Sunday, September 27, 2009
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Balkan immigrants from all over the world are gathering together online. Featuring the slogan, 'The only address you can't leave,' a new Web site is helping long-lost relatives find each other again !
Balkan emigrants have banded together to found an online community. The Web site serves to unite fractured families and bring together Balkan people around the world under the slogan, “The only address that you can’t leave.”
It is not easy to become a member of the Web site at http://www.balkanskidom.com. A referral is required for membership. Each user has a nickname and only the administrators of the site know the users’ real names. Members’ conversations are strictly moderated to avoid nationalist arguments. Those who break the rules have their memberships revoked.
Cevat Güngör, the founder of Balkanskidom, has Bosnian roots. His family emigrated there from Macedonia in 1968. Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, Güngör explained the rationale behind the Web site, saying, “While searching a Bosnian site two years ago, I encountered extreme nationalist rhetoric. I didn’t like it and founded this Web site in response.”
As people from the Balkans spread across the world in the 1960s, they lost all traces of many relatives. Güngör said lots of people have reunited with their families thanks to the Web site. “One of the most interesting reunions occurred last year. Two members living in the United States and Turkey respectively found out that they were actually related after many conversations through the site, and finally met in person. The reunion was very emotional. Such surprises happen all the time and we are overjoyed when we help people to find each other. Our hope is to bring everyone together.”
World remained silent to Bosnian tragedy
Mithata Liçina is another administrator of the site. Liçina is a proud Bosnian like Güngör, but she never gives credence to nationalistic views. Her family is just one of many who immigrated to Turkey as a result of the immigration agreement between Turkey and Yugoslavia in 1968. “Turkey is my homeland. I am very happy to be here,” she said.
“If my family did not immigrate to Turkey, we would have remained in Bosnia. This would have been a disaster. I am sure that I or my family would have suffered immensely.”
Right after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia also began to collapse. The government of Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence following a national referendum. Bosnian Serbs responded by declaring their own independent republic and the bloody war in Bosnia began.
Liçina said the whole world remained silent to the cruelty in Bosnia. “International public opinion largely ignored the incidents in Bosnia. Thousands of women were raped during this dirty war. As a woman, it is impossible for me to forget this cruelty.”
We did not grow up with fairy tales
“We did not listen to folktales during our childhood but we grew up hearing the real and painful experiences of our relatives who lost their lives in the war,” said Liçina. “My generation did not have a childhood.”
Just like Liçina, Güngör grew up with bitter stories of his family’s plight, but he always longed for his homeland. He decided to fulfill his longing in 2000, and for the first time in his life he went to his ancestral home of Macedonia. “My father told me about the country that he left 37 years ago in such a way that I did not feel like a stranger when I arrived, everything was so familiar to me,” he said.
Güngör said he has since seized any opportunity to visit his homeland. “I am always creating opportunities to go there. I feel jealous of my friends and relatives there every time I visit. This is an elusive feeling to pinpoint.”
Longing for the homeland
The first generation that immigrated to Turkey and the second generation that grew up abroad could not visit their homeland due to financial difficulties. “The third generation was very lucky,” said Liçina. “The world is not the same it used to be. It is now possible to go everywhere, despite the remaining difficulties.”
Güngör never thinks of emigrating from Turkey. “I am very happy living here. I want to be a part of a place,” he said. Liçina is pleased with being in Turkey, too, but she said she would be able to live in the land from which her family emigrated if she got the chance.
Güngör said immigrants with Balkan origins do not have a problem with identity and belongingness in Turkey. “The only problem we have is that our culture is not documented. There is little written history of the Balkan culture. This is a big deficiency. One of the major missions of this Web site is to form a Balkan cultural database.”
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Voices of site users
A user known as LijiVoVica, who did not reveal his real name, is of Albanian origins. His father is from Macedonia. Other family members are Bosnian and Pomak. “It is very nice to be a member of this Web site. You have to specify your ethnic identity when you become a member of other sites. But I am all of them. All children of the Balkans can gather on the same Web site,” he said.
Another member, named Isadora, is from Thessalonica and she is also pleased with the aims of the site. “We are the grandchildren of people who left their homelands because of war,” she said. “Minority or majority, immigrant or not, on this site we are the common voice of the Balkans.”