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Kill Or Be Killed:

The Greco-Turkish War of 1969


By Chris Oakley


Part 6




Summary: In the first five parts of this series we examined the circumstances leading to the outbreak of the 1969 Greco-Turkish war; the early battles of the war itself; the catastrophic defeats Turkey suffered in its failed attempt to seize control of Greece’s Aegean islands; the ill-fated Turkish bid to mount an overland invasion of Greece in the final days of the war; the Vienna cease- fire negotiations which eventually ended the war; and the formation of Turkey’s National Reform Alliance Party as dissatisfaction with the Demeriel regime in Ankara escalated in the war’s aftermath. In this chapter we’ll review the final collapse of Demeriel’s government and explore how Greece’s own political establishment was transformed by the September War’s outcome.


For the military junta that ruled in Athens, the conclusion of the September War was a double-edged blade. On the one hand, they had succeeded in giving Greece’s ancient adversary Turkey a bloody nose it wouldn’t soon forget and retaining control of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea; on the other hand, Greece’s own military forces had taken losses from which they would need a long time to recover and frontiers which had been heretofore patrolled by the Greek army alone were now under the jurisdiction of a multi-national UN troop contingent.

However, victorious regimes have an easier time than defeated ones in navigating the aftermath of war, thus the Papadapolous regime in Athens had little to fear in the way of internal uprisings; any grumbling there might be about the deployment of UN troops on Greek soil could be defused(or at least Papadapolous thought so) with the ancient Roman formula of "bread and circuses". Indeed, some of his fellow politicians even suggested that it might be possible to spin the UN presence as a side benefit of thwarting Turkey’s expansionist agenda in the Aegean Sea region. In any case, Papadapolous enjoyed widespread popular backing among the Greek masses....


...and proof of that support came in a massive rally held in Salonika just as Istanbul’s streets were exploding into riots. At least 100,000 marchers paraded through Salonika’s main square waving flags, chanting pro-Papadapolous slogans, and carrying portraits of the Greek dictator and other members of his junta. The demonstrators at this rally listened ecstatically when Papadapolous addressed them via radio from his offices in Athens. And although the rally had been scheduled to conclude after two hours, the marchers ended up staying in Salonika’s main square nearly five hours. It was the kind of ‘cult of personality’ worship of a national leader one seldom saw anymore in Europe other than in Falangist-ruled Spain or the Communist-ruled Soviet client states of the Warsaw Pact. Indeed, some Greek leftists feared that their country was in danger of being transformed into a quasi-fascist state. One Athens writer with a flair for satire and a strong dislike for the Papadapolous regime drafted a mock newspaper advertisement calling for recruits for a mythical organization called "the Papadapolous Youth", an allusion to the old Hitler Youth of Nazi Germany.

As one might well expect, such irreverence didn’t sit well with Papadapolous’ supporters-- or with Papadapolous himself, who ordered his internal security forces to arrest the offending writer on dubious (at best) sedition charges. Official Greek government media outlets painted him as a no-talent hack at best and a mortal threat to Greek national security at worst; one pro-government newspaper even implied the unlucky writer had been a secret Turkish sympathizer during the September War. But in reality, the only thing the man was truly guilty of was bruising Papadapolous’ swollen ego. The Athens government’s efforts to squash dissent were not only failing to accomplish their goals, they were turning out to be counterproductive: within a matter of days after the "Papadapolous Youth" ad’s author was arrested, there were scores of such satirical works poking fun at the pretensions of the Papadopolous oligarchy.

Papadopolous’ supporters wasted little time rushing to their idol’s defense; even as the creator of the "Papadapolous Youth" ad was facing the not-so-tender mercies of government security forces, a network of pro-Papadopolous organizers were coordinating huge demonstrations that condemned his detractors as sworn enemies of the Greek people; at one such demonstration in Thessaloniki the "Papadapolous Youth" author and two other prominent critics of the Papadapolous regime were burned in effigy.

The clashes between the Greek junta leader’s advocates and his critics grew steadily more frequent and more violent as the weeks passed; things got so far out of control that at one point foreign diplomats in Athens actually needed military escort simply to get from their apartments to their respective embassies and back again. One highly respected BBC journalist who’d been covering Mediterranean Europe for years predicted that within a matter of months if not weeks Greece would be plunged into the same conditions of quasi-civil war that had been gripping Turkey since the Istanbul riots.

The tipping point finally came in February of 1971, when left-wing students in Athens gathered for an anti-Papadopolous rally near the heart of the Greek capital. Just after midnight on the third day of the rally, they were confronted by a pro-government counter-march in the vicinity of the Acropolis. Insults were exchanged between the two sides for about half an hour, at which point the verbal assaults would escalate into a shoving match between the marchers at the respective heads of the pro-government and anti-government demonstrations. At the peak of the brawling, someone-- it has never been clearly determined who --threw a brick that hit the main speaker for the anti-government demonstrators right in the temple. After that the gloves were off, and any hope of a peaceful resolution to the quarrel between the opposing marchers vanished as a full-fledged riot broke out in the streets. As an ambulance crew from Athens’ largest hospital tried desperately to reach the severely injured keynote speaker for the anti-Papadapolous rally, windows were smashed like piñatas and fires were set anywhere the rioters could find something flammable. Athens police soon found themselves in a gun battle with unknown snipers firing from the third- floor window of an apartment building less than two blocks from where the riot started.

The next morning the Papadapolous regime declared martial law in Athens in hopes it might quell further anti-government demonstrations, but there was no putting the genie back in the bottle. A tidal wave of anger against the repressive Papadapolous junta was sweeping Greece, forcing ordinary Greek citizens to choose which side they were on and driving foreign visitors to leave Greece as fast as they could book a seat on the next flight to Rome. Scores of foreign embassies in Athens went on lockdown. The commander of the UN peacekeeping force stationed on the Greco-Turkish border was sufficiently concerned about this turn of events to put his troops on a precautionary alert lest the violence  in the Greek capital should spread across the rest of the country.

The precarious state of affairs in Athens even concerned the powers that be in Ankara, who realized that the chaos in the Greek capital could, if left unchecked, culminate with the overthrow of the established Greek government and the rise to power of a new regime that might throw the UN peacekeepers out and resume armed hostilities against Turkey. Accordingly, two days after martial law was imposed in Athens Turkey’s ambassador to the UN approached UN secretary general U Thant and suggested international mediators be dispatched to Greece to take matters in hand...


To Be Continued


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