Turkish-Greek-Arabic coffee: Lessons for long-term enemies

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.

Netanyahu, Obama, Abbas 300 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed )
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, Greece.
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.
I discussed this incident with several Greek friends over a lengthy pre-Lent sea-food luncheon.
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 “Arabic.”
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 preparer.
In all cases, connoisseurs need to exercise patience, and let the coffee boil several times before it is ready for a pleasurable consumption.
The interpretation of the Turkish- Greek-Arabic coffee story is up to the reader.
For me it teaches two main lessons.
1. The 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.