Being an Armenian in Turkey (2): If we were the minority, who was the majority?
I had to ask new questions of life: “If there could be good people outside the bubble, how could I identify them? How many of these good people were there? When would I get to know them? How could I meet them?”
We were a minority in Turkey, there was no doubt about it.
Well, if there was a minority, there had to be a majority. But who was this majority?
"The majority is always wrong, the minority is rarely right," Henrik Ibsen once said. In my childhood perception, instead of minority and majority, there were "the good guys" and "the others."
Those who were one of us were, of course, the good guys. But in this case, were the rest, the bad guys?
Sadri Alisik, for one, was a good guy. I met him on the black-and-white television my father brought home. He was a hero. In the movies, he always made friends with kids my age. And he protected them, too. He protected them from all the bad guys.
He had all the qualities that would make him a hero for a kid. He was certainly good; I mean, he was a good person. He was funny, too. He would cross his hand from the middle of his forehead to his nose, and he greeted everyone with class. So he must have been one of us. In other words, he must have been a member of the world of good. Sadri Alisik was the Marlon Brando of Turkey. He was a real star. And he was one of us...
One Easter Day, I stole the red eggs that my mother had dyed, put them in a small basket and gave them back to my mother to send to him. "Mom, can you get them to Sadri Dayday (Uncle)? Don't forget to celebrate his Easter. Tell him about me."
She did not know what to say. "Son, Sadri Alisik doesn't celebrate Easter. He is not one of us," she murmured.
Sadri Alisik was not one of us! He was just one of the rest of those on the street. The others, I mean...
Did that mean Sadri Alisik was dangerous too?
No, he was not, I knew he could not be. How could such a man be dangerous? How could he be a bad guy? What was I to do now, knowing that the good guys could only be the remnants in this bubble that consisted of our household and its large circle? That felt terribly confusing, horribly alienating. But what about the indisputable truth in the house?
What about the us and them? Sadri Alisik is us, Sadri Alisik is good, Sadri Alisik is ours, isn't that right, mama? He greeted each of us with his fatherly smile. He did not separate us from each other... So, I was in a difficult situation. I had to make a decision about Sadri Alisik.
Then I had to ask new questions of life: “If there could be good people outside the bubble, how could I identify them? How many of these good people were there? When would I get to know them? How could I meet them?” It may have been risky, but now it felt indispensable for me to get off the beaten path and take a look into the beyond.
And this was all because of Sadri Alisik. He broke my "circle of safety." When I left this circle of safety, did I really go to the dangerous side? Or did I become free? Was my love for Sadri Alisik the reason that ended my imprisonment?
Maybe I still love him so much because he made me ask myself these questions.
I had decided to come out! I was going to do it, and who do you think I met first? The state of the Turkish Republic!
"Don't be afraid," the state said. "We are all equals!"
"We are all Turks," it said. "This is your flag, this is your national anthem, these are your soldiers!" Okay, this is a very good idea. It's a great idea!
And what could be as attractive to an elementary school boy growing up in Turkey as the flag, the national anthem, and the figure of a soldier? I now had a flag, a national anthem and thousands of soldiers.
According to this wonderful idea, it was no longer necessary to have the sacred things in competition. Perhaps I had found new toys of which we could say: "These are ours," without disguising them, concealing them, hiding them from each other. In any case, Jesus and Mary could remain in my pocket for the time being.
If I could convince myself that the "bipolar" world my parents told me about was actually a bit of an exaggeration, maybe all my problems would end at that point. I could also relate to the sacred things of those big crowds then.
And no less than the "state" itself said that this was possible, that we were all equal, that we all had a say. It could not be lying, could it? And surely my mother could not know better than the state, right?
I decided to give what the State was saying a chance!
*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.