`Theater' and tanks: view from the Greek-Turkish border. Volatile exchanges between Athens and Ankara are a regular feature of Aegean summers. Much of the quarreling stems from a 13-year dispute over Cyprus. But, while the rhetoric flies and troops line the border, the Greeks and Turks who live along the frontiers see things differently. They are skeptical of official diatribes and find much in common with their `brothers' across the border.
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The accord, hammered out with France and Britain, was designed to put the last nail in the coffin of the megali idea, which lay behind the 1921 Greek attack against the forces of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. Ataturk's resounding defeat of overextended Greek forces deep inside Anatolia in 1922 culminated in the sacking of the Greek city of Smyrna (now Izmir) and the flight of some 1.3 million Greeks from Asia Minor.Skip to next paragraph
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If there was any hostility among the relocated populations 65 years ago, little evidence of it exists today, at least in those affected regions. In the Turkish city of Ayvalik, many of the older generation were among the thousands of Muslims moved from Crete. On the Greek island of L'esvos 15 miles away, many of the older generation were born in Ayvalik. An Athenian taxi driver whose parents are among them says they still maintain contact with Turkish friends in Ayvalik. Similar stories can be heard on the islands of Kh'ios, Samos, and Kos and in Istanbul, Ayvalik, and ,Ce,sme.
A reason for the seeming absence of mistrust and hostility in these border areas is their relative prosperity. The Greek Aegean islands and the Turkish coastal cities are thriving tourist centers visited annually by thousands of Europeans. The 'Evros/Meri,c river, besides serving as the countries' northern border, is also the main artery of a lush agricultural zone that stretches for miles from both banks into fields of wheat, corn, sunflowers, cotton, and beans.
``We have one of the best agricultural infrastructures in Europe,'' boasts Antonis Kovaios, the prefect of the 'Evros region of Greek Thrace.
Another factor that brings Greeks and Turks together is Turkey's lower prices. Greeks stream into Edirne, sometimes all the way to Istanbul, to take advantage of savings of up to 50 percent on leather goods, clothing, gold, and food. Shopping sprees have become so prevalant that Greek shops in 'Evros are suffering.
But Mr. Kovaios says Greeks cross the river just as much out of sentiment as for economy - sentiment ``for lost homes and a religious feeling for the supreme patriarch'' of the Greek Orthodox Church, still based in Istanbul.
Still, the two governments attempt to strike domestic chords of chauvinism.
Analysts suggest that Ankara is merely trying to extract from Athens a public renunciation of the megali idea and strongilismo. While Greek officials may privately renounce the idea, such a public move, in the face of Greece's oft-heard characterization of Turkey as expansionist, would be widely seen as kowtowing to Ankara. It is the alleged Turkish threat that has also provided Mr. Papandreou, the Socialist Party leader, with the means to reverse himself on an old campaign promise to pull Greece out of the NATO alliance, and still retain the support of his party's far left.
Despite their differences and inflexibilities, Athens and Ankara still have room to reach some sort of rapprochement. If, as some observers say, the presence of charismatic leaders is a prerequisite, Papandreou and Turkish Prime Minister Turgut Ozal qualify.
Papandreou, in particular, could hold the key to d'etente in the Aegean, says a Western diplomat in Athens. The envoy likens the Greek premier's Turkey-bashing credentials to the well-known anticommunist views of former US President Richard Nixon, who ultimately forged d'etente with communist China.
``Who would oppose him? Who is more hardline than Papandreou?'' asks the diplomat. ``The [opposition] New Democracy party already favors dialogue, and [so do] the communists. ...''
On the other hand, a Turkish journalist here contends that the Ozal government could pull off a great diplomatic coup by taking the initiative and removing its troops from Cyprus. Such a move would undercut much of the Papandreou government's policies toward Turkey.
``It would take all the cards out of Papandreou's hands,'' the journalist says. Papandreou has long called for this action as prerequisite for talks with Turkey.
The irony of the two governments finally sitting down together to map out a peace policy is that few Greeks and Turks who see each other every day or who gaze across the frontier from their homes would notice the difference.
As a carpet dealer in Ayvalik says, ``We are all Mediterranean people. We have the same music, food, and drink. What is all the fuss about?''