Saturday, December 31, 2022



In the lead up to Christmas, the airline Jetstar caused to be published on Instagram, the following offering: Can’t get off Yiayia’s plastic covered couch? Refresh yourself with a Post-Chrissie Recovery at a swim-up bar instead. This Chrissie is gonna be hotter than a Shearer’s armpit, so tell us your favourite summer cocktail for the chance to win a $3,000 flight voucher on us.⁠” 

The text is accompanied by an animated sketch whereby a young man clad in a singlet, shorts and white socks, wearing around his neck a large golden cross that covers almost the entire length of his chest, sits upon a plastic-coloured couch, presumably that of his yiayia. The man’s luxurious tresses are in the style of Vince Colosimo in the original Wogboy movie. On the wall behind the young man, in prominent position, hangs a very large cross. Around it are arranged picture frames, containing the obscurely drawn images of what presumably are members of the yiayia’s family as well as an image around which there exists a halo, most likely an icon. 


As the scene opens, a narrator informs us that it is the hottest Christmas day on record. A hand appears on the screen. It wears a thick pearl bracelet and its fingers end with long curved nails that look more like talons or claws than anything else. These nails are coloured a deep shade of maroon that almost looks black. The claws are curled around a long glass containing an orange liquid. We assume at this point that the hand belongs to the yiayia referred to in the text, for as she sets the glass down on the table in front of what we can infer to be her grandson, she intones in a faux ethnic accent, “there you go, παιθάκι μου.” The hapless grandson subsequently engages in valiant attempts to disengage himself from the plastic that is adhering to his skin but is unsuccessful. There shall be no prospect of refreshment at the house of his grandmother. 


The offering was forwarded to me by a colleague and social activist who found it disquieting: “Is this sakhlamara racist? It just hits me the wrong way.” Indeed it does. For in their attempt to either: a) “embrace diversity” with all that this means for a dominant class that proclaims its own self-enlightenment and tolerance b) appeal to a specific ethnic community or c) create an advertisement that is actually humorous, the perpetrators of this crime against good taste have shown that they are unable to conceive of non-Anglo Australians and specifically in this case, Greek Australians, outside of well-worn anachronistic tropes and stereotypes. Given the objectification and blatant trivialisation of Greek Australians in material of this nature, it beggars belief that any member of that target community should choose to fly Jetstar ever again. 


The last time I saw a plastic covered couch was in 1987, paying a condolence visit to an old lady whose husband had just died. Even back then, three decades ago, plastic covered couches were a rarity. My grandmother’s neighbour on the other hand, a lovely Australian lady who would yell at my grandmother as she watered her garden every time a trickle of water would pass under the fence, covered her couch with a blanket she knitted herself, upon which her border collies slept and which until she died in the early two thousands, never washed, creating a heady mixture of stimuli for one’s olfactory nerves. Fond memories aside, we find ourselves on the cusp of 2023, not 1987 and one would be hard pressed to find a plastic covered couch anywhere within our community, something that even the most cursory of enquiries would have revealed. We are therefore entitled to ask the thought process of those who have unleashed this offering upon us, in deliberately propagating an anachronism. 


The same applies to the entrapped hero of the scene, caparisoned in all the trappings of a “Mario” of old, in a time when the extremely few Marios that are left among us exist only either in comedy sketches by unrepentant members of the sub-species in whose interest it is not to evolve, or a certain cul-de-sac in Thomastown, for whom the Renaissance was something that happened only to other people. By and large however, the Greek Australians of today cannot relate to the caricature commissioned by Jetstar, though admittedly, the Anglo-Australian community can, for it is this caricature, long after it ceased to be relevant as satire to our community, that it has chosen to endorse and perpetuate for decades, as the “go to image” of the quintessential Greek-Australian. It is the image of the perpetual foreigner, who is rendered safe, for he has easily identifiable attributes, quite distinct from the modern Greek-Australian who is an eternal subversive, for he generally walks among us, unseen. 


One does not know how to take the “yiayia,” portrayed in this concatenation of cliches. If the scenario indeed takes place in decades past, my recollection of the grandmothers of that era is of careworn, large callused hands, some with fingers missing owing to industrial accidents at a time when migrant workplace safety was subordinated to profit, and invariably with nails cut short, for these were working women in whose hands the future of generations rested. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a Greek-Australian grandmother with talons, although I know quite a few that enjoy getting their nails done. They range from school principals, politicians, lawyers, scientists, fashion designers, property developers to shopkeepers and journalists. Sadly, however, they don’t appear to fit the desired look. 


Of note, is the yiayia’s speaking part and in particular, her utterance of παιθάκιinstead of παιδάκι, possibly because someone wrote down in Romanised fashion, the word paithaki for the voice actress and she was not given any guidance as to properly pronouncing the voiced dental fricative, opting to pronounce a voiceless dental fricative instead. Of course, a native Greek speaker could have avoided such a basic mistake but then again, it is not certain if Greek-Australians can be trusted to speak Greek or Australian, in a manner acceptable to the dominant class when portraying Greek Australians, nor indeed whether they would be willing participants in what is tantamount to linguistic blackface. 


One element that the vignette does get right, is the prevalence of icons in our homes. They are ubiquitous, even among the second and third generations. These icons, like stereotypes, are generally drawn the same way and no other, because they act as types for the figures they represent and also because they are not just pictures, but items of veneration that go to the core of Greek-Australian spirituality or at least, identity. To reduce them, as the perpetrators of the Jetstar advertisement have done, to crude, abstract cartoons, plausibly to their quest to add just a bit of ethnic colour, is an act of ignorance at best and at worst, an act of desecration, blasphemy and religious intolerance facilitated by the fact that it is the dominant culture that is the ultimate arbiter of how we and our ethno-cultural attributes are portrayed and we have little or no redress when we are affronted. Instead, we are expected to take such slights in good humour and actively collaborate in their propagation, or risk being branded over-sensitive and possessed of a sense of entitlement. 


Not the offer of the nectar of the Olympian Gods will induce me to extricate myself from my yiayia’s  πολυθρόναa fabric couch purchased after a good deal of scrimping and saving in the nineteen fifties, or indeed, from my children’s yiayia’s couch, a rather contemporary arrangement in whose construction many innocent vinyls were slaughtered, in order to fly Jetstar ever again. I cannot in all good conscience give my custom to a purveyor who, as the advertisement implies, objectifies my people as its target clientele, indulges in some of the crudest, most unimaginative and inordinately irrelevant parody and appropriates and profanes my religious symbols. Jetstar owes the entire Greek-Australian community an apology for the grave offence it has caused, or failing that, free tickets to Bali for us all. Now that, παιθάκι μου, is definitely something to tear yourself from your IKEA Landskrona three seat leather sofa for…. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 31 December 2022

Saturday, December 24, 2022



The first thing I see when I open the door is a pair of gleaming blue eyes, the exact shade of vibrant azure that one comes across off the coast of Latakia. When I mention this to Yousef, to whom these most remarkable eyes belong, his weather-beaten face creases into an immense smile, so vast that it threatens to engulf my entire field of vision. 

Despite my invitation to come inside, Yousef remains standing, gazing at the wreath that festoons our front door. At my urging, he reluctantly enters. “I love Christmas decorations,” he exclaims. “I can’t get enough of them.”  

“Well this is your lucky day,” I answer, for I too share his love, as do all the members of my family. Indeed, Myer has nothing on the homes of the clan collective, each room of which is festooned with Father Christmases, Elves and Australian Summer resistant plastic garlands, a resistance not so necessary any longer in moist Melbourne. 

Yousef gazes at our Christmas tree and touches the branches lovingly. “Beautiful,” he exclaims with the eye of a true connoisseur, “just beautiful. And then, glancing at  our large nativity set adjacent to the tree which is replete with camels and other animals that create the requisite barnyard atmosphere, he suddenly dropped to his knees and prostrated himself before it.  

“Forgive me,” he whispered, tears in his eyes, as he eventually stood up. “To see the Christ-child here, in a happy home, that is what every child deserves.” 

Yousef sits down and I make Syrian tea. He has only been in this country for a few years, arriving during the final years of ISIS’ reign of terror in his homeland. Like me, he is an Orthodox Christian and he asks me whether the Greeks in Australia follow the old calendar, like the ones in Jerusalem, or the new. When I attempt to debate the pros and cons of the calendar debate, he moves to silence me. “It is a great shame that Christians cannot all come together on such an important day to celebrate the birth of the Saviour and have to do so on separate days. Where we come from, we do not have the luxury of arguing over abstruse points of doctrine or arcane tradition. Where we come from, to be a Christian is to shed blood.” He sips his tea in the traditional way, sugar cube clenched between his teeth, to allow the teeth to permeate its sweetness. I on the other hand set mine aside. 

“What are you doing?” he asks, bewildered. “I wait until it is cold and then I swing it down in one hit,” I respond and he gives me the piteous look that the civilised give to the uncouth, when seeking to teach them deportment. 

Yousef looks around the room and his eyes rest upon a toy Father Christmas driving a bus which I have recently purchased for my son. I conclude that he suspects that I derive more delight from the contraption than my offspring and am about to launch into a lengthy exculpatory exposition when he interjects: 

“It was on a bus that I escaped the hell of ISIS. For years we were too frightened to put up a Christmas tree. I managed to get my family out before they came to our town and they eventually reached Beirut in safety, but I remained behind. When they arrived they got us altogether immediately because our friends and neighbours told them who the Christians were. They lost no time in informing us of the rules: no one was allowed to renovate the churches or monasteries in the town, no one was allowed to display crosses or religious symbols in public or use loudspeakers in prayer, no one could read from the Bible loud enough for Muslims standing outside to hear; no one could  carry out any religious ceremonies outside the church; and of course we were required to pay the jizya tax worth four golden dinars for the rich, two for those of a middle income, and one for the poor, twice annually, for each adult Christian. 

The first Christmas, a friend of mine was found lugging a small pine tree to his home. When he was stopped, he claimed he was doing nothing. Then he admitted it was a Christmas tree. They pulled him to the side of the road and forced him on his knees. All the time he was pleading with them, telling them he wasn’t doing anything wrong as his display was not public and was only intended to make his children happy. He was killed on the spot and his body just left to lie on the kerb. Soon after they started entering our houses looking for Christmas trees….” 

Yousef takes a long sigh and places another sugar cube in his mouth. “No amount of sugar can add sweetness to what I am going to say,” he sobs. It is the second Christmas under the yoke of the oppressor. Yousef’s church has been desecrated and looted. ISIS fighters have removed the crucifixes and icons from the church and have smashed them on the ground outside. They have taken the priests’ vestments and paraded around in them, mimicking Christian worship derisively. As Yousef speaks, I shudder, for what he is recounting are the same experiences recalled by my own people in Asia Minor, one hundred years previously. Ultimately, explosives are placed in the church and detonated. The structure that acted as a symbol of his identity, focused all his hopes and aspirations now lies in ruins. It is at this point that Yousef decided he could take it no longer. He had to leave. 

“I purchased a bus ticket with my friend Elias and left on Christmas Eve. This was a risky endeavour because our lives meant nothing to those people but we could not take it any longer. If there is any meaning in our Saviour’s birth and sacrifice, we thought, then let us be guided back to our families. We passed twelve ISIS checkpoints. All along the way, we witnessed scenes of devastation. Rubble, destroyed schools and churches. Driving towards one village, I saw what appeared to be an array of scarecrows on the side of the row and I wondered what they were doing there. As we sped past however, I realised I was mistaken. They had taken the Christians of that village and had crucified them on the side of the road. 

We went through the checkpoints one by one and each time we did, our hearts would leap out of our chests. Fighters would board the bus, check our identity papers and then wave us through. But through the window, I could see that they were pulling passengers from the other buses parked near us and taking them away. At one check point, a fighter, foreign looking, boarded the bus brandishing a sword. He checked the identification documents of each and every passenger. Discovering some of them were Christians, he would haul them off the bus. I was seated right at the back and my friend Elias was seated in front of me. When he ordered Elias off the bus, Elias resisted, stating that he wanted to get his bags. “Move, you won’t need them,” came the reply in broken Arabic. The fighter looked at me in the eyes and I froze. But inexplicably, he did not ask me for my identification. Instead, he turned around, got off the bus and waved us through. From the window, as the bus pulled away, I saw him raise his sword and cut off the head of my friend Elias. I have lived the guilt of that moment ever since. How was I spared and he condemned? Why do my children get to live with their father, while Elias’ remain orphans? Since arriving in this country, I have sought the help of psychologists yet I cannot still come to terms with this.” 

Rummaging through the shopping bags Yousef removes toy after toy, ignoring my protestations that it is too much, that my children already have enough toys, that he is new in this country and should spend the money on himself and his family. “Please, accept these,” he says quietly and as I continue to protest, he grasps my arm tightly: “If not for me, then for Elias.” 

I offer to acquire a grandiose Christmas tree for his home by way of recompense but he declines gently. “As much as I love them, I cannot bear to have a tree at home any longer. So do me a favour. Never forget to set up the Christmas tree. Do it for all of those who died not being able to do so. And for those who live and can no longer do so. Do it for me” His lips grimacing in the forced attempt at a smile, he wishes me a Merry Christmas, bounds down the steps of the front door, and is away. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 24 December 2022

Saturday, December 17, 2022


 Early last Saturday morning, I was startled from my slumber a message from my friend Menios from Mentone which read as follows: “Ela re. Check out this sick quote by the King of Kings.” Accompanying the text, was a meme displaying a Roman statue of the god Mars, and bearing a quote attributed to Alexander the Great, who had as much to do with Rome as Menios had with Mentone prior to his leaving Reservoir upon being married, to live in his pethero’s house. 

From time to time, I come across similar memes purporting that Alexander the Great proclaimed: «Εὐχαριστῶ τοῖς θεοῖς ὅτι ἐγεννήθην Ἕλλην» which means “I thank the gods for being Greek.” Some instead purport that he spake: «Εὐγνωμονῶ τοῖς θεοῖς ὅτι ἐγεννήθην Ἕλλην». Where a source is cited, which is rarely, it is usually attributed to Arrian's Anabasis of Alexander. 

“What a god re,” Menios re-messaged effusively, having not registered a response from me. “And we are all gods too. All the Greeks are legends!” 

The reason for my silence was that I was engrossed in a re-reading of the Anabasis in the original, scouring the text for the purported quote. Sadly, for all those proud admirers of the King of Macedon, the quote does not exist, something that should be apparent from the outset, since the Greek used in the quote is anachronistic: εὐγνωμονῶ in Arrian's time meant to think good thoughts, not to be grateful.  Similarly, the terms εὐχαριστῶ and ἐγεννήθην do not belong to the Greek of Arrian's time in that context and they can be found nowhere in his books. It was time to enlighten Menios of my discovery, via telephone, as I had sprained my thumb the night before whilst engaging in a simultaneous facebook argument about how Catholicism would have been different had Thomas Aquinas been able to read Aristotle in the original Greek, while also arguing elsewhere that Charlie Yankos was the most talented soccer player to have ever graced the hallowed field of Alexander the Great Soccer Club, which schismatics refer to as Heidelberg United and out and out heretics as “the Burgers,” and consequently found myself unable to text.  

The reaction was utter disbelief, conveyed in an idiomatic expression that signifies a conglomeration of bovine faeces. Nonetheless, I persisted, informing Menios that the first time his prized quote makes an appearance is in an article by Greek teacher Ioannis Kholevas, who cites as his source, a book by the same Ioannis Kholevas, entitled «Αλέξανδρος ο Μέγιστος, ο Ένας».  

Thus, it appears, that the quote is in fact, a hoax. I ventured the opinion that there is plenty of evidence to support the fact that the Macedonians belonged to the Greek world without resorting to the construction of spurious quotes. Menios, however, was incensed. “Seriously, you have to rip everything apart and ruin it.”  

“Was it not Stalin who said: “I trust no one, not even myself?” I asked. 

“Did he? When?” Menios inquired. 

“I don’t know. There is a meme floating around the social media,” I responded. 

“Why do you always have to take the piss out of everything re?” Menios sighed plaintively. “Nothing is sacred to you. Would it have killed you to just leave it alone? All the boys in the parea are texting nasty things about you now.” 

“Are they employing proper grammar and spelling?” I asked. 

“Come on re. These guys are very passionate about their history and the superiority of their Greek genes. You don’t want to upset them.” 

I am reminded of a Byzantine satirical song about the widow of Nicephoros II Phocas, Theophano, which describes a parade where she rides a mule, accompanied by “shrivelled horn-players with hand-sized anuses,” (κουκουροβουκινάτορες φουκτοκωλοτρυπᾶτοι). I felt the sudden overwhelming need to share this. 

“Seriously. You really have to stop trying to be a comedian. There are certain things that you just need to let lie, whether true or not true. You can’t just try to parody everything.” 

The definition of parody in the Byzantine compendium of knowledge: “the Suda” is as follows: «τοῦτο παρωδία καλεῖται ὅταν ἐκ τραγωδίας μετενέχθῇ εἰς κωμωδίαν». (“It is called parody when there is a transformation from the tragic into the comic”). I revealed to Menios that if it was not for the fact that I was born with a rare genetic affliction that rendered me unable to appreciate humour, I should like posthumously to be described in the same manner that Eunapius of Sardis described the ancient satirist Lucian of Samosata: «σπουδαῖος εἰς τὸ γελασθῆναι», that is, “serious about causing laughter.” 


Menios shrugs this revelation off and posits that Greeks lost the ability to appreciate comedy after the Roman conquest, whereupon barbarian DNA corrupted the pure Hellenic DNA, leading to a cognitive decline. He also mentions that his friend Babis, who was a fervent supporter of Ελλήνων Συνέλευσις (Assembly of Greeks) prior to the pandemic, propounds an alternate theory, whereby the ancient Greeks were a sombre and serious lot, with their conversion to Christianity leading to a debasement of their DNA, causing a concurrent lapse into frivolity, from which they are doomed never to recover, especially in this age of mass migration. 


Babis’ theory provides ample food for thought. After all, while you can’t get a more religious lot that the Byzantines, you also can’t get a group of people more inclined to poke fun at one another. Take for example, court official and chronicler Michael Psellos telling his rather serious Byzantine friends to lighten up:  

«ἵνα σεμνὸς φαίνῃ καὶ περιττός, ἀναιρεῖς μὲν λόγου χάριτας, ἀναιρεῖς δὲ φιλίας θάρσος, μισεῖς δὲ γλώττης χαριεντισμούς, καὶ ἀθετεῖς παιδίαν, ἣ μόνη τῶι βίῳ καταμεμιγμένη ἱλαρὰν ἡμῶν ποιεῖ τὴν ζωήν». 

In order to appear solemn and pompous, you reject the charms of words, you reject the audacity that belongs to friendship, you detest jocular speech and you dispense with play, the only thing that can make our life more cheerful when we mix it into our lifestyle.”  


Similarly, in 1030, Byzantine writer Michael the Grammarian not only made fun of the bishop of Philomelion for confusing ι for υ but also wrote that he owed his position to his services in procuring girlfriends for his superior, the metropolitan of Amorion. Even more wryly amusing are contemporary attitudes towards the 963 death of Byzantine ninja monk Marianos Argyros who was killed when a platter was smashed on top of his head.  

The hapless monk attempted to oppose the takeover of the imperial throne by the general Nikephoros Phokas by assuming control over Constantinople and arresting his father, Bardas Phokas the Elder. During the ensuing clashes, he was hit on the head by the offending platter, and perished.  

It is in his honour that the Byzantine emperors instituted the custom of breaking plates while in a rowdy mood, a custom which we, their degenerate descendants perpetuate in tourist traps around the Greek islands and weddings at reception centres in certain suburbs of Melbourne, to this day. I posit therefore that Babis is right and give thanks to all the saints and the true King of Kings not only for having been born a Greek but also for the conversion of my tribe and the dilution of its DNA, as the alternative would have resulted in a life as arid and devoid of levity as the President’s report at the Annual General Meeting of the Panimian Federation of Outer Donnybrook. 


“Yeah right re,” Menios snorted, seeking to end the conversation as he was desirous of binge streaming episodes of Married At First Sight. “I suppose you expect us to thank you for trying to change our perspective.” 


“Have you ever considered that the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates never said the words “Thank you,” in his entire life?” I mused. “That is because he did not speak English.” 

A barely audible click and the connection was lost, irretrievably and forever. 


First published in NKEE on Saturday 17 December 2022

Saturday, December 10, 2022


When the august Evan (Vangelis) Stamatiou is not posed behind the white screen, expertly performing Karagiozis shadow puppet plays with my insufficiency alongside him, he is helping to save the world. It is therefore not a coincidence that he was chosen to accompany the official Australian delegation to the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 27) held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Since 2007 Evan Stamatiou has immersed himself in the world of climate change to help ASX and international clients understand how this growing global crisis is driving risks and even opportunities to their business. 

According to Stamatiou: “Climate change is driving multiple risks as the physical environment changes, and as we transition towards a net-zero emission global economy. Understanding and communicating risk to Boards and Executives and further than that, to politicians and policy makers, requires a deep awareness of the latest climate science, the complex mechanisms of the Paris Agreement and its interrelationship with evolving global and regional mitigation and adaptation responses, as well as technology solutions.”  


It is this in-depth understanding of climate change-related risks, supported by his deep technical greenhouse emissions expertise that saw Stamatiou rubbing shoulders with global luminaries, indigenous tribespeople, climate activist groups, and politicians including Joe Biden, John Kerry, and host-country president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. As Stamatiou recounts, he spent his time dashing between negotiation rooms and business pavilions, busily gleaning information that would be useful for his clients. This included striking up a conversation with the Director of the First Movers Coalition, a global initiative harnessing the purchasing power of companies to decarbonize seven “hard to abate” industrial sectors that currently account for thirty percent of global emissions: Aluminium, Aviation, Chemicals, Concrete, Shipping, Steel, Trucking and innovative Carbon Removal technologies.  


Two things in particular captured Stamatiou’s attention at the conference. The first was one of its most positive outcomes: the agreement to establish the Loss and Damage Fund, an important step forward towards a more just and equitable transition for vulnerable communities that are increasingly affected by the extreme physical impacts of climate change. The movement commenced three decades ago by developing counties, seeking wealthier nations to compensate them for loss and damage in relation to climate change impacts, finds Stamatiou as a staunch supporter, stating: “At all stages it needs to be understood that the countries that stand to be beneficiaries of the Fund are those who suffer the most as a result of climate change while being the least responsible for causing it.” To his disappointment however, the in principle agreement remains as such until next year’s conference in Dubai, with a transitional committee to make recommendations as to the manner of operation of the Fund, to be determined at a later date.  


Secondly, that the topic of financing people to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change was also discussed at a substantive level. According to Stamatiou: “the Western world, especially those countries that are the main protagonists in bringing about the current climate change crisis must support the Global South’s transition towards clean energy if we are to have any chance of keeping global warming at a safe level. Financial institutions, including development banks need to step up in this regard. Sadly, the conference did not develop new climate finance goals to improve on the existing inadequate target, and to improve the West’s poor performance against this target. Also, attempts to create an action plan to double adaptation finance did not bear fruit and instead this endeavour was pushed further into the future. This is of grave concern, considering that the UN Environment Programme has warned that only a small trickle of adaptation finance was flowing to developed countries at present, with the 2022 Adaptation Gap Report estimating that it was up to ten times lower than what is required to take the necessary action.”  


Stamatiou maintains that he witnessed backwards momentum with regard to the temperature objectives of the Paris Agreement, which attempts to limit global warming to 1.5°C. In his opinion, countries with a vested interest in burning and trading fossil fuels attempted to undermine consensus through subtle means, keen to ensure that the clean energy transition doesn’t disrupt investment cycles and their economies. While the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan did reiterate participating countries’ commitment to the 1.5°C target, Stamatiou was incensed by the non-inclusion of a projected resolution to effect an emissions peak within three years. “No wonder then that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres commented at the conference, “We are on the highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,”” Stamatiou exclaims. Despite the doomsday consensus, despite statements such as those by Dr Yasmine Fouad, Egyptian Minister of Environment: “Life as we know it will cease to exist as climate change threatens the balance of our one planet,” there seems to be an inability by the parties concerned to commit to concerted actions in order to limit global warming.  


Stamatiou’s expertise extends to the Australian and international carbon offset markets and developing corporate carbon offset strategies that complement green technology strategies. As such, he is fully cognisant of the commercial cost of committing to emissions reduction and limiting global warming. Nonetheless, he is convinced that countries could, beyond the rhetoric, do more and remains hopeful: “Australia is making some progress in aligning itself with the requirements of the Paris Agreement. I was also particularly pleased that mention of food, rivers, nature-based solutions, tipping points and the right to a healthy environment were included in a conference cover decision.” Further highlights included witnessing newly elected Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva pledging zero deforestation by 2030, a proposal by Colombia and Venezuela to re-launch the 1978 Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organisation, a pact between South American states to preserve the Amazon rainforest, and the announcement that 150 countries, have now signed up to the  Global Methane Pledge, an international initiative to slash methane emissions by thirty percent by the year 2030, Australia being one of the newest, with a pledge by US special climate envoy John Kerry that new initiatives would tackle methane from waste and animal agriculture, including through efforts to change the diets of cattle.  


As a proud Greek, Stamatiou was pleased at the participation in the conference by both Greece and Cyprus, with statements provided by the leaders of both countries, although raised his concern over their deepening commitments to oil and gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean. He also pointed to the rising tensions over maritime borders to extract oil and gas reserves that were dragging Greece, Turkey, Libya, Egypt, Cyprus, Israel and Lebanon closer to regional conflict. He noted that this obsessive focus on exploiting oil and gas in the region highlighted how off track we were in meeting the Paris Agreement goals, with the International Energy Agency last year bluntly warning that zero exploration and development of new oil and gas fields was the only pathway to keeping the Paris Agreement alive. 


Although keeping a keen eye on geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean, Stamatiou’s focus remains primarily Australia based, linking climate expertise to broader geo-strategic interests within the Pacific region. “The Australian government recognises that climate change remains the single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific. I am proud to assist in a consultation process that will assist Pacific island countries reduce their emissions and build resilience to climate change. It truly is now or never.”  



First published in NKEE on Saturday 10 December 2022

Saturday, December 03, 2022



“The little Ottoman island of Mingheria, situated in the Eastern Mediterranean and famous for its marble and roses, has declared independence. For the last nine weeks, the island, whose population of eighty thousand is split evenly between Christians and Muslims, has been gripped by a terrible outbreak of plague.” 

Mingheria is the latest of Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s creations, a fantastical topos where he seeks to explore the process of the construction of mythology, political repression, nationalism and human nature. The “pearl of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea,”, Mingheria at the time that the principal events in the novel take place, which is at the turn of the twentieth century during the ruler of the genocidal Sultan Abdul Hamid II, is poised upon the cusp of great change, with two opposing forces assailing the island: Modernity and westernisation, as exemplified by the western educated doctor and nephew-in-law of the Sultan, and traditionalism and conservativism as represented by the reactionary sheikhs of various Islamic sects on the island, who despite their backwardness, can pose a threat to the Ottomans’ rule and thus have to constantly be placated.  

This ability, or rather predicament, of inhabiting the past and the present simultaneously with now clear demarcation between them, a phenomenon common to the lands formally under Ottoman rule, is no more so starkly symbolised as by the clock in Mingheria’s post office, which is marked with both Ottoman and European numerals. According to the Ottoman manner of counting time, the new day begins at sunset rather than at midnight as in the western usage, necessitating an hour hand that simultaneous must indicate two separate numbers. Thus an Ottoman soldier consulting the clock is overwhelmed by a sense of: “metaphysical apprehension,” wondering “Could two different clocks both mark the same moment in time but use different numbers?” 

Pamuk also transfers this hybridity from the temporal to the physical and the social. Mingheria is situated by the author between Crete and Cyprus. Like both those islands, Mingheria’s population almost evenly between Greeks and Turks and the tensions Orhan Pamuk describes between the two peoples are nuanced and complex, even though there is limited social contact between them. 

For the Turkish ruling class, Greeks are considered as by nature subversive. As such, they are constantly under surveillance and repressed, even when there are subjected to arbitrary, blatant violent attacks by their Ottoman co-citizens, as it is considered that by their very nature, they are disloyal. Consequently, their national aspirations are not even considered on their merits. Instead, they dismissed as being the consequence of machinations by non-native troublemakers and agitators from other islands, such as Crete and so, have no legitimacy. The Greeks’ ties to the island are considered as those of exploitation: they are there to make money and most of them are immigrants from somewhere else. Accordingly, their commitment to the island and to its welfare is constantly called into question, especially so when disaster strikes the island by way of a pandemic. Rather than staying behind to look after each other and their island, Pamuk portrays the Greeks as abandoning the island en masse, in the most conniving way possible: bribing their way through an Allied blockade of the island through their western connections.  

In the eyes of the Ottomans of Mingheria, then, Greeks are interlopers and parvenu westerners and it is in delineating the tension between East and West that Pamuk excels himself, but only in relation to his own people. “To accept quarantine is to accept westernization,” he has a western doctor declare: “and the farther east one travels, the more tortuous the matter becomes.” Significantly, we are not granted any insight by the author as to how the Greeks saw the Ottomans or indeed their own position on the island, as the author only allows us to see the Greeks through Ottoman eyes. As a result, the narrator of the novel, a descendant of the Ottoman royal family, makes basic mistakes in her observations about the Greek people, such as claiming that the Orthodox bishops on the island are married and have children. This perspective, that of a coloniser knowing little about the colonised and systematically delegitimising them, has broader implications that also touch upon the fabric of Australian society. 

Pamuk’s multi-faceted portrayal of the relationship between the Ottomans and the Greeks is complicated by an original factor. According to Pamuk’s mythology, neither the Greeks, nor the Ottomans are the original inhabitants of the island. Instead, the native people of the island, the Mingherians, are said to come from a mythical homeland near the Aral Sea. According to the narrator, few Mingherians now speak their language and such language as exists, is limited to a few household words, rendering the use of the language as a spoken medium extremely difficult. Pamuk’s focus, in recounting how a Mingherian identity and language was resurrected or indeed constructed, when the island, through a bizarre and thoroughly entertaining concatenation of circumstances eventually declared its independence from the Ottomans, is to examine how cultural and linguistic elements can be fused and manipulated to create and identity and to uphold a political regime. Nonetheless, even as the narrator flags exaggerations and falsehoods in the narratives of the past, her privileged position as scioness of the former and founding rulers of the island, has profoundly disturbing implications for the way we view Ottoman rule in the islands of the Mediterranean. 

Firstly, even though it is evident we are dealing with a work of historical fiction, by placing in this particular region, a purportedly “native” people (who are ironically not native considering they have implausibly come, through means unknown, from Central Asia), Pamuk can be seen albeit inadvertently, as effacing the real history of the region and trivialising the plight of Greek islanders under Ottoman rule, which from Crete to Cyprus and beyond, was a brutal experience.  

Secondly, in Pamuk’s imagined microcosm, while most Mingherians have assimilated so that their culture and language is no longer dominant, the author suggests that the vast majority of these “native” islanders have in fact espoused Islam and have assimilated to the culture of the ruling Ottomans. By inference therefore the line of “legitimacy” thus lies through the Ottomans of the island, (as opposed to those in Constantinople), rather than the Greeks, who again, are thus presented as outsiders. Is Pamuk, for all his cultural sensitivity, trapped within his own perspective-obscuring narrative, one that is inevitably culture specific? 

This is certainly not the intention. After all, Pamuk in his lengthy narration, reveals how inconstant the reconstruction of the so-called “Mingherian” identity is, how it serves merely to reinforce existing power structures which largely remain the same and even how such an identity is selectively appropriated and discarded by privileged members of the ruling class. Ultimately, Pamuk seems to argue, concepts of nativity and identity are fluid, can be manipulated at will, and are inevitably suborned to serve the interests of power, creating their own realities in the process. If we are therefore to seek a pathway in which to engage in meaningful cross-cultural discussion and achieve a working consensus within multi-ethnic polities, such concepts provide no help at all. Consistent with the polyvalent quality of Pamuk’s art, rather than obscuring Greek experience under Ottoman rule in the Mediterranean, perhaps the novel serves as a telling parable as to the formation of the modern Turkish state, the lacunae, inconsistencies and errors in the narrative, being just as significant as historical facts. 

Identity politics aside, there is much to this novel that is ground-breaking, especially the prescient manner in which Pamuk conceived of the social and international effects of the arrival of a pandemic on an island, years before Coronavirus made its appearance on the world stage. His lyric evocation of a rose-perfumed idyllic island that is anything but, in which ethnicities, religions, ideologies and would be power-brokers contend blissfully unaware that they are about to witness the dawn of a new age, for which they are completely unprepared, as well as his sensitive and yet simultaneously merciless depiction of the foibles, insecurities and self-delusions of the human condition in crisis make for compelling reading. 



First published in NKEE on Saturday 3 December 2022