SYDNEY – The Ouzo Talk Podcast for the Greek diaspora continues to grow, reaching an international audience from its base in Sydney, Australia. Ouzo Talk co-hosts Tom Skolarikis and Nick Athanassiou shared the details of their February 22 podcast discussion with retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis in the following article titled “When a Son of Smyrna Returned… as Captain of a U.S. Warship.”
When the grandparents of now retired U.S. Navy Admiral James Stavridis boarded a Greek fishing boat in Smyrna as refugees in 1922, they could scarcely have imagined that their family would ever return. Fast forward 70 years, and the grandson of those refugees, would do just that.
In 1992, almost a century after his grandparents fled a burning Smyrna at gun-point, Stavridis returned to that same, painfully remembered port, as Captain of a state of the art U.S. warship.
The irony of that ‘triumphant’ return to Smyrna – now Izmir – was not lost on Stavridis, who recalled the story in detail during a wide-ranging discussion on the Ouzo Talk Podcast.
“As you could imagine, I had very mixed emotional feelings – you didn’t hear a lot of great things about Turks around our house growing up,” Stavridis noted.
“So here I was, Captain of this brand new ship, driving it into Turkish waters, and the Turkish Liaison Officer came on board with his clipboard and saw my name, and said; ‘oh, Captain Stavridis, you’re Greek.’ I said, ‘well, technically my grandparents were of Turkish descent from the Ottoman Empire, but yes, they were definitely Greeks in every sense.’”
Stavridis rose to become NATO Supreme Allied Commander in 2009, and recognizing the importance of keeping peace in the Aegean, made a point of developing a strong relationship with his Turkish counterparts.
“The first capital I visited of the then-28 nations [in NATO] was not Athens. It was not London, it was not Paris or Rome, or Berlin, or Madrid. The first capital I went to was Ankara,” said Stavridis.
“I went to Turkey because I knew how that would all land for the Turks. We can have a debate about their role in the Alliance, but they’re members and allies,” he continued. “So I went and established my credentials there with the Turks and the Turkish Government. At the time, Erdogan was Prime Minister – today of course he’s President. I worked a lot with Ahmet Davutoğlu who was the Foreign Minister, and I came to know the Turks in all their complexities.”
“When I left four years later, concluding my tour as Supreme Allied Commander, Minister Davutoğlu, for a farewell gift, did not give me a pen and pencil set, or a clock or something,” Stavridis said. “He gave me a book that was full of vintage postcards from the Greek community in Smyrna, from the turn of the last century.”
“As he handed it to me he said; ‘Admiral, you have shown us that we can remember our history, but not be imprisoned by it.’”
Tensions have been at heightened levels between Greece and Turkey over the last decade owing in part to a policy of Turkish incursions into Greek air and sea space – behavior that Stavridis admits was difficult to deal with as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, but was also something that was privately understood to be wrong by his Turkish counterparts.
“When I spoke to Turkish military officers, they got that,” Stavridis emphasized to Ouzo Talk. “Greece has every right to put up surveillance and be capable of controlling airspace and controlling the seas around what is undoubtedly Greek territory.”
The full Ouzo Talk Podcast is available online: https://www.buzzsprout.com/1873222 and on Apple Podcasts: https://apple.co/3Zun5ND and Spotify: https://spoti.fi/3Y4cBDd.