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  • hbanziger

F + 26 : Epilogue

Updated: Dec 30, 2022

The last four weeks have been amazing. Reading about places and their past is one thing, seeing and touching them another. Talking to locals gives you often a perspective you never considered. Sometimes these perspectives are different from what you expect – but always enriching.

This beautiful Satellite Picture captures our entire route from Istanbul to Athens

Below are a few thoughts which I take home from this trip:

1. The cultural rift and the level of distrust between Turks and Greeks is far deeper than I anticipated. There is no trust between the two governments and none between their citizens either. In my earlier blogs I showed how similar these two nations are and how peaceful cooperation should be in their best interest. But the scars of 100 years of conflict (1821 – 1922) run deep and are not healed. Most people we met have someone in their family who was killed or evicted. Turks still speak in glowing terms of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror. Greeks love to celebrate their battle field successes in the War of Independence. It will take many more generations and lots of engagements to overcome these mutual animosities. The NATO membership of both countries had positive effects. But politicians on both sides need to do more. War is neither in Turkey’s not in Greece’s interest. As of now - with the arms race in the Aegean accelerating - it does not look promising.

Mykonos is one of Greece's most popular islands and attracts 2 million visitors a year

2. Tourism is a game changer. It lifted millions from poverty and provides employment. The increasing number of visitors from abroad makes both Greek and Turks embracing their past and looking after their cultural heritage. It is impressive to see how carefully ancient sites are preserved now. Tourists also want to easily cross the borders and wish to see both sides of the Aegean, the island of Chios and Ephesus. The pressure from large cruise boat operators has partially restored the ease of border crossing. I hope there is more to come. Covid was a sharp reminder of how little it takes for tourists to stay away. Their numbers dropped by 80% in 2020. In the long run, tourism may bring both nations closer as they discover through the eyes of their visitors that they are not so different.

Change of Guard on the Akropolis - sadly Greece and

Turkey are now in an Arms Race over Exploitation Rights

in the Aegean and the Mediterranean

3. Fossil fuels still matter. Whilst both Greece and Turkey talk about renewable energy, they know that there is a long way to go and that natural gas will be essential for the transition. How else would you explain their dangerous brinkman ship when it comes to gas exploitation in the Mediterranean? The gas fields discovered in the 1980s and 1990s promise energy security for 50 years plus. Which reasonable government would not want that? If Turkey and Greece were to cooperate on developing these fields, it could happen quickly and cheap. Technology and funding are in place. Sadly, the two governments now engage in a silly arms race which costs them billions with an uncertain result.

Never thought I would see a Water Spout in the Mediterranean. This one is from Tuesday, 6 September, caused by the High Meltemi Winds blowing from the North

4. Geology and geography are important. Athens would never have become powerful without the silver mines of Attica which were a product of the collision between the African and the European tectonic plate. Miletus, Pirene, Ephesus, Samos and Troy would not have become important trading hubs without the powerful Meltemi we again experienced during our last week. We had to escape 200 hundred miles west to the Peloponnese to be safe. Sailing north or south along the Anatolian coast is safe. That’s why these cities became important. Last but not least, there would be no Constantinople nor Istanbul without the Bosporus. It links places which need to import food & energy to places which have it. 2’000 years ago this was grain, today it is oil and coal from the Donbas and the Ukraine.

Fresco from Akrotiri from 1'650 BC - Women collecting Saffron - Akrotiri was destroyed by the Eruption of the Thera Volcano and buried under 40 meters of Ash

5. Sophisticated societies are fragile. Maintaining them requires permanent effort. When visiting many sites this summer, we were struck by sophistication. Building the Suleymaniye Mosque in seven years was an incredible feat – same is true for the 2'000 years older Temple of Aphaia we saw two days ago. But these civilizations are gone. They do not exist anymore. The same is true for Troy, Mycenae, Ephesus and Pergamon to name a few more. These once thriving communities collapsed – all that is left are ruins. Our culture is an intangible thing that holds us together and forms the basis of society and institutions. In every generation they need to be defended, funded and reintroduced to the next generation. We cannot take them for granted. A few decades of mismanagement and abuse are sufficient to hollow them out. Once weakened, any natural or man-made disaster can make it collapse. Our current society is as fragile as ancient Greece's. Let’s not follow in their shoes.

The Temple of Aphaia on Aegina was abandoned in the 2nd century BC during the Wars following the Demise of the Empire of Alexandre the Great

6. The end of empires are dangerous times. Their dissolution leads to bloody violence. As they break apart, old conflicts reemerge and new ones arise. In the Aegean, it happened three times since the beginning of written history.

a. The end of the Persian Empire (Alexander the Great included) led to 150 years of war in Asia Minor and Greece between the contestants for supremacy. It only ended when the Roman Empire was called for help and installed itself as the new ruler.

b. Another example is the demise of the Byzantine Empire after 1204. It took 250 years for the Ottoman Empire to conquer Constantinople. These 250 years were filled with conflicts and civil wars. Nobody can be surprised that the local population welcomed the Ottomans as the power which could restore peace. People had enough.

c. It happened again when the Ottoman Empire came to its end by the end of the 19th century. Starting with the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and ending with the defeat of the Greek Army before Ankara in 1922, it led to the “exchange of people” or ethnic cleansing in modern parlance. The human suffering on all sides was tremendous.

It reminds me of the Russian Empire today. It is its weakness that triggered its murderous violence in the Ukraine, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Chechnya and Belarus. Sadly, it will only end when thus old empire is gone as well.

The Library of Ephesus contained once 15'000 scrolls preserving Knowhow and Expertise of many Generations. All that remains are the facade - none of the Scrolls survived

With this epilogue, the blog will go into hibernation for a few months. For next year we plan to sail along the old silver trail from Cadiz to Genoa. The Genovese became Spain’s bankers in the 16th century and handled all their payments in Europe. Whether we are going to sail it from West to East or East to West is not set yet. We also have no boat yet. Will keep you updated and resume blogging sometimes this December.

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