Role of Image in Greek-Turkish Relations

by Zuhal Mert Uzuner (Author)
©2018 Edited Collection 214 Pages


This volume evaluates the role of image reconstruction processes in Greek–Turkish relations in the last decades. With contributions from prominent academics from different social science disciplines, it explains various aspects of contemporary image construction processes through educational materials in schools, history books, media, popular culture, cinema, diplomatic and political discourses. The authors explain how images about Self and the Other are reconstructed through different social interaction processes of individuals today and how much the new images differ from the Others offered by nationalist rhetoric of nation states. They analyze the limits of alternative image construction processes in eroding settled national images.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Authors
  • Contents
  • Introduction (Zuhal Mert Uzuner)
  • ‘Can Turks be nice?’ Greek Representations of the Ottomans and Turks (Thalia Dragonas / Anna Frangoudaki)
  • The Image of ‘Turk’ in Greek Primary School Curricula (Damla Demirözü)
  • The Image of the Greek in the Construction of the ‘Other’ in Turkish Children’s Books (Esra Özsüer)
  • Is the image of the ‘Other’ Changing Among Greeks and Turks? How fast and to What Extent? (Hercules Millas)
  • Turkey in Syriza’s Foreign Policy 2015–2017 (Nikos Christofis / Amaryllis Logotheti)
  • Mistrust Dies Hard: Elite Perceptions and Greek-Turkish Relations (Kostas Ifantis / Dimitrios Triantaphyllou)
  • ‘They were not the Backward People We Thought’: Reconstructing the Turk through Turkish TV Series in Greece (Christina Efthymiadou)
  • Cinema as Carrier of Memory & Transformation of the Image of the Greek/Turkish Citizen of Greek Descent in Turkish Cinema (Figen Algül / M. Elif Demoğlu)
  • Greek Imbrians’ Perception of Turks: Intercommunal Relations on Imbros Island (Feryal Tansuğ)
  • What’s in a Name? Reflections on Greek Perceptions of the ‘Turk’ (Ekavi Athanassopoulou)
  • Index

← 12 | 13 →

Zuhal Mert Uzuner1


Greek and Turkish students form great friendships outside of their countries. It is well-known that they can understand each other much better than any other individual coming from another country. On the other hand, Greek-Turkish conflicts are still an example of the deep bilateral problems in international relations. So, how can these people who have the capacity to understand each other so well have hatred and enmities that go back generations? In answering this question, it is also important to understand why and how we transform a concrete issue into a complex phenomenon in politics. This issue is directly related with the process of ‘othering’, naming Turks or Greeks and considering them as different from oneself in the both sides. This difference has negative connotations inside and the ‘Other’ is considered as a probable source threat. Turks and Greeks have been constructed with national narratives and thought through several social, educational processes in history. In so many writings it is argued that, these constructions create a blind point in politics and become a source of antagonism although all they are construct and thought. In another word, image of the other does not depend on personal experiences. So the question is, is it possible to change Greek and Turkish consideration of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ if we can have more personal contacts and know more about each others? What can be determinant in this process? Can we see possible positive effects of increasing capacity of communication and what are the limits of personal experiences about diminishing the role of other learning processes?

There are many studies which focus on the construction of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ from different perspectives. Most of the time, scholars critical of nationalist discourse focused on this issue in the 1950s, which saw a rising number of studies about the relationship between identity and politics (Wetherell, 2010: 5). Thalia Dragonas, a prominent professor emerita who spent years studying psychosocial identity and intergroup relations, intercultural education and ethnocentrism in the education system of Greece, explored images of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ in Greece in several academic writings. Hercules Millas is also a very important name with regard to construction of image of the Other through Turkish and Greek novels ← 13 | 14 → and literature both in Turkey and Greece. In the 1980s and 1990s, endless tensions in bilateral relations created an increasingly difficult atmosphere for studies about ‘Self’ and ‘Other’, because identity matters have been very tense and because it was difficult to say something that might be going against official national discourse.

In the last decades, social psychology used the construction of identity as the main tool for the evaluation of political considerations. The rise of post-structuralism behind the challenging perspective of social constructivism highlighted socially constructed facts and their impacts on human behavior. In this context, understanding the construction process of identities and political images in our minds through social processes has become a very important area of studies in social sciences for the creation of values and assumptions as a part of our political decision-making process and foreign policy. These subjective judgements as constructed determinants of the decision-making process are considered critical because any change in the judgements may create a serious transformation in the outcome of the decision making process. Moreover, as socially constructed facts, they are products of social interactions in several social spaces which may grow or shrink according to personal experiences. The basic assumption of contemporary world politics is that the more interaction an individual has in his or her daily life with people who are coming from different groups, with differing lifestyles or from another nation, the more they may rasp away negative concerns about differences. So the expansion of social spaces which shape our values through communication and interaction, such as family, schools, or neighbours, may decrease our level of ‘othering’. Therefore, transportation and communication capacities – and, of course, higher economic standards – may bring less xenophobic tendencies.

This analysis may be challenged by several critics and needs to be clarified. Today, there is little denial of the importance of these subjective factors in international relations, but the level of influence may be questioned. In the academic discipline of international relations, there are several theoretical approaches, and each one of them favouring different factors in international relations. In traditional approaches, nation-states are monolithic and have clear national interests in a given anarchic atmosphere. However, critical approaches challenge the notion of nation-states as monolithic actors and bring more subnational factors into the agenda. Furthermore, they underline the individual as an important factor more and more. Today, communication capacities give people the power to challenge supreme authority of governments over knowledge and the construction of truth. Thus, individuals and groups of individuals have a higher capacity to be visible and propagate alternative ideas. ← 14 | 15 →

As a result, we may see established reactions and new versions of traditional approaches such as neo-classical realism. If individuals may be effective in world politics, what are the dividing lines between different political groups? What are the new political communities? Can we talk about a fast erosion of the nation as the key political community?

These are not easy questions to answer in a few pages. However, it is possible to argue that the nation as basic political community was the result of the industrial revolution and that new political communities will be the result of new determinants coming from globalisation, such as communication revolution. Global and local political communities may have political networks and cooperations on several policy domains today. So, as an individual member of such a network, being a part of a nation may not require unquestionable respect to the national interests identified by the national government. As an example, when environmental movements care about non-nuclear energy resources, an environmentalist living in a state that has the capacity for nuclear energy may not see a reason to feel proud, thus going against the national interests.

So, for some people, globalization may promote different identities and an alternative set of values as challenges to nationalism. However, it is possible to argue that neo-nationalism was born as a reaction to this erosion of nationalism as a source of solidarity and identity. The rise of populist parties should be considered a reaction of people to the perceived ‘foreign’ influences that are brought about by the ever-increasing impact of globalization. Economic crisis, illegal immigration, terrorism and rising heterogeneity created a base for xenophobic and racist movements. These problems are considered as the end product of increasing interconnectedness. Because of this capacity for interaction together with rising immigration and the transformation of relatively homogenous societies to much more heterogeneous ones, in 1990s, the concept of identity started to be much more interesting as a topic of academic studies. In this context, it is possible to observe how the concept of identity and the construction of ‘Self’ is not static or stable, and not the essence of politics anymore.

This trend reminds us of Vamık Volkan’s arguments about the relationship between previous interactions and negative images in our minds (Vamık Volkan, 2002: 16). He argues that the biggest ethnic conflicts had emerged between neighbouring peoples because geographical proximity decided the most important source of probable interaction. Greek-Turkish conflicts are a perfect example of this. In the process of the creation of a national identity, both national ideologies created an image of Greeks and Turks respectively in order to construct their self-image in the 19th and 20th century. He says that today people may interact ← 15 | 16 → with many different peoples free from the limitations of geography. As a result of new interactions, there are new processes of othering.

As Volkan mentions, identity is still a construct of the centrally planned education system under control of states, families and propaganda means (Volkan, 2002: 18). All of these show us that a change in an identity is not so easy. Although nationalism is taught in family, school and other social spaces, when it is internalised upon adolescence, it is difficult to change it. The construction of ‘Self’ is parallel to the construction of the ‘Other’ image. We reflect all negative things onto the people who do not belong to the same group on the base of shared commons. According to Hercules Millas, ‘the image is an attribution which includes prejudices’ and as a social message it is settled in the minds of individuals (Hercules Millas, 2005: 19). Images may be derived from personal experiences, common perceptions of the group to that we belong, or through means of communication, schools, literature, etc. Walter Lippmann explains argues that images exist in order to reflect of our values, our opinions and our rights on the world (Millas). It may contain false generalisations at the end. In fact, once it is constructed, it is difficult to change in the process of social transmission.

It is safe to say that education is a very determining factor in constructing an identity and solidarity as a nation. Nationalism is the most important source of solidarity in world politics, especially for the creation of a political community. So, when we refer to ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ in the construction of identity, national stereotypes derived from common experiences and used as a part of national history are very important. The transfer or creation of these common experiences is a process realised by history books, media, education, schools, literature and so on. In other words, common experiences are not actually personal, individual experiences, but experiences learned through several means of communication. As a social animal, we learn to be a part of a political community through these processes.

Therefore, alternative history writing with efforts to decrease hatred in the history books for pupils has to be considered very important for the construction of better images. The rise of the European Union (EU) as a project challenging stereotypes stemming from nationalism could be very promising. Although there is a huge reaction in contemporary politics against this erosion of nationalist assumptions about the world, the driving forces behind this erosion are growing every day. Increased communication capacity and interaction with different people who are coming from the ‘Other’ community diminish ‘otherness’ to a more individual level, which in turn leads to more universal, normative discussions instead of simple belief in stereotypical behaviour of the several groups. ← 16 | 17 →

Therefore, in this study the basic question is: can we observe a positive influence of communication on othering? What are the limits of communication for the creation of a self-image with less hatred towards the Other? How free can the identity of new political communities in the 21st century be from the limits of nationalism and its Others? This volume tries to answer these questions with reference to the image of Greeks in contemporary Turkey and the image of Turks in contemporary Greece.

In order to understand how the images of Turks and Greeks evolve and create self-identity in a new atmosphere, we should look at the construction of images in social spaces with more opportunities for interaction. Literature, educational material, media coverage, popular soap operas and movies in the last decades should be taken into account to see what kind of images were created. Such a study needs to have expertise in different disciplines, such as communication and cinema, sociology, social psychology, political science, etc. Therefore, in this volume we tried to bring together Greek and Turkish scholars who are authorities in their respective field of research and prominent academics who have new field research on images in both countries.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Perception Identity Politics
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien. 2018. 214 p. 2 b/w ill., 6 b/w tab.

Biographical notes

Zuhal Mert Uzuner (Author)

Zuhal Mert Uzuner is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science and International Relations of the Marmara University, Turkey. She studies Greek–Turkish relations, foreign policy making, Greek and Turkish foreign policies and southeast Europe.


Title: Role of Image in Greek-Turkish Relations
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