Being an Armenian in Turkey (9): Three Armenians at the Friday Prayer

Being an Armenian in Turkey (9): Three Armenians at the Friday Prayer
Update: 25 October 2022 18:31
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As we carried Bulent's coffin from the mosque to the cemetery on top of the hill, let our voices mingle with the Greek, Armenian and Arabic prayers recited tearfully out the windows.

We were proceeding to do what we most wanted to do, that is; we were growing at full speed. We could not contain our growth. The days were rushing by and were behind us before we knew it. They went so fast that it got to a time of dying. Bulent…

He was another significant color for the island wasn’t he? He was young; yet he was a very good captain beyond his years. He was a ruffian, a genuine badass. He loved the sea; he used to get lost in his thoughts as he gazed out to sea.

Naturally, sailing ran in the family; Bulent's older brother was also a sailor, and a good friend. One day the news came in: Bulent was suffering from a brain tumor. We were devastated...

He had to undergo a serious and risky operation. A very good doctor, one of the leading specialists in this field, could have performed the operation, but he would need a lot of money. We started raising money on the island.

I remember laying Bulent's photo on a table and asking for money from our Armenian associations. There was a young man that came up and recognized the person in the photo who said, "Why should I give money, this Bulent beat me up last summer."

I got very angry with him, because I had learned something from my mother: "That's one thing, this is something else!"

The owner of the boat he captained on the island was a wealthy Armenian businessman. He covered the expenses of the operation and Bulent had his surgery. We thought we were rid of the damn thing, but then we learned that it came back.

Bulent departed at a tender age. And we were left behind to hold his funeral.

His body rested in the mosque overnight. We kept vigil in pairs until morning, taking turns at the door of the house of worship with its strange minaret, to which there is not one alike in Turkey. "His funeral will take place tomorrow after noon prayers," the loudspeaker announced to the community.

The next day, just an hour before the call to prayer, we showed up at the doors of the mosque: Nishan, Hagop and I.

There was an uncle Haji, a municipal worker who saw us and uttered, "Kids, if you are going to enter the mosque, better if you do your ablutions." That turned out to be a fairly simple affair that we performed at uncle Omer's barber shop with a little bit of guidance.

We went to the back of the mosque and joined the last row, but with the call to prayer, a large crowd moved in and we found ourselves caught in the middle of the crowd. Lazy folks; as if it would kill them if they got there a little early.

The imam began the prayer. Nishan and I tried to go unnoticed by kneeling down when everyone prostrated and rising to our feet when everyone stood up. We agreed on this before we had to speak. We had to be synchronized or we could be offending others.

Hagop, for his part, turned out to more keen than expected; the trickster prays with more flair than everybody else, and mutters "Allahu akbar” now and then.

When we got down on our knees for the last time, inwardly rejoicing that we survived this ordeal already, the whole mosque swiveled their heads toward us. We did not hesitate to turn our heads in the same direction, but only to catch the gazes of the people in that direction. We failed to concur this time, but it turned out that at the end of the prayer, you greet on both sides with a bow of the head. Despite all their sorrow, the congregation grinned at our efforts, our condition, or our expressions.

We came out of the prayer.

The imam was saying, "Now let's keep the rows tight for the funeral prayer in the courtyard."

But then, what were we doing inside during all that time, Mr. Imam, sir?

As it turned out, we were performing the Friday prayer.

At our funerals, a special service is held only for this occasion, and the ceremony takes place in the church.

Couldn't you just let us know up front that Friday prayers are one thing but funeral prayers are another? Anyway, it was all good, we scored an odd good deed or two while Bulent's soul received a few extra prayers, no big deal.

As we carried Bulent's coffin from the mosque to the cemetery on top of the hill, let our voices mingle with the Greek, Armenian and Arabic prayers recited with tears from the windows.

We commemorated his name, may he sleep in serenity...

*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.