archival research on Greek and
Turkish sources and interviews, as well as substantial fieldwork in both countries and
the author’s own observations as a participant on a number of friendship initiatives. He
looks into the vision of ‘Greek-Turkish friendship’ pursued by actors such as civil
society activists, radical leftists, local politicians, EU related organisations, journalists
and business circles.
He does not involve the Greek-Turkish disagreements on Cyprus and the Aegean Sea
extensively, possibly to avoid getting carried away to international relations aspects of
the bilateral relation and to keep the focus specifically on Greek-Turkish
rapprochement. His work is an original contribution to the literature that provides new
and useful tools for researchers to understand the Greek and the Turkish politics and
society.
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