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Özbek: We are no longer expatriates

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Speaking at the conference on Migration and Gurbet were (left to right) Enfield councillor Doğan Delman, sociologist and author Semra Eren-Nijhar, Cemevi official Baykal Sürük, Haringey Mayor Ali Gül Özbek and councillor Suna Hurman

A panel on migration and the Turkish concept of “gurbet” provoked a lively debate in Hackney’s Alevi Cemevi over the weekend

A book launch at London’s Alevi Cultural Centre became a wide-ranging discussion on the state of migration and the conditions expatriates experience when they move.

Haringey Mayor Ali Gül Özbek

Mayor of Haringey Ali Gül Özbek, who spoke at the event, said that a person’s home is where they live and not necessarily where they were born.

“Most of my life was spent here,” he told the audience last Saturday 28 January. I continued my education here. I am now the mayor of a council. It would an injustice for me to say I am an expatriate.

“I now belong here. No-one has the right to tell me I am a foreigner – my children are growing up here.”

The remarks were provoked by the launch of a book by the author Semra Eren-Nijhar, published in Turkish and German, whose title translates as “Are there now no expatriates?”

She led a discussion with the audience on the topic of “gurbet”, a Turkish word for expatriate that often adopted a melancholic twist when used to describe the first Anatolians who moved from Turkey to Europe for work.

“The first generation of migrants felt themselves as expatriates, but this might not apply to the second generation, their children. But the third and fourth generations again resuscitated this feeling of gurbet, reopening old feelings that were once considered erased. To see this state of mind was a unexpected result for me.”

Enfield councillor Doğan Delman said Britain was a country that has received high levels of migration, with around 11 percent of the country’s 62.5 million people being of migrant origin.

“My belief is that migration will continue,” he told the audience. “Migration is something you cannot stop. People who have jobs, occupations and families here can no longer be described with this word gurbet, but they do live away from home. Anyone who lives away from their place of birth will always be an expatriate.”

Also speaking at the event was Suna Hurman, another Enfield councillor, who spoke about an expatriate’s experience in reverse.

“For me, gurbet was about my family being in the UK while I was in Turkey. For them, gurbet was them leaving their children behind in Turkey while they were in the UK,” she said.

Ms Hurman pointed out the intense emotions that countless families experienced in the 1990s, when migration picked up pace. It was not just economic factors that forced the migration, she added, but events such as the political violence in towns like Maraş.

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