By Dimitris Maniatis in Edirne
The F-type (High Security Closed Institutions for the Execution of Sentences) Turkish prison where the two captured Greek army officers have been incarcerated is on the northern side of Edirne.
It is a relatively new feature in the city, and those who are linked to state authorities refer to it as a “luxury prison”.
Turkish opposition figures who are imprisoned there, however, speak of white cells. Among them is Selahattin Demirtas, co-leader of the left-wing pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
All our efforts to approach the prison proved fruitless. Access is limited for a radius of about 150 metres, and those who have no obvious reason to visit the prison – close relatives, lawyers, and procurers – are kept at a distance.
Even taxi drivers avoid going in the direction of the prison when they realise you are from Greece.
Information about the two Greek officers is hard to come by, and the touristic aspect of the city obscures somewhat the charged climate between Greece and Turkey.
Those in Edirne do not want to discuss the event that came between the two countries, perhaps because they do not want it to divide the two peoples as well. Daily life in the city seems untouched by Greek concerns.
Mouths are tightly shut even at the Greek Consulate in Edirne. The consul cites a heavy work load, and permanent employees are extremely cautious, offering only the persistent refrain “Ask Athens”.
As I leave the premises of the consulate, the muezzin’s voice from the old Eski Mosque, with its nine domes, briefly spreads across the city.
The paved part of the centre seems like a puzzle of races, colours, and religions. One sees Muslim head scarves beside Western garb.
In shops, one discerns the piercing gaze of Kemal Ataturk. There are plenty of Turkish flags – in an increasing number of places, as a colleague tells me.
Mahmut the taxi driver speaks no English, like most people here. With the assistance of a university student, he takes me for a ride around Edirne. When I ask him about the incarceration of the two Greek army officers, he starts speeding furiously and pumps up the volume of Turkish pop music, to cut off any further discussion.
The case of the two Greeks is also not of especial concern to tourism workers, who repeat charming Greek words, catch phrases for tourists. The Turkish press has no front-page story on the captured Greeks either, as a kiosk owner informs me.
Concern about the charges
The news regarding the Greek officers, however, is not good, as their adventure will draw on, as residents of the city understand.
Nikos Mitretodis, the father of one of the officers, First Lietenant Engineer Aggelos Mitretodis, is hopeful that the pessimists will be belied, as he tells us by telephone from Kastoria.
He was in Edirne on Monday, saw his son, and returned to Greece with the parents of Aggelos’ fellow captive, Sergeant Dimitris Kouklatzis. He is emotionally charged.
“My son was well. He had no qualms with the conditions of incarceration. Yet he is in prison. We are all now anxiously waiting to see what charges will be filed,” he says.
Nikos is in constant touch with the Greek Consulate and with the Turkish lawyers who have undertaken his son’s defence, who also refuse to discuss the case.
The translator for the two military men, Canan Huseyin Turtogan, acts also as a bridge to the city for the parents. Born in the Greek city of Komotini, he settled down in Edirne in the 1980’s.
A few kilometres away, yesterday afternoon, the Turkish jeeps form a queue en route to Greece. Well-dressed Turks traveling for shopping and drink have been tied up, as the passport control system was down, a frequent occurrence they say.
On the other side, the Greek vehicles en route to Edirne are few. The Alpino Tours agency in Orestiada has indefinitely suspended excursions to Turkey. Yet another sign of trying times.