In my recent trip to Greece, and the prefecture of Evros in particular, I came across scores of locals, Greeks and Turks, living side by side in a geography tormented by wars and rivalries during at least a thousand years. Our recent memory (1920's) is filled with atrocities performed by the armies of each of the two countries upon the other side's civilian populations, and each of us on either side has been systematically brainwashed in the years that followed by respective politicians and political parties into deep hatred for each other. It's been so bad that feelings seem to have been embedded deeply in people's emotions and culture that to a Greek, for instance, the French attribute "tête de Turc" finds its true meaning of a scapegoat. Blame the buggers for everything wrong happening to us, that is. Especially in the current crisis climate to justify our appalling behaviour and abusive habits.
My recent trip opened my eyes for good. I visited for a few hours Edirne, in Turkey's European segment, just a few miles east of the border with Greece. I felt a little uncomfortable, under the influence of my own personal brainwash during my youth, by elder family members and the Greek State, especially when crossing the border and being stopped for lack of a Visa to enter the country. An interesting point, Greek nationals don't need a Visa to enter Turkey these days, but the rest of us, carrying non-Greek passports need to pay 15 Euros for a six month tourist Visa! That will teach me to abandon my Greek papers...
That said, a few miles further on appeared Edirne with its markets, its people, its school going kids, and its places of worship and public baths. The place reminded me of the towns and villages I grew up. If I were dropped there from outer space, I couldn't tell the difference between those folks and the ones I consider compatriots because of my DNA. Our guide, a Greek from Sterna, near Orestias, fluent in Turkish, seemed to be extremely well acquainted with the locals, and especially shop owners in businesses where he is a regular customer. Cost of living in that part of Turkey is obviously much lower than over the border in Greece, for the simple reason Turkey has been quite clever to stay out of the EU to this day. Let them become the new member in a 'United States of Europe' and they are up next to join our prestigious club of PIGS (or iPIGS, if you added Italy to the bunch of EU 'losers'). At least for now, despite all, Turkey is a member of the G20. So, many Greeks cross the border and do their shopping in centres and malls on the other side, whereas richer Turks come over to Greek resorts for weekends and normal vacationing. In other words, nobody should bother anymore about what happened hundred years ago; get over it and get on with life.
The picture I am posting here is one with our guide socialising in brotherhood with a couple of fish traders, posing as the best of friends. We often see our political leaders pose for photographs the same way, but in my shoot all three men meant their feelings and didn't pretend like usually politicians do.
Similar encounters I witnessed in spades during the full four to five hours I have been there. On a given moment I saw a local taylor, working in his five sq meters shop, jump off his chair at the sight of our guide and kiss the latter's hand with respect. He was so immensely glad to see him. He shouted that our guide was the nicest person on earth, and when I later asked our guide what the reason of such an affection was he replied: It's nothing serious... I only happened to have brought him some work long time ago as I was passing by, and ever since every time he sees me he's getting emotional.
I think regular people only want to live in peace and prosperity, where possible. And mutual respect and dignity. Especially those simple Turks, struggling to earn their daily loaf, like the terribly poor street shoe-polisher we engaged for a turn, and when we asked what we had to pay he responded "whatever your heart desires Effendi". They all seemed such a loveable bunch, ready to do anything we asked. Affectionate and friendly and hospitable like the rest of us Greeks, usually claiming 'hospitality' as a key characteristic of our ethos by genetic connection to our forefathers in Antiquity. Forgot to mention the exquisite taste of their meals at a price you could hardly feed one person in our part of the world. And it were three of us!
During my journey I shot several portraits of people I met, and later uploaded them to Flickr as a set. Since then I have asked quite a few friends to guess who were the Greeks in those pictures, and who our brothers the Turks. To the present day I found nobody, who could guess it right hundred percent. We are so similar in looks and character that it is indeed practically impossible to tell the difference. I know that many from both sides would rather have us nourish hatred for each other, and would actually beat the sh*t outta me for having said that, but I am pretty sure I am right. And I also came close to hating myself for being so 'blind' to reality for so long, and maintained the sort of negative feelings that both Greek and Turkish governments and their agents, along with the biased one-sided stories I heard from my refugee parents have built into my unconscious fifty five years ago.