Turkish history shows us that the Syrian refugees and the Kurdish are not the only groups that are not welcome in Turkey. A lecture by Stavros Anestidis at the Columbia Global Centre in Istanbul covered the exodus of the orthodox Greeks living in Anatolia in the early 20th century. Turkey’s refugee policy does not seem to change.
By Laurens Bammens*
In 1923, Turkey and Greece agreed on a population exchange after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. About 1.3 million Greeks living in Anatolia, Turkey were to be forced out of the country. In exchange about 500 000 Muslims living in Greece, would move to Turkey.
While it all sounds very formal, the exchange was nothing more than arrogance and brutality. Millions of people were forced out of their homes and off their land where their families had been living for centuries.
One of the towns where the inhabitants were forced out is Sinasos (Mustafapasa) in Cappadocia. Anestidis brings pictures and testimonials from those that made the exodus to Greece where they founded a new town called New Sinasos.
Wealth and prosperity
When still living in the original Sinasos, their farming activities were not enough to live by. That is why they temporarily migrated to other places, mostly Istanbul. There, they were known to be traders of seafood and especially caviar. The town of Sinasos became very special since all the wealth the Greeks collected in Istanbul they brought back. The place was known for its elaborate houses. When they were forced out, Bulgarian Muslims and Turks took their place and the town lost its prosperity.
Because of all the wealth, the people of Sinasos seemed like they were well before their time. For the exodus, they created an exchange committee which imposed taxes to the rich people, just so they could help the poor. The committee collected the money from the tax and from the income in Istanbul and funded the entire move of the village. They took everything they could. On top of that, they hired photographers to capture the move.
A parallel can clearly be drawn with the Syrian refugees. Yet it seems Turkey clearly needed a six-billion-euro push from the European Union to actually ‘welcome’ the refugees. Five years after the start of the Syrian War, Turkey decided to finally give out work permits to Syrians. The European Union needs Turkey to solve their problem and Turkey clearly needed a lot of motivation.
Things certainly have not improved much. Turkey has put down several refugee camps just metres away from the border with Syria. In late February, one of these camps got bombed and five people died. Only 10% of all the refugees in Turkey are staying in the camps. The millions of others are living in the cities like Izmir and Istanbul. On May 10th, Human Rights Watch reported that Turkish border control opened fire on Syrians trying to cross the border to Turkey.
The refugee deal between Turkey and the EU, where Turkey will keep refugees from going to Europe, brought some euphoria to the people when a possibility of visa-free travel was announced between Turkey and EU countries last week. However, the reluctance was of short span since one of the conditions for the deal would be for Turkey to change their terrorism policy. A few days later, President Erdogan said that would not happen.
It seems like Turkey’s refugee policy has not changed much in nearly 100 years. A few genocides and wars later, the current president only seems to become more like the one that came before. There is only one place for the Turkish, and that is Turkey. There is also only one place for all the rest.
**Laurens Bammens, PXL Journalism student and he is Dağ Medya Intern during the 15 February – 3 June 2016