The stones of Anatolia

October 1 2015

For the Greek minorities in the interior [1921], nationalism has been a will-o’-the-wisp enticing them to destruction. Yet they, as well as the Smyrniots and Aivaliots [of the coast], have been attracted by it, partly because the latent sense of insecurity, inherent in minorities, makes them susceptible to movements promising cohesion and backing, and blind to their inevitable dangers; partly, too, because of the romantic vein introduced into all modern nationalism through the special circumstances of its origin in the West. Owing to the virtual stability of our linguistic boundaries since the Dark Age […], the romantic appeal to the past is a possible emotional basis in Western Europe for the demarcation of modern national states. Where Frenchmen or Italians held tournaments or built cathedrals in the Middle Ages, there are mostly still French and Italian populations anxious to be citizens of modern France and Italy. But in most parts of Anatolia where in the Middle Ages there were Orthodox Greeks belonging to the Near Eastern world, there are now Middle Eastern Moslem Turks. The continuity has been interrupted [since the Seljuk invasion]; the past offers not foundations but treacherous ruins; and the Greeks make matters worse by digging down below the mediaeval stratum to memories of Ancient Hellenism. For this folly we Westerners are largely to blame, for while we prudently refrain from importing the exploits of Ancient Romans, Gauls, or Goths into our contemporary national politics, and content ourselves with King Alfreds and Hohenstaufens and Joans of Arc, we have taught the unfortunate Greek peasant and merchant to say, parrot-wise, “I am a descendant of Pericles,” like foolish parents who bring up their children to be more affected than themselves. In Anatolia this extravagance is unfortunately encouraged by perpetual suggestion. The country abounds in imposing remains of mediaeval and classical antiquity, and the very stones cry out to any one who is foolish enough to lend an ear. At Kula, certain fragments of sculpture dating respectively from about the sixth century B.C. and the second century after Christ, were pointed out to me as a serious argument for including the town in Greece in 1921. The offensive against Angora [Ankara] was going to “cut the Gordian Knot”; the first day’s advance: inaugurated “a new Catabasis [descent] of Alexander”; the official communiqué ran: “We have occupied Dorylaion (Eski Shehir),” the modern name being added in brackets for the benefit of readers who had not made a profound study of the classical geographers. Political romanticism is essentially unhistorical, being an attempt to telescope past and present into one another, and it has an unlimited capacity  for ignoring what is inconvenient. At Gölde [near Kula], the Christians were hyperconscious of the twelfth-century Byzantine church and of the Greek characters carved on the nineteenth century tombstones, but took no account of the equally significant fact that the Greek script now recorded Turkish words. No doubt the Moslems of Gölde, when they go to school in imitation of their Greek neighbours, will claim the church as a monument of Saljuq art and argue that Turkish was the original language of the country, spoken by Lydians and Phrygians and Hittites before their temporary Hellenisation!

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

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