Miracles happen all the time

© picture alliance/EPA-EFE | ORESTIS PANAGIOTOU

6 February 04:17 am...

February 6, 04:17 in the morning marks a painful day of destiny for millions of people in Turkey - thousands of people did not survive the 7.7 magnitude earthquake, whereas for the millions of survivors there will always be a life before and after February 6. Whole regions were devastated, a large part of the nearly 15 million people in the region face social and economic ruin.

But in addition to all the destruction and suffering brought upon the people by the earthquake, there were also many a miracle - such as the rescue of numerous people from the rubble even after almost 300 hours after the earthquake.

As in 1999 - Greece and Turkey draw closer again after the earthquake

Another miracle concerns the eternally toxic Greek-Turkish relationship - Greece was amongst the first countries to send rescue teams to the region only a few hours after the earthquake was reported. As it happened after the great earthquake of 1999 - the term earthquake diplomacy had appeared for the first time then - Greece had not hesitated for a second and had rushed to the aid of its suffering neighbour. The pictures of the rescue of a six-year-old child by the Greek rescue team EMAK went around the world and have since been symbolic of the Greek-Turkish approach. In total, about ten people were rescued alive from the rubble with the help of the Greek rescue teams.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias had travelled to the region a few days after the disaster and met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Cavuşoğlu. At the EU donor conference on the reconstruction of the earthquake region, Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis played an active role.

In addition to all the government-organised support, there was also a genuine wave of solidarity in Greece, set in motion by schools, associations, municipalities, trade unions, businesses, NGOs and ordinary citizens. More than 300 trucks carrying humanitarian aid made their way from Greece to Turkey in the days after the earthquake. While the major Greek newspaper Kathimerini ran the headline "We are all Turks" in solidarity the day after the earthquake, the Turkish Hürriyet expressed its gratitude in Greek with "Efharisto Poli File" (Thank you very much, neighbour).

Before the earthquake: saber-rattling and war cries

Before 6 February, the bilateral relationship between Ankara and Athens was worse than it had been for a long time - in view of poor poll ratings before the fateful election on 14 May, Turkish President Erdogan was desperately looking for an enemy image from outside, and there is no more suitable candidate in Turkey for this role than the eternal rival on the other side of the Aegean. Erdogan's daily saber-rattling towards Athens had recently taken on North Korean dimensions - "one night we can come," was a favourite threat of the Turkish president, intended to remind his neighbour of the humiliation of the 1974 Cyprus War. Erdogan, who no longer has too many economic and domestic success stories, has been trying for several years to turn foreign policy conflict issues with Greece (exclusive economic zones in the eastern Aegean, status of some islands, natural gas fields off Cyprus, etc.) into nationalist sentiment and thereby votes. The saying "The Turk has no friend but the Turk" was not invented by Erdogan, but he has exploited it to the maximum for his own purposes. Mitsotakis, who is in trouble even in Greece in view of falling approval ratings, was only too happy to accept Erdogan's invitation to confrontation.

Yet the earthquake and the following rapprochement between the two countries have shown that the differences are not so much between the peoples as between the politicians. The extreme polarisation in the media of both countries often contributes to the fact that solvable problems are artificially inflated and instrumentalised by politicians for domestic political purposes. Even though Erdogan has recently distinguished himself in this sense, Turkey has always been a welcome image of the enemy and a topic of distraction in Greece as well.

FNF brings Greek and Turkish journalists together

This is precisely where the FNF wanted to start and contribute to Greek-Turkish rapprochement at the civil society level. To this end, a workshop was held in Istanbul as early as December 2021, attended by leading Greek and Turkish experts from the world of academia, the media and civil society, in order to identify the most important problem areas in the bilateral relationship and to offer possible civil society solutions.

As a consequence of this workshop, a visit programme for journalists from both countries to Germany was implemented only a few days after the earthquake. The aim was to identify possible ways to reduce the extreme polarisation in the media through intensive discussions with German media and stakeholders. These discussions were particularly meaningful and far-reaching because in Germany, too, the domestic political debate has become increasingly toxic in recent years. At an expert roundtable as part of the visit programme, the participants debated possible solutions with German experts, and the 1999 earthquake was repeatedly recalled, which at the time had led to a rapprochement between the two countries after Ankara and Athens had previously come to the edge of war several times. Even though the earthquake of that time had led to a reestablishment of relations between the two neighbours, relations at the civil society level were too weak to exert a lasting influence on politics. As a consequence, bilateral relations returned to their normal state of confrontation after a brief phase of relaxation. This time, the tenor of the discussion was that civil society and the media must contribute more to a sustainable peace.

Within the framework of the Greek-Turkish dialogue, the FNF wants to maintain this dialogue between journalists from both countries and make a contribution to reducing tensions. Just a few days after the visit programme, podcasts were recorded in which the participants of the programme took part and shared their experiences with a wider audience. Click here for the Podcast.  

This left the hope that it will not take more natural disasters in the future for politicians in both countries to realise that tensions in the Aegean do not move peoples forward. The solidarity of the Greek people after the terrible earthquake and the deep gratitude of their Turkish neighbours showed that in some ways the people of both countries are further ahead than their politicians.

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