Our Major Surprise in Asia Minor

Although forced population movements are not unique to the twentieth century, as anyone of Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, Chickasaw, or Choctaw ancestry can attest, such atrocities are among the greatest disgraces of the past century. One of the earliest such movements in this era was the population exchange between Turkey and Greece under the terms of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which settled the conflict from which the modern Republic of Turkey emerged.

Like most Americans, I know little about Turkey or the history of the territories its present government controls. So I consider the way in which I spent the evening of Monday, May 25, as one of my life’s wholly unexpected experiences. On that occasion, my wife Elizabeth and I found ourselves in the village of Şirince, high on a mountainside about nine kilometers from the town of Selçuk, which itself is about three kilometers from the ruins of the fabulous city of Ephesus, one of the greatest metropolises of the ancient world.

By a series of events unlikely to have happened to anyone but a certain lovely, vivacious, and outgoing Louisianan (a.k.a. my wife), Elizabeth, who had gone to Selçuk earlier on Sunday while I was still occupied with business elsewhere in Turkey, had become acquainted with an affable carpet dealer by the name of Aydin. Through him, we met Metin, a young man who works with or for Aydin. (In Turkey it seems that everybody works with or for a great many others, who are described in most cases as brothers, cousins, uncles, or nephews.) Both Aydin and Metin speak good English and have spent time in the United States.

Metin had previously kept a shop in Şirince, and he took us there on Monday evening, when Aydin, who had promised to take us, was diverted by business dealings. The village was nearly deserted when we arrived just after sundown, and almost all of the shops had closed. Metin informed us that the village had been inhabited for many generations by Greeks, whose houses were built in the customary Greek style (the style in which they remain today, at least on the outside). In the early days of Mustafa Kemal’s (Kemal Atatürk’s) reign as modern Turkey’s founding strong man, these Orthodox Christian people had been expelled in the great population exchange and replaced by Muslim Turks who had previously lived in Greece.

With no tourists swarming in the streets, our stroll around the village before dinner was pleasant and unimpeded. We then sat down to have dinner at a restaurant whose menu was extensive and inviting and in which for an hour or more no one else was being served. In response to our questions about present-day relations between Turks and Greeks, Metin indicated that he had nothing against Greeks. “Problem is not people,” he averred. “Problem is always governments.” In reaction to this delightfully unexpected libertarian statement, we expressed our wholehearted agreement.

When Metin inquired as to how we liked President Barack Obama, we replied that we dislike all politicians. He nodded as if he understood and agreed with our sentiment. Then, after a brief pause, he said. “But there is one who is different.” After pausing again, as if he were searching his mind, he said simply: “Ron Paul.” Quickly following up, he declared emphatically: “I love Ron Paul!” Nearly struck dumb by this amazing declaration, we asked how he knew about Dr. Paul. He said that everybody in Turkey knows about him, and many Turks like him better than other politicians. When we informed him that we are personally acquainted with Dr. Paul, it was almost as if we had told him we are personally acquainted with some world-famous celebrity. Elizabeth confessed to him that although she normally steers clear of politics, she had joined a meetup group to promote Dr. Paul’s Republican presidential candidacy and had placed a big Ron Paul sign in front of our house. Instant solidarity!

On Tuesday, we talked about Ron Paul with Aydin, who shares Metin’s enthusiasm for the Texas congressman and expressed a desire to bring him to Turkey to be elected president. I daresay Turkey could use such a leader, under whom there certainly would be no collectivist state atrocities such as the heartrending Greek-Turkish population relocations of 1923. As we left Aydin’s shop for our final departure from Selçuk, we could hear him speaking to another man. Although we could not understand what he was saying in Turkish, we did catch the recurrent words “Ron Paul.”

Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Editor at Large of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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