If all the leaders died, would the children live?
Even though the entire world is focussed on the coronavirus pandemic, there’s something else happening these days that is just as important. On the Turkish–Greek border, a humanitarian crisis is unfolding. Following the deaths of 36 Turkish soldiers in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, Turkey declared it would no longer take care of some four million refugees living in Turkey and announced it would open its borders to allow them to go to Europe.
After the announcement, some migrants went to the border in busses provided by the Turkish government while the others went there by taxi or bus. However, Greece and Bulgaria are doing all they can to block them, numbering in hundreds of thousands, from entering their countries.
As seen in the following days, tear gas and rubber bullets were deployed against the people in the buffer zone between the borders, a group that includes women and children. As someone who was exposed to the same tear gas police used during the Gezi protests, I know all too well how that gas is affecting those people.
In some videos, you can see small children unable to breathe and their parents frantically looking for help. If you’ve never felt this gas in your lungs, perhaps you don’t know that some types of tear gas also makes it difficult to breathe. Suddenly your lungs stop working, and you can no longer take the breaths you’ve been taking without a thought since the moment you were born. You start to struggle as you drown in panic. In a few seconds, your eyes go dark and you can’t remember the rest.
I know all of this because it happened to me, but I wasn’t a child then.
Even still, I suffered the effects for a long time. No one knows what kinds of problems these children will have after being exposed to certain types of tear gas, not the companies that manufacture them, nor the security forces using them, nor those who order them to fire the gas to the crowds.
While some people are trying to enter through the border gates, others are trying to reach Europe by sea. However, many of them have been caught at the border and sent back after the police confiscated their phones and belongings. At least this is what refugees themselves have stated in interviews.
Finally, a group of members of the parliament from Turkey went to investigate what was happening at the border; guns were fired from the Greek side and some immigrants were hit. Greece labelled reports of such as Turkish propaganda. Some European countries have repeated the claims that Greece is in the right and merely protecting itself.
Sometimes there are people you’ve never met who have led their lives in such a way that you believe they would never lie, you would never hesitate to accept their words as the truth. When they make a statement, you have no doubts about its accuracy. For me, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, is one of these people, so when he stated that refugees had been shot at the border, I did not doubt him for even a moment.
I don’t want to lay blame on Greece or say that Turkey is guilty. All of us are guilty. It is also the crime of the many European countries who have taken no steps to end the war in Syria, saying they don’t want Russia’s level of welfare to decrease, even as people have been swept into desperation over the nearly 10 years the war has gone on.
It’s not only what’s happening at the Greek–Turkish border. Things like this are happening all over the world. The United States is guilty of separating Latin American children from their families and holding them in unhealthy conditions, China is guilty of separating Uighur Turk children from their families and brainwashing them, and all countries are guilty of turning a blind eye to children in Africa die of starvation, and violent protests and rapes happening in India… In short, all world leaders are guilty and no one is innocent.
If children suffer and die today, the biggest criminals are the politicians who won’t show the necessary courage to speak up. And unfortunately, children will continue to die unless those politicians choose to act.
A few years ago, I watched a YouTube series called Hile (The Cheat) about a software company that makes a game which can affect the real world. If a player goes into the game and kills someone, that person dies in real life. After that, a programmer successfully writes a cheat code for the game, and then things really take off. With this cheat code, players can get unlimited money and weapons. It is even possible to defy the laws of physics.
This series comes to mind when I see children suffering and dying. First, I want to write a cheat code that forbids children from dying until they are adults. After that, I want to eliminate all the weapons in the world and create my own utopia. Naturally, there will be people who don’t like my utopian world.
There is one essential question that remains in my mind as I’m imagining all of this—if I could write just one cheat code, what would I write? My answer is clear. Whether it’s sickness, accidents, or war, I would want the children to survive through all.
So if you could write the cheat code, what would you write? Would you save the children, or eliminate the weapons, or give yourself a superpower? Or would you give yourself unlimited wealth? Before answering that, be honest with yourself. Watch the suffering of these migrant children and think about it again.
No one chooses the place and family which they were born into, neither the cold, hungry children struggling at the border nor the children sleeping in safe homes. All of us were born into families and countries that were chosen by fate. But the place we were born doesn’t make us any different from anyone else. People who don’t like refugees need to think about that for a moment.
Please, think about what they are going through. Look at the videos and photos. After that, decide what cheat code you would write and say it only to yourself because you’re the only one who can know how truthful your answer is.
© Ahval English
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.