Leaving one's motherland for a new home abroad takes a great deal of courage, stamina and the ability to adapt. It's not everyone's cup of tea, to be sure. So, what kind of person would pick up and move to an unfamiliar distant land, leaving behind friends and family, to start again?
For Greek-American Valantis Stamelos coming to Izmir was, in some ways, much like coming home. Up until the Turkish War of Independence in 1922, his family on his mother's side had lived in this area for centuries. Val grew up hearing many stories of what life was like in Turkey in the past from his relatives, nostalgia from a time before the rift between the Greeks and Turks.
Back in 2005, Stamelos, a former producer for MTV Networks and Nickelodeon, teamed up with his long- time friend from Syracuse University, Paras H. Chaudhari, to create their own production company, Crescent Street films. As co-writer and co-director of the award winning independent short film, Astoria Park, (as well as many other production projects) Val was already well on his way towards making a name for himself and his company in the New York film industry.
Then, however, his life took a turn. Following a short visit to Turkey in 2008, Val made up his mind to pursue his lifetime dream of living and working abroad. Naturally making a new life abroad has its appeal as well as challenges. "The most challenging aspect to living in Turkey," Val explains, "is getting a straight answer. Whether it's related to work, establishing residency, or directions to a place, it's become apparent that no one agrees on an answer, to which it can become a situation of the blind leading the blind. Not to sound negative, but it does take up unnecessary time from my day and my work."
And yet, "Having to learn the cultures and language of Turkey, while at the same time, share my background and perspective is really a life-giving experience. It gives you a genuine opportunity to build a bridge with people with an open heart and mind, that I wish more people would strive towards."
Not everybody was overjoyed with his decision. "Most of the reactions have been negative, which I can understand. But explaining my decision is like trying to convert someone to another religion. The best thing I can do is assure them of a plan that I have put together, and hopefully over the course of time, show the fruits of my labor."
And it doesn't help that there are plenty of stereotypes and misconceptions about Turkey and Turks. "The unfortunate thing is that most of the people I've argued with stake their claims about Turkey and Near Eastern culture based upon a talking box in their living room."
It's his dream to work collaboratively with local production companies and perhaps eventually work on his own projects here in Turkey. "My immediate goal is to establish freelance production work right away, say within the first 6-10 months. So far, it is happening. I have been able to produce for a few companies based in the UK, as well as work some smaller productions in Izmir." His long term goals are ambitious. "My long term goals are to establish quality production here in Izmir, Istanbul, and the Aegean region. Thus, I aim to raise the bar of production standards and produce not only for Turkish audiences, but more so for international audiences, in an effort to take production seriously here in the region."
In addition to moving to Turkey, Val also made another major life decision by marrying his Turkish fiancée last spring. In the past I have posted about his wedding party which included families from both sides of the Aegean. (see the Link) Val thinks finding love and making a new life go hand in hand. "The most rewarding aspect I would say has been experiencing a life with loved ones. Being with my wife and her family is truly a beautiful, evolving experience, that has helped my heart grow in a completely different way. "
His blog: From New York to the Mediterranean documents the challenges of starting anew of establishing himself and his business in Turkey, as well as his day to day observations about his new home. A recent blog post, The Greeks of Istanbul, describes the wanderings through the old city where once Greeks and Turks lived side by side, and the remnants of the lost Hellenic culture that still exist . Surprisingly he still find reasons for hope. "It seems that a wave of Greeks are coming back, as they love the city and feel a strong connection with it."
Being of Greek descent must provide a different perspective from the average expat. "When I see a rundown Orthodox church or Ancient Greek ruins in Turkey, I can't help but feel connected to them, and in a way, very sad. Not because I believe it is inherently "Greek", which is most common among ethnocentric-minded people, but because my forefathers lived amongst other diverse communities, only to be driven out by war. If it wasn't for war, they would still be calling those same churches home, and their Turkish neighbors brothers"
And, reflecting on his own journey, he adds, "My personal pursuit in living here is to give meaning back to those ruins. So, being a Greek-American living in Izmir symbolizes the importance of my connection to this land, as it is the start of a new beginning based on mutual understanding and respect, not affected by negativity of the past, but by the positive hopes of the future."
Courtesy of Crescent Street Films, here is a video clip produced by Valantis recently.