04 December 2022

Is Turkey voting
this Christmas
for a new Aegean
conflict with Greece?

Ephesus, a major Greek classical site, is at the heart of a new Turkish tourism campaign for the Aegean (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The phrase about ‘Turkeys voting for Christmas’ is often used to describe a situation when a choice is made that is clearly against one’s self-interest. The phrase is not easily explained outside these islands, because while turkeys are commonly associated with (non-vegetarian) Christmas dinners here, in the US they are associated with Thanksgiving, which falls on the fourth Thursday in November.

‘Turkeys voting for Christmas’ is an idiom with a very recent history. It seems the first time that phrase was used in 1977 by the Liberal politician David Penhaligon, when he said Liberal MPs voting the proposed ‘Lib-Lab’ pact between the Liberals and the Labour party was ‘like a turkey voting for Christmas.’

The phrase was used again in 1979 when the Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan said Scottish Nationalists voting alongside Conservative MPs against the Labour government was ‘the first time in recorded history that turkeys have been known to vote for an early Christmas.’

Sunset in the Aegean at Kusadasi … a popular destination for Irish tourists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

* * *

The ‘Avian Flu’ epidemic has created a shortage of turkeys in many places this year. And since earlier this year there has been no Turkey at the United Nations either.

Turkey is now known officially as Türkiye at the UN, following a formal request from Ankara. Several international bodies are being asked to make the name change too as part of a rebranding campaign launched a year ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

‘Türkiye is the best representation and expression of the Turkish people’s culture, civilisation, and values,’ he said last December.

Although most Turks know their country as Türkiye, the anglicised form Turkey is widely used, even within Turkey. The Anglicised forms of the names of many countries are commonly used in the English language – think not only of Ireland, but also Germany, Spain and Greece. Indeed, Erdoğan has no problems about using the name Yunanistan for neighbouring Greece when he is speaking Turkish.

The Turkish state television channel TRT explained the reason for the image rebrand, saying Ergdogan was unhappy of the association of his country’s name with the Christmas, New Year or Thanksgiving bird. TRT also pointed out that the word is also used in some dictionaries as a synonym for ‘something that fails badly’ or ‘a stupid or silly person.’

Turkish and Greek flags fly side-by-side on a ferry between Samos and Kusadasi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tension rooted
in old wounds

For the past year, tension has been growing between Greece and Turkey, rooted in old wounds, stoked by insults and causing frayed nerves. Hardly a day has gone by this year without shots being fired between the two armies. On national news channels, military and diplomatic experts daily debate the risks of conflict.

A visit to Istanbul in March by the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis was expected to lead to attempts to bridge the gap between both sides. But Erdoğan is known for his outbursts, anger and insults. In recent months, his insults have been directed in particular at the Greek government and Mitsotakis.

At the G20 meeting in Bali last month, Erdoğan issued new threats to Greece, warning Greeks that the Turks may ‘overnight come suddenly.’ Speaking at a press conference, Erdoğan was defiant as he took the advantage of a unique international to repeat the threat that ‘one night we will come suddenly.’

He was repeating the words of an old Turkish song that says: ‘I can come suddenly one night.’ The same song was regularly broadcast on Turkish radio during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus almost half a century ago in 1974.

He said: ‘I insist on one night we will come suddenly. This statement is important to me. Greece must know its borders and the terms of the neighbourhood ... If they read the past, they will see what has happened. What I said is not a question of power, it is a question of the heart.’

At the same time, Erdoğan told a Turkish television station: ‘What I’ve been saying for ever, that we can come suddenly one night, this is a basic principle. To me, this is a phrase that cannot be taken back … So, we can suddenly get there again.’

But he has been saying the same throughout the year. On the eve of the European Summit in Prague in October, the Greek prime minister left the official dinner during a speech in which Erdoğan once again threatened Greece with the words of that old Turkish song, ‘I can come suddenly one night.’

‘For me, no one named Mitsotakis will exist any longer from now on,’ Erdoğan said at the end of May. ‘I will never accept [seeing] him again,’ he added, accusing the Greek Prime Minister of being ‘dishonest.’

‘Warehouse: Greek Shop’ … a Greek sign seen in the Bazaar in Kuşadasi, once known to Greeks as Neopolis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

* * *

Communications through normal diplomatic channels have all but broken down, and Turkish air patrols over Greek territory have never been so frequent as today.

Greek Ministry of Defence records show that between January and October this year there were 8,880 violations of Greek airspace by Turkish planes and drones, compared with 2,744 in 2021 and barely a few hundred in previous years.

A maritime and gas deal signed by Turkey and Libya earlier this year has been seen as an attempt by Turkey to expand its influence in the East Mediterranean. In response, the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias called off the first leg of a visit to Libya, and refused to get off his plane in Tripoli.

Greece and Turkey are both NATO members, but they came close to armed conflict in 1996 and again in 2020. Periklis Zorzovilis of the Greek Institute for Security and Defence Analysis points out, ‘When so many fighter jets fly over such a small area, the possibility of an accident is very real.’

Windmills in the harbour in Rhodes … a narrow strait separates Rhodes from the thin peninsulas of Anatolian Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Aegean tensions on
identity and tourism

The tensions between Turkey and Greece are not only political and military, they have also become conflicts over culture, heritage identity and tourism. Turkey recently launched a campaign to lure tourists with a ‘TurkAegean’ promotional campaign – against a backdrop of historic Greek sites and the sound of bouzouki music.

Turkey’s west coast faces the Aegean Sea, and Turkey claims the time has come to stop associating the region exclusively with Greece. But the campaign has caused anger and embarrassment in Athens. The ancient Greek name is derived from Aegeus, the father of the mythical king Theseus who founded Athens, and the Aegean’s Hellenic heritage has rarely been disputed.

Turkey filed a request with the EU a year ago to trademark the term ‘TurkAegean.’ Angry Greek politicians and officials were caught off guard and accused Turkey of usurping Greek culture. ‘Obviously the [Greek] government will exhaust every legal possibility to deal with this development,’ Prime Minister Mitsotakis said. Margaritis Schinas, the Greek vice-president of the European Commission, demanded a review of the decision.

The TurkAegean slogan is being used in advertising and promoting what Turkey is labelling its ‘coastline of happiness’ with ‘idyllic beaches to soak up the beaming sun.’ The classical and historical sites in the area include ancient Troy, Ephesus, once the most important Greek port in the Mediterranean, and sites dating back to the second century BCE.

‘It is not just an innocent advert but another argument that is being used to ultimately question our sovereignty over Greek islands in the Aegean,’ the former foreign minister and Syriza MP, George Katrougalos, was quoted as saying. ‘… the term implies, as a corollary of their propaganda, that all, or most, of the Aegean is Turkish and that is clearly wrong.’

Analysts do not rule out these tensions escalating into a military clash, either deliberately or by accident. ‘There has been a very aggressive, almost apocalyptic upgrading of Turkish claims in the Aegean,’ Professor Constantinos Filis of the American College of Greece has warned. ‘It is like Turkey is preparing the international audience for what could possibly lie ahead.’

Fishing boats and tourist boats by night in the harbour in Fethiye, south-west Turkey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

* * *

For many decades, Turkey accepted the maritime boundaries in the Aegean, defined by treaties and agreements with the Italians in 1923 and 1932, and ratified by the Treaty of Paris in 1947. The boundaries were never challenged until 1996, when Turkish journalists from the daily Hurriyet landed on the tiny Imia islets, tore down the blue and white Greek flag and hoisted the red and white star and crescent of Turkey.

As the crisis deepened, I was sent as a journalist to Rhodes and Kos to look at the potential of war. Two years later, I wrote in The Irish Times how, looking across the narrow strait that separates Rhodes from the thin, finger-like peninsulas that jut out from Anatolian Turkey, it is easy to understand why local people talk in terms of ‘when the Turks come,’ and rarely ‘if …’

This year marks the centenary of the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922 and its culmination in the massacre of Smyrna and the military defeat for Greece. Erdoğan repeatedly invokes that war, saying that, 100 years on, Greece should not be bristling for a fight that it would once again ‘regret’.

Canon Patrick Comerford blogs daily at www.patrickcomerford.com. This feature was originally prepared for the ‘Church Review’ (Dublin and Glendalough)

Praying in Advent with Lichfield Cathedral
and USPG: Sunday 4 December 2022

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Matthew 3: 3) … walking along Cross in Hand Lane in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Advent began last Sunday, and today is the Second Sunday of Advent.

Later today, I hope to attend the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford. However, before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

During Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, The reading suggested in the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced by Lichfield Cathedral this year;

2, praying with the Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’ (Matthew 3: 3) … the Dark Hedges near Gracehill, Co Antrim (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 3: 1-12 (NRSVA):

1 In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2 ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3 This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”.’

4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9 Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 ‘I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

Saint John the Baptist in a stained glass window in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Lichfield Cathedral Devotional Calendar:

Reflect on how Jesus gives his disciples a share in his work (ministry). Think about the opportunities we have to take up that work. What would it look like? What would my role be? How can we help one another take on a share in Jesus’s work?


O Lord, raise up, we pray, your power
and come among us,
and with great might succour us;
that whereas, through our sins and wickedness
we are grievously hindered
in running the race that is set before us,
your bountiful grace and mercy
may speedily help and deliver us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
to whom with you and the Holy Spirit,
be honour and glory, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Father in heaven,
who sent your Son to redeem the world
and will send him again to be our judge:
give us grace so to imitate him
in the humility and purity of his first coming
that, when he comes again,
we may be ready to greet him
with joyful love and firm faith;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Additional Collect

Almighty God,
purify our hearts and minds, that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again
as judge and saviour
we may be ready to receive him,
who is our Lord and our God.

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is been ‘Human Rights in the Philippines.’ This theme is introduced this morning with an excerpt from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) human rights report by USPG:

Human rights in the Philippines have been under threat for years. Perhaps the most appalling example of the stripping away of human rights is the regime of President Ferdinand Marcos, which governed from 1965 until 1986. Marcos used martial law to increase the detention, torture and murder of students, journalists, activists and religious leaders who spoke out against the government. Over 3,000 people were killed, 35,000 tortured and 70,000 arrested by the Marcos regime.

The legacy of terror continued during the presidencies of Arroyo and Aquino before Duterte made things even worse. Ferdinand Marcos Jr has just been elected President of the Philippines and many are scared his regime will match the human rights record of his father.

The Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) is an independent nationalist church, formed in 1902. The IFI self-identifies as a church ‘for God and for country’, where their interpretation of country centres on the people of the Philippines, the poor and marginalised in particular. Consequently, the IFI have worked to protect indigenous people from the persecution perpetrated by successive governments.

To read more about the IFI’s human rights activism and what the international community can do to help the Philippines, visit: www.uspg.org.uk/human-rights-in-the-philippines.php

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today (Advent II) in these words:

O come, Prince of Peace,
and hear the voice of the oppressed.
Pull down the mighty,
exalt the meek
and bind up the broken hearted.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

‘In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea’ (Matthew 3: 1) … a mosaic in Saint John’s Monastery, Tolleshunt Knights, shows Saint John the Baptist with his parents Saint Zechariah and Saint Elizabeth (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org