Being an Armenian in Turkey (11): The old-timer did not curse the Armenians, he cursed Manchester, man!
The year was 1993; Galatasaray was on the verge of joining the Champions League.
The opponent: Manchester United, the Red Devils. The first round at Old Trafford had ended 3-3. Don’t just gawp at that, I am saying that it ended 3-3. Do you have any idea what it was to score three goals against that team, there?
Galatasaray’s squad was legendary: “Hayrettin Demirbas-Bulent Korkmaz-Reinhard Stumpf-Kubilay Turkyilmaz-Yusuf Tepekule-Hamza Hamzaoglu-Suat Kaya-Falko Gotz-Tugay Kerimoglu-Arif Erdem-Hakan Sukur.”
Manchester’s squad was a worldwide legend: “Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Lee Martin, Gary Pallister, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Bryan Robson, Ryan Giggs, Lee Sharpe, Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes.”
Manchester United took the lead when Robson scored in the second minute. Hakan Sukur scored an own-goal in the 14th minute, making the score 2-0. In the 16th minute, Arif Erdem defeated Peter Schmeichel, the best keeper in the world, from 35 meters. Kubilay Turkyilmaz brought the score to 2-2 in the 36th minute. The same Kubilay gave Galatasaray the lead in the 64th minute: 2-3. And Eric Cantona scored in the 82nd minute for the final score of 3-3.
People who have no interest in football might be bored with such details, but I simply could not avoid writing them.
The second game was at Ali Sami Yen (Istanbul).
That was the first game I attended.
Our school was at Harbiye. It is still there. Its Turkish name is Ozel Pangalti Ermeni Lisesi (Private Pangalti Armenian High School). Its original name is Mihitaryan Varjaran. The term was about to end and as a group of veteran students we had decided to skip school for the game. There was Kamer, known as Spak Kamer. There was Jilber. They were dyed-in-the-wool Galatasaray fans and went to every game, anyway. I was a good Fener fan, but did not really go to games.
Back then, it was a good idea to support our team if they were playing a foreign team. Those games were perceived as games between national teams. These days things have changed. People walk on the streets with the jerseys of the opposing team. What a shame…
As soon as the tickets were on sale, Spak Kamer was in the queue by the stadium, and got the three tickets in his pocket. There is one week to the game yet but we are showing everyone our tickets like walking billboards. Politics, economy, traffic are all forgotten. Everyone in the country is talking about the game.
I am trying to get home to Kurtulus from Besiktas in a taxi. The cab driver is a nice guy a bit past middle age.
As soon as I sat in the driver’s seat, he asked “Where are we going, son?”
Of course, I immediately took out my ticket.
“I swear I have a ticket. I’m going to the game tomorrow.”
The driver took it like it was some treasure and inspected it, returning it to me after an appropriate amount of time.
“Good for you man, the team needs support. I wish I could go, too.”
We started to make our way toward Kurtulus slowly.
He was a Besiktas fan. But he must have anticipated the football culture that would form later, as he kept talking about how such games were national matters.
He was so right.
Even though Galatasaray was our rival in the domestic league, we knew all of its players, for example. Could there be anything as anti-national as hoping that Hakan Sukur would miss when facing the goalkeeper? Completely unacceptable.
Then we began talking about our forecasts for the score. The driver was fine with a draw. That was not enough for me, of course. There was great satisfaction in saying “We’ll win by a two-goal margin.”
We kept chatting away…
We arrived at Kurtulus. Just when I was about to get out of the car, the driver held my arm and calmly uttered his final piece of advice.
“Look, son, you are a bright kid. Keep it up. People of these lands should always support each other. You will all have various different jobs in the future. Always remember this advice. There may be those here and there who secretly wish Manchester to win. Don’t pay attention to them. Why would we support fucking Armenians when we have our teams, man?”
The car sped away. I was stood in the middle of the street for a while.
What had just happened? The driver did not know I was Armenian, so how did the matter get to this point? Wasn’t he the nicest guy? Why did he curse at me after such a nice chat? Fucking hell… The driver did not curse at me, after all. He cursed Manchester. But isn’t Manchester an English club? I guess this guy is a bit ignorant. Could he be this ignorant, though? I went inside with all these questions raging in my mind, and went straight to my room without greeting anyone. I did not tell anyone about this incident. I did not tell the kids in our class the next day, either. What’s the point in getting upset before the game?
Finally, the day had come. We were in the stadium before noon. Back then, if you made it into the stadium eight hours before the game, you made it. Otherwise, they might not let you in even if you had a ticket, God forbid.
When you watch on TV, the game lasts 90 minutes. In the stadium, it felt like it was over in 25 minutes. This guy takes a shot, that guy takes a corner kick, was that an offside and so on. Before we knew it, it had ended 0-0. Nevermind the score, our Galatasaray had proceeded to the next round. The whole country was churning. Anyone with a flag was on the streets. We had last seen such a thing when Tansu Ciller had us join the Customs Union. Half of the crowds were headed toward Taksim Square, the other half heading to the stadium at Mecidiyekoy.
Hours went by, we started to get tired. Fine, we’ll go back home, we’ll talk about it at school tomorrow anyway. We are trying to walk toward Osmanbey from Sisli, but it wasn’t possible. Let’s go on the back streets. We’ll pass by our school and reach Kurtulus via Ergenekon Avenue. But those streets had been discovered by the crowds, too; well, it was crowded, but at least you could take 37 steps in an hour. There is some commotion up ahead. The crowds are very angry. Now what. Who would fight on such a day, right? And all the pandemonium was taking place in front of our school. What are they stoning over there?
The “Private Pangalti Armenian High School…”
In other words, Manchester United, I guess…
We arrived at the school in the morning. Kamer, Jilber and I had gone home without talking the previous night. We did not talk in the morning, either. The little ones recited “Our Oath” and we went into the classrooms. We sat at our desks. The subject was history. Neriman Hoca was lecturing.
“Everyone who lives in Turkey is a Turk, kids. Your sub-identity is a different matter, but this is something else. Do not forget.”
My desk was right by the window. The glass was broken at four places, and they had patched it with plastic wrap. Still, cold air seeped in. I felt this cold for the first time.
The old-timer driver was not ignorant, after all…
*Hayko Bagdat was born in Istanbul in 1976, as the fourth child of an ethnic Greek mother and an Armenian father. After attending the Armenian schools Esayan and Mkhitaryan, he began studying history at Istanbul University in 1994. Due to the unexpected death of his father, he was unable to complete his studies. He began his journalism career in 2002 with a program on a radio station covering minority issues for the first time in Turkey, and worked as a journalist, columnist and commentator for Turkey's mainstream media. In 2007, Bagdat was among the founders of the "Friends of Hrant" group, which was formed after the murder of journalist Hrant Dink and that continues its search for justice. Bagdat's first book on being an Armenian and 'the other' in Turkey, Salyangoz (Snail) was published in 2014, his second book, Gollik, in 2015, and his third book, Kurtulus Cok Bozuldu, in 2016. His one-man stage performance "Salyangoz," based on his book, thrilled audiences in many cities in Turkey in 2016 and was subsequently acclaimed with tours all over the world. In 2017, Bagdat moved to Germany and continues to work as a journalist and producer in Berlin.