“Either the regime’s bomb will fall on your head or the jihadists will cut your head or you’ll come in Europe to drown”
In a northern city of Greece, Serres, a group has been formed to help refugees passing through the country in search of a better future in Europe, providing them with aid, including water bottles, clothes, sanitary napkins and a wide variety of other necessities, handing them out on the borders with FYROM. This group organized an open meeting giving the chance to a Syrian playwright and director who has been living in Greece for years, to speak about the situation in his home country as he knows it.
Speaking in wavy Greek, he talked about the historical events that led to this point and the need for help these wayworn people have.
Dimitris detects as the main cause of his country’s deadlock to be the reaction of Assad’s regime to the phenomenon named ‘the Arab spring’. Since 2010, a wave of reaction against totalitarian regimes had been spreading across Arabic nations, having started in Tunisia. The objective conditions were ripe for a revolution and so, “after many years of dictatorship the people arose to change their lives, to live more humanely”, as he says. The Arab spring passed through Egypt, Libya and Yemen, to reach Syria and threaten to expand in more countries, like in Saudi Arabia.
It was in the city of Daraa where incidents happened, with the arrest of fifteen children who wrote antiestablishment graffiti on walls, inspired by previous revolts in neighboring countries. To the relatives of the children (13 to 15 year olds) they said “forget about them, have new children”. The dictatorial regime was not used in having marches on the streets and opened fire against citizens in non party-related, peaceful protests. For six months the peaceful demonstrations continued, with the citizens holding flowers and throwing them to secret and regular police. 6,400 people died in these six months and some decided to continue with armed struggle. Officers, soldiers and civilians created the Free Syrian Army, while others deemed it prudent to continue the fight peacefully.
The revolt remained strictly secular in nature but, as Egypt’s revolution was defeated when the religious fanaticism of the Muslim Brotherhood took it over, the Syrian revolution’s character was altered by its opposition into a religious one, when the regime opened the borders to fundamentalists who came from all over the world. Soon, the self-proclaimed Islamic State was formed (“they are barbarians, they are not human”, says Dimitris) and the citizens were left between a rock and a hard place. “If you are in a region controlled by the regime, a bomb will fall on your head and you’ll be killed along with your children. If you’re in a place under the fanatics, the jihadists, if you don’t obey the sharia they will cut your head”. Neighboring Turkey, Dimitris continues, supports, however silently, ISIS by letting those who want to join it (and fight against the Kurds) pass freely from its borders. On the other hand, Assad is supported by Russia, Iran and China. Dimitris describes the situation as a third world war with a “base” in Syria, and fears the materialization of a plan to separate the country into four states. One for the Kurds and NATO next to the Turkish borders, one for ISIS on the north, one for the current regime next to the Mediterranean up to Damascus (today’s capital) and a forth one for the Druze (note that Sherkoh Abbas, the leader of the Syrian Kurds openly proposes the splitting of Syria into a confederation of five states).
Dimitris reminisces the years before the rise of jihadism in his country and the escalation of the war that followed. He remembers, when he was a child, the women bathing in bikinis – “we are not fanatic jihadists. Assad’s opponents are secular, not fanatics”. Not that everything was peachy back then, of course. Assad’s father had participated in a coup that gave his party rise to power and later he unstated the party’s president to take his place. Immediately, he started purging the country of his antagonists and, from then on, the opposition was right where he wanted it. Freedom and democracy started dying and the 23 million people acquired “one informer per five people”, with the plethora of ethnicities and religions, which constitute an agent of an open society in a democracy, becoming an object of manipulation by the junta wanting to control everyone. Dimitris himself was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison when he didn’t manage to stay faithful to the censored version of his play and changed the dialogue mid-performance.
The current wave of refugees consists of middle class people. They are mostly young men, educated and informed on what is happening in Greece in the last years of economic crisis. They don’t want to stay in Greece, but to continue their way towards a country they think has more to offer. They sell their houses and everything else they have to the war merchants and come to Europe with the hope that, here, they will find the future they deserve. In their home country the schools, the hospitals and the rest of the infrastructure are 70% destroyed. Whoever has money will find bread to buy in a black market.
“Yesterday it was you, today it’s me, tomorrow who knows?” Besides, as he says, today in Greece something similar is happening since Greeks are leaving their country as a result of the financial crisis. Dimitris recognizes the aid the, mostly, Syrian refugees receive and is optimistic about the effort despite the inhumane voices that are occasionally heard. “The Greeks have humanity, because every house has immigration inside it.” A member of the audience adds that in the 1920s the immigrants from Asia Minor (of Greek origin) were pejoratively called by the local Greeks as “Turkish seeds”, while Syrians had in the past opened their doors to Armenian and Lebanese refugees. Another audience member mentions that in a Greek island (Mytilene), through which many refugees enter Europe, the effort of the locals is huge, referring to the provision of food and shelter. One could observe refugee families walking 70kilometers under the hot sun and mothers carrying infants during heat waves to travel north.
Apostolis Aggos, a member of the organizing group, says on his initiative: “If it happens in your city you will make the effort”. Some people he approaches say they prefer to only help Greeks in need, in a soup kitchen, rather than foreigners. “For me, my place is not necessarily Serres, it is all of Greece and all of the Balkans…”
The meeting took place on the 16th of September, 2015