By CRAIG MILLAR
RALEIGH, NC — The State Fairgrounds is lying in smoldering ruins after this weekend’s disastrous planning of coinciding Greek and Turkish Festivals at the Jim Graham Building (JGB).
“It was horrendous,” said a veteran of this most recent clash between the two festivals. Turkish Army Sergeant Taner Kılıçdaroğlu saw action last summer when the Turkish bake sale and Armenian charity auction were accidentally co-scheduled in the downtown Marriott. He survived two mortar attacks and a three-hour stint as a POW in the lobby of the JGB before making his escape to the Cary Baptist Church booth, where, he said, the biscuits were “replenishing.” He managed to buy some provisions at “that military surplus booth over near there” and return to the fight.
Numerous innocents were hurt or killed, and bodies lay strewn about the Fairgrounds from the Gun ‘n’ Knife Show to the now-destroyed Village of Yesteryear. Bric-a-brac from the flea market was so charred or shattered that looters passed up most of it, says UNESCO, which estimates the casualty count at 4,359. Half of Clayton has not returned home, and many bystanders are being housed in the fortunately positioned Red Cross building, which is also serving as a makeshift morgue and paging area.
However, not everyone who attended was hurt or even shaken. To one family from Durham it was just another weekend. “We thought it was part of the show,” said William Freeman, 28. “I mean, mortars and tracer rounds are part of life around Miami [Boulevard],” he said. “But this? Pelopoplease.”
Officials hurriedly set up a press staging area in the Livestock Building after the rocket fire had stopped at around 3am Sunday. Steve Troxler, looking harried and with mustache uncombed, assured the public that calm was being restored.
“Greeks and Turks have their history of fighting each other, and this unfortunate scheduling snafu may have worsened relations between these two great nations,” Troxler said. “For that I apologize.” He continued: “Let me remind our Greek and Turkish friends that they have much more in common than not. From the fig trees on North Carolina’s coast to the olive orchards in the mountains and the opium fields around Charlotte, Greeks and Turks have contributed richly to our agricultural heritage.”
The fighting, now at a lull, is expected to resume with a Tuesday offensive, when the Greeks expect to receive a shipment of heavy artillery and baklava. The Turks, for their part, are playing a waiting game and holding fast on their embargo of blue carpet into the Greek side of the JGB.
An uneasy truce is in place until then. A stalemate has unofficially divided the Jim Graham Building and surrounding area into Greek and Turkish sectors, with the Greeks taking the weird classroom on the north to roughly the end of the building as well as the balcony, where they keep an eye on the Exposition Center and Kelley Building, where the embattled Turks are digging in.
Meanwhile, the Fairgrounds are still littered with bodies. “I hope I can get this mess cleaned up before next weekend,” Fairgrounds Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds Matt Daly said. “We’ve got the Jewish Cultural Festival and the NC CAIR Chapter coming in.”