The Aug. 17 earthquake that shook Turkey not only pushed it geographically closer to the West by a few feet. It also shattered some political myths.
For one, the colossal size of the human tragedy opened the hearts of Turkey's longtime adversaries, notably Greece and Armenia. And the European Union, which recently blocked Turkey's entry into its "club," responded with a generosity that left many Turks rejecting the old myth that they were alone in the world.
But it is the extraordinary shift in mood between Greeks and Turks - whose last military confrontation was just three years ago - that opens up prospects for progress in a region that up to now has, well, sometimes thrived on myths of evil enemies. Greece, rather than nursing old grievances, was the first nation to fly in food and medicine to Turkey.
Their ancient bitter rivalry, especially over the divided island of Cyprus, has stymied a host of regional economic and political initiatives. But the genuine outpouring of compassion by Greeks toward Turkey's victims has destroyed the myth "that Greeks and Turks cannot live side by side," according to Greece's foreign minister.
Let's hope that this goodwill translates into Greece no longer blocking pro-Turkey moves in the EU or NATO. Turkey's bid to join the EU comes up again in December. And let's hope Turkey responds by offering realistic solutions to reunite Cyprus.
Within Turkey, the quake created more political ferment than hope over such issues as human rights, political Islam, the Kurdish rebellion, and the role of the Army. Progress on these issues, however, will only help Turkey find its rightful place in the West. In recent days, its parliament has passed two laws that improve human rights.
In a month, Turkey's prime minister will visit Washington with expectations of economic and financial aid. The earthquake can serve to bring America and its Middle East ally closer while also opening opportunities to resolve political issues.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society