“Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night.”
Sundry ‘Ellinarades’ in our community of late protest the fact that the pernicious West persists in its pestilential propensity to employ the appellation Greek and Greece when referring to things supposedly ‘Hellenic,’ deriving from ‘Hellas.’ In the unlikely event that such ‘Ellinarades,’ are cognizant of Near Eastern usages they would be perhaps aggrieved to learn that for our near neighbours, we are the Yunan, that is Ionians, and definitely not Hellenes. While some, like the diatribist, derive a malicious pleasure in knowing that my people are so multi-faceted that they defy description and thus must be identified in all of their manifold manifestations and attributes separately, for the narrow Ellinarades, their pomps and minions somehow believe that for the rest of the world-wide populace not to call us Hellenes somehow translates as a diminution of our inherent greatness.
Not for these passionate patriots the clarification that according to Homer, who used the terms Danaans and Achaians (the Hittites, with whom we definitely did not hit it off referred to us as the Ahiyawans and the Egyptians remembered the Denyen as one of the sea-peoples who attacked them during the reign of Rameses III) as collective nouns to denote the Greeks, the Hellenes were merely a tribe inhabiting the environs of Thessalian Phthia, having migrated there from Epirus. Not for them the singular fact that as the Graecoi were a Boeotian tribe that founded the colony of Cumae and that as these were the first Greeks the Romans came in contact with, to preserve this name not only cements the historic context of contact between the east and west, but is also a more venerable appellation, given that Graecoi carries with it connotations of old age. Having sufficiently outraged them by such casuistry, said incensed Ellinarades would not be minded to tarry long enough to be told that considering that as the Ionians covered much of the coast of Asia Minor and were the first group of Greeks to meet the Persians and suffer at their hands, they have as good a claim as any, to lend their name to the race. Nor will such Ellinarades understand why for centuries, we preferred to call ourselves after our conquerors, Romioi and of course, why when we wish in Greek to refer to the very essence of being possessed of such an identity, we employ the term “Romiosyne.”
Ellinarades would perhaps, be consoled by the fact that the Chinese are one of the few peoples who call us by our preferred appellation, where allowing for pronunciation difficulties, our country is known as Xílā, pronounced Shila ie. Hellas. The historical context aside, one is mystified by the unilateralism of our Ellinarades’ approach to the sensitive topic of our collective cognomen, given that as Greeks/Hellenes/Romioi/Yunanlar, we rarely call other nations or their cities by the name they call themselves. Thus, the Γερμανοί are not referred to as the Ντόιτς, their capital city is referred to as Βερολίνο and not Μπερλίν and even the hapless Chinese who have been so kind as to call us by the name we wish to call ourselves, are not recipients of grateful reciprocity, for we Greeks do not call their land Τσόγκουο, but instead Κίνα. Similarly, Albania is not called Σκιπέρια, Armenia is not called Χαγιαστάν, nor Hungary, Μαγκιαρορζιάγκ. The reason for this is simple. Names of countries or people convey to us, not only information about them, but also about how they relate to us and our own culture.
Ellinarades who insist upon others using Greek titles to describe geographical and cultural entities would never dream of calling Constantinople Istanbul or Izmir, Smyrna. This is because, regardless of the fact that these cities lie in the Republic of Turkey, they have formed culturally and for a long time politically, an inseparable part of the Greek world. Though Istanbul is actually a corruption of the Greek term «Εις την Πόλιν,» it is culturally unacceptable for a Greek to use this term as it connotes a de-Hellenization of what was the cultural capital of the Greek world for one and a half thousand years.
While it would appear axiomatic that each culture would employ its own terms to denote regions of significance to it, regardless as to where they lie, this does not appear to be the case when it comes to Greece and Turkey. Recently, the Greek border police restricted entry into Greece, to three members of a Turkish delegation accompanying the vice-president of the Turkish Republic upon an official visit. The reason cited was that on their passports, their birthplaces, which were all situated in Greece, were recorded with their Turkish names, rather than their official Greek ones. Thus MP for Adrianople (oops, I should say Edirne shouldn’t I?) Mehmet Muezinoglu, was restricted entry as his birthplace was recorded as Gümülcine, rather than Komotini, while his wife was restricted entry for the reason that while her passport did record her birthplace as Komotini, it referred to Greece as Yunanistan. Finally, the acedemic Doctor Halit Eren who states on his webpage that he was born in Gümülcine (Komotini, Greece), was denied entry as the village of his birth was recorded as Kizilağaç, (meaning Red Tree) rather than Ragada, its offical Greek name.
All this seems rather petty and stupid until it is pointed out that there exists a bilateral treaty between Greece and Turkey, whereby these countries undertake not to employ their own terms when referring to regions within each country but rather those recognised internationally and officially by each sovereign country in question. It remains to be seen whether Constatinopolitan Greeks, Imvriots or Tenedians now resident in Greece, would have their birthplace registered as «Ιστανμπούλ, Γκοκτσεαντά,» or «Μποζτζαντά» in their passports and if they didn’t, whether they would be denied entry into Turkey. It would be hurtful and mindless if they were, as this would deny the core of their identity.
Some have argued that the persistent breaching of the bilateral treaty by Turkey, through its insistence on using Turkish names for Thracian villages in which a large Muslim minority currently resides, is in bad faith, and deeper, fouler and nefarious purposes are at play here. Whatever the intention, it is an incontrovertible fact that Muslims have resided in the Greek lands of Thrace for over four hundred years, just as Greek people have inhabited the lands of modern Turkey for over three thousand years and that it is as natural to expect these people to refer to the regions in which they have been born or derive their origins with their own particular names, as it is for Victorians to call their capital city Melbourne, rather than one designated by its original inhabitants, the Kulin nation, as long as the Kulin nation’s right to refer to their land as they will, is respected.
Treaties that deny each other such rights are symptomatic of immature states who cannot divest themselves of the nationalism that underpins their national myths and are employed as mere weapons, either of protection and aggression. We can therefore see Greece’s insistence upon strict adherence to the terms of the treaty as arising from the omnipresent fear of Tuekish expansionism into western Thrace, hence its hysteria upon the evidence of a breach. As a corollary, Turkish insistence is predicated upon the desire to drive it home to the Greeks that they have lost their ancestral homelands and are denied even the right to use their original names. If we were to extend the terms of this ridiculous treaty to our northern neighbours, we would be denied entry into FYROM for not referring to that state as ‘Macedonia,’ this being the official term for that country within that state.
In the meantime, the people who identify these regions are the ones who suffer heartbreak. A person’s identity should not be toyed with, and used for political purposes. An Epirot cannot and will not ever be able to refer to the capital of Northern Epirus as Gjirokastër, nor should they be compelled to use any other term than that which they know: Argyokastro. Similarly, for an Albanian to use the term Janina when referring to Ioannina, is inoffensive, as long as it is understood that irredentism has no place in the post-nationalist world. Turkey in particular has greater levels of maturity to attain. Mutual respect through an awareness and acceptance, of the past will achieve much more in terms of normalizing the dysfunctional relationship between Greece and Turkey than any ridiculous treaty ever will. Turkey needs to realize that the rebellious Greeks are here to stay. After all, as the song itself admits, there is no going back:
“So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks.”
First published in NKEE on Saturday 15 September 2012