I arrived in Istanbul just days after the Turkish military offensive in Syria had started.
According to me, a campaign with the sole purpose of preempting the setting up of an independent Kurdish state. Attacking the very people who, only two years ago, had been supported by the EU in their fight against ISIS, because they had been deemed valuable on a front line that was moving uncomfortably close to European borders.
Equipped with German weapons, training, and encouraging words, they were left to fight the growing terror of ISIS with the hope to have an independent state as reward for their struggle. A dream of the Kurdish people for centuries.
And this time, they thought, their allies would remember.
A few months later, they had accomplished their objective – with many of their fighters dead. But their hope for an independent state was more alive than ever.
The region of Afrin, the target of Erdogan’s campaign, had been one of the very few regions in Syria where the war hadn’t raged as terribly as in the rest of the country. The infrastructure was intact, the local economy was operating considerably well.
Many Syrian refugees escaped the war here – inside their own country.
With Erdogan’s decision to march on Afrin, all this will or has already vanished.
On top of this, to add insult to injury, the spearhead of his army is comprised of German tanks.
And what do the former allies of the Kurdish fighters do? Our governments, our representatives?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No protest, not a sign of disapproval.
It is all well in the state of Denmark.
The Kurds have served their purpose all too well.
It doesn’t surprise then that the model of the West isn’t unanimously appreciated throughout the world. Our values, which we so often claim as a model for the world, are only valid for as long as they serve our purpose.
Without actions, words are mere decor – serving only our vanity.
And it doesn’t stop there. They EU have sent another three billion Euros to Erdogan in refugee support funds – refugees whose homes he, amongst many others, has bombed.
Because the fear of facing one’s own lethargy, it seems, paralyses the tongue and opens the wallet wide.
We all have made Erdogan strong. Placing in him a desperate hope of taking the refugee question off of our shoulders instead of finding solutions of our own making.
Solutions of humanity and kindness, not of stigmatisation and fear.
And there might be a high price to pay.
For weeks, Greek news have repeatedly reported Turkish transgressions of the Greek airspace. There have been isolated naval incidents in the Mediterranean.
A leading Turkish politician reportedly said that he wants revenge for his grandfather’s death and that Turkey will march all over the Greeks if they didn’t behave.
Two Greek soldiers have been imprisoned for accidentally crossing the Greek-Turkish border on a misty day. An otherwise common event in that area.
All of these small provocations don’t go unnoticed among the Greek public.
There is a rising fear of a war with Turkey and people here in Athens speak of it openly.
Until recently, I considered this impossible. The EU and NATO would definitely intervene.
Somebody would draw a red line, surely.
But why am I so sure?
Isn’t everything we observe pointing to the contrary?
Hasn’t the line already been crossed with Erdogan’s military crossing into Syria?
Didn’t it, at least, deserve some kind of protest, a voicing of disapproval?
A cut-down on the refugee funds, maybe?
And yet, nothing happened.
Because we are trading our integrity for a blind fear of refugees, our fellow human beings. Turning our backs, in consequence, on a growingly aggressive politician with an entire army behind him.
An army we are helping him to fund.
The reason for Erdogan’s repeated provocations towards Greece is simple, in my opinion:
If you poke somebody long enough, they will ultimately react.
Should that happen, Erdogan will have a precedent to “strike back”.
He will remind the people at home how their grandfather’s have been killed by Greeks.
How this is an attack on their national pride.
And he will make a case of how the Greeks started it all.
Will we be able to tell the difference between information and propaganda? Entirely? Without a morsel of doubt?
Who will come to the aid of Greece?
A nation we have stigmatised ourselves for long enough as being lazy and ungrateful.
Haven’t we already done enough for them?
Seeing us as the victims instead of the Greeks, who have been living at the heart of an economic crisis every day for the last eleven years.
And then, with a war raging in Greece and Turkey, where will all these new refugees go?
Who can we pay off to shelter them? Or will we then, finally, accept our responsibility?
When constructive solutions would have been eclipsed by a fast-moving horizon.
Or will we lament more and further divide the world into friend and foe?
Soon enough, with no friends left but ourselves.
I am writing all of this, as hypothetical as I hope it to be, for one very simple reason:
To illustrate how we are all falling into the trap of the “us versus them” game.
How this is serving the purpose of making us complacent, readily accepting the demagogues of the world, who, in their turn, will continue to use fear and separation to expand their power and wealth – serving nobody but themselves.
Isn’t it time to move on? Peacefully and gracefully?
We live in a globalised world and, more than ever, our actions impact the whole of it.
It is so much easier to stigmatise people as economic refugees than to examine the exploitation of cotton farmers and the resulting profit margins of Western textile conglomerates.
In accepting this stigmatisation, we fail to accept our own responsibility. We fail to see that our wealth is earned on the backs of others whose very foundation for a sustainable life we have helped to destroy.
And when they do claim a share, we hold court over them on high benches.
Stigmatisation is a tool – like the smoke and mirrors of a mediocre magician.
Serving the single purpose of directing our attention away from the actual cause at hand.
Allowing things to go on unperturbed and manifesting the status quo.
Stopping us from asking the right questions instead of making the wrong statements.
So to see a change in the world, we have to change our perception of it.
We have to stop listening to the preachers of separation, isolation, and discrimination.
We have to stop believing we are better than anybody else.
Instead, we should start believing in the possibility of a global community – rather than “the winner takes it all”. Because all the global problems we are facing now are the logical consequences of our predatory behaviour, all connected through a long chain of cause and effect.
We can keep denying it or we can start acting upon it.
And denial, as every hobby psychologist knows, only postpones an outcome and makes it worse.
It will create more warmongering, more refugees, more stigmatisation, and more fear.
And at some point, it won’t matter anymore whether it was our fault or not.
Blame has never led to a solution.
I do not claim to have all the answers. There is a horizon to my thinking.
But I know one thing for sure:
We are in this together. We are responsible for each other.
And rather than find the answers in our minds, which are easily corrupted, we should find them in our hearts; in our daily exchange and our communal life.
It always starts with one’s self. Our own words and thoughts.
Here stigmatisation begins and it is here where it can end.
So this is me, heeding my own words:
Dear Recep Tayip Erdogan,
I recognise you as one of us, not better or worse, but equal in every respect.
Together we create the world that we behold.
Through you, I see more clearly a future that will serve us better.
Through you, my choice of self-expression has matured.
I am grateful to you for the path this has created in my life.
A path leading in the opposite direction of your own, but in the place we both call home.
I do not claim to be better than you, only to have other hopes for our future.
A future inspired by the doves of Galata.
How beautiful it is to see them fly!