A group of scruffy men and women were seated on the deck of a ferry between here and the earthquake-damaged city of Yalova a few days ago, ignored by other passengers in plush seats. Then their faces appeared on a television screen in the ferry cabin, and soon dozens of passengers were offering them seats, handshakes and hugs.
They were members of a Greek search and rescue organization that had pulled a 9-year-old Turkish boy from the rubble of a three-story apartment building after digging with their hands for 14 hours. Their achievement, and the widely sympathetic Greek response to last week's earthquake, has raised cautious hopes in Turkey that it may lead to improved relations between the two long-standing regional rivals.
A leading Turkish newspaper, Hurriyet, printed a grateful message in Greek: "Thank you very much my friend." Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou was quoted by news services as telling a radio station that "through this tragedy we have come spiritually much closer." Turks on the street applauded the Greek rescuers during their drive to the airport this afternoon, according to Greek consul Fotis Xydas.
"It affects relations positively," a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official said. But he cautioned that it is too early to promise any lasting thaw in the icy relationship between Greece and Turkey, which stems from disputes over the division of Cyprus, competing claims to some small islands in the Aegean Sea and each side's deployment of increasingly threatening weaponry.
The Greek rescue mission was not without misunderstandings, and members of the team said they were departing without accomplishing as much as they would have liked. Greek officials also said less attention was paid to their contributions by Turkish media than they had expected.
But Greek and Turkish sources also said the lesson from the warm public reception given the rescue team is that there is less political distance between their respective citizens than between their governments.
"I am . . . elated by the response of ordinary Greek society, which has humanized the Turkish-Greek relationship," said Ilter Turan, the president of Bilgi University here.
Greek citizens have donated blood for the estimated 33,000 Turks injured in the earthquake and offered the use of their vacation homes for those left homeless or orphaned. Seven Greek physicians who are members of the parliament are slated to arrive in the quake zone soon.
"What we heard many times [from Turks] was, 'Forget about the differences; it's all because of the politicians,' " said Demetrious G. Pyrros, an orthopedic surgeon who helped treat the rescued Turkish boy.
Greece wasted no time offering Turkey a rescue team after the earthquake struck at 3:02 a.m. last Tuesday. Greek officials applied for transit credentials by phone before 9 a.m., and by noon Turkey had approved. Three Greek C-130 transport planes were promptly loaded with six vehicles and a total of 40 doctors, rescue specialists and structural engineers. They were on the ground here by 7 p.m.
The Greeks then encountered the first in a series of delays brought about by what Xydas, the consul, described as the "state of shock" experienced by Turkish authorities in the aftermath of the powerful quake. With lives hanging in the balance beneath the rubble, airport authorities refused to allow the group to leave the terminal until a formal decision was made on where they would go.
As a result, they were unable to reach the first collapsed apartment building assigned to them--in the Istanbul suburb of Avcilar--until 2:30 a.m. Wednesday, and "the next two days turned out to be an exercise of digging for dead bodies," said Pyrros.
"No one from the Turkish government was there to tell us what to do," said Capt. Dmitris Trontzas, the team leader.
After using two trained search dogs at one site to help a Turkish team reach a child survivor and the bodies of two other children, they advised another Turkish team at a second site on how to dig through the rubble to reach an elderly woman, without knowing she had succumbed. At each site, they were unable to conduct the rescue effort themselves, having to step aside for Turkish teams.
On Wednesday, they "went into another building to search for bodies," said Kotridis Panagiotis, a second lieutenant in the Greek rescue squad. But the Greeks said a local Turkish official told them to leave because authorities wanted to bulldoze the building. "They didn't let us do something," Trontzas said. "So we told them how to cut through the floors and left."
They remained idle the rest of the day, because local authorities said there was no more work in Avcilar and they had no information on where else the Greek team might be needed. By the next morning, however, they were dispatched to the town of Degirmendere, near the coastal city of Golcuk. On their way there, a family in a white van halted their vehicle and asked them rescue a trapped boy.
They started digging at 3:30 a.m. Saturday after they heard the boy, 9-year-old Guvenc Pembegul, scream for help. It was the beginning of a lengthy dialogue with the boy, which they used to pinpoint his location. At one point, the boy refused to scream anymore, saying "I've done that twice, I'm not doing it again." At another point, he started singing the anthem of his favorite soccer team, Galatasakay.
As they dug, the Greeks fashioned a long straw from an intravenous tube and fed the boy water and glucose, which Guvenc said tasted better than ice cream. His father, Mustafa, an officer in the Turkish navy, helped identify carpet fragments and toys the Greeks pulled from the wreckage. Residents brought the rescuers water and food while the effort was underway and kissed them when they extracted the boy. "We started crying all together," Panagiotis said.
Two Turkish generals expressed their thanks. Asked if they sought to boost relations between the two countries, Trontzas said, "We feel pride because we saved a person. . . . We're not politicians. We don't separate Greeks from Turks, or blacks from whites."
CAPTION: An aid worker carries bags of relief supplies donated by Greek citizens for Turkey's earthquake victims. The items include shoes, clothes and medicine.