Netanyahu, Obama, Abbas 300.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed )
IOANNINA, Greece – Last month, I made a politically incorrect mistake – I
ordered “a Turkish coffee” in a cafe in Ioannina, a vibrant town in Epirus,
The friendly waiter became less friendly for a moment and said:
“We have only Greek coffee,” to which I agreed. It was exactly the same as the
familiar Turkish coffee.
Later, I asked him about his insistence on Greek
coffee, and he repeated the assertion of “No Turkish coffee in Greece,” with
several derogatory comments on the current rulers of Asia Minor.
discussed this incident with several Greek friends over a lengthy pre-Lent
They reeducated me that Greece was under Ottoman
occupation even before 1453, when the Ottomans finalized their defeat of the
Byzantine Empire, until the Greek War of Independence in 1821. Even following
independence the Turkish-Greek conflict continued, driven by the Greeks’
ambition to revive the “Great Byzantium” and by the presence of millions of
Greeks in Asia Minor.
A final, decisive clash occurred after the World
War I, when Greece attempted to take over Asia Minor, which for the Turks was
the core of their homeland.
Following the Greek defeat, millions of
Greeks who lived in Smyrna (for the Turks – Izmir) and other areas of Anatolia
were expelled by the Turks and became refugees in Greece. This wave of newcomers
– many of them arrived just with their shirts on – worsened the post-WWI
economic situation in Greece – the worldwide deep depression became even
tougher. Five hundred years of cruelty, skirmishes and bloodlettings culminated
in a final, disastrous clash and crush.
Now, 90 years later, many Greeks
still dislike the Turks (to say the least), but they both are members of the
European Union’s economic and political system. They share interests and live
peacefully with each other.
A week later as I sat with a Palestinian
colleague, his assistant offered “an Arabic coffee.” It was the same as the
Turkish and Greek potions, but the server insisted that it was
Actually, it was better, because I requested hal – cardamom,
which he gladly brought up to the table and added. I also drank “Egyptian
coffee” and “Lebanese coffee.”
In Israel we usually order “a small
Turkey” or a “large Turkey.”
Beats me, but I am convinced that they are
all the same; they come from a similar finjan. The differences, if any, are
according to the skills, creativity and final touches of the individual
In all cases, connoisseurs need to exercise patience, and let
the coffee boil several times before it is ready for a pleasurable
The interpretation of the Turkish- Greek-Arabic coffee story
is up to the reader.
For me it teaches two main lessons.
similarities in the way of life, mentalities, costumes and day-to-day life in
the eastern Mediterranean are undeniable, though nuances are being emphasized
and definitions are proudly diversified.
2. Even though 500 years of
killings indeed leave a sediment of “dis-like,” former enemies eventually learn
to leave with each other, side by side.
As for Israel and Palestine – we
do not have to wait for an additional 400 years at each other’s throat, let’s
start drinking coffee together now.
Over the boiling finjan and while
sipping the coffee, we can amicably debate its definition.The writer is
chairman of the WPA Section on Interdisciplinary Collaboration, chairman of
PEMRN and professor and director of BioBehavioral Research in SUNY-AB. He is
currently a Fulbright Awardee for MENA regional studies. The opinions expressed
here are his own, and do not reflect and are not endorsed by the Fulbright
Program or any other US agency.