104 years ago my grandparents were refugees. They were civilians fleeing their lush, beautiful ancient homeland on the Black Sea, following a treacherous path on foot through Asia Minor and into the safety of Greece. They were among the lucky ones narrowly escaping the Turkish army who was on their heels, and facing a new challenge once they had arrived: they found themselves in a country that treated them like foreigners: Black Sea Greeks were not seen as “pure” Greeks, at least not at first.
Stories of my grandmother surviving by herself in sub zero temperatures after falling into a frozen ravine as she ran for her life in the winter countryside while hiding from Turks, eating through her leather overcoat as her only sustenance, became a legend through the refugee community. But her story was just one of thousands. In fact, hundreds of thousands. And 104 years on, no one has gone back to the homeland. They all left in a hurry, thinking that surely one day soon they’d be back.
Within a few years of the exodus of Greeks from the Black Sea, the lights dimmed permanently on the Pontic Civilisation of wealthy, ancient cosmopolitan cities of Trabzon, Giresun and others. It is estimated that between 1914 and 1922 as many as 1 million Greeks and other Anatolian Christians were slaughtered in what is known as the Pontic Greek Genocide. Although I was born into freedom, frozen refugee blood runs through my veins. The fear of being torn away from your homeland never goes away. Refugees make sure to pass the message down to their children and grandchildren: never take your freedom for granted. One day, you may be on the run again. Or you may need to fight for your right to exist.
Ukraine is only just north of my ancient homeland and across the Black Sea, on the Crimean. In fact, a huge Greek community of about 100,000 is based in Mariupol, some of them original Pontic refugees who have ironically now been dealt a second time-unlucky twist of fate. Their city is a living hell under Russian siege, and already declared a humanitarian crisis hotspot.
More and more of us are running for our lives, but the war we are running from has no end in sight. In fact, it will only intensify. Climate refugees are already fleeing uninhabitably hot and dry areas across the Global South. Rich Miami tycoons are trying to sell their multimillion low-lying villas before the ocean takes them forever. And birds, animals and fish across the Earth are desperately looking for new habitats that don’t exist. And before you wonder why I quickly changed the subject from war to climate change, before you assume that you are safely untouchable by all of this, let me remind you that climate change dramatically increases the chances of conflicts over resources, which can easily lead to full-blown war.
Either way through climate change or war, Ukraine’s wheat harvest will fail.
We are all refugees, already. But very few of us know it yet.
George is an author, researcher, podcast host, chemist, molecular biologist and food scientist. You can follow him on Twitter @99blackbaloons , listen to his Spotify podcast George reads George, sign up for blog alerts below, or enjoy his books
4 thoughts on “We Are All Refugees”
Thank you for your wonderful words.
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My Greek grandfather fought to save your Greek grandparents during that brutal exodus. He was gone from my grandmother’s side for two years. When he returned to her she did not recognize him. War had brutalized his mind and body.
When WWII broke out and the Katoxi (nazi occupation) of Athens took place my grandfather was too old to join the fight. My uncles, aunt and father told the harrowing tales of near death experiences the rest of their long lives. I grew up with these stories as did you George.
I wish we could teach our leaders to use common sense and empathy. We need a peace department in the USA because the war department/defense dept has failed the world miserably.
We are on the brink of climate extinction, the last fucking thing we need is WWIII. NATO has screwed us all.
We could be practicing planetary hospice instead of sending weapons manufacturers’ stocks through the ceiling.
Thank you for being awake.
Pavlina Panagiotou Schneider
Pauline thanks so much for sharing your personal story with me. Couldn’t agree more. I hope all is well for you.