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Fieldwork in Greece

Fieldwork with Kurdish and Left-wing Political Refugees from Turkey in Athens, Greece

During my MPhil fieldwork, I have spent three and a half months with Kurdish and left-wing political refugees from Turkey in Athens. They live communally in squatted accommodations with local anarchists and other migrants and refugees, and spend time with the members of their political groups from Turkey. However, due to the lack of economic opportunities in Greece, most of them aspire to move on to another European country, or hope to return to Turkey when the political conditions change. Thus, they see Greece as a transitional space (geçiş bölgesi). Due to the European migration policies, they are unable to cross the borders legally before acquiring a legal status, which may take several years, while the clandestine ways are risky and expensive. My dissertation explores this state of prolonged transitionality, as experienced by the refugees. It particularly focuses on the feelings of entrapment, tiredness, the interplay of hope and hopelessness, and the ways people struggle to survive physically and emotionally in the conditions of political and economic limbo. My interlocutors describe Greece as an “open prison” (açık cezaevi), where one’s freedom of movement is restricted and where one has to actively make the time meaningful in order to survive.

A room of young Kurdish refugees

Beja Protner Photo1 Room
Many Kurdish refugees live in the squatted housing complex of Prosfygika, which was built for the Greek Orthodox refugees from Asia Minor, who arrived after the forced population exchange between Turkey and Greece in 1923. The old deteriorating buildings are occupied by local anarchists, and migrants and refugees from different countries. The rooms of Kurdish refugees where they both sleep and eat are simple but clean. The walls are always decorated with symbols of the Kurdish movement – images of the movement’s leader Abdullah Öcalan and other revolutionary figures, flags, and maps of Kurdistan. These bring familiarity into foreign spaces and turn them into temporary collective homes. They also remind the residents about the reasons for their exile, and keep them focused on the struggle to which they have dedicated their lives.



View through the window of a Kurdish youth accommodation in Prosfygika

The neighbouring building of the squatted housing complex of Prosfygika bathes in evening sunlight. While showing a daily view of the residents from one of their rooms, the window and the warm light outside also represent hope for freedom. Freedom is a central concept among the political refugees. It is the ultimate goal of the revolutionary Kurdish movement, which struggles for cultural and political rights of Kurds in Turkey, and for autonomy and self-governance in Northern Syria (Rojava). Yet on a more personal level, the window may also represent the hope of freeing oneself from the transitional life of entrapment in Greece and establishing a more stable life somewhere else.




Give voice to Leyla Güven

Photo3 BP GiveVoiceToLeylaGuven
This is a graffiti on one of the buildings of Prosfygika, stating “Give Voice to Leyla Güven” in Turkish, signed by the outlawed Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of Turkey (Marksist-Leninist Komünist Partisi, MLKP). Leyla Güven is a Kurdish Member of Parliament. She was imprisoned by the regime in 2018 among many other members of the pro-Kurdish left-wing Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP). In November 2018, she initiated a hunger strike in demand to end the isolation of the leader of the Kurdish movement, Abdullah Öcalan, who has been imprisoned on the island İmralı and has been restricted from communication with his lawyers since 2011. More than 7000 people around the world have joined the hunger strike in the following months, including refugees in Athens. During my last visit, the hunger strikes were at the centre of Kurdish politics. Kurds in Athens regularly protest against the silence of the European Union about the hungers strikes, and the state of lawlessness in Turkey, and raise awareness through engagements with the urban space such as graffiti and posters.