Noontime Scholars Lecture: Karol Kujawa, “Migration Crisis: Implications for Turkish-EU Relations”

On February 14th, REEEC Visiting Scholar Karol Kujawa gave a Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled “Migration Crisis: Implications for Turkish-EU Relations.”  Kujawa is a Kosciuszko Foundation Fellow and Assistant Professor at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. His lecture was co-sponsored by the European Union Center.

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Karol Kujawa

For the past several years, the EU has been facing a refugee crisis. Turkey, traditionally a “gateway to Europe,” plays a key role in this migration process.  As a result of the Syrian Civil War, Turkey has become the site of political asylum for over 2.8 million Syrians.  Turkey currently hosts more refugees than any other country on Earth.

According to Kujawa, Turkey decided to host these refugees for several reasons.  First, Turkish authorities initially believed that Bashar al-Assad’s regime would fall—and their “guests” (as the Turkish prime minister called Syrian refugees) would return home—within a year.  Second, the Turkish people were in favor of helping refugees, due to a cultural tradition of “welcoming people from the Ottoman Empire, the Caucasus, Crimea… all of them are refugees, and the society is very cosmopolitan.”  Additionally, “Turkish people really love children,” and over 50% of Syrian refugees in Turkey are minors.

Since the migration crisis began, however, the number of terrorist attacks within Turkey has risen dramatically.  The crisis has led to an increase in “anti-European feelings” among the Turkish people, which is “one of the main purposes of this terrorism” (most of which is perpetrated by ISIS).  Since 2015-2016, popular support for Turkey’s potential accession to the EU has waned, and nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise within the country: “even the seculars are nationalists… there is currently no moderate movement in Turkey.”  On the European side, “we have seen almost the same process”—after an earlier more welcoming attitude toward migrants, “Europeans gradually started changing their minds about the refugees.” This has also coincided with a rise in nationalism throughout Europe.

An “EU-Turkey Statement” was released on March 18, 2016, outlining a new agreement between Turkey and the EU with regard to the migration crisis.  According to this statement, “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands… will be returned to Turkey,” but “For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU.” The EU also agreed to accept more refugees, liberalize the visa process, help improve conditions for refugees on Turkish soil, and to speed up the disbursement of 3 billion euros allocated under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.  As a result of this agreement, the number of refugees coming to Greece decreased, although according to Kujawa, “that was mainly the result of stopping [migrant] smugglers on Turkish soil.”  Stronger borders have also been established in the Balkans.  However, Kujawa stressed that this is just a temporary solution: Syrian refugees will continue to migrate to Europe, and “there are still too many refugees in Syria, and too many coming to Turkey. To be honest, the only way to stop this problem is to stop the war in Syria.”

Kujawa noted that the EU and Turkey need each other, so they must try to cooperate. The EU needs Turkey’s help to stop the flow of refugees into Europe, and the Turkish economy relies on trade with the EU: over 50% of Turkish exports go to Europe.  However, many member states would oppose Turkey’s accession to the EU, due to human rights issues (“states like Austria and Luxembourg are very sensitive about the question of freedom and human rights, and will oppose integration with Turkey”), increasing levels of xenophobia (“anti-Islamic demonstrations… in Hungary especially”), and the rise of nationalist movements that threaten the integrity of the EU itself (“we don’t even know if the European Union will survive”).

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year for the study of Russian. 

Modern Greek Studies to screen “Twice a Stranger” documentary

This is a re-posting of an article from the May 7, 2014, issue of The Daily Illini. To view the original article, please see http://www.dailyillini.com/lifeandculture/aroundcampus/article_cd4c646a-d566-11e3-ad9c-0017a43b2370.html. Featured in the article is Dr. Sebnem Ozkan, Outreach Coordinator  at the European Union Center, who is a colleague of REEEC.

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Her name was Eleni, and she was just a toddler when she and her siblings fled Turkey barefoot with everything they could carry during the forced migration of the early 1920s.

With her brother at her side, disguised as a girl so the Turks wouldn’t take him, they set off toward boats that were sent to help evacuate her coastline town, Smyrna, and headed to their new life in Greece.

“My grandfather — her husband — was also from there, and he was about 11 when this was happening,” said Hellen McDonald, clinical assistant professor in Social Work. “Her mother dressed him up as a monk so the Turks would not keep him.”

They arrived at Pirea, the main port of Greece and began their new life in a country that saw them as dirty and not Greek. Returning home, where they were also viewed as outsiders, wasn’t an option.

She married at 16 and moved to a makeshift home that the community built for all of the migrants.

“The community built these huge apartment complexes for them and that’s where a lot of the refugees — they don’t like to be called refugees — a lot of the individuals that came from Smyrna settled in,” McDonald said.

She lived in a town called Peristeri until her death in 1999. In English, Peristeri means dove, the symbol for peace.

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The Greek-Turkish exchange, German-Polish exchange, Partition of India and Cyprus Crisis are all events of forced migration in the 20th century, when millions of people were forced to leave their homelands, largely never returning.

The documentary “Twice a Stranger” combines video testimonies, rare film archives and photos from survivors to bring their stories to light. The film will be shown by Modern Greek Studies at 6 p.m. on May 8 in the Lucy Ellis Lounge of the Foreign Languages Building.

Dr. Stefanos Katsikas, director of Modern Greek Studies, will begin the screening with a short introduction to provide background on the historical events being highlighted.

“Twice a Stranger” premiered at an exhibition in the Benaki Museum in Athens and was highly successful, Katsikas said. He had to receive permission from the museum to show the documentary, making this the first time it will be screened in the Midwest.

A conflict between Greece and the Ottoman Empire in 1919 led to a war over control of the region around Smyrna. The Greek army was granted a mandate after World War I to exercise control of the region for five years followed by a referendum which would determine the future status of the area, Katsikas said.

Greek authorities took advantage of a strong presence of ethnic Greeks in the area. The outcome of the referendum would be in Greece’s favor and the region would become Greek territory. This was not seen favorably by Turks who wanted this region to be part of the Ottoman Empire or any succeeding Turkish nation state.

Greece lost the war, and its troops withdrew, which sparked a negotiation between the two sides over the territorial status of Greece and Turkey, ending the signing of the Lausanne Peace Treaty. Part of this treaty was a protocol which provided for the compulsory exchange of populations so that all Muslims living in Greece moved to Turkey and all Greek-Orthodox people in Turkey would head to Greece. It was believed that a population exchange would guarantee peace and security between the two states.

A conflict between Greece and the Ottoman Empire in 1919 led to a war over occupying territory in Turkey. While Greece was granted a mandate after World War I to occupy the region, Greek authorities in Smyrna were working on a five-year referendum that would determine the fate of the same area.

Greece lost the war and its troops were forced to leave, which sparked a negotiation: the two states would exchange populations so that all Muslims living in Greece moved to Turkey and all Greek-Orthodox people in Turkey would head to Greece.

“In order to be a Greek, you need to speak a Greek language and be Greek-Orthodox. In Turkey, the established view was to be a Turk, you had to speak Turkish but also be a Muslim,” Katsikas said. “This resulted in one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the beginning of the 20th century – 1.5 million Greek-Orthodox and half a million Muslims leaving their homelands.”

Katsikas said one of the problems with this was many Muslims couldn’t speak Turkish and many of the Greek-Orthodox couldn’t speak Greek, causing them to be viewed as outcasts.

Today, McDonald’s extended family still lives in the suburbs of Athens. Eleni and her husband were able to move out after buying land and building a new home.

“My grandfather was able to put aside money – he did all sorts of jobs that weren’t originally accepted. They were considered dirty and like not real Greeks,” McDonald said. “They really struggled with assimilating, but through the years, I think they proved them wrong.”

McDonald remembers her grandmother as quiet and not very talkative, but she was strong in her values.

“Now that I’m in social work, I have a better understanding of why,” she said. “It might have been too traumatic to talk about it.”

On the other side of the conflict stood Esma, a Turkish woman who was forced to flee Greece with her five children. The hardships they encountered took the life of one of her twins. Sebnem Ozkan, outreach coordinator at the European Union Center, said her great-grandmother remembered packing all of their belongings and taking the trip to Turkey.


“She always remembered Greece as a nice place,” Ozkan said. “She always talked about her neighbors there, both Turks and Greeks, and she would tell stories about how everybody got along really well, there wasn’t really tension or any fighting … it was the politics and the government who were really messing up things.”

Esma and her family migrated to Sakarya, Turkey, where they ran an olive business to support themselves. Economic hardship after migrating was common because not all belongings could be taken with them, Ozkan said.

The migration didn’t happen in a single day. Political tensions had been brewing and the people knew they would have to leave, but they kept a separate identity, Ozkan said, although that identity has been withering away with each generation.

Like Eleni, Esma and her family also had trouble assimilating and were not welcomed. Even though they spoke Turkish, a difference in customs made them look suspicious. She never returned home but also never expressed the desire to.

“She was still sharp,” Ozkan said. “If somebody told her there were people from this town in Greece from Vodena where she was from, she would insist to go and find them. She was still very committed to her birthplace and she just kept talking about it until she died.”

Esma lived to be more than 100 years old despite facing so many challenges in life, including losing her husband in the war.

“It is quite a lot to deal with, but she never complained,” Ozkan said. “She just thought, ‘This is life,’ and you do the best you can do under the circumstances and you just move forward, stay positive, and I think that was one of the reasons why she lived such a long life.”

Partition of India

As the British left India, the question of whom to transfer power to was imminent. South Asian Muslims worried that if power transferred to the Congress party, there would be a Hindu majoritarian rule, leaving Muslims no say in politics.

“Around 1946, I think the British decided enough is enough,” said Tariq Ali, assistant history professor. “They wanted to cut their losses and run, which meant they needed a quick solution.”

The quickest solution was partition: dividing the country into one Muslim state and one Hindu state.

“This was a solution that no one really liked,” Ali said. “But it’s the solution the British were willing to give.”

Ali said hardly anyone foresaw the enormous violence that would ensue after 20 million people were forced to move. An English lawyer then drew abstract lines on a map and India and Pakistan were born.      When Pakistan gained independence in 1957, the new borders had still not been announced. People celebrated without knowing what country they were in, Ali said.

“What happens is we have Hindus and Sikh militias and Muslim militias going on killing rampages against the other religion,” Ali said. “The death toll was horrific.”

A large number of people in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have family across borders today and still have memories of the homes they left behind, Ali said.

Nishant Makhijani, senior in Engineering, remembers his grandparents sharing stories from when they were forced to leave Pakistan during the partition.

Once they heard the news, they packed up their belongings and precious metals, mostly gold jewelry, and left.

When they arrived in India, they stayed in refugee camps until his grandfather’s brother found a job as a police inspector in a small town five hours outside of Mumbai.

“They didn’t know that they were leaving Pakistan for good,” Makhijani said. “They didn’t know that they were never going to see their houses again.”

German-Polish migration

During World War II, Germany had the intention of wiping Poland off the map, said history professor Peter Fritzsche.

What was left of Poland was turned into a military region occupied by Germany. Germany pursued three policies: to move in German settlers, to get rid of all the Jews and to move Polish people out.

“There was an ethnic cleansing,” Fritzsche said. “There would not be any German communities left in Eastern Europe, and so whoever didn’t flee in 1945 was basically kicked out in 1945 to 1947.”

Roughly one third of Germans were on the road without a home, but resentment and bitterness remained moderate, Fritzsche said.

“People made new lives,” he said. “Most Germans realized they started World War II, and they didn’t necessarily say they deserved their fate, but they understood their fate.”

While there were some groups that wished to return home, it was not possible, and as more generations were born, that desire vanished. Today, Europe is more homogenous than it was 100 years ago, Fritzsche said.

A Reflection on Lidia Grafova’s Lecture – “Migration and Human Rights in the Russian Federation”

Lidia Grafova sitting with Professor Richard Tempest during her Distinguished lecture on Migration and Human Rights in Russa

It was a unique opportunity to attend the talk on September 27th given by Lidia Grafova as part of the REEEC Distinguished Speaker Series.  Ms. Grafova is a longtime journalist and Chair of the Forum of Migration Organizations who is dedicated to helping migrants in Russia.  She is actively involved in working to secure equality and basic human rights for the many migrants who are currently suffering.

Her discussion focused on the issue of Russian migration to Russia following the collapse of the USSR, and the human rights abuses that have resulted.  A large number of Russians have had an extremely difficult time securing citizenship and have been denied important rights.  According to Ms. Grafova, it can take anywhere from eight to ten years for some migrants to get citizenship!  She discussed issues of corruption and unjust governmental policies that continue to hinder the smooth integration of ethnic Russians into the country.  Additionally, non-ethnic Russians have had a particularly difficult time with the citizenship process due to some officials who possess prejudices.  This has led to some minorities turning to payments and bribes to get citizenship.  They know how remote their chances are of getting it through legal means.  Furthermore, she stressed that the Russian government has refused to actively assist migrants and provide them with the means to successfully integrate into the country.  What makes the situation worse is that the government has taken a negative stance regarding the NGOs which have emerged to aid migrants.  She discussed that NGOs who obtain funds from abroad must register as “agents of a foreign power.”  I found this fact to be unbelievable.

Despite the obvious unhappiness and anger Ms. Grafova feels toward her country’s treatment of migrants, she stressed her love for Russia.  I found it especially interesting when she commented that through her work, she is “defending Russia.”  Ms. Grafova’s discussion demonstrates that the impact of the collapse of the USSR can be seen in Russia today, and that the country still faces difficulties from this major event, even after two decades.  Her talk not only exposes major flaws in the Russian government’s migration policy, but it shows that governmental policies are actually hurting Russia.  As Ms. Grafova mentioned, Russia is dependent on migrants.  Lastly, attending this talk allowed us as Americans to gain a better understanding of the human rights abuses in Russia in extensive detail.  I personally left this lecture with a new understanding of the complexities and difficulties of migration in Russia.  Furthermore, I know that listening to someone with a firsthand account of this important issue has given me insight, in which I could not have received elsewhere.

Ryan Eavenson is a first year MA student.  He is particularly interested in democratization, human rights, and European integration in the post-Soviet world.  His additional interests include Imperial and Soviet Russian history.  He received a AB in History/Russian and East European Studies from Lafayette College in 2010.  After completion of his MA, he hopes to find employment focusing on international affairs or continue his education.