Hercules (or Herkul or Iraklis) Millas

Hercules Millas

Age - 67
Sex - male
Ethnicity - Greek but Turkish nationality
Religion - none but born Christian
Level of education - civil engineer and PhD in political science
Family status (children included) - married with two sons
Place of birth (town, state) - Ankara Turkey
Now living in (town, state) - Athens Greece

  • As above, Greek origin Turkish national.
  • My identity was influenced by time. As a child I was a minority member, at my 20s I was a human being, later a minority member. Now I feel an intellectual. I am very much conscious of these changes.
    I am a father, an intellectual, a minority member (not national by cultural).
  • A. The wider environment - Turkish society. B. My mother who happens to have a western/Catholic legacy C. My American (Protestant) school.
    I add an article (attached) on this issue because it needs a very lengthy explanation. SEE below / attached.
  • I like mostly classic music, European, Greek and Turkish music. I do not feel I identify myself with figures.
  • I was mostly influenced my Marxism in my youth who gave an explanation in my not identifying myself with one 'national' identity. Many films and books should have contributed in this. Also many Turkish and Marxist writers influenced me too.
  • My hobby and main interest which is Greek-Turkish relations in all levels (Literature, politics, language, culture etc) is definitely associated with my identity. It was both an obstacle - I was discriminated in Turkey -, but it also helped me to become a more open minded person (I hope!)
  • I was discriminated but on the other hand I was 'different' and a person who was more interesting - to listen and meet. I have been successful in interpreting and 'seeing' things others could not.
  • I live in a place different from my native town.
  • Of course when someone is opposing me. If he is a Turks I feel more like a Greek and when he is a Greek inferring I am 'Greek enough' that I feel like a Turk. The Other mostly shapes my identity. When he is with me I am closer to his identity. When is he/she against me - especially on ethic grounds - I feel against him/her on ethnic grounds.
    But quite often I feel I do not belong to the majority called Greeks and/or Turks. I feel a minority member and very happy of being one!
  • Yes, a recent article which wrote related to these issues - attached.
    Also, I believe identity becomes an issue when people ask questions on this issue. Mostly we are very complex. But the question is put as 'chose one identity' or 'which is most important'. We are thus asked to choose something that is impossible to choose. Then it becomes a 'problem' - probably a false problem.

 

'Sir, Why Do The Nationalists Think Like This?'

By Hercules (Iraklis) Millas
(Donau – February 2007)

This article is written upon an invitation from 'Donau'. The editorial staff expressed their interest to make public my personal experience and that of my environment, that is to say the reactions of the Greeks and of the Turks. The staff was aware of my study on the images that the Greeks have with respect to the Turks1. There I had referred to my childhood:

In the conversations of my childhood, especially those with my father, communicating opinions about Turks was a painful topic. I was born into a family of Constantinopolitan Greeks, Turkish citizens and members of the Greek community of Istanbul, known in Turkey as Rum. My father used to refer to the abstract category of the 'Turks' in negative terms, frequently claiming that the Turks 'hated us' and 'treated us unfairly'. On such occasions I would remind him of my Turkish classmates and friends, whom he himself liked too and I would argue that we had Turkish neighbours whom we, and indeed our whole family held in good regard. 'You contradict yourself', I used to argue, 'you are guilty of exactly the same things that you condemn in our Turkish neighbours'.

My father was born in 1900. He lived through the Balkan Wars, the Greek-Turkish war of 1919-1922 and the two World Wars, where Greece and Turkey were in different military camps. He was brought up in a period when nationalism was at its peak in both Greece and Turkey and he had been educated to think in nationalistic terms. I only came to understand him better after he passed away and after I completed some studies of my own on Greek-Turkish relations. Now I think that the term 'contradiction' was not significant to explain his attitudes. His identity and his understanding of politics were too complex to be accurately described in simple words.

In the concluding paragraphs of the said article I tried to show that people who share a national identity perceive the Other in two levels. The abstract (imagined) Other is a stereotype with permanent negative characteristics whereas the concrete Other (the one they actually meet) is mostly a normal person. The two however, are not perceived as a contradiction; they exist next to each other. Some writers for example, in their novels 'imagine' the Other almost always as negative (vicious, barbarian etc.) whereas in their memoirs talk only about nice people when they refer to the Other2. Construction and experience are in direct contradiction: 'When [the authors] decide to reproduce the world in 'a realistic' manner they do not prioritise their personal experience (the particulars), but choose to represent reality in abstract and essentialist terms and as this fits better their ideology.'

This was also the conclusion of my Ph.D. dissertation on the Turkish and Greek novels and the Other that appears in them3. I was satisfied with this explanation, until one day a student in one of my classes asked me a very simple question: 'Sir, why do the nationalists think like this and why don't you?' I then realized that I had only described a situation but not explained it. Why am I different? Indeed, I was quite critical to nationalistic attitudes of the Greeks and of the Turks alike. Why me and only a few more people were on my little camp and not the majority? I am not sure I have a clear answer to this question but I will try to list some of the reasons I suspect and which may have 'helped' me being an antinationalist, in peace with the Other and distanced from both the Greek and the Turkish exclusive nationalist identity.

My friends of childhood

All our 'special' characteristics are of course relatively different from those of some others'. Looking back at my childhood I realize that I was quite a disobedient and naughty boy. There may be two reasons for this: I might have been like that by birth (by nature) and/or my parents might have lost control and could not impose their will on me. The result was that my parents could not keep me at home as most of the other Greek families of our petit bourgeois milieu used to do in order to 'protect' their children. I would spend many hours playing in the streets with the other children of the vicinity: with Turks, Jews, Armenians, Levantines (Catholics) etc. Istanbul in those years was in a sense cosmopolitan. This communication not only helped in coming to know the Other better but had two more consequences. First, I learned Turkish much better than the other Greek boys of my age and when I started primary school I was much better in Turkish. This probably did not make me feel uneasy, challenged and threatened vis a vis the 'foreign' language and the Other, a sense that was dominant in many of my peers. Second, I came to see myself equal to the Other not feeling distant, marginalized and different from the Other, especially the Turks. Whereas, Turkish (and probably as a consequence the 'Turks') was the problem of most of the young students of the Greek minority schools.

My friends in adulthood

After the primary school most of the students of the Greek minority of Istanbul continued their studies in the Greek intermediary schools of the city. I happened to go to Robert College, an American college where most of the students were Turks. My Turkish improved further and at the same time I developed friendships I am happy that I still continue. I sensed that some of the students discriminated me, making me feel that I was a minority member. However, there were the close friends who compensated the ill feelings. I suspect that my coming of age in a non-minority school environment also played a positive role: the Turkish teachers did not exercise on me the 'mission' of imposing 'Turkishness' as they used to do in the school with Greek students. I was left at my ease, I did not feel the nationalist pressure. Probably it was in that period that I concluded that there were all kinds of people within a 'nation'.

My mother

My mother was a poorly educated woman, completely dedicated to her family and to my upbringing. I was a single child and my parents tried their best for me. Their choice to send me to Robert College proved right. I graduated from the prestigious university part of it. But I suspect she had an indirect influence on me too. My family was tied to the Greek Orthodox Church and that was my upbringing. However, my mother used to say that all religions are equally good and she often visited a catholic church which was very close to our house, Notre Dame de Lourdes in the Bomonti area. She had very good relations with our Armenian neighbors and she spoke Turkish much better than my father. She spoke French with her sisters, and that was something that annoyed me. I believed that she was snobbish. Few years before her death I found out she was not: one day my parents revealed to me that my grand mother who had died when she gave birth to my mother was a Catholic. I suspect that the French among the sisters, their 'European' manners, the all inclusive religious attitude and the absence of nationalist fervor of my mother originated from her knowledge that humans are more complex than the nationalist paradigm that shaped, for example, my father's worldview. On my part, I feel I was influenced by her feelings even though then I often thought she was somehow 'strange'.

Active as a socialist

All the above operated as unconscious influences. I probably needed a theoretical frame to justify my preferences and my place in the society. Born in 1940 I was in my twenties when the Marxist leftist movement swept Turkey in the 1960s. I became active in the student organization of my university but especially in the Turkish Workers Party (TIP) as the only Greek member in that political movement. My parents were very much worried for this choice of mine, my minority community could not explain my behavior but my 'comrades' within the Turkish leftist movement treated me as their equal. I never felt as a minority member in that 'internationalist' movement. It is not easy to probe deep inside me and reach the reasons that made me join this movement. But the idea that people did not have to be differentiated by lines of 'ethnicity' probably was one that fascinated me. I really needed to believe and hope for such a society.

The history of my family in Turkey was an unhappy one. We faced the discriminatory fascistic 'wealth tax' applied to all minority households in 1942 and which forced almost all to deep poverty. Then we experienced the riots of 6/7 September in 1955 where thousands of Greek houses and shops were destroyed and looted by the masses. My father was a merchant and a tailor and his shop was completely destroyed. We actually starved for a couple of years. In 1964 the Greeks with Greek nationality were forced to leave Turkey with only one piece of luggage leaving behind all their money and property. My father and my mother left. I stayed behind. In the meanwhile there was daily bullying by the masses.

I read an article of an anthropologist who claimed that there are two kinds of people: the ones that can live with contradictions and the others who can not cope with them. I feel I belong to the second (uneasy) group. I had either to accept the idea that the Turks hated us the Greeks and seek refuge to 'Greekness' - as most minority members did - or find another explanation to give a meaning to the existence of so many people and Turkish friends that I knew and that could not be included to this horrible group of the 'negative Turks'. Socialist paradigm helped since it perceived the 'us' and the 'Other' on an ideological basis and not on an ethnic one. Also the exemplary conduct of the Turkish friends operated in two directions: on one hand this positive experience reinforced my hopes and beliefs and kept me away form nationalistic explanations, and on the other my loyalty to them reinforced their anti-nationalist choice. I was lucky. It was a positive vicious circle and our existence had a reciprocal positive effect on both sides.

Other probable reasons

The above 'explanations' may not be the really genuine ones but only a rationalization of my choices. Maybe like Rousseau I want only to prove that 'If I am not better, at least I am different'. Or I could have been after a romantic adventure in dangerous areas. Or maybe I played the role of those naпvely good-willing persons who paid a heavy toll to help human beings - who never asked for help. The human soul is an abyss! Maybe I could not face some hard truths and tried conciliatory approaches avoiding challenging confrontations. The most probable is that at least all the above played a certain role.

Can we draw conclusions?

When the time came to serve the army (obligatory of all Turkish citizens) I was deprived of my right to serve as an officer - all university graduates served with this capacity in those years. Actually I was not even supposed to 'serve' but only take part in the track team of the Army because I was a member of the Turkey's track team and a champion in 100 meters. However, I was sent instead to a distant regiment as a simple soldier where I served under especially hard conditions. This treatment is known in Turkey as serving as 'sakincali', meaning 'with reservations', and it has been often applied (with the hypocritical pretext of failing a test) against persons not trusted. After two years of this military experience I faced another problem. I lost my job in a refinery were I was working as an engineer because of my double 'sins': I was a leftist and a minority member. We left Turkey for Greece because we already had our first son and we could not effort as a family to take more risks vis a vis an unpredictable state and society.

However, I was not cut off from Turkey. I kept both my citizenship and my contacts. Many years afterwards I returned to teach Greek at Ankara University and complete my Ph.D. degree in political science. I published many of my books there and I write regularly in a Turkish newspaper. Those that know my story understood quite well why I left and why I kept my contacts. Now I have many more Turkish friends than the old times, in addition to the many new Greek friends. There are many people however, both in Turkey and Greece that could not explain why I am not like the majority of the Turks and the Greeks - but this is their problem.

Still however, I am not sure if I answered the question 'Why do the nationalists think like this?' I have been asked other things too and I never gave a clear answer: Do you feel like a Greek or like a Turk? Quite often I have difficulty in answering because I have the feeling that they ask the wrong questions and they infer something I detest: they ask me to take part in their imagined ethnic controversy. I only know that the general categorization of 'the Turks' and 'the Greeks' has no meaning for me, but only of a citizenship. I do not attribute general, all inclusive positive or negative characteristics to members of ethnic groups. Nations are composed of all kinds of people. We live in an age where, unfortunately, our perceptions and references are based on a nationalistic paradigm. People are not perceived outside that frame: the nation, and that is supposed to mean some general 'characteristics' too.

Whereas there are so many other 'identities' that can define the community of a person: age group, geography, religion, occupation, education, status, sex, ideology, hobby and so many others. I mentioned 'my friends' quite often in this article. It is not a coincidence. It is them with whom I associate myself mostly. When I visit Istanbul it is them whom I want to see most; it is not the churches, the relatives, the old streets where I came of age, not even my school and the family grave. The friends, irrespective of their ethnic identity, are what is alive in me and tied to me. The rest is nostalgia of a past dream.

 CV- Hercules (Iraklis) Millas (1940). Hercules (Iraklis) Millas was brought up in Turkey and presently lives in Greece. He has a Ph.D. degree in political science and a B.Sc. in civil engineering. In the years 1968-1985 he worked as a civil engineer in various countries. In 1990-1995 he contributed in establishing the Greek literature department at Ankara University and in the years 1999-2007 he taught Turkish literature and history at Greek universities (Macedonian, Aegean, Athens).
He translated twenty books, mostly Greek and Turkish poetry. He published ten books (in Turkish, Greek and English) and many articles on Greek-Turkish relations, focused on interethnic perceptions, stereotypes and images.
In his youth he has been a member of Turkeys track teem. He received the (Greek/Turkish) 'Abdi Ipekçi Peace Award' twice (1992, 2001), the 'Dido Sotiriou' award of Hellenic Authors' Society (2004) and the award 'Free Thinking' of Publishers' Association of Turkey (2005).

 2007

Notes


1 Millas, (Iraklis) Hercules, 'Tourkokratia: History and the Image of Turks in Greek Literature', SouthEuropean Society and Politics, Volume 11, Number 1, March 2006, pp. 47-60.

2 Published in Turkish and in Greek: A) - Türk ve Yunan Romanlarinda Öteki ve Kimlik (The Other and Identity in the Turkish and Greek Novels), İstanbul: İletişim, 2005. B) -Еiкόνες Еλλήνων και Τούρκων - σχολικ βιβλία, ιστοριογραφία, λογοτεχνία και εθνικά στερεότυπα, (Images of Greeks and Turks - textbooks, historiography, literature and national stereotypes), Athens: Alexandria, 2001. For a summary in English see: 'The Other and Nation-building - The Testimony of Greek and Turkish Novels, in Representations of the Other/s in the Mediterranean World and their Impact on the Region, Edit. N. K. Burçoğlu / S. G. Miller, İstanbul, The Isis Pres, 2004.

3 Millas, Hercules. 'The Image of Greeks in Turkish Literature: Fiction and Memoirs', in Oil on Fire?, Studien zur Internationalen Schulbuchforschung, Schriftenreihe des Georg-Eckert-Instituts, Hanover: Verlag Hansche Buchhandlung, 1996.