One hundred years have passed since the Greco-Turkish War. One hundred years ago, refugees and migrants crossed from the region of Asia Minor to Mytilene to flee from death and danger. History and memory remember these events very vividly and work to keep them alive.
In the city of Mytilene, with the advent of the New Year 2022, political events, music concerts, and different cultural events took place on a weekly basis to highlight the 100 years of this historic anniversary. Choosing to remember these significant events of history is what defines us as a culture, society and, first and foremost, as individuals. But ultimately, do we all remember our events and history accurately or do some people have selective memories?
From 2015 until today, Lesvos and other Greek islands have lived a new prominent period, both highly stigmatized and incredibly meaningful. For seven years, people have been on the move to find a safer environment, just as people before them left the same areas in 1922. As I reflect on this mirrored anniversary, I hold the pain, anguish, death, and sadness with me right now. I see them in the marks on the walls, burnt documents, and tents and iron bars that have captured the scars left behind by these people in informal or informal prisons, such as the burnt camp of Moria and the now abandoned Kara Tepe camp.
But there is another page that captures the daily life of migration. Children’s toys, coloured markers, forks and spoons, and scattered papers with numbers and words in Greek and English: I processed these slowly, one by one. I wanted to take in all the information and images of these objects, opening my memory to everything I shared in these spaces with these people. One by one, I recall all the days I spent inside Moria and Kara Tepe. People coming and going, words of joy and sorrow, shared lunches, me trying to teach people Greek, and they trying to teach me Farsi, and endless hours of play. I certainly don’t remember much Farsi, while my friends have become fluent in Greek. I will never forget them asking me when we were all eating together if I wanted the food spicy or not. My answer was always no, and it was always spicy. As we all know, there is no moderation in spices in eastern cuisine, and I love it.
As I write these lines on an August afternoon, I know that if I sit and think and recount, there will be many more memories that bubble up. And I also know that if I find two or three of my friends from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, or wherever, the stories will carry on for hours, and the next morning will find us all around a table talking and listening intently to each other.
But it is incredible how, while there is so much evidence of migration—reality has shifted as people move through these spaces—it is continuously buried in an attempt to forget it. Since 2015, migration and its effects have defined and marked Lesvos and its people. It has built bonds of solidarity between people who had never met before, created relationships and inspired movements, and people have managed to resist and survive. These are moments that cannot be forgotten easily, no matter how hard they try. It is up to us to continue to remember and fight against oppression in this place and many others around the world. For me, the most important aspect of the work is the relationships we have built with each other regardless of colour, race or ethnicity. I will show up every day and be present for anyone who needs it, through the easy and the difficult, the good and the bad.
It is memory that shapes us, and we will not let it fade away, even in the years to come.