Being an Armenian in Turkey (17): I did not like the Armenian Community; I thought it was flawed and inadequate
It was a few years after I had my military service and I felt like I wanted to tell everything I went through.
"The Book of the Unnamed Soldier" gave me the inspiration. Agos, which began publication in 1996, had already shattered the rote for all of us. Brother Hrant (Dink) had given us the confidence that "now we can speak out." The release of the truth, which had not been talked about for a hundred years, brought great excitement to all of us.
The more Brother Hrant spoke, the more we felt that we were also speaking. We young people also wanted to act, and so did I. But where to start? With whom should the first battle be fought?
They say that you first pick a fight with the surroundings in which you were born. That's what happened to me, as well. Didn't I already have problems with "our Armenians"? Surely I had problems with them... I didn't approve of them. First of all, I didn't approve of their way of life.
I didn't like the way their insular behavior, and how they inevitably became nationalistic.
I didn't like how they speak in "whispers" on the street while using big words among themselves.
I didn't like the mother who scolded her child on the street for calling her “mama,” or the fathers who instructed their children not to mention that they were Armenians.
They were full of great contradictions. It was difficult for me to recognize the completely different expressions that suddenly appeared on their faces when they went out into the street, replacing their authoritarian attitudes when they were in their own little world.
I thought they were flawed, I thought they were inadequate.
After I started writing a column in the Armenian newspaper Marmara in 2002, I mainly dealt with these issues for a long time and waged an intense struggle. It was similar to the struggle I fought against my mother.
I tried persistently to explain the importance of being at one with the larger society, trusting them, and proving that our fears were unfounded. In my own story, though, I had already fought and won those battles. I thought they didn't know the "outside" well enough.
I was a complete fool.
In 2001, a radio station called Yasam Radyo ("Radio Life") was founded with the aim of producing multi-ethnic and multi-cultural broadcasts. Some of you may remember it. They invited me out of the “quota for Armenian hosts.” That was a first. Until then, there had never been a program about the problems, music and culture of Armenians in Turkey. When I accepted the offer, I had to go back to that Armenian image that I disliked and was tired of. Just when I had moved away from it, I found myself in it again.
The managing director of the radio station was Cengiz Ayvaz. Brother Cengiz had made a documentary about Metin Goktepe, a journalist who had been murdered by the police during a demonstration, and he had received important awards and was someone I respected. That year he was preparing another documentary, this time about September 6-7. He asked me to find witnesses, people he could talk to. My mother came to mind first, but how could I ask her?
She was already berating me for being involved in all these "dangerous" activities, and now would she come and talk about those herself? I asked her and she said, "Let them come, I'll talk to them." My mother, who for years admonished us not to speak up, who warned us not to open up to the outside world, not to contact with it, was saying, "Let them come, I'll talk to them." God, protect my sanity! So they came and she talked to them. She told a story with her eyes filled with tears and her voice booming. How could my mother tell this story so well?
And why don't I know this story?
The secret of the town
"Musu Ispiro, we must take precautions!"
September 6 to 7, 1955. The apprentice who worked for my grandfather warned my family, "Musu Ispiro, bad things are going to happen today." Not only the apprentice, the whole neighborhood knows what will happen. A very organized evil will take place, and the news has already reached everyone. It's like when Hrant Dink was murdered; in our stories, it is always the case that the “secret of the town” becomes the “talk of the town” passing from ear to ear. The 6th to 7th of September was also known beforehand. My grandfather's apprentice immediately hung a Turkish flag in the grocery store and the store was only slightly damaged. But pillaging didn't only target the stores, of course.
There were still houses, churches, cemeteries and private life that remained to be attacked. In the evening, the streets were mobbed. Those who attacked held flags in their hands, and those who wanted to protect themselves from the attacks also held up flags. When the crowd passed my mother's house, someone shouted with hateful eyes, "Where is the grocer's daughter!" He must have been someone close enough to the family and familiar to the neighborhood to know that the grocer's daughter lived in that apartment building. Your neighbor, who you expect to be a bulwark in front of your house, is on the hunt for pillaging, looting, raping, thieving, extorting, in short, turning traitor and an asshole.
The family that lived on the upper floor had a daughter, Crazy Ayse. She was also a good friend of my mother's. Ayse would hang around the neighborhood, kick boys' asses, play games with them, and swear at them when she felt like it. She was a true "lad." While people were trying to find my mother's house by pointing at each other with their fingers, she opened the window in a fury, hanging halfway down to her waist, she shouted, " I am the grocer's daughter, what's the matter, you scumbags?"
The kind of shout it was, was enough to drive the men away.
My mother was a little embarrassed and uncomfortable when she told the interviewer about this. I am also embarrassed and uncomfortable writing this now. I know you are also embarrassed and uncomfortable as you are reading it.
We always talk about September 6 and 7 and think of what happened as if it were a momentary event, but in reality it is a matter of two long, unending days. Moreover, the really grave events will take place on September 7. When the clock strikes midnight and the calendar shows the first hours of the seventh of September, the word "massacre" will start to be uttered around the neighborhood.
"Tonight the massacre will begin..."
While my parents were waiting anxiously in the apartment of their Turkish neighbors, where they had found refuge the first night, the occupants of the apartment, who had done their best until that point, delivered the bad news: "You have to leave now. We cannot protect you anymore, you will get us into trouble too." What is one supposed to feel? What are we supposed to think about them? Should we be grateful to them? Should we be angry with them? Should we understand them? Believe me, I don't have the answer.
When I heard this story, I felt ashamed of myself. All these years I told my mother about a life we could share with Ahmet, Mehmet, Tayfun, Uraz and my Turkish girlfriends, but it turned out that she already had a common history with the others.
This was not a woman who came to Turkey from Greece on an embassy mission!
She grew up in Tarlabasi, she tells the story of Ayse, the story of how her neighbors protected them from the thugs, even if only for a day, and how they gave up protecting them... She had been there... She knew friendship, betrayal, the state, the crowds, the apprentice, the neighborhood. She knew and she gave up hope, she knows that it would never work... What could be worse than that? Today, when she gives me advice, she still suggests a sheltered and private family, a tight circle.
This is the story of my own family, but it could also be the story of many of us. Because everyone is hiding something out of fear. I'm not just talking about individuals here. There are whole communities that are hiding their stories. Because they are forced to... The secret of the town has been growing bit by bit each time.
May Crazy Ayse provide us with the inspiration we need, and not those crowds with their fingers pointing at the neighbor's house, those scumbags.
Because if we still have a spark of hope, we owe it almost entirely to Crazy Ayse.