“The Turks are always very friendly,” almost all Kastellorizo’s residents agree when asked by Kathimerini, and many go on to point to Gogo and Kerem.
I don’t know if it’s my hunger speaking, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen more appetizing fried calamari than that being tipped out of Gogo’s pan in the kitchen of the Athena taverna. Like all the other tavernas and cafes on Kastellorizo, it’s packed. It looks like everyone has turned up in their Sunday best for Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou’s visit to the southeastern Aegean island as it celebrates the anniversary of its liberation. Even a turtle honors us with its presence, swimming among the fishing boats in the harbor hoping for a snack.
“Ready!” Gogo says as she places the plate on the serving counter, before turning to me and asking: “So, who told you about me?” The answer is many people. The story of Gogo, a Greek, and Kerem, a Turk – who met, fell in love, got married and have lived on the island for the past six months despite the acrimony, the angry rhetoric and the hostile media is a story the islanders love to tell.
“I’ve been coming here since 1999 and I’ve never been afraid,” Sotiria Daniilidou had told me earlier in the day as we sat down for coffee at the port of Kastellorizo, which lies roughly 2 kilometers from the Turkish coast and is one of the hot points of the Aegean. She’s obviously not very comfortable talking to the press. People on the island have repeatedly stated one thing and had another be reported. Fear sells.
“My son and his wife have lived here on Kastellorizo for years and they’ve never had any problems,” adds Anna Martala from the next table.
“The Turks are always very friendly,” continued Daniilidou. “We’ve even had mixed marriages! Have you met Gogo?”
‘I was fanatically anti-Turk at the time… I made his coffee with tap water, which is undrinkable’
Gogo met Kerem on June 20, 2019, at this very taverna. A mechanic on the touring boats sailing between the Turkish coast and the Greek island, Kerem often stopped here for coffee.
“I was fanatically anti-Turk at the time. I couldn’t even look at him. I made his coffee with tap water, which is undrinkable,” admits Gogo.
Kerem was patient until one day, he took her by the hand and asked her to talk with him. “You’re a person and I’m a person. I love the same way you love,” she remembers him telling her. “He talked to me in simple, human terms and I started to look at things differently,” says Gogo.
Their flirtation soon blossomed into a relationship. “My parents didn’t want him. Only my grandfather said: ‘Take him, but go.’” Six months later, the young couple moved to Turkey. “I was apprehensive at first; I didn’t know what I was up against, what I would find there, whether he would treat me well. We keep being told that Turks are barbarians. All I have to say is that we’re the barbarians in many ways. My mother-in-law welcomed me into her home and her heart, and was my rock when I missed my family. She never pressured me. ‘There’s only one God,’ she’d say.”
Another thing that surprised her was the fact that normal Turks did not seem to spend so much time worrying about Greece as Greeks do about Turkey. “They don’t care about the island or what [Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos] Mitsotakis said. It’s the journalists who are frightening us, stoking fear by the way they report things,” says Gogo.
Gogo and Kerem spent most of the pandemic in Turkey and returned to Kastellorizo six months ago. Seeing how well suited the couple was, Gogo’s parents also opened their home and hearts to Kerem. As did the other islanders. “Kerem has more friends than I do now,” quips Gogo.
The couple are already joined in civil matrimony and had planned to hold a church wedding this Saturday, on September 17. The wedding was moved to next year, however, after Gogo’s grandfather died.
“As soon as a year has passed,” says Gogo, taking a moment, before grabbing the frying pan again.
People come and go outside. So does the turtle, who has found a safe haven in the harbor’s balmy waters. No one knows where she’s from: the nesting beaches of Rhodes or the southwestern coast of Turkey?