Equal Citizens | Interview with Bryan

My name is Yohana Bryan, I am Assyrian and Ι was born on the 10th of August, 1984, in Tehran. My parents took the decision to leave the country since it was involved in a conflict with Iraq, plus the regime was theocratic (Islamic),thus opposing “infidels”. On the 11th of March 1987 we acquired the much-desired visa and came to Greece. I was two-and-a half years old.

What does Greek citizenship mean to you? Being Greek?

Personally, I understand the term “Greek citizenship” in 2 ways. The first one is based in on the formal (legal) interpretation, where citizenship means “the legal and political bond that connects a person as a citizen with the state in which he belongs”. I firstly thought about citizenship when I was in high school (in 2000). A section of the course Civil Law was referring to the citizenship term in detail, while listing the prerequisites needed in order for a foreigner to acquire the status.

In 1997 we had already been living in Greece for 10 continuous years and my parents had already initiated the naturalization process. We were told that 5 years would be needed for the procedure to be completed. Five years later, in 2002, I went by myself to raise a question regarding the course of the application. The response was that we would receive news after a few months.

In the beginning of 2003, the ministry of Public Order, forbid me and my family from renewing our residence permits. We were each given a document signed by a competent officer of the aforementioned ministry, in which it was stated that we should leave the country within 30 days. It was harsh. I went to the ministry of Public Order and demanded to meet the person who signs these papers. A colleague of him told me “I am sorry for you, we did this to at least 400.000 foreigners”. Angry and frustrated, I asked him what was he talking about, since we had been already for 16 years in Greece, had already begun the naturalization process and had no prior criminal records.

Long story short, the government voted in 2006 for a bill which allowed us to acquire residence/work permits. I was a student in the Technical University of Athens, studying Naval engineering, so I applied for a student residence permit.  The municipal’s servant responded that I should apply from another country for a student visa, enter Greece with that visa and then acquire a student residence permit. I paid for the irresponsibility of another employee, with a 7 year long abstinence from my University. Additionally, we appear to reside legally in Greece since 2006. Personally, I had to wait for 9 more years, in order to be able to initiate the naturalization process. To sum up, I would firstly describe Greek citizenship as a road to Calvary.

The second interpretation would be described as moral justification. I have been in Greece for 28 years. By acquiring citizenship, I will not become “Greek”, I will become a Greek Citizen, equal to the Greeks who live in Greece.

My first memories are found in Greece, I speak the Greek language, I think in Greek and I dream in Greek. I grew up with Greeks and the offsprings of immigrants. We watched together this country changing through the years. I studied Greek history, not Assyrian, nor Persian (partially..).

What does your parents’ country mean to you?

Since I was little, I remember my parents narrating their memories. I remember them talking about places they had been to together or separately, talking about history, events, the goods of that country, the culture, the civilization and the products. All these would always charm me and made my mind travel every time I heard about them. But I never got accustomed to the idea that I would visit all these, as long as Iran continued having an out-of-date theocratic regime which contradicts my ideas. It remains an unknown country and it saddens me that my parents had to emigrate, but at the same time I admire their courage and I feel incredibly grateful.

Do you feel that, up to now, the citizenship issue for the second generation kids was locked up away for a particular reason?

Maybe, there was no political interest whatsoever regarding our integration in the social and political events of the country. One main reason for that is the ignorance regarding the problems caused to us by that. Problems such as studies, traineeships, suffrage, travels and so on.

Another main reason is of economic nature, or should I rather say profit? For my part, I pay taxes since 2006. Whenever I buy something, I pay its’ bill as well. I differ in nothing with a Greek taxpaying citizen (born by Greek parents), except for the inevitable expenses of the residence permits renewals. Until now they were annual or biannual, and just lately became 5 year long. If you do the math, you will see that paying 150 to 300 Euros for each one of these permits, the state earns an extremely large amount of money. So, it was a significant enough reason for the government to keep the citizenship issue out of sight (until now).

Which was the most intense racist treatment you have ever undergone?

The years between 2003 and 2006 I was a student. I wanted to work at the same time in order to support financially my family. So, I went to the municipality of Daphni, where I belonged, in order to ask information regarding the issue of a work permit. I asked the first municipal servant I came across (while mentioning that I did not have a residence permit and a new bill was about to be voted by the government), which she referred me to her superior because she had no knowledge on the issue. The director, after being informed about my situation, she asked me if I had ever been stopped and questioned by the police on the street. I told her yes, it had happened several times. She then asked me how each incident would unfold. I responded then that after I would had explained to the policemen the situation and they would then leave me alone. She then responded in a hateful way that these policemen were good people and I should hide in my house from now on.

Do you believe that there are going to be great changes in your life when you  become a Greek Citizen?

Certainly, a big change is going to occur in my life when I become a Greek citizen. First of all, I will never have to feel anxious about my legal residence in the country. Sometimes I wonder, aren’t they (the civil servants) tired of watching me wait in line to renew my papers?

Since I was 14 years old, I think, I was passionate with airplanes. I studied a lot about them and when I had to apply for a University at the age of 18, I wanted to join the Air Force Academy. But this Academy, among others, demands Greek Citizenship in order to accept students… The same goes for the Navigators Academy, the Technical NCO Aviation School and all the military Schools in general. I was deeply disappointed. I ended up in the Naval engineering School in Athens. I took the bullet and in the end I loved my school. I bet that I am not the only one that could not apply for his preferred school  due to the lack of Greek citizenship.

I work in the naval business, I have visited and will visit in the future a lot of countries in order to meet my job’s demands. I recently missed 2 very good opportunities to work in some big companies because I own an Iranian passport. I face a lot of problems when I m travelling because of the very “good” treatment my birth country receives from the international community, resulting to me not being able to travel to countries like the U.S., Canada, Australia, England etc. I own a passport that does not express who I am, but obviously this is a problem that only matters to me.

What else? I will be able to vote for the election of MPs and MEPs whose actions already have an impact on me, but at the moment I cannot be represented.

Additionally, I used to face problems every time I introduced myself to people. Whenever I said my name, people would be surprised, asking where I am from. At my response they would tell me that I speak really good Greek. “I’ve been living in Greece since I was a baby”, I would respond. They would then inevitably ask me if I hold a Greek identity card. Every time I said “no” they would get frustrated and say “How is this possible? After all this time? Are you sure you tried enough?”. Yes, after all these years. About trying enough, I should describe my odyssey to everyone. Living with an expiration date in the country you feel like home is awful.

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