Turks Fleeing To Greece Find Mostly Warm Welcome, Despite History : Parallels More than a year after a failed military coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hundreds of Turks are seeking refuge in Greece — despite long rivalries between the two nations.

Turks Fleeing To Greece Find Mostly Warm Welcome, Despite History

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For years now, war refugees from places like Syria have been fleeing to the European Union by crossing through Turkey into Greece. Now, as Turkey's government is becoming increasingly authoritarian, some Turkish citizens are also crossing into Greece. Joanna Kakissis reports.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hello. Are you Shu (ph)?

SUMEYYE NUR: Yes, I'm Shu.

KAKISSIS: Hi. I'm Joanna, nice to meet you.

I meet Sumeyye Nur in a hostel in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki. Over coffee, the 41-year-old former civil servant from Ankara recalls the night she realized her own country was no longer safe. It was a night last year when two police officers dragged away her elderly father, claiming he had money in an anti-government bank.

NUR: He stayed eight months in prison, and you cannot imagine the condition - terrible, overcrowded. And not everybody has a bed. And these people are doctors, teachers, professors.

KAKISSIS: Then the authorities came after her. Her father told her to get out of Turkey, so she paid a smuggler roughly $6,000 to cross a river into neighboring Greece.

NUR: I came last January. When I came to here, we were like 10 families.

KAKISSIS: Now there are thought to be more than a thousand Turks here. They are among tens of thousands hunted by the Turkish government after last year's failed military coup.

TUBA GUVEN: It's impossible now to criticize in any way the government. If you write something on Twitter, you can go directly to prison.

KAKISSIS: Tuba Guven is a former TV reporter who also fled to Thessaloniki.

GUVEN: I have done nothing against my state, OK. I have different ideas, different opinions, but I am not terrorist. I have done nothing illegal to my state, to my country, to my people.

KAKISSIS: I meet Tuba and her husband, Cevheri, at a cafe near Thessaloniki’s port. Back home, Cevheri ran a weekly political magazine that published a cover critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Cevheri live-tweeted his own arrest.

CEVHERI: (Through interpreter) There were many charges brought against me - starting a civil war, making terror propaganda, arming people against the government and trying to bring down the government. That last charge, that's what I was found guilty of.

KAKISSIS: He was sentenced to 22 years in prison but fled with his family to Greece.

Why Greece?

GUVEN: Why Greece? Because only democratic country and neighboring Turkey, so we have borders.

KAKISSIS: After crossing the border, the couple and their two young children settled in Thessaloniki, which is actually the birthplace of Turkey's founder - Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Greece and Turkey have a tense history over territory, so Tuba was worried.

GUVEN: You know, because of historical problems, we always think each other is the enemy. So I thought maybe they don't like me because I am Turk, but it's a very false idea. They welcomed me.

THANOS DOKOS: Despite the political problems between the two countries, relations between the Greek and Turkish people have always been quite warm.

KAKISSIS: Thanos Dokos runs the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens.

DOKOS: They're fully justified to feel safe in this country. And it's difficult to imagine that they will be forcibly returned to Turkey under any circumstances.

KAKISSIS: The Greek Supreme Court already refused to allow the extradition of eight Turkish military officers who fled to Greece, saying they would not get a fair trial in Turkey.

For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.


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