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It has been over two weeks since the devastating earthquakes struck Turkey and Syria, yet heartbreaking calls for help continue.
Tens of thousands are without adequate accommodation, still looking for their loved ones trapped under the rubble or in need of medical attention.
The devastation is a nightmare one cannot escape from when considering that at least 13 million human lives have been impacted.
Although there certainly wasn’t a shortage of messages of heartfelt solidarity around the globe, it is maybe for that reason that many humans chose action over words to express their feelings.
The support coming from the Balkans, whose countries have strong historic ties to Turkey, led to a series of deeply touching moments, both on a diplomatic and interpersonal level.
While all countries’ contributions helped those in dire need and were welcomed with gratitude by the government and people alike, one interaction stood out: between Greeks and Turks.
A troubled past does not mean Greece and Turkey don’t see eye to eye
Our countries share a troubled past, with many grievances and unresolved issues.
Sadly, they still inject an unhealthy dose of toxicity into political — and, albeit much more rarely, personal — relations in “normal” times.
To the outside world, it often seems as if this toxicity makes most people hate their neighbour, while government officials wish nothing but devastation upon their counterparts.
This could not be further from the truth. The majority of us who have ties to Greece, Turkey — or both — always knew it.
In response to the earthquake, we showed how close we actually are to those who didn’t know that until now, too.
That’s why it was no surprise that the Greek rescue team, EMAK, was among the first ones to reach Turkey and help save people trapped under the rubble.
Videos and images of their efforts went viral when the team saved a 7-year-old child, Fatma, from a collapsed building in the İskenderun district on 7 February.
‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’
Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias was the first EU minister to visit Turkey, where he met with his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and flew over the impacted areas to get an understanding of the situation.
The country’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced in Brussels that “Greece will be at the frontline to organise an EU summit of donors to seek additional funds in order to assist with the reconstruction and relief for those affected by the earthquakes.”
These efforts were met with a great outpouring of appreciation from both the public and the officials in Turkey, as seen in one of the tweets by the Turkish embassy in Athens: “A friend in need is a friend indeed. Greek people keep extending a helping hand to Turkish earthquake victims.”
On social media, thousands of comments of gratitude were exchanged, and conversations revolved around what we have in common instead of what divides us.
These exchanges, filled with messages of peace, solidarity, and gratitude, united the people at a level that hasn’t been seen since the terrible earthquakes of 1999 — another time when Turkey and Greece united over a disaster that had affected both.
‘I told the world I love you’
On the civil society level, blood donations were organised across Greece, and trucks filled with humanitarian aid from more than 330 Greek municipalities were sent to Turkey.
Students, businesses, NGOs, as well as ordinary people took it upon themselves to create collection points for various goods such as food, medicines, clothing, and other needed items.
Others started digital campaigns to raise money on their platforms and spread the word about what was happening.
The wave of solidarity could be felt across the entire country.
Greece’s daily newspaper Kathimerini published an illustration bearing the slogan “We are all Turks.”
The Greek public broadcaster ERT started its morning news with a Turkish song, “Ben seni sevdiğumi, dünyalara bildirdum” — “I told the world that I love you” — while showing videos of the earthquake’s impact.
It’s safe to say that no one in Greece was left unmoved.
Only blood that matters is the one used to save lives
And it goes to show that Turkey and Greece helping each other in times of need is nothing new: in bad times, we have always stuck together, no matter the political situation.
Whether it’s Greeks helping Turks or Turks helping Greeks, when things get rough, we can both count on each other.
Let’s learn from this and apply the same spirit of friendship in good times. In particular, my hopes are that the youth in both countries will grow up seeing their neighbours as sisters and brothers who just happen to speak a language different that their own.
And the next time we hear politicians talk about war between our people, let’s remember: the only blood that matters is the one used to save lives, not the one spilt to take them.
Still on the rise since 6 February, the official death toll is nearing 50,000 (at least 42,000 in Turkey and 7,000 in Syria), though numerous experts estimate that the final number could surpass a staggering 150,000.
Our help remains critical. If you can, please keep donating to reliable organisations. It can make a huge difference.
Marcos Moschovidis is the founder and editor-in-chief of the youth education project EU FOR YOU. Connecting civil society across borders is one of the main focus areas of his work.
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