Making Friends of Arch Rivals on the Web

by George Sarrinikolaou
The Greek American 10-May-98

A new internet web site is trying to achieve a goal that has eluded governments: friendship between Greece and Turkey.

In theory, the site, www.photius.com/thus, will harness the global communication capabilities of the internet to create a forum for dialogue between ordinary Greeks and Turks. The exchange of ideas will, in turn, foster what is described on the site as "reciprocal good will," and create a movement toward amity that the Greek and Turkish governments will find "difficult to ignore."

"The alternative," warns the site, "could be too costly for too many people."

In practice, at least so far, the results have been mixed. The site has drawn both Greeks and Turks into discussion, but it has also elicited terrorist threats against the site's creator.

The THUS (Turkish Hellenic Union Solutions) site, is the brainchild of Photius Coutsoukis, 50, a Greek internet entrepreneur and software developer in Peekskill, NY.

Resistance to the project, he says, has come mostly from Greeks. One Greek visitor to the site accused him of being on Turkey's payroll and threatened him with violence. Mr. Coutsoukis says that kind of response ultimately stems from the disparate perceptions Greek and Turks have about Cyprus.

"The Greek population is virtually obsessed with the issue of Cyprus," says Mr. Coutsoukis. But in Turkey, Cyprus is "a fait accomplis." For there to be any progress, he says, "Turks must become aware of Greek public opinion."

If that's true, then the internet lends itself to the task. Although there is no tally of visitors to the site, Mr. Coutsoukis says he has received "numerous" letters from Greeks and Turks around the world. Among them is a "message from Corfu," which is posted on the site. Its author, Alexis Ballas, urges Mr. Coutsoukis to "keep up the good work," and offers his assistance, which comes with a caveat: "Ahh I am only 17 years old."

"Contrary to what a lot of people may think, I think the internet is the most cost-effective way to influence public opinion and the opinions of decision makers," says Mr. Coutsoukis.

Browsing through the THUS site may convince you. When you first connect, you are greeted by a dove flapping its wings next to the words "THUS Towards a Culture of Peace." The page then changes automatically to a map of Greece and Turkey, whose colors also change to depict the geographical links between the two countries throughout history: the empire of Alexander the Great, the Byzantine empire... Click on the hypertext "reciprocal good will" and your screen changes to "A Collection of Links Related to Greek-Turkish Cooperation and Friendship." (Ironically, when I tried it an ad for the movie "Pleasantville" also popped up.)

For Mr. Coutsoukis, the site is one of many he runs on the internet. The others though, are associated with his company, Information Technology Associates (ITA), which develops and sells immigration software.An immigrant himself, Mr. Coutsoukis says that immigration is more than a commercial interest for him. A way "to stem the social decline of America is to allow large numbers of immigrants to come in," he explains. Having lived on four continents, he says he knows that there are people outside the United States "who are more positive," who have values different than those that absolve people in this country from any social obligation.

ITA's central site, named after his 5-year-old daughter, is http://www.theodora.com/.

Mr. Coutsoukis has created a business on the internet that he runs from home. He set up the company that way, he says, because he wanted to help raise his daughter. Now, his desicion to work from home on the internet may also help Greece and Turkey.



Copyright © 1998-2008 Photius Coutsoukis, all rights reserved.