The Imagined 'Other' as National Identity: Greeks and Turks
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 A lecture at SOAS (London) by Dr. Hercules Millas (University of Athens); April 28, 2005


The Imagined 'Other' as National Identity: Greeks and Turks



- Any topic that is associated with the ethnic ‘Other’ incorporates two national entities: Greekness and Turkishness. Any interethnic relationship would be comprehensible only when these ‘entities’ are clearly described and defined.


- National states and their citizens is a modern phenomenon (18th – 19th century). The study of this national identity however, is very recent. Modern societies and especially researchers only recently started distancing themselves from national worldviews and defining the nation as a historical, hence as a transient (temporary) social phenomenon and not as An

an ‘eternal’ essence.


- The ‘nation’ operated as a reference through which ‘eternity’ was promised if not secured (ethnolatry). The flag became sacred; the leaders obtained a status of mythical heroes (almost saints). The holy ‘unknown soldier of ours’ necessitated a soldier who is the ‘Other’.


- The national perception of the past and of the future is a confrontational one and contrary to ecumenical religious and international class ideologies which are inclusive. Nationalism is based on sovereignty rights which in turn presuppose an ‘Other’ who composes a threat (Anderson: ‘every nation is sovereign and limited’).         


- Nationalism can be perceived as a worldview (paradigm, metaphor, grand narrative, national myth etc) through which an identity of the self is defined. Let us call this social phenomenon a sphere of consensual nationalism. Another popular perception of nationalism is associated with actions of nations that are not ‘appreciated’. These actions (or political programs or behavior) can be named as a sphere of contingent nationalism. The first is more durable, the second liable to rapid changes.[1]   


- All the above can be demonstrated by the Other that occurs in Greek and Turkish discourse.


- The textbooks of both countries show how the nation states tried to  create a national ‘consciousness’, on one hand by glorifying whatever was considered ‘ours’ and at the same time discrediting the Other. Manichean approaches, silencing whatever is not favorable for ‘us’, constructing myths that are flattering for us is the rule.   


- The historiography of each country, starting with the establishing of the nations state, has been active for the same end. Nation-building was the main mission of historians. Even one or two paragraphs on Greek-Turkish relations is enough to reveal the national identity of the (Greek or Turkish) historian – through the wording, the topic that is elected and the interpretation.


- There are many examples that demonstrate the above. The national identity of the writer of any text (historical, novels, etc) is expressed in a specific manner: each party perceives the same incidents in a different way. There is consequently more than one ‘reality’.


- The different approach and evaluation are perceived by the ‘Other’ as prejudice, stereotype, negative image etc. Whereas it is only a national perception which is experienced as ‘knowledge’ by each individual.


- The ‘image’ of the ‘Other’ is directly related to the ideology of nationalism, i.e., to a specific ‘historical’ evaluation of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The image is ‘imagined’ and has not relevance to actual life and personal experience. For example authors can narrate in their memoirs only the positive ‘Others’ that they have encountered in the real life and still portray the ‘Other’ always as negative in their novels (where the story is constructed)


- The national identity operates mostly subconsciously. This becomes apparent when one notices how writers portray love affairs between ‘us’ and the ‘Other’. It is always the woman of the ‘Other’ who falls in love with ‘our’ man.


- The contradictions also show that identity dictates situations which the writer (in subject in general) experiences unconsciously. The self-identification (humanist, objective) and the actual practice of many writers are typical examples. (Anatolianists and their ‘humanism’ and ‘naively positive ‘Other’ are typical).


- A final example of how national identity operates in the unconscious level, where the subjects perceive a distinctively national ‘present’ and they choose to behave based on their so called ‘knowledge’ was noticed in a meeting where Greeks and Turks had to answer two simple questions. Surprisingly most of them expressed views which for the ‘Other’ side were simply stereotypes.[2] 


- In short irrespective of intentions of individuals, all relationships with the ‘Other’ (encounters, studies etc.) that are perceived on an ethnic base bear an identity dimension. This dimension is associated with distinctively different reference points and with a special ‘history’, i.e., an imagined past with which all ‘Greeks’ and ‘Turks’ associate themselves to the extent that they share this national identity. This ethnic dimension is reflected in their work and attitudes.



[1] See: H. Millas, The Imagined 'Other' as National Identity: Greeks and Turk, CSDP (Supported by European Commission). (Found in - English).


[2] See: H. Millas, The Imagined 'Other' as National Identity: Greeks and Turk


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