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Neighbours make nice 18 février 2012

Posted by Acturca in Economy / Economie, Immigration, Istanbul, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie.
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The Globe and Mail (Canada) February 18, 2012, p. 1

Graeme Smith, Istanbul

Greeks are setting aside decades of enmity and leaving their struggling country for jobs in Turkey.

p. 13

Greece cozying up to its old Turkish rival

Greeks once held their noses when referring to their troubled neighbour. Now it’s the other way around.

As a young Greek from a prestigious business school, Panagiotis Afchoudias, 30, surprised his friends when he decided to start his career in Turkey six years ago. “My friends in Greece were skeptical,” Mr. Afchoudias said. “They thought I was leaping into hell, going over to the home of our enemy.”

Such concerns melted away in recent years, however, as Greeks watched their country fall into crisis and the Turkish economy flourish next door. The Greek economy shrank at an annual rate of 7 per cent in the last quarter of 2011, while Turkey enjoyed 9-per-cent growth last year. The sharp difference in growth rates has helped to reverse some long-standing trends: After suffering decades of prejudice and declining numbers, the tiny Greek community in Turkey is enjoying a modest expansion. More than a century of mutual hostility between the two countries has given way to a sevenfold increase in bilateral trade over the past decade.

Mr. Afchoudias, who now works as a business consultant for Greek companies looking to expand into Turkey, says Greeks have let go of their old antagonistic views. Greek businesses are compensating for shrinking domestic sales by moving into the Turkish market, he said, and workers are looking east in search of employment.

“Now my friends ask me to find jobs for them here,” Mr. Afchoudias said, gesturing with a glass of strong Turkish tea at the skyline of Istanbul.

Millions of Greeks once lived in the borders of modern Turkey. After four major wars, however, the Lausanne Treaty in 1923 relocated most of them to Greece. A few hundred thousand remained, but their numbers dwindled after violent incidents such as the anti-greek riots of 1955 encouraged them to move away.

The original Greek community in Turkey now consists of perhaps 1,500 to 2,500 people, most of them senior citizens, but their numbers have stabilized with an influx of newcomers who have reversed the population trend.

The decline of the community has stopped. Of course this is because of the economic development of Turkey and the rapprochement of the two sides. They are discovering their neighbours again.

Marina Drymalito Project manager at a Greek association in Istanbul

“The decline of the community has stopped,” said Marina Drymalitou, a project manager at a Greek association in Istanbul. “Of course this is because of the economic development of Turkey and the rapprochement of the two sides. They are discovering their neighbours again.”

The thaw in relations started during better times for Greece, however, as politicians on both sides of the border took steps in the late 1990s to start healing old wounds.

“All states, including Turkey and Greece, needed to re-evaluate their place in the global system,” said Harry Tzimitras, an assistant professor of international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University. “There was an understanding that things needed to change.”

Emergency crews from both countries co-operated during the aftermath of the 1999 earthquakes, a dramatic moment of cross-border fraternity. The relationship continued to grow closer as the two countries signed more than 50 bilateral agreements over the past 10 years, Mr. Tzimitras said, bringing them closer on matters of trade, economy, sports, and culture. “The perceptions started to change, little by little,” he said.

Turkey has not emerged as a refuge for unemployed Greeks from the working classes, however.

Haris Rigas, 29, a doctoral student in political anthropology whose thesis work focuses on the Greek community in Turkey, says significant hurdles remain for ordinary migrants. The local bureaucracy makes it relatively easy for a Greek businessman to set up a company in Turkey in a matter of a few weeks, he said, but less wealthy people would struggle with problems of language, residency permits, property ownership restrictions, and a lack of adequate Greek-language schools for their children.

“I have not met a single Greek housecleaner or factory worker here,” Mr. Rigas said. “For economic migrants it’s not tempting – but for businessmen, yes.”

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