Seven years ago I moved to Brighton, a small town in the UK. During my first year as a university student, I lived on campus with flatmates from different countries around the world. One of them was Emre.
When I first met Emre, for the first few seconds, I did not know how to react. You see, it was the first time I ever met someone who was Turkish.
In the country I grew up, we have annual celebrations to observe the Greek Independence day from the Ottoman Empire. We memorise poems and sing songs that celebrate the battles Greeks fought against our enemy, Turkey. We study history that describes bloody fights between our nation heroes against the vicious Turkish perpetrators. I remember my school decorated with the national flags and signs of “Freedom or Death”.
If you had asked me to draw a Turkish person during that time it would certainly look like someone angry, scary, and hostile.
Therefore the first time I actually met someone who was Turkish, I felt the need to see him as something evil. Getting along with him would be akin to betraying my ancestors that fought for independence.
Emre was shy, calm and really friendly; the idea that I should be biased towards him seemed ridiculous.
A few days passed and we met in the kitchen we shared.
“You know, in Greece we have this phrase that if someone is extremely angry, he is angry as a Turk.”
Initially he seems confused; he laughed and said that he had never heard it before.
Saying this out loud made me realise how much the society I grew up in had influenced the way I perceived the world.
We started talking about each other’s cultures only to realise how similar they both were. Two countries so close geographically and culturally, and yet we did not consider much of each other.
Thus, we decided to crack a joke out of it and started greeting each other as “my enemy”. It was quite liberating and amusing.
It was crystal clear that the reproduction of this rhetoric of hate served well only one purpose; justifying the ever increasing budget for military expenses. Turkey has many internal issues and fights in its borders. A war towards Greece is an idea entertained only by Greek media. Sometimes I even wonder whether this is an attempt to draw the people’s attention away from current affairs and unite them towards a common enemy.
Later on, I met many more Turkish people in England; their nationality was not scary anymore. It made me smile because it felt familiar.
They were individuals with similar worries about their family, work and relationships. Political and social circumstances similar to mine made them look for new opportunities in a different place. We were all fighting for the same reasons; a decent and better life abroad.
This is a very common trait among foreigners in multicultural places. We all have the opportunity to distance ourselves from what feels familiar and look at it from an outsider’s perspective. You realise how different people live and grow up around the world; yet we are all the same.