In early July 2013, I traveled to Thrace in northern Greece. This is still the land of the gods. Villages and towns try to make a living out of a natural world of rivers, valleys, wild mountains and the sea.
The Greeks of Thrace are proud of their Hellenic culture. I witness three days of dancing and music in Xanthi, the jewel town of Thrace. For a brief time I thought god Dionysos was leading his festival.
Forty-five dancing groups from all over Greece made up of dozens of young men and women dressed in ancient traditional costumes put up the greatest show on Earth at the center of Xanthi. Live music became dancing, the air became intoxicated with delightful sound and graceful movement one sees in ancient Greek vases. Ancient Greeks came back to life, and I, dreaming and dancing on the spot, lived the pleasure of those precious moments.
But Thrace is also full of pain. The modernizers are catching up. In my nine-hour bus ride from Athens to Xanthi I saw plenty of fertile land growing industrial crops but not food for people. The countryside is largely empty of rural people. The dread that comes over me in rural America was in the back of my mind while viewing the lonely land of Thrace. The similarities spoke to me directly.
In the midst of this agrarian desolation and, even more profoundly, on the harsh realities of Greek economic collapse, the Turks are rising their ugly historical brutality towards Greece. They see the weakness and silence of the Greek state as invitations to mischief. They are emboldened with their ceaseless aggression of coming back to Thrace as conquerors.
The Turks may try to convince the world they are not different than other people. But, down at heart, the Turks are different. They still carry Islam's flag of conquest.
The fifteenth-century Greek historian Michael Doukas described them as gangster-like nomads in search of loot and plunder. The Turks also used Islam as a weapon in their ruthless aggression against non-Muslims. Doukas said the Turks were men of violence bend on enslaving other people for profit. He knew the Turks intimately. He penned his "Byzantine-Turkish History" while the Turks fought ceaseless wars against the Greeks. In 1453, the Turks captured Constantinople and brought the independence of Greece to an end.
One can see this Turkish thirst for plunder unfolding in the Greek Muslim communities of Mt. Rodopi, the frontier between Greece and Bulgaria.
The Greeks of Rodopi date back to ancient Greece. In medieval Greece the Greeks of Rodopi were converted to Christianity. They remained Christians until the seventeenth century when Turkey forced them into Islam.
I visited Myki, one of the Greek Muslim villages of Rodopi. Driving from Xanthi, I was stunned by the beauty and isolation of these Greek mountain villages.
This bucolic view and pleasure is marred by a slow-gathering storm, however.
Many villagers are proud of being Greek. They say, however, that the agents of Turkey terrorize them and those who refuse to connect themselves to Turkey. The pressure is so intense that some women resort to anti-depressant drugs.
This secret war pits one-third of the Rodopi Muslim villagers who say they are Greeks against the two-thirds who claim openly they are Turks.
Greece remains invisible in this secret conflict that is writing the future of Thrace. Greece is even funding the teaching of Turkish to the Rodopi children. Some say that Greece even pressures the Rodopi villagers to claim Turkish origins.
I found no one who could explain this contradiction, nay, suicidal course of Greek policy.
Meanwhile, the handsome Greek Muslims of Rodopi go on with their daily lives. Most women and children wear traditional colorful clothing. Men work in their small tobacco fields and shepherd sheep and goats. Women in particular create works of art in their hand-made clothes.
Time has come to avoid the eruption of a Greco-Turkish volcano in the mountains of Thrace. The Greek state needs to be present in Rodopi: stop the Turkification of the Greek Muslim population by expelling the bribing and terrorizing agents of Turkey from Thrace.
Greece can hardly afford, much less promote, her own dismemberment.
Rodopi children need to learn Greek early on so they can study in Greece, thinking Greece as their homeland, which it is. Greece also needs to support the institutionalization of the knowledge of the villagers of Rodopi. That knowledge and tradition would be an asset in the peaceful and prosperous development of Thrace in a prosperous Greece.