A universal story of ethnic hatred
One is situated in Anatolia, the other in the mountains of the Peloponnese. Birgi and Dimitsana, both towns with sloping roofs and smoking chimneys, are distant from each other yet united by historical threads as if in a game of mirrors where one is reflected in the other.
Dimitsana played a primary role during the Greek rebellion against the Ottoman Empire in 1821. Almost a century later, the Greek army invaded Birgi and occupied it for three years. Both towns have been subjected to a foreign invader, the eternal enemy; both have fought for their independence and learned to hate "the other".
In both cases, the memory of a war-torn past is kept alive in school text books and by an obstinate need to evoke it every year in their respective celebrations of independence.
Telling the story of two symmetric worlds, "The Other Town" won awards both at the International Istanbul Film Festival and at the Thessaloniki International Documentary Film Festival. In this film, Nefin Dinc, a Turkish documentary film-maker with an Anglo-Saxon background, tries to get to the bottom of the reciprocal animosity, which is permeated with prejudice and lack of knowledge of the other. This animosity feeds on itself and easily turns into hostility, helped by those who hang on to these sentiments.
Seeing things from the other side
Iraklis Millas, the script-writer and speaker in the documentary, is Greek. He was born and grew up in Turkey, but then moved to Greece, where he decided to bring up his children. His youth was spent listening to the stories of how the Greek invaders had killed the Turks and burnt their houses. Then one day, his children came home from school with a diametrically opposite story. At that point he asked himself who was right.
"The other town" is the answer to that question. With her camera, Dinc follows Millas around the schools and bars of the two towns, walking among the elderly and the very young, inside two communities that only know about each other through their history books. The two cultures he has within himself and the two languages he speaks instinctively are his tools for unhinging the rock-hard certainties of those interviewed – they are sometimes left speechless.
"I wanted to make this documentary to show how we are influenced by a nationalistic type of education in both countries," said Dinc in an interview on the site of the Center for Media and Social Impact at the American University in Washington. "The Turks say the Greeks, with their Megali Idea, even want to expand into Turkey. The Greeks say the Turks would attack them if they had the chance."
While making the documentary, Dinc was struck by the incredible symmetry between the two. With their costume productions in which the enemy always loses, patriotic songs and tear-jerker poems read by school children, even the performances to celebrate the day of independence in the two towns are similar; just changing one or two words would be enough for the town of origin not to be recognisable.
"Every time you come across contradictions in the events, it's worth investigating: if one country tells a story and another gives a different version, it's probable that neither is right. The truth is often hidden in dark corners, and when some facts are withheld, you can bet something is wrong. This film centres on the contradictions and facts suppressed," Millas told the Greek daily paper "Athens News".
What "The Other Town" implies is that Birgi and Dimitsana are a story of ethnic hatred just like thousands of others, and that their names could be those of thousands of other places in Europe or elsewhere in the world. Here, it is Greeks against Turks, but it could just as well be Turks against Armenians, Georgians against Ossetians, Serbs against Kosovars, Moldovans against the Russians of Transnistria. The list is endless. Perhaps the value of Dinc and Millas's work is precisely this: showing two small local stories which, without speeches on major issues, encourage reflection on a global scale. That's why "The Other Town" should be seen by everyone, not just those interested in the history of Greece and Turkey.
© Babelmed 2014
Editor: Aingeal Flanagan/Qantara.de