Σάββατο, 12 Σεπτεμβρίου 2015

Uğur Oral: “I dream of the days when Greek and Turkish children will sing their songs together”



A little boy takes pictures in the neighborhoods of Izmir, there where he was born and where he grew up. There where his father gave him the first photography course with a “Lubitel” camera. As the years pass, the little boy becomes a successful journalist who got in 2001 the award of “Most Successful Columnist of the Year in Izmir”. Uğur Oral. But he never stops giving his best and so he continues his multilateral route. By publishing his own books, organizing photography exhibitions, giving lectures in his country, Turkey, but also in the country which has a permanent place in his heart. Greece. “Our people are neighbors and brothers. We need only one thing. We must hug strongly, and fly together to the future…”, are some of his words which he shared with the readers in an interview that has taken place with the “door of the heart” widely open…

Interview given to Vicky Kalofotia

Almost your entire work has intense touches of the Greek effect and of your philhellenic feelings. What is that which “nourished” in you this kind of love?

First of all, I thank you very much for your kind interview invitation. I am glad to be guest of www.culturelovers.gr on the occasion of this interview. I have been in Greece for the first time 20 years ago for some interviews. Of course, there were some doubts on my mind. It was the first time that I was with Greek people. I stayed for  two days in Athens and two days in Thessaloniki. I can’t forget the friendship, the closeness and intimacy that I saw from Greek people. My doubts were replaced with love and friendship. Interestingly, I heard the same thing from all my Greek friends who visited Turkey. Before visiting Turkey, they also had  doubts and prejudices about Turkish society but when they met the people, they also saw big friendship and love. And their opinions changed.

This is actually a proof that the subconscious mind of both countries is full of wrong prejudices. I wanted to discover Greek people. I visited Greece several times for different reasons. I had great friends there. I made 3 photography exhibitions in Athens.  Turkish and Greek press called me “Envoy of friendship and peace between the two countries”. Since 20 years, I make efforts for the development of peace and friendship between Greece and Turkey; as a journalist, as a writer and as a photographer. I accept it as my mission; because the intellectuals of the two countries have to do something to let to our children, a world where they will breath peace and love. 


Albert Einstein says: “It’s more difficult to smash the prejudices than the atom”.  But I believe that the humanism is the biggest power. Human virtues such as love, friendship, tolerance, peace can smash the prejudices, too. The biggest mistake is to have an opinion without having knowledge. I always say to my friends in Turkey: “Go to Greece. Live Greece. Meet with Greek people. Your prejudices will be fully changed…”. And I say the same to my Greek friends, too: “Please go to Turkey. You will find there, at least one person who waits for you with a big love…”.

You visit our country very often and, as a matter of fact, we will welcome you soon again on the occasion of the publication of your next book. Why did you  choose to publish it in Greece? What are your feelings everytime you breathe on the Greek ground?

Since 28 years, I am working as a journalist. My pen has always been my best friend. As a matter of fact, my specialization is politics. I worked many years as a columnist at newspapers and I always wrote about political subjects. My master is about political sciences. Right now, I continue with my Ph.D. about the same subject. My first book has been published in Turkey in 1995. It was naturally about politics. Besides politics, philosophy was also my special interest. I am really in a big love with philosophy… I read a lot about philosophy, for many years. At the end of these years, I started to write philosophical essays. I started to write about all that life and my experiences taught me. All of them were my own theories and my principles. But I never shared these essays with others until my photography exhibition in Izmir. I wanted to try one “first” at this exhibition; I brought together a philosophy of photography. I’ve also added one of my philosophical essays next to each photo. I must obviously confess that I was so worried about the interest of the exhibition visitors. I’ve been very happy when I saw that exhibition’s visitors have really liked my essays… Honestly, my philosophical essays drew even more attention than the photos. 

Most of the art lovers were taking photos of my essays with their mobile phone and they were sharing them at their facebook or twitter accounts. My colleagues supported my exhibition so much. I was posting published news on my social media accounts and on my personal official webpage (www.uguroral.com.tr). The news were in Turkish language and normally my Greek friends were not able to understand. I translated the news for them. And they asked me if I could also make an exhibition in Athens. “Why not?” I replied. 


They wanted  my philosophical essays, too. I made the same concept, which means philosophy and photography together, at my first exhibition in Athens. The interest of dear Greek art lovers was great, too. They asked me why I don’t make a book with the same concept. This idea made me feel deeply excited. A friend of mine introduced me to a publishing house. During one year, we made brain stormings about my book. And finally, last May, when I was in Athens for my 3rd photoprahy exhibition, we met for a last time and we made a deal. They accepted to publish my book…

“Under the Same Sky”, the title of your first photography exhibition that has your own signature. There are many things that unite Turks and Greeks and many others which devide us. Is it possible to live sometime in the future reconciled “under the same sky” or is something like this rather a utopia? 

I love so much the idiom of the famous writer Leo Buscaglia. He says: “We are like angels with only one wing… We can fly only if we hug ourselves”. I think the same for Greece and Turkey…Our people are neighbors. Our people are brothers. We need only one thing. We must hug strongly, and fly together to the future… I think that the intellectuals of the two countries, have one mission. We must offer to our next generation, one future with love, with friendship, with tolerance. We must make Aegean, one sea of peace. If it’s not us, who else; if it’s not now, when?

I made this exhibition for this reason. I am one Turkish journalist… And my principal mission is to support peace and friendship. Like the name of my exhibition, we are under the same sky. We share the same sky. We share the same sea. We share the same traditions. We share the same songs. We share the same destiny. I dream of the days when the kids of two people will dance hand in hand. I dream of the days when Greek and Turkish children will sing their songs together…


I made 3 photography exhibitions in Athens at “Booze Cooperativa”. I said previously “children”. These exhibitions  had  another lofty aim for me. The revenues from the sales of the pieces have been donated to “AMIMONI”; The Greek Foundation of Parents and Friends, People with Visual and Additional Disabilities. I wanted  nothing for myself. Except, to put one little smile at the “AMIMONI’s” children. The children are the future of one country. The children are Greece’s future. I made these exhibitions to provide help to the Greece’s future…

Do you remember the first photo that was taken by your camera?  Is there any  specific photo among those of your collection that makes you feel excited everytime you look at it?

Obviously I owe my passion for photography to my father. You know, all the children love to play with the camera. But their parents never let them. “You can break it, don’t touch it”, they say… My father was very tolerant. I remember it like it was yesterday, I was 5 years old; my father was taking our family photos and I was insisting: “Me too, I want to take photos”. My father was using a “Lubitel” at those years. He gave me the first photography course with this camera. And I was taking photos even when I was 5 years old. My father planted this passion inside my soul… Many years later, I started to work as a journalist. When I was reporter, my camera was always my best friend… 

Do I have any specific photo? Here is the most difficult question… My photographs are like my children. Dad cannot separate a child from the other. It’s the same for me… Therefore, I experience big difficulties while deciding which photos I will show at my exhibitions. In my collection I have some photos that I took  25-30 years ago. They were printed in 9x13 sizes, with old technology. I scanned and added them to my collection. Until now, I made 12 personal photography exhibitions. Three of them were in Athens… Photography is my hobby and I make all my exhibitions for charity. I love to help people with the revenues of my photos’ sales. It’s a way for me to pay my debt to humanity…

Ancient Greek philosophers and the wisdom with which they brought to life Art, Speech, Human Values and Democracy are very often mentioned in your articles. Judging by the image that Greece is presenting nowadays, to what extent do you think that modern Greeks are worthy descendants of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle?

It’s not easy for me to answer this question. Yes, I have been a lot of times in Greece, I have also a lot of Greek friends, but I did not live so much in Greece to make such a comparison about this subject. All that I can say, are my personal observations when I was in Greece. First of all, I need to underline the great culture and history of Greece. Philosophy, democracy as a virtue born and raised on this land. Many virtues that make Europe “Europe”, are in the genes of Greek community. But especially, during the last years, as in many other countries, I see the effects of globalization and Americanisation in Greece, too… When I was on the island of Rhodes for example, I saw people eating their dinner at “McDonald’s” or drinking their coffee at “Starbucks”. Even in the shops, I always listened to English songs. I never felt myself as if I am in Greece. I always discussed this matter with my Greek friends, they explained this situation with “tourism”… But, according to me, Greece has a lot of specialities, a lot of traditions to show to tourists. Who can go to another country to live his own culture? 

I have been several times in Plaka, but I never saw a real taverna there, I never saw people dancing sirtaki. People older than 40 years old, still protect their own Greek culture. But young people, especially teenagers have started to be far of the Greek culture. Sometimes I am chatting with young people in Greece and they don’t know so much about their past. They live daily and they don’t have interest about their traditions. I know very well the economic crisis that Greece is living right now, but if the young and educated people want to leave Greece to find a job or to live more comfortable in another country, I think that Greece must do its own self-criticism… 


The brain drain is as blood loss. Let's see how Greece introduces itself to the world? On the touristic posters, at the brochures, we see only amazing beaches, islands etc… Who remembers Socrates, Aristotle or Plato? Why do they never introduce for example Solon, Kleistenes or Perikles, the founders of democracy to the tourists? I think this is a major shortcoming and promotion strategie’s error… There are amazing beaches in the whole world. But the historical and cultural treasures of Greece are unique. If Greece forgets it, how can you think that people will remember them? Yes, philosophy was born in Greece but today, why Greece cannot present new and contemporary philosophers to the world culture? Where is the Greek theatre, where is the Greek literature? Once upon a time under the majority of intellectual works, we could see Greece’s signature but today, unfortunately it’s dimmed...

“…the most important is to have courage for searching yourself... nobody can guarantie that you will like your reflection at the mirror…”. An ascertainment that belongs to your philosophical reflections. Do we have enough courage during this historical period, so as to exercise self-criticism by looking ourselves in the eye?

Self-criticism is one of the most difficult things in the world. People never like to be criticised…Usually, they prefer to close their ears to criticism. This has been the same for centuries. But it is also a fact that mankind can develop with criticism. Also the person as an individual can be developed if he can be open to be criticized and if he can tolerate criticism. There is a quote that says: “If you want to be friend of an idiot, flatter him; but if you want to be friend of an intelligent, criticise him”. Namely, to be open to criticism is an ability of intelligent people. Self-criticism is a result of our personal development. We have to leave our complexes. 


We can come face to face with ourselves only and only if we really want it; and if we have this courage… Communication revolution has probably contributed to the evolution of humanity; but it pushed humanity to solitude, too. Feeling of loneliness brings selfishness, too…  Selfish people adore themselves. And who adores himself, closes his door to criticism. Toys of today, like mobile phones, facebook, twitter etc. transformed humankind to cage’s birds. We begin to live with our heads in the sand like an ostrich. Unfortunately, we have not the courage to come face to face with ourselves in the mirror.

Do you believe that we have sufficient time and are in the mood for philosophizing or we get carried away from everyday life and the struggle of survival?

Socrates says: “The unexamined life is not worth living”… People today do not want to think so much. And they are very talented to create pretexts and to find excuses. And this doesn’t only happen as concerns philosophy, this fact exists at all subjects where people are forced to think, to interrogate… We don’t like to read, we don’t like to analyse, we don’t like to write… And as a pretext we say that we don’t have enough time. But, it’s interesting that we have always enough time to have fun, to go out at nights, to go to the beach. According to me, timelessness is not an obstacle, it’s just a pretext… It’s difficult to wake up someone who wants to sleep… And if you insist on waking him up, you can be guilty, too. 

Philosophy and philosophers have always been accused throughout history. Because they sent light to the people and sleepy eyes felt themselves annoyed. A philosopher has to endear philosophy to people that are like little children. Philosophy teaches to a person how to think. If someone doesn’t know how to think, if he is not able to find his own synthesis, how can we talk about the success in life? Impossible! A Chinese proverb says: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. If we teach philosophy to a student only like a lesson, people can leave it after graduation. What is essential is to make it accepted as a lifestyle. A person always finds time for what he loves… If one starts to say: “I don’t have enough time”, believe me, he doesn’t want to do it in fact and he products psychological defences… To live and to act like living are two different things. With philosophy we gave a meaning to our lives…

In 2001 you have been awarded with the prize of the “Most Successful Columnist of the Year in Izmir” by the Turkish Achievement Awards Council. What is needed, in order to “touch” the heart of the readers? Does sensibility have a place in the field of journalism?

Firstly, you should not lie to readers… You should stay away from populism. Comments should always be free. “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it” says great French philosopher Voltaire. It’s very important. You can write your personal opinions in your article; but you have to respect the right of expression of different opinions, too. The writer can explain his ideas, nobody can criticize or judge him because of his opinions. However, the author can’t force people to think like him either. 


Particularly, writing in a newspaper is a great responsibility. Thousands of people read what you wrote. Plus, you may not know who is reading what you type. Pen, in the hand of responsible writers, can be a tool for making the world sweeter, enlightened, but it may be the opposite, too if the writer has not sensibility, with his articles he can cause hatred and enmity among people. Author's vision, education and experience are the most important criteria. To flatter the community is not the author's mission…

Is it possible for somebody who uses his heart as a “compass”, to survive nowadays?

Yes of course… Why not? I want to make a determination first of all. According to me, people who follow their heart are stronger than people who are managed by their logic…Usually people who love to walk at the logical way, hate risks. They don’t want to be upset and therefore they are always watching their steps. Their lives are usually controlled. But people who listen to their hearts are braver, according to me. They never hesitate to run after their feelings… And they are not afraid to try or to be unhappy. Therefore it’s not easy to use heart as a “compass”… But I think that to find a balance between heart and brain is the best way. If you follow only your mind, you can miss the excitements of life, however, if you listen only to your feelings, you can pay serious bills at the end… Life must be lived as if it’s like a rainbow… We have to add all colors inside but balanced and in proportion.


Nowadays, unfortunately personal interests began to divert people's lives. Everybody started to say “me” first! Life has been established on strategies and tactics. Tragically, egoism and selfishness captured our lives… Today, that these cruel rules have been decisive, it’s not easy to follow the feelings. Nonetheless, it’s not impossible. There are seven different colors for making up a rainbow. If you mix all of those colors, we see white. If one of these colors is missing, to reach to the white is impossible. It’s the balance of the nature. In fact, life is like a rainbow, too. We have lots of lives. Our business life. Our family life. Our social life. Each life is like each color of the rainbow. If we cannot see the seven different colors, we cannot be able to see the white either. The white corresponds to happiness in our own rainbow. So, if we want to find happiness, all colors should be in our lives. 

Sometimes I see that people are directed by logic. They refuse to see the other colors. Their eyes can only see the color that they let themselves to see. If we see only one color, we can never discover the rainbow. The difference between human and animals is the power of thinking, right. Yes… Is thinking enough? No… To be able to dream, to have passions, to have fears, to have goals, to have pleasures etc. These are the essential notions which prove that we are human. If we dedicate our life just to one thing, we can see only one color. To dedicate one’s life only to the job or only to the kids, or only to fun… 

To live like a robot, always programmed, always under discipline, can let the human being to see only one color of the rainbow. To try to see the other colors one needs to be brave. Sometimes crazy. Sometimes a dreamer. The simple eyes can see only one or two colors. And the logic shows us only one truth. But the truth can be relative sometimes. To walk under the rain can cause sickness. But sometimes it gives a special pleasure, too. Who is happy in reality? The one who never makes mistakes? Or the ones who take lessons from their mistakes? Sometimes the mistakes are better than the regrets… People who live with horse’s glasses can see only one color. And they can never reach to white. White is a cocktail of the life really “lived” with happy and sad moments. With prizes and with punishments. If we want to be happy, meaning if we want to find the happiness, we have to accept life with all of its colors. To not be sad does not always mean to be happy. To be happy is the synthesis of all colors…

After all these years of strong love for Greece, do you feel more like a Turk or rather like a Greek?

Of course I am Turk. But at the same time I feel myself as a global citizen, as world citizen. I am a humanist, I love humanity and people so much. Universal values, such as rationality, peace, love, friendship, brotherhood, equality, are giving direction to my life. And I’m proponent of these virtues. And according to me, these virtues can’t have religion, race, nation etc. I never separate people according to their nationality. And  I'm also opposed to generalisation or categorization… Generalization. It may be the easiest thing in the world. Having an opinion on something by just two examples. Jumping to a conclusion after only several experiences overall. Actually, it is as easy as it is wrong. For confirming the validity of a fact in scientific terms, there is a necessity of getting the same results at least 25 times under the same conditions. Otherwise your thesis, the information you reach cannot be scientific. I mean, it is open to question. I mean, it is relative. I mean, it is subjective. But it is easy to make it general. One or two experiences are enough for us to induce. We do the same mistake on putting an interpretation on our close ones. On perceiving the world…


I love Greece and Greek people. In all societies there are “wrongs”, too. But I don’t care. I have great friendships in Greece. I feel myself so happy and peaceful when I am in Greece with my Greek friends. My grandparents are from Thessaloniki… My grandmother and my grandfather returned to Turkey after 1923 with the population exchange. Perhaps this special situation about my family roots impressed me, I don’t know…

One Turkish newspaper  made an interview with me about Turkish-Greek friendship... I gave this example: “Turkey and Greece are like lovers separated. But they lived many years together and they never forget each other…”. If Turkey needs help, the country will find Greece next to it before all other countries. The same goes for Greece! Greece and Turkey are like nail and finger... No one can separate them…


*Photos: Personal Archive Uğur Oral

*Find more information about Uğur Oral on his website: www.uguroral.com.tr

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