How Can One Not Be Hurt by the Despair of These People?

March 7 will mark 55 years since the ‘Bloody Sunday’ massacre in the city of Selma, Alabama.

On that day, police officers attacked hundreds of African-American protesters crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge attempting to travel from Selma to Montgomery.

It was one of the worst atrocities in the fight for equal rights in the United States, leaving dozens dead.

The skull of later-Congressman John Lewis, one of the heroes of the time and a close associate of Dr. Martin Luther King, was fractured after he was struck by a policeman.

“I thought I was going to die on this bridge,” he said this week at an event in Selma, “but somehow and some way, God almighty helped me here,” and he lived.

A second march followed, and the third, on March 21, gained international media coverage. One of the protesters on that day, walking across the bridge with Dr. King, was a tall, shy man: Archbishop Iakovos of America.

The now-iconic photos appeared on the March 26 cover of Life magazine.

According to testimonies, friends and associates of Iakovos tried to prevent him from participating, but he insisted.

In the Greek-American community, it was a very unpopular act for him. He received so many death threats from Greek-Americans that he was forced to hire a guard.

Years later, when I asked him why he did it, he replied to me that as a ‘Romios’ [a Greek under Turkish rule] growing up on the island of Imbros he was a second-class citizen, and he understood the pain of the black people.

“I could not, not go,” he told me.

And, as is well-known, not only was his action validated by history, but it eventually proved to be one of the highlights of his tenure.

So it is. Leaders emerge from crises and through brave actions that were unpopular at the time they were done.

And Iakovos was a leader.

With this in mind, let’s look at today’s events:

Turkey has used tens of thousands of human lives as pawns to achieve its goals in an undeclared war against Greece.

In the face of these hostile actions, Greece has no choice but to defend itself.

It has no choice but to guard its borders, to preserve its sovereignty.

And the government is doing just that. It has sealed the Evros frontier and is guarding the Aegean as best it can.

There is a big difference between legal immigrants and hordes of intruders violating the borders of a country. There are limits to what is acceptable with illegal immigration that is often tolerated.

And yet, one cannot help being moved by the magnitude of the impoverishment – the utter despair that is painted on the faces of many of these people – especially those who are carrying young children as they reach the Greek border by land and sea.

Looking at the pictures sent by the photo agencies wounds your soul.

Young children exposed to the cold; the elderly trudging for miles and miles with their suitcases or with containers on their heads filled with what remains of their most prized possessions. One woman, missing a leg but walking with crutches, is now all by herself after falling behind the others. Another woman is carrying her dog, apparently the most precious thing left in her life.

Will you tell me how the residents of Thrace and the islands are to blame?

Certainly they are not to blame.

The ones to blame are the barbarians Assad, Erdogan, and Putin, who are maintaining the horrific civil war in Syria, as well as other horribly corrupt dictators in Africa who create such poverty in their countries that they force people by the thousands to hit the road in pursuit of an extra loaf of bread.

How can one not feel pain for them, even as we consider the need, but also the obligation, of a country to protect first and foremost its own citizens?


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