Being an Armenian in Turkey (7): We had found the prototype of the “coexistence” we wished for in Turkey
No one would allow anyone to take advantage of another in Kinaliada, whether it was a local from the islands, a kebab seller, a fisherman, an Armenian, or a Greek.
We were the rowdiest of the island kids.
Yet, neither the local Muslim kids nor those of the Armenian summer residents among us were able to overcome their difficulties with their families. The question "Why do you still keep friends with those?" had been a headache for all of us. Nobody seemed to be bothered about it, though.
We proved to be the prototype of the "coexistence" that the state had always praised, "of Kurds, Turks, Circassians," as well as Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians and Jews, whom it always failed to mention.
No one would allow anyone take advantage of another, whether it was a local from the islands, a kebab seller, a fisherman, an Armenian or a Greek.
I would rather tell you what I mean through the story of a simple fight on the island. This should help you to better appreciate what I mean...
I don't remember the exact date, but it was definitely before the military service age. We're under 20 years old and it's the mid-90s. There is a road on the island that we called the "road to the pool." At the end of that road, by the said pool, was the only bar on the island where you could have some fun back then.
We didn't have much money to spend, and when we went there, we used to buy bags of beer at the grocery store and drink it on the go.
Sinan, Uraz, Tuba and Hayko the Bear are in the party that day. Tuba is not a girl in this case, his other name is Ramazan. Along the coastal road, the MHP put up posters everywhere.
Incidentally, I must admit that the MHP posters had an auspicious message.
There is a skull and crossbones on them with the words, "No to drugs!" A kind of public announcement, that is.
Those were the days when politics was harsher, when the war with the Kurds was at its peak, when news of people dying came every day. The MHP has been a threat on the streets throughout its history. Those were hot days in the schools and on the streets when the heads and eyes of our friends were slashed with blades and clubs in fascist attacks.
Hayko the Bear was carrying the bags of beer and we were merrily on our way when Sinan tore off the end of a poster he saw on the wall of a house, just for fun. Sinan knew nothing about politics, I don't think he tore it off because it was an MHP poster.
It turned out that there was a couple sitting on the boulders by the sea, cuddling and enjoying the view of the sea opposite Bostanci. The boy must have seen the poster being torn down. He jumped up from his spot and immediately scolded us. "I won't let you tear that banner down!" he said, charging at us. I guess where Sinan tore the sign was the MHP logo. The boy looked very angry, but there were four or five of us.
We warned him to stop, that he was with his girlfriend, that he was alone, that he was going to get himself into trouble, but we couldn't get him to listen to us.
He wouldn't stop shouting "flag" and "homeland" and swearing...
With a lunge, he reached for the beer cans Hayko the Bear was holding. He would take it and throw the cans at us. Hayko the Bear realized that his beer cans were threatened, and because he was indeed a "bear," he grabbed the boy and knocked him to the ground. The boy was a little surprised. He was sure that his lingo would scare us, but we would not be scared.
"Tomorrow I'll go to the Grey Wolves in Heybeliada and tell them about everything, we'll come all together and we’ll do this and that to all of you," he grumbled as he walked away.
We didn't want him to be in front of his girlfriend in this situation, but the cursing wouldn't stop! I counted our names one by one so that it would be easier for him when he gave his report.
The next day, the news reached Lutfi, who is the Grey Wolves’ representative on our island. "What is it, something happened on the road yesterday," Lutfi asked me.
Lutfi was a wild young man from the island who carried stones from the quarry in a horse-drawn cart, who could be seen driving the cart shirtless and standing on his feet. In fact, he once went so far as to punch his horse because he was angry with the animal and knocked it down. In short, he was an overly strong and wild chap.
"It's not like that, Lutfi," I said. "He swore. And he had a girl with him. We actually let him go, but he kept swearing. He got hit twice, no more than that..."
Lutfi didn't make a big deal out of it. He even said, "Look at the guy, he swears so much and yet gets away with two strokes."
You may now ask yourself: "What was this story about?" I've told you all this so I can tell you the identity of the actors involved.
Sinan: His mother was a Levantine from Istanbul, and his father was a “white Turk.” He had nothing to do with politics.
Hayko the Bear: Apolitical, Armenian. From Sivas.
Uraz: Turkish, leftist.
Me: Leftist, half Armenian, half Greek.
Lutfi: Came from a family from Erzurum, native of the island. By the way, he is a nephew of Deniz Gezmis.*
Kosta: A Greek from Heybeliada. He was pretending to be a Turkish nationalist in order to curry favor with the Grey Wolves Club in Heybeliada. He became a member in order to gain a "solid" image on the island. He found himself a story to tell about how he defended his homeland the next day.
Such was the story of Kosta the Greek who attacked Sinan the Turk for tearing a poster, of Hayko the Armenian Bear who beat up Kosta the Greek, of Hayko the half-Armenian, half-Greek who stopped Hayko the Armenian Bear, and of Lutfi, Deniz Gezmis' nephew who was the representative of the Grey Wolves...
Albanian Tuba was never involved in fights.
In 1965, he became a member of the Workers' Party of Turkey. In 1968, he took part in the protests against the visiting 6th Fleet. In the same year, he led the student occupation of Istanbul University. In 1969, he traveled to Palestine to the guerrilla camp of the Popular Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine to receive armed training and fight on the same side as the members of the PFLP. He was arrested on December 20, 1969, and was imprisoned until September 18, 1970. After his release from prison, he was supposed to be drafted into the army, but he deserted. He founded the People's Liberation Army of Turkey, an armed Marxist-Leninist organization. On January 11, 1971, he committed the robbery of the Emek branch of Turkiye Is Bankasi. On March 4, 1971, he kidnapped four Americans and issued a statement demanding a ransom of $400,000 and "the release of all imprisoned revolutionaries." The next day, security forces surrounded the Middle East Technical University (METU), considered as the base of THKO, in search of him and the Americans. Clashes broke out between students and security forces. Three people, including a soldier, were killed and 26 wounded in the 9-hour clashes. The university was closed for an indefinite period. On March 9, he released the Americans. After the March 12, 1971, Military Memorandum, he was arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. His sentence was carried out the following year on the same day as that of Yusuf Aslan and Huseyin Inan.
*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.