Afghan teenagers listen to lecture on the 1922 Catastrophe
By Iris Samuels
The Benaki Museum in Athens is an unlikely place to find teenagers on a hot summer afternoon. Yet on a recent Saturday, two 16-year-old boys were roaming amid ancient statues and Ottoman-era jugs, arms crossed awkwardly over gangly bodies. They were fascinated.
In their t-shirts and sneakers, they looked like nothing so much as Greek schoolboys on holiday. But Karim and Amir were refugees [GlobalReporting is not using their real names to protect their families abroad.]
They fled Afghanistan early this year because, they said, staying would risk pressure from ISIS or the Taliban to join their causes. They are part of a contingent of refugees younger than 18 who have journeyed to Greece all alone.
On the third floor of the museum, they came across an image of the city of Smyrna — modern day Izmir, Turkey — engulfed in flames in 1922. The painting depicts what Greeks call The Catastrophe, a war that sent one million Turkish Christians into small unseaworthy boats bound for Greece. For the boys, this was not the first time they had considered the parallel between this historical event and their own journey out of Izmir by boat, just a few weeks earlier.