Today Palestinians commemorated the Nakba
, staging protest rallies and complaining that Israel's planned pullout from Gaza did not address the refugee "right of return."
Greece, a country that has a "special relationship" with Palestinians, has her own Nakba, the 1922 Asia Minor Catastrophe
, a tragedy that is embedded in the Greek consciousness. Hundreds of thousands of Greek civilians were massacred by the Turks and over a million people were expelled to Greece. These refugees had nothing, no money, no clothes, they left behind homes, businesses, friends, they barely escaped with their lives. They came to a divided country that had just lost a war, an army that was bitterly defeated and a society that called them "Tourkosporoi" - "Turkish seeds" - and held them responsible for their own misery. Greece was not a familiar country to these people, a lot of them barely spoke any Greek.
The populations of Athens and Salonica doubled in size with refugees; they built little hovels made of tin, they lived in tenements, they didn't receive compensation, there were no jobs in Greece, there was no system in place to absorb a million souls who had nowhere else to turn. People who had lived comfortably in Turkey, who were merchants and bankers and farmers, became the bottom rung in a hostile, war-torn society that could barely take care of its own people.
Our Catastrophe signified the end of three thousand years of a Greek presence in Asia Minor.
Eighty years later we don't know who's a refugee anymore, only the ending of someone's last name gives a hint that an ancestor escaped, that someone made it through and built a life again. There are no people marching, holding rusty keys, demanding to go home again. They built new homes, they built new lives and they tried to make peace with the people who expelled them from their ancestral lands. Not that the memories don't hurt.
While Greeks still nurse their wounds, there are no refugee camps today, no festering sores. These people were Greek as well and they sought to start their lives again and they joined Greek society as equals, as citizens with full rights. Unlike the Palestinians, the Greeks weren't kept as refugees, human bargaining chips refused full citizenship status and labeled foreign refugees among their own people till the third and fourth generation, in "refugee camps" that have grown to full-blown city status. Their misery is kept alive and exploited by their brethren, while allegedly enlightened nations sanctimoniously tsk-tsk Israel for the mistreatment of Arabs by their brother Arabs.
Catastrophes happen. What's heroic is going on with life, not in mourning and refusing to pick up the pieces for all eternity.