As if we don’t exist: The Greek-Pakistani gay couple who were brutally beaten up
15 May 2015 10:12 am
In August 2014, art teacher Kostas and asylum-seeker Zabi were violently attacked while out in Varnava Square, in Athens, Greece. To mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on 17 May, they explain how the assault has left them feeling afraid for their safety.
Kostas: We had met a couple of months previously at Athens Pride, and we had decided to move in together. We lived in a small studio in central Athens. One day in late August, we went to buy some things from the shop, and I suggested spending some time outside instead of going back home.
Zabi: We sat on a bench on Varnava Square, near home. It was really hot, and there was a nice breeze outside. The square was relatively empty. Athens is quiet at that time of the year, everyone is away. It was just us, the corner shop that was slowly closing, and a group of young men on the other edge of the square.
K: We didn’t pay much attention to them. We sat there and talked, we had a laugh. We couldn’t imagine what would follow. Two of them approached us from behind on a motorbike and threw a bucket full of dirty water on us. After this initial shock, Zabi wisely wanted to go. I was paralysed. I sat back trying to calm down before we headed home. Big mistake. One by one, they ran towards us, and started punching and kicking us.
Z: There were around twelve or fifteen of them. Too many. They kept hitting us.
‘They broke my leg in three places’
K: I think they could tell we are a couple, and they targeted us because of that, and because of Zabi’s skin colour. Last thing I saw was Zabi being thrown on the pavement. I saw them kicking him. I couldn’t see anything after that. I realised that my head and upper body was inside a trash-bin that they had overturned. They threw me on the ground, and a few seconds later they broke my leg in three places.
Z: The result is what you can see here.
K: The police arrived but no one talked to me directly. The police officer wouldn’t come near me, as if I was contagious. The only reason this was not buried under the carpet was because a journalist happened to pass by. We then became known as the ‘Varnava Square incident.’ <Insert photo>
It was a tragedy. It took me months to recover. I had to have surgery, of course. It severely affected my job, my mental health – we both had a really rough time. Now, my leg might be ok, but whenever I see any kind of violence, everything comes back to me, all the horror and fear. It is tragically painful.
And no one has been punished for this. Police should try harder.
Z: I don’t think they handled it well.
‘No recognition of our rights’
K: When we met, Athens Pride was celebrating ten years. I was happy that the community is becoming bigger and bigger, but not much has changed for LGBTQI people in Greece. Meeting Zabi was a beautiful surprise. When I first met him, I didn’t give a second thought about him being foreign, I just liked him.
Z: We haven’t been apart since, now almost a year. But we had to move to another area because of the attack. And then it happened again – I was attacked again.
K: This keeps happening, to us and to people we know. We don’t feel safe. Our first reaction was to try to get out of Greece, go somewhere else, somewhere safer… There’s no recognition of our relationship or our rights here. It’s like the government condones the attacks by not recognising our relationships, by not acknowledging we are real. That we have the right to exist, safely. The new government said they want to improve the situation, to end hate crimes and recognise same-sex couples, and, of course, that’s a good thing. But it should have happened a long time ago, before we had to mourn victims. And it hasn’t happened yet!
Z: I find it bizarre too. I came from Kashmir to Greece in 2009. It was a dangerous journey – they hid us like animals in trucks, coffins… I got detained, and now, at last, I am waiting to hear about my asylum application.
I came here for a more dignified life. Things in Pakistan for gay people are really tough. You are constantly at risk, there is no recognition, rights or protection for people like us. Things are a bit better here, but then you have racism. And there is no recognition, rights or substantial protection for LGBTI people in Greece either.
It is as if we don’t exist.
Show your support
To mark the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on 17 May, please send your message of solidarity to Kostas and Zabi on Twitter, using the hashtag #KostasZabi. Tell the Greek government (@govgr) to end hate crimes, and stand against homophobia and racism. For example:
#KostasZabi: not invisible, not alone. You have the #righttolove without fear. Greek gov must end #HateCrimes