SOCIETY

Immigration focus at Kozani?s storytelling fest

Hiva Panahi is a Kurdish Iranian poet, novelist and activist who has lived in Greece, where she came to make a new start, since the age of 28.

?My story as a refugee is very brief in itself, but for the Kurdish people it is the story of our lives, it is like an additional chromosome in our blood, like a shadow running behind us as though it has no end, like the poems and colors that my friends never managed to put down on paper and were scattered along the way. And it?s as though I had to collect all of these stories and colors because I feel that I am being chased by something like Othello?s ghost in Shakespeare. That?s how I experience being a refugee.?

Panahi will be appearing as one of the guests of the 3rd International Storytelling Festival in Kozani, northern Greece, which runs from Friday to May 8 and is organized around the theme of ?Refugees, Immigration, Diaspora.?

Another guest on the list is Armenian writer and teacher Quin Minasian, who also lives in Greece and who will read, together with storyteller Maria Baka, from her book ?Stories from Armenia,? which has been published in Greek by Apopeira.

?I had the good fortune to grow up without a television, among people for whom storytelling was a regular practice,? Minasian told Kathimerini. ?My father and my teachers initiated me into the world of folk tales, and especially those of the East and Armenia. Later, when I became a teacher and a mother, I understood what Giorgos Seferis meant when he wrote, ?If I talk to you with fairy tales and parables it is because you listen to it more sweetly.? I will be presenting a few folk tales from my country, so that we can remember that these are the stories of ordinary, everyday people which are so lamentably absent from our schoolbooks.?

While most events will take place at the Kozani Municipal Regional Theater, the festival will also be spread out among other venues across the city, including bookstores, the conservatory and library, cafes and the railway station.

Other notable storytellers who will be putting in an appearance are Peter Chand from India, France?s Bruno de La Salle and Gypsy couple Armel and Pepo of the Compania Audigane, who will put on a special show for May 1 with stories and songs.

Honorary guests include award-winning writers Vassilis Alexakis from Greece and Gazmend Kapllani from Albania, while Amnesty International Greece will be given a special slot in which to present a photography exhibition, documentary screenings and storytelling sessions focused on human rights.

Among the storytellers from around the world who will be appearing at the Kozani festival is also Jihad Darwiche from Lebanon, one of the world?s most renowned storytellers who will be reading from ?One Thousand and One Nights? as well as relating the stories of people who experienced the war in Lebanon, which will be co-narrated and translated by Stelios Pelasgos.

?These are the stories of simple people, which are transcended by the sheer magnitude of the war, which, nevertheless breed hope. Just like Scheherazade,? Darwiche explained.

On the theme of the festival, he added: ?Protecting the stranger in need has always been an act of honor and dignity; an act that separates man from animals. In traditional Arabic society, when a stranger would ask for refuge in a tent, the host or hostess were prepared to protect him even with their own lives. Anyone who broke this rule would be shunned by society, as though they no longer belonged to humanity.?

Armenian storyteller Minasian was born and raised in the refugee community of Kokkinia in northern Greece and is an activist for human rights and gender equality. ?The motto ?We are all immigrants? means a lot to me, as you can understand,? she told Kathimerini. ?Having observed the course of the immigration issue to date, I can?t help but wonder how in 1922, a spit-poor and run-down country like Greece was able to offer refuge even to non-registered Greeks. It was true poverty; without SUVs and villas and millions in Swiss banks. And it scares me that we are now seeing racist distinctions and fascist mentalities beginning to gain more ground. The arguments put forth by many, even the more ?progressive? among us, are not very different from those of the Nazis regarding Jews and Gypsies, or the Turks regarding Armenians and the people of the Black Sea, or white people regarding blacks and native Americans and so on… That is for chest-thumping cowards who haven?t got the guts to stand up to the powerful and faceless mechanisms.?

To find out more about the festival, log onto its website, http://kozani-festival.gr/2011/maps-EN/