Erdogan’s rule should not divide the people of Greece and Turkey


We Greeks and Turks are neighbours. We share land and sea. We share history. We have learnt much from each other. We cook and serve the same food. Our mannerisms, our understanding of hospitality are the same. We love our families. We still go to the coffee houses, and we try to solve all the political problems of our heritage motherland over coffee. More binds us than divides us, regardless of at times a difficult history. We migrated to Australia, to our new home, we both have felt racism (in the past and even now) and we both work hard for a better future for our kids.

My family experienced Greek hospitality when we migrated to Sydney in the early 70’s. We rented a home in Redfern and had Greek landlords. We lived upstairs and the Greek family downstairs. We shared all what was grown in the common garden – tomatoes, cucumbers, chillies, and plums. We were comfortable in each other’s presence.

My mother tells a story of a Turkish couple expecting their first child. They had no car. So, their Greek host drove the couple to the hospital. Our commonalties bind us and our humanity triumphs, no matter how hard political forces try to put a wedge between us. When we see someone in need, our instinct is to help. This has been taught from ancient Greece through to figures responsible for Christianity and Islam, two of the largest faiths today.

These normal (re)actions are being challenged today. Populists and demagogues in leadership test the resilience of our bond. We see politicians elected with a promise to clean up the mess of their predecessors, only to shore up support for their own longevity. That desire to be the leader for the long-haul means eliminating imagined threats and opposing voices. This is the case with President Erdogan.

His silencing of critics started with the media, then political opponents and then the dismantling of civil society organisations. The faux coup attempt of 15 July 2016, was a pretext for him to extend his authority over the nation, including the military, the vanguards of Turkey’s secularism.

Mr Erdogan used this moment to go after those who are publicly criticising him and his regime and forced them to either fight or flee. Those who decided to fight ended up behind bars and those who fled, undertook a precarious journey across the Evros river into Greece. Turkish families that made it to Greece want to start a new life. But, there’s some anxiety about what this new life can look like. Especially if you have been taught your neighbours are enemies of the Turkish nation. “You can never trust a Greek!” is a common trope across Anatolia.

Making a home in Greece and sending children to a school in a ‘Christian’ country makes some families nervous. Yet, they soon realised the school environment, the teachers and community are just like them trying to make the most of their opportunity. This shifted the family’s outlook on life to one filled with optimism. They know their children will have an opportunity to get an education in Greece and build a life they had aspired to.

The Greeks welcomed them and supported their settlement. Yet, even though families may feel at ease, there still is an underlying anxiety.

They fear that the heightened political tension between Greece and Turkey may shift the mood with the locals towards their Turkish guests. This is their main concern as they settle in to their new environment.

For people on the side of truth, it is important, that our common humanity prevails in times of political turbulence. We must embrace each other as a fellow traveller in life, as a neighbour and a friend. It is our common duty to uphold this humanity project, and it requires the good Samaritan to do right thing. We must all continue to offer help and ease the concerns of fragile refugee families here and in Greece. We have both known what it is to be refugees across our history. I would open my home, share my food and with my Greek family – as we are all one family – if they were in distress.

Ahmet Keskin is the Executive Director of the Australian Intercultural Society. He has been actively involved in community activism for over 25yrs, with the last 18yrs around intercultural dialogue.



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