Balkanalysis.com editor’s note: readers who enjoy this insightful analysis of Greek media representation of the Imia crisis are strongly recommended to also read our review of Greek Military Intelligence and the Crescent, a book which concentrates on the military and political aspects of the 1996 crisis.
By Oana-Camelia Stroescu*
Stereotyping the Turks and Turkey has been an enduring and unfortunate feature of the Greek press since the Cyprus conflict of 1974. This article analyzes the media discourse that contributed to the development of Turkish typification in the Greek daily political newspapers during the Greek-Turkish crisis of 1996.
The article also takes into consideration the position of the Greek dailies on the Aegean crisis, in order to assess to what extent Greek print media used ethnic stereotyping to exaggerate the conflict and the crisis. It becomes clear that during the crisis the Greek daily press produced and perpetuated stereotypes about Turks, conveying such messages via front page articles of the major Greek dailies.
The relevant articles are analyzed here according to their concentration, frequency and omissions. The methodology applied for this particular research is the qualitative analysis of the content of the major Greek newspapers’ front pages, for the first three months of 1996.
Note on Methodology and Limitations
This article examines the construction of Greek ethnocentric discourse during the 1996 Imia/Kardak crisis in the Greek press coverage of events, through textual analysis. Included are news stories and features from several high-circulation daily Greek newspapers.
The selection of these newspapers relied entirely and or partially on circulation figures and representation of the political spectrum. The Greek newspapers that were selected for examination, therefore, are Ta Nea, Eleftherotypia, Eleftheros Typos and Kathimerini. As of February 2013, all of these remain active. It should also be remembered that in the mid-1990s the internet was still in its infancy and therefore print media had a much greater impact on public opinion than might be the case today.
The view from the placid Turkish coastal getaway of Gümüşlük: tiny but troublesome Imia/Kardak peeks from behind two large rocks. Photo: Chris Deliso
These publications were selected according to certain criteria that will be mentioned below. For the present article newspaper articles in the pre-crisis period, during the crisis itself, and during the post-crisis period were all examined, in order to increase the validity of the results.
The selection criteria also took into account the national circulation of the newspapers by time of release, thus morning (Kathimerini) and evening circulation (Eleftherotypia, Eleftheros Typos, Ta Nea). Content analysis units (front-page headlines and leads) are discussed categorically as are linguistic elements such as wording, sentence structure and phrasing.
At the same time, while the article identifies and analyzes elements of stereotyping (words, expressions and other language constructions), it does not aim to strictly use the basic elements of content analysis, whether qualitative or quantitative. It does not explore how the Greek public perceived the crisis or how Greek-Turkish relations were at that particular moment in time. Still, it is possible to argue that the discourse displayed on the front pages of these selected newspapers may have had an important role in shaping the reader’s perceptions about the ‘Other,’ in this case, the Turks.
This particular dispute created an excellent instrument to create stereotypes with ‘negative’ features. So while the present article does not concentrate on Greek-Turkish relations broadly, but on the reactions of the Greek press regarding the events in the spring of 1996, statements on the external policy of the two states are not made. Nor is it claimed that the stereotypes about the Turks are reasonable or truthful. They simply expressed the views that were chosen (for whatever reason or under whatever influence) by the editors during the event in question.
Readers should also note that the article employs the historical present of verbs to report and narrate the events. Although few similar studies have been found (see Giallouridis, Kourkoulas, Panagiotou), the present article attempts to identify and record typification aspects on the front pages of the Greek newspapers during the 1996 Imia crisis. The connection between the mass media and the foreign policy and the role of the first in the construction and rebirth of ethnocentric discourses are well known and of high importance.
A Topical Rationale
One may ask: is this issue worth researching at all? Why should people around the world be concerned about a small local conflict in the Aegean? It is because Greece and Turkey are NATO’s strategic pillars in the Eastern Mediterranean, and a worsening of the Aegean dispute could have had a negative impact on the stability of the region.
Relevant questions thus emerge from the conduct of media in crisis time. Is ethnocentric and nationalistic discourse a means of displaying patriotism and national pride? Does this type of discourse use stereotypes and negative images of the ‘Other’? Do Greek editors need these stereotyping phenomena as a supplementary element in reporting an incident or a bilateral conflict?
If patriotism means attachment to a set of national values and symbols which are particular to every state or nation, the question arises as to what happens when this set of national values comes into conflict with the values of a neighboring country, and the struggle to impose one’s patriotism on the others occurs. As a political instrument, patriotism functions on the dichotomy of ‘Us’ versus ‘Others’; history shows many cases wherein someone who is not like the ‘Other’ must be brought onto the ‘right road.’ Thus, patriotism is not a flexible feeling, but a rigid concept: it may degenerate into nationalism, intolerance, chauvinism and xenophobia.
The alterity in this study refers to the Turks as they are described by the Greek daily newspapers during the diplomatic episode in 1996. In times of bilateral tensions during the second half of the 20th century, one may observe the revival of this categorization of the Turks in the Greek newspapers. The language influences the collective perception of alterity by creating simplified and negative images of the ‘Other.’ This perception may be induced to the public and may perpetuate negative feelings regarding the neighbors.
Greece and Turkey are two neighboring states with lengthy Aegean Sea coastlines. Their history reveals periods of occupation, conflict and peace. After World War II, the stability of the region was weakened several times because of the uneasy relationship between Greece and Turkey and negative intercommunal episodes in Cyprus, which affected this relationship. This led to the crucial moment: the 1974 Cypriot coup d’état that overthrow Archbishop Makarios, the democratically elected leader of the country. The coup had been organized by the Greek military junta in Athens. This in turn provided a convenient pretext for the Turkish military to launch its own invasion of Cyprus. The island remains divided to this day.
Since 1974, Greece and Turkey have passed through one crisis or another almost every decade; most prevalent in this regard have been disputes related to oil exploration and exploitation rights in the Aegean Sea, and thus to the issue of national sovereignty over certain areas in the Aegean. In 1976, 1987 and 1996, Greece and Turkey reached the threshold of an armed conflict that could have destabilized the already fragile Eastern Mediterranean region. The tensions were directly related to sovereignty issues in specific areas of the Aegean Sea, which Turkey considered to be under uncertain sovereignty. The dispute over the Aegean Sea encompasses five distinct, yet interrelated, issues:
1. Sovereign rights over the Aegean continental shelf;
2. Territorial waters limits within the Aegean Sea claimed by both sides;
3. Jurisdiction over airspace zones;
4. Demilitarization of the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean;
5. Sovereignty over certain or unspecified Aegean islands/islets.
After 1974, the dispute took on the shape of an energy dispute, centering on a disagreement over the interpretation and application of international law. On the one hand, Turkey’s position was that the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean were not entitled to a continental shelf region and therefore that the delimitation line of the continental shelf should pass, from north to south, through the middle of the Aegean. The Turkish government has always maintained that the Aegean should be shared in equal parts between the two states, in order to have equal economic and defense opportunities in the area.
On the other hand, Greece’s position has favored delimiting the continental shelf by using the median line between the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean and the western shores of Turkey, which of course is not a straight line but follows the varying contours of this highly elliptical area. At some points, distances between islands and mainland are substantial but in others – like the uninhabited islet of Imia (Kardak in Turkish) – they are barely a couple of kilometers apart.
In 1976, two years after international mediation created a frozen conflict in Cyprus (and democracy was restored to Greece), the tensions took on renewed crisis proportions when the Turkish research vessel Sismik I was sent out in the Aegean to conduct oil research in the disputed continental shelf – considered by the authorities in Athens to be Greek.
Consequently, Greece and Turkey appealed to the United Nation Security Council and to the International Court of Justice at The Hague. By the end of the year, both international bodies had urged the two states not to make use of violence in solving the Aegean issues, and to continue bilateral negotiations in order to achieve a solution in the best interest of both countries. Yet, in 1987 and 1996, after years of failed bilateral negotiations (or simple inactivity at some points), the Aegean dispute rapidly caused new diplomatic tensions, which could have had a negative impact on the peace and security in the wider region of the Eastern Mediterranean.
The 1987 crisis occurred in March, after the Greek government announced its intention to nationalize North Aegean Petroleum, a company that was preparing drilling operations in the most-contested Aegean continental shelf area. The authorities in Ankara announced their intention to drill in the same region, east of the Greek island of Thasos; being within the continental shelf considered to be Greek, this announcement thus stirred up old animosities.
Such disputes have caused the unnecessary buildup of armed forces over the years. In some incidents the two countries came to the brink of war. Indeed, a former ambassador, Dimitris Kosmadopoulos, made the wry comment that “in the Mediterranean, people easily get their blood up,” in his Greek-language memoir Odiporiko enos Presvi stin Ankira (‘The Journey of an Ambassador in Ankara’). The chronic disputes thus not only hold the potential for disastrous wars between the two countries, which also are allies and members of NATO, but also have the potential to pull other countries into this conflict, destabilizing the whole region.
Politically, perspectives have always differed regarding the distribution of blame for the tensions in the Aegean. Leaders and policy-makers refer to a “just and lasting solution” which rarely accommodates any understanding of what represents a fair outcome according to the other side.
As a matter of policy, Greece has consistently claimed that a legal settlement at the International Court of Justice is the proper way to come to a solution, as it does not want political negotiations for such an important issue as Greece’s sovereign rights. Contrary to Greece, Turkey prefers a negotiated settlement achieved through dialogue between the two neighboring states. Turkey prefers negotiations because it believes a decision by a third party (such as the International Court of Justice) would not fully appreciate its interests. Today, Greece and Turkey remain far from agreement on a solution to the dispute.
Background to the Imia/Kardak Episode
The Imia episode arose due to a naval accident in December 1995, when a Turkish vessel, Figen Akat, ran ashore on a small rock that is part of the Imia islets complex, located near the Greek island of Kalymnos in the Eastern Aegean. The captain of the ship refused to be rescued by the Greek coast guard, claiming that he was on Turkish territory. The incident was hardly reported by the Greek press and it was not known until January 1996, when a Greek magazine ran a story, leading to the escalation of events.
As said before, the Imia issue is related to territorial claims in the Aegean, which were first made public by Turkey in early 1974. The problem of the continental shelf was brought into discussion by the Turkish government in a diplomatic note sent to the Hellenic Embassy in Ankara and dated February 27, 1974. The Turkish position refers to the alleged non-existence of the continental shelf of the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean, close to the Turkish coastline; Ankara claims these islands are protuberances of the Anatolian Peninsula. (Further information regarding these details is available online at the International Court of Justice website, and on the US State Department website).
After two decades of uneasy relations and negotiations, the question of the sovereignty of the Aegean islands, islets and rock outcroppings emerged in 1996. In the days following the Figen Akat boat accident, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs contacted the Greek Embassy, stressing that the rocks of Imia/Kardak were part of Turkish territory.
The Greek Embassy in Ankara rejected the claims, reminding them that Turkey had recognized the islets as belonging to Italy by virtue of a bilateral agreement concluded in 1932; they were subsequently ceded by Italy to Greece, along with the rest of the Dodecanese islands, by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947. (For more information, see The Foundation of the Modern Greek State: Major Treaties and Conventions, 1830-1947). To this, Turkey asserted that with respect to the Aegean, it would abide only by those international agreements that it considered valid, and then only by those that both Turkey and Greece signed.
Turkey has traditionally suspected that Greece would like to transform the Aegean Sea into a Greek ‘lake’ and that Greek claims to Imia/Kardak are thus due to the proximity of these rocks to the Turkish mainland; many Turkish leaders have maintained that the more land Greece ‘owns’ near the Turkish coastline, the more easily Greece could act militarily against it, and the more difficult it would be for Turkey to economically exploit the Aegean, because of territorial restrictions. Greeks have voiced precisely the same fears about Turkish designs on taking islands to win military and economic advantages against Greece.
Media Involvement and Escalation of Events
When the Greek press discovered the story, they raised the controversial question of sovereignty over the Imia chain. In January 1996, the mayor of nearby Kalymnos island raised a Greek flag in order to stress that the rocks were in fact Greek territory. A few days later, a team of journalists from the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet were flown (it is believed, by the military) to Imia and replaced the Greek flag with the Turkish one. On the next day, the Greek flag was raised again, by Greek commandos deployed to the larger of the two islets, in order to protect the national symbol.
Tensions boiled over when Turkish commandos landed on the smaller of the two islets in a stealth operation leading to the death of a Greek pilot. Fortunately, the crisis was eventually defused – as earlier similar ones had – through US pressure, by ‘telephone diplomacy’ between Washington, Athens and Ankara. The status-quo ante was thus restored.
The Greek government depicted the withdrawal as a victory, as sovereignty was maintained, but it was criticized by the political opposition, which considered the situation as a ‘national humiliation’ because Greek sovereignty was not in fact defended.
Stereotyping Phenomena: Eleftherotypia and Eleftheros Typos
Eleftherotypia in its contemporary coverage seems preoccupied with whether the Turkish flag on Imia/Kardak “would be removed or not during the Turkish withdrawal.” The flag seems to be a strong symbol of national pride and sovereignty for both neighboring states. The editors often refer to the Turks as “claiming new frontiers in the Aegean,” and as fomenting a “rebel uprising,” intimidating the Greeks with the threat of war. On its February 6 edition, the same newspaper emphasizes: “[Turkish Prime Minister Tansu] Ciller now wants 3000 islands. This has raised her appetite.”
The center-right Eleftheros Typos expressed rage at the raising of the Turkish flag and wrote: “undisturbed, they raised the Turkish flag in Imia. Shame! The Turks humiliated us.” The editors blamed the Greek government for submitting to Richard Holbrooke’s orders: ‘they pulled the national guard out of 25 rocks!’”
The word ‘humiliation’ is again brought into the discussion in the paper’s February 14 edition, when the editors use a pun in the front page headline ‘Ξεβράχωμα στο Αιγαίο’ (‘getting off the rocks in the Aegean’): the Greek word ξεβράχωμα (ksebrahoma), meaning ‘to get off a rock’, usually is used in reference to fishing. It refers to getting a fish out of its hiding place. Here, employed in place of it is the similar-sounding word ξεβράκωμα (ksevrakoma) which stands for somebody’s public humiliation.
In its March 27 edition, Eleftheros Typos invoked heroes of the 1821 Greek Revolution by writing that “[…] the bones of Kolokotronis, Diakos, Karaiskakis, Papaflessas and Makrigiannis would crack now if they’d know we answered with such defeatism to the Turks,” trying to underline that the government’s moves towards defending national sovereignty were weak. In its March 30 edition, the same newspaper added that the status of the Dodecanese islands, which had been assigned to Greece by the above-cited 1947 agreement, was the subject of discussion between Clinton and Demirel at the White House: “Clinton-Demirel: Bazaar for our islands.”
Depiction of Events in Ta Nea and in Kathimerini
Both Greek centre-right and centre-left newspapers present the Imia/Kardak crisis as an attack on Greek national sovereignty. However, Ta Nea is the only paper to present the whole chronicle of the crisis, starting with the incident in December 1995. Ta Nea specifies in its March 18 edition that the Turks permanently contest Greek sovereignty over the Imia rocks, trying to create a fait accompli in the area: “the question of Greek sovereignty is permanent. The Turks set up a second Imia (i.e. incident).”
The February 16 edition leads by declaring: “double Turkish provocation on Imia,” and writes that Turkey is continuing the war of nerves by asking a Greek vessel near Imia to leave Greek territorial waters.
Further, the February 23 edition headline states: “as Ankara recalls its ambassador, the CIA sees war in the Aegean.” The editors state that Turkey is escalating the tension and threatens Greece if it takes actions against Turkey’s interests, but Greek PM Kostas Simitis, threatens back that there will be consequences for Ankara in terms of its path to the European Economic Community.
At that moment in time, the situation in Greece was difficult due to farmers’ strikes and other domestic and external problems. The Simitis government had also only been recently created. It is worth mentioning Ta Nea’s political cartoons that illustrated the particularities of the economic situation. The main cartoon of the March 21 edition depicts a Greek couple in their living room; while reading the newspaper, the man says to his wife that ‘the farmers thresh Athens, the Turks plow all over the Aegean and the tax evaders reap the VAT!’ The women, who seems quite shocked, answers: ‘is there anyone sowing?’
Both the newspaper’s February 3 and February 10 editions carry concerning headlines: “worries about a second episode” because of “a great concentration of naval forces in the Aegean and military movement in Turkey.”
In its March 22 edition, Ta Nea also publishes a political cartoon showing how Greeks perceived the Turkish-EU relation. The cartoon depicted Süleyman Demirel and a waiter (representing the European Commission) at the European Union’s waiting room for Turkey. The waiter asks Demirel what he would like to order, and Demirel answers: ‘a rock.’
Both cartoons and the technique to display violent front page headlines to demonstrate the diachronic threat coming from Turkey lead to stereotypes, because, in time of crisis, Turkey is perceived as a state that raise claims and is ready for conflict and war.
While most of the Greek daily newspapers with national distribution were passionate about Imia and ethnic stereotypes on Turks, Kathimerini, a center-right oriented newspaper promoted a cooler, yet firm attitude regarding the Greek national rights: “no step back to pressures!” In its January 30 edition, a very neutral headline states: “the case of the islets is getting complicated.”
However, the next day’s headline synthesizes the difficult moment in the bilateral relations thus: “[we are] small during huge moments. No one felt the need to quit after the national defeat to which they led us recklessly.”
The editors of Kathimerini seem unwilling to reinforce the victimization mentality, the overdose of the ‘threat from the East’ and the populist content characteristic to the other publications analyzed.
Cumulative Assessment of Media Depictions
Interestingly, in the case of Imia/Kardak, the Greek press was not as passionate about this crisis as it had been with others in the past. The writing is in general more balanced and tempered than during the crises of 1976 and 1987 (not to mention Cyprus in 1974). Yet, the national feeling of pride is still present on the front pages of most of the publications analyzed here.
This seems to indicate that when it comes to questions of national sovereignty, the Greek press cannot be fully tempered, though it must be said that it did not go so far as to respond to the actions of the Turkish journalists by raising the Greek flag on Imia.
Overall, the writing is reminiscent of populist political discourse, simplistic though rigid, ethnocentric, very reactionary and defensive- the sort of writing that leads to inflexible decisions and opinions.
A strong typification aspect is related to the comparison used to evoke great men and glorious national moments, and to minimize or downgrade the image and the position and role of the ‘Other.’ The employment of war vocabulary (assault, invasion, aggressive, landing) transforms the press into a conflict zone: ‘Us’ versus the ‘Other’ in a militaristic sense.
Conclusion: Prospect for Resolution
The Imia/Kardak issue is related to other issues of the Aegean dispute with potentially great geopolitical and strategic impact in the region. The owner of these islets could extend territorial waters around them to 12 miles, as provided by Maritime Law, restricting travel through the straits in which they are located and bringing areas of international waters under national control. This could then bring into play claims of ownership over the continental shelf under these territorial waters and the airspace above.
Moreover, ownership of Imia/Kardak and its ties to the continental shelf and territorial waters could have great impact on each country’s sense of national prestige, honor and pride and on the inherent mistrust of the neighboring state and population. Ownership of the rocks themselves would not yield much economically, but symbolically they could and would mean more sovereignty over the Aegean. And concepts like patriotism and nationalism provide that more sovereignty a country has over an area, in this case the Aegean, the more national prestige and honor that country gets.
In modern history, these two neighboring states have been on the verge of conflict at least two other times (in 1974 and 1987), but always stopped short. Greece is and has been considered a weaker power militarily and it is believed that in the aftermath of a war, its government would have to negotiate from a disadvantageous position with Turkey. Further, Greece and Turkey do not want war, because war would hurt them both, though both feel obliged to claim they are ready to fight, and it seems that if became absolutely necessary they would.
Defusing the 1996 crisis was favorable to Turkey, a country that needed Greece’s vote to accede to the European Community forum. A peaceful resolution to their dispute would bring more political and military stability and security to the region and, therefore, to NATO and the European Union. After all, war between Greece and Turkey would also harm the credibility of these bodies. In the end, both countries would gain more political respectability internationally by keeping the peace.
An interesting and perhaps fruitful avenue for future research would be to compare the Greek newspaper coverage of the Imia/Kardak case with that found in the Turkish print media during the period in question. This would indicate to what extent patterns of coverage and mentality were similar or distinct, and why. It could lead to lessons for both parties for the future.
In any case, given the likelihood of future crises, media editors wishing to prevent nationalistic approaches on different issues should seek to avoid stereotypes and prejudices, while giving the facts or drawing conclusions and to give resolution-oriented coverage. Indeed, avoiding stereotyping and ethnic categorization could eliminate sources of conflict and pave the way for reconciliation.
During the period covered by this study, the newspapers emphasize the positive self-presentation of ‘us’ and the negative representation of the ‘Other.’ The misrepresentation of the latter may be considered to be a hidden obstacle in the reconciliation process. Media discourse must be built as to overcome stereotyping phenomena and create good attitudes towards other nations.
Negative images of the ‘Other’ create negative public perception. Instead of promoting stereotypes and widespread but antiquated views, media must work in favor of eliminating the obsolete stereotyping phenomena from its discourse. The local media coverage of the Imia/Kardak crisis indicates that media professionals and educators should seek to avoid forms of ethnocentric discourse, propaganda, prejudice and stereotype. Rather, the should present the events as they are or draw conclusions in order to prevent nationalistic approaches to different topics, and to contribute to rediscovering the identity of ‘us’ and ‘the others’ through culture and education.
*Oana-Camelia Stroescu is a researcher at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iaşi, Romania. This article is a result of the project Transnational Network for Integrated Management of Postdoctoral Research in Communicating Sciences. Institutional building (postdoctoral school), and fellowships program (CommScie)- POSDRU/89/1.5/S/63663, financed under the Sectoral Operational Programme Human Resources Development 2007-2013.
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Articles and Online Resources
Hogg, A. M., Terry, D. J. & White, K.M. (1995). “A Tale of Two Theories: A Critical Comparison of Identity Theory with Social Identity Theory.” Social Psychology Quarterly, 58, 255-269.
Stephan, S.G., S.J., Ybarra, O. & Rios Morrison, K. (2009). “Intergroup Threat Theory.” In T. D. Nelson (Ed.), Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination (pp.43-59). New York: Psychology Press.
International Court of Justice at The Hague, ‘Aegean Sea Continental Shelf Case’, (accessed April 2012)
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