U.S. NATO CHIEF BLAMES TURKEY FOR ‘ETHNIC CLEANSING’ OF
GREEKS, INCLUDING OWN FAMILY By Amir
Ha’aretz, Thursday, October 15, 2009 Tishrei 27, 5770
U.S. Navy Admiral
James Stavridis, the senior American officer in both the U.S. European Command and NATO, blames
Turkey for violence against its Greek
minority, including his own family, almost 90 years ago.
In a first-person
book he published last year, before he took over as NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe
(SACEUR), Stavridis termed Turkey’s
moves “ethnic cleansing” and a “pogrom,” whose victims included his grandparents, expelled from
their hometown of Izmir, and his
father’s uncle, who was killed by violent anti-Greek Turks.
from United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) and other elements under Stavridis’ command were
to have taken part in the Anatolian
Eagle exercise, from which the U.S. withdrew earlier this week, after Turkey barred Israel from
participating. Stavridis is closely
supervising the upcoming American-Israeli Juniper Cobra air and missile defense exercise, and is
scheduled to visit Israel soon.
nominated to his current position, a mere year after publishing these charges against Turkey,
Stavridis dropped the negative reference
to Turkish treatment of his family and other ethnic Greeks. His current, sanitized version
depicts Turkey as a starting point for a
one-stop journey west to America.
Stavridis, a 1976
graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, was born in
Florida and hardly speaks any Greek. As a child, he lived for two years in Athens, where his father, a U.S.
Marine Corps officer, served in the
American Embassy alongside a U.S. Navy officer whose daughter Stavridis later married. The four-star
admiral is widely acclaimed as a
brilliant officer, with a Ph.D. in international relations and an impressive record of command and staff
positions. Currently, he wears two hats:
In addition to his job at NATO – of which Turkey is a member, with forces serving in Afghanistan and
working to prevent terr across its
border with Iraq – he heads the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), which includes Greece, Turkey and Israel
among its dozens of countries.
A prolific writer
of books and articles, with his own blog (“From the Bridge”) on the EUCOM web site,
Stavridis kept a journal of his
experiences during the 28 months he commanded the destroyer USS Barry, from early fall 1993 to December
1995. During that time, the Aegis-class
warship, armed with powerful radar and anti-missile missiles (of the sort taking part in Juniper
Cobra), was deployed in crises the world
over – off Haiti, in the Mediterranean and in the Persian Gulf.
In 2008, before he
learned he would be appointed NATO’s military chief
– the first ever
from the navy – he published his 1990s journal as a book, “Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a
First Command.” Thus the manuscript
he authored in his late thirties, as a relatively junior Commander, was launched into the public
domain more than a dozen years later,
when he was five ranks higher.
Captain,” Stavridis does not try to be diplomatic. “In the early 1920’s,” he wrote, “my
grandfather, a short, stocky Greek
schoolteacher named Dimitrious Stavridis, was expelled from Turkey as part of ‘ethnic cleansing’ (read pogrom)
directed against Greeks living in the
remains of the Ottoman Empire. He barely escaped with his life in a small boat crossing the Aegean
Sea to Athens and thence to Ellis
Island. His brother was not so lucky and was killed by the Turks as part of the violence directed at the
amazing historical irony I could imagine,” according to the author, was when a multinational NATO
exercise off the coast of western Turkey
brought him to the place his grandfather was forced out of:
speaks barely a few words of Greek, returns in command of a billion-dollar destroyer to the very
city – Smyrna, now called Izmir – from
which he sailed in a refugee craft all those years ago.”
In an interview
about “Destroyer Captain” on the U.S. Naval Institute web l let others decide if it’s a good book,
but I truly believe it is an honest
He was, however,
less than fully candid last March, during his Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing. The
ethnic cleansing he sharply rebuked in
the book (and which he contrasted with U.S.
prevent) underwent some semantic cleansing. “It’s probably worth noting that although I’m ethnically
Greek, my grandfather was actually born
in Turkey and came through Greece on his way to the United States,” he said, as if equally
proud of his double origin, much like
the child of divorced parents boasting that he now has two families rather than only one.
Last July, having
visited Turkey as NATO and EUCOM chief, he again chose similar words to describe his personal
connection to the country that
ill-treated his grandparents. “Turkey is a vital and important NATO ally,” he blogged, “and for me
it was a chance to return to the nation
from which my grandfather and grandmother emigrated to the United States, after stopping briefly in
military is not in the habit of ignoring criticism, even from fellow officers. Last February,
when Haaretz reported the stinging
attack on Turkish actions in Cyprus and against Armenian civilians voiced by Israeli Ground Forces
commander Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi, the
uproar in Ankara made Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi call his counterpart,
Gen. Ilker Sasbug, to distance the IDF
from Mizrahi’s “personal” opinion.
US Admiral James Stavridis:
A born again …Turk, embracing the heritage that
massacred his own ancestors?
We all understand the rules of the game: in order to
sustain and progress in a career oftentimes you have to make concessions,
compromise your beliefs (up to a point, hopefully), even kiss ass, as we say in
modern day French. But to reverse yourself in such a way that you’ve come
almost to the opposite end, wrapping everything in a kind of …positive
personal rediscovery…I think goes beyond the tolerated back bending!
I was reading, as I often do, the online English edition
of the Israeli daily Haaretz – which I strongly recommend for its coverage and
analytical depth of international news that far surpasses all major US
– when an
article by Amir Oren on James Stavridis, NATO’s Supreme
Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), whose appointment earlier this year we all
celebrated, hit me in the eye.
“US NATO Chief blames Turkey for ‘ethnic cleansing’
of Greeks, including own family”, was the title of the piece and immediately
drew my attention (you can read the Haaretz article in full by going to NEO
online – www.neomagazine.com
click on the Perixscope page. It follows this commentary)
because we are not very used to hear this kind of language from American Greeks
when in positions of power.
On the upper echelons, our people seem to be in awe, they
agonize to look and sound “pragmatic,” they consider it forbidding to
stand up to their superiors when it comes to such clear-cut issues as the
Turkish invasion of Cyprus or state-sponsored persecutions by Turkey against
the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul). As both
issues coincide with our American values, we should feel honoured as Americans
to raise them. This tendency to somehow prove your Americanism by playing down
another component of your identity at the expense of truth and justice is
something that has to be studied both from a psychological and a social
perspective. It is certainly an inferiority complex that other ethnic or religious
groups are not suffering from, at least not as much. Imagine a Cuban American,
for example, in position of power. Won’t he or she be as vocal as possible when
it comes to bringing the Castros down? Not to mention the grievances of our
Jewish or Armenian friends.
Anyway, back to Kaptan Pasha (admiral in Turkish)
Stavridis, who prior to resuming his duties as NATO Europe commander, had
published a book titled “Destroyer Captain,” and in a very
straightforward manner was saying that “in the early 1920’s, my
grandfather, a short, stocky Greek schoolteacher named Dimitrious Stavridis,
was expelled from Turkey as part of ‘ethnic cleansing’ (read pogrom) directed
against Greeks living in the remains of the Ottoman Empire.
escaped with his life in a small boat crossing the Aegean
Sea to Athens and thence to Ellis Island. His brother was not so lucky and was
killed by the Turks as part of the violence directed at the Greek
minority.” Then, in an interview about the “Destroyer Captain”
on the U.S. Naval Institute web, he stood by his writings, saying “l let
others decide if it’s a good book, but I truly believe it is an honest
Now, it is expected and understood that the Turks exerted
pressure on his superiors for Stavridis to recant because they didn’t like what
he wrote. In fact, if he were a Turkish citizen he would go to jail for
offending Turkishness by mentioning anything about the massacres or genocides
they committed. Given that Stavridis has under his jurisdiction Turkey, as
well, one would expect him to come up with some explanation that, while it
would placate the Turkish “sensitivities,”
reverse the premises of his writings in his “honest
book”. After all, he’s an American officer, and although politics should
be taken into consideration, there is a limit to bowing your head. He could
say, for example, that it was tough times then, uncertainty prevailed,
massacres were common in the late Ottoman Empire, but we need to put all that
behind us and look forward.
Mais non! Stavridis, fearing perhaps the wrath of the
Pashas – that even made his boss, President Obama, initially keep secret and
then play down his meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople
while visiting Turkey earlier this year- had to go even further, discovering in
the process his own …
As Amir Oren reports, “last March, during his Armed
Services Committee confirmation hearing, the ethnic cleansing he sharply
rebuked in the book (and which he contrasted with U.S. efforts worldwide to
prevent) underwent some semantic cleansing. ‘It’s probably worth noting that
although I’m ethnically Greek, my grandfather was actually born in Turkey and
came through Greece on his way to the United States,’ he said, as if equally
proud of his double origin, much like the child of divorced parents boasting that
he now has two families rather than only one.”
Then “last July”, Oren continues, “having
visited Turkey as NATO and EUCOM chief, he again chose similar words to
describe his personal connection to the country that ill-treated his
grandparents. ‘Turkey is a vital and important NATO ally,’ he blogged, ‘and for
me it was a chance to return to the nation from which my grandfather and
grandmother emigrated to the United States, after stopping briefly in
As we can see, his grandparents’ agonizing escape in
order to save their lives, in Stavridis’ new language is made sound like an
ordinary trip with a stopover in Greece, perhaps to see Parthenon and buy some
Metaxa on their way to the US. Turkey even appears like the missing part on the
puzzle of his identity!
I could even imagine descendants of German Jews who
survived the Holocaust, to somehow re-appreciate the Teutonic part of their
ancestry. It is possible, because Germans confronted their crimes, accepted
responsibility and pledged never to allow that ideological venom to be part of
the country’s political culture.
Turks on the
other hand, not only never accepted responsibility for
the various genocides perpetrated as a result of state planning (read Turkish
Historian Taner Akcam’s book “A Shameful Act”), but they continue the
practice to this date.
tired to write that as we speak, illegal confiscations on
Patriarchal property (about 80% has been usurped so far) are under way. While
the European Human Rights Court has repeatedly condemned Turkey, a candidate
for entry into European Union, Ankara pays no attention or gives lip service to
declarations of good will. In the occupied part of Cyprus, the ethnic cleansing
is complete. In Turkey proper, Alevite Muslims are complaining that the state
drives them to cultural extinction and Kurds (more than 15 million) are still
fighting the Turkish state on the mountains of the Kurdistan region. Current
Prime Minister Erdogan went to jail, just before was elected to office, for
reciting a pro Muslim poem.
laureate author Orhan Pamuk was taken to court and almost
got imprisoned because in a work of his the Armenian Genocide – the first
Holocaust in the annals of the nation state experience – is mentioned.
It’s for the crimes that are still being committed by
Turkey that people mustn’t and can’t forget the genocides upon which that state
has been built.
We owe this
not only to past victims, but also to current victims, to
all Turks, no matter what religion or nationality they belong too. Confronting
the crimes is the only way that the country can really move forward and become
a democratic and free society for all her peoples.
Stavridis’ change of course serves just the opposite end
by boosting Turkey’s worst legacy and its “constitutional guarantor,”
the Army. By playing their own game he became a by default genocide (of his own
ancestors) denier and he ethically compromised his position as an American
officer, sworn to stand by the values this nation was built on, not Turkey.