By Hanna Polischuk
Our travel continued. We were heading directly from Bulgaria to Turkey. In the train we met young people from New Zealand and Spain. What a surprise! The trip became more interesting, especially when we began the discussion about borders. Rosa was going to Turkey because her Schengen visa was finishing, and Cesar, the Spanish EVS volunteer in Moldova, decided to do the Balkan trip with the last-minute decision to go also to Turkey. We were sharing our stories for a while, when suddenly, the train stopped in the middle of the night. We looked at the window and saw nothing but darkness. Just in some more minutes of staring into the deep night, we noticed a high fence all covered with razor wire.
The train was standing still for a while, and then, the door opened making a creaking sound, and the passport controllers came in. They were rush and silent. As soon as we arrived to the Turkish part, we all were waiting in a line to get the visa stamp in the passport. When Ksenia gave her Russian passport to the controller, he decided to make some jokes like “Turkish visa in Russian passport? You might have some problems when you come back to your country. Are you sure you want it? Are you sure?” We did not consider this funny but all of us got visa, and we proceeded with the bus to Istanbul. This is how our Turkish trip began.
During our stay, we made three stops: a very short one in Istanbul and two longer in Eskişehir and Izmir. From the first city we felt the warm hospitality of these people. Yasir met us in the early morning, gave us a tasty breakfast and helped us to arrange our tickets. I doubt that without his help we would have managed to do everything we had to. Over the short time we spent watching Istanbul from the car window we realised that it is a city worth to be explored at least during a week; hopefully each of us will have the opportunity to come back.
We have to say that Turkish train stations are safe: there is a very strict control and everything is organized. The only problem was the announcements of trains and stops in Turkish, so we always were wondering “where are we now?” and if we did not miss our stop. The trains are very modern, fast and comfortable. Finally we could rest after the hard night. Thank you, Interrail!
In Eskişehir, we met the biggest and the most active local on our whole way. Most of its members stayed with us all the time: from the first day till the last one when they were running after the train when we were leaving. It was one of the most touching moments during the project! They put a lot of effort into the cultural context: they cooked traditional food for us, ordered a huge breakfast in a restaurant, taught us Turkish dances, made a workshop of musical spoons, showed us local places, made all sorts of city tours, and all this just in a couple of days! Every day we had an intensive program and did lots of activities with AEGEE-Eskişehir, every moment we were discovering something new! Moreover, they gathered lots of people for our sessions, becoming the biggest ones in our EoT route!
Afterwards, we went to Izmir, the city of the sun and the sea. Life there seems relaxed, people are friendly and easy-going. We were lucky to get two sportive hosts, Batu and Ediz, so we did sports every time we could: football, volleyball, jogging, martial art, pull-ups and other exercises, and we even had a competition on the last day. AEGEE-Izmir organizers showed us the best of their city and prepared very delicious food for us. But not everything is so bright when you notice the contrast from the happy life that reminded us why we are here: in many places, we met refugees who were trying to make some money with a low-paid job. One can see how sad they are, all of them: from little children to elderly people. When I saw a lonely little girl of 5-6 years trying to sell some napkins to people when it was close to midnight, something inside me shrank. Just stop and think: how many children who fled from Syria are living such life nowadays?
Talking about the sessions, the answers in both cities were almost the same. The problems are obvious, and the solutions need deeper discussion.
Turkish youth see the European Union as an opportunity but they also noticed that the biggest part of their country is not ready to join it yet. First, they should solve important internal problems and show what it is to be European. Partly, the country has already adapted the EU standards and its people live like in the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, many other countries do not see Turkey as a European country because of the different culture, another religion and people’s prejudices and misinformation. Still, the minority of the participants keep thinking that Turkey has nothing to do with the EU: it is different and has a unique culture that should be protected from globalization.
During the mapping game, where participants had to define the countries and borders on the borderless map of Europe, they only included in Europe the Western part of their country. According to them, the rest of Turkey is not ready yet: the more Eastern it is, the less common are the cultural values with the European countries.
When it comes to EU-Turkey relationships, the main problems are: prejudices from the rest of Europe, islamophobia and historical background. The above-mentioned problems can be solved by improving education and enhancing international student mobility. Yet, visa issues create more obstacles for Turkish people who want to integrate in the European society: the price is very high, bureaucratic procedures take lots of time, free travel is highly limited, etc. Some of the solutions could be the simplification of E-visa procedure, free cost for students and active youth and acceleration the process of getting visa.
Most of the participants think that Europe fails in the management of the refugee crisis: the amount of them is growing every day in Turkey, Greece and the Balkans, but their way stops in those countries as the rest of Europe is closed for them. According to them, refugee crisis in Turkey is characterized by poor accommodation, high unemployment, lack of education and non-willingness to integrate from both sides. In order to solve it and decrease the criminal rate, it is important to stop discriminating asylum seekers and refugees and start creating a comfortable environment for them. The government should think how to organize proper accommodation, education, decent jobs, a platform for cultural exchange and integration and increase in supervision of human rights’ adherence.
We see many problems in Turkey, as well as the desire of young people to change things for better. The growing youth participation enables this positive change. Nowadays, while studying in different European countries and receiving international students in Turkey, they erase stereotypes as well as borders between them. The promising future will integrate countries more and they might start living in peace and harmony. What we saw and heard in Istanbul, Eskişehir and Izmir makes us draw these conclusions full of hope.
To everyone who was part of this trip: Teşekkürler for everything!