Being an Armenian in Turkey(6): It was the first time we were all together, and our island was a miracle
The island was a different world, a different culture in every way. Remember how Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs on their way in the fairy tale... When we were young, it was as if we found our direction and our way by collecting those breadcrumbs on the streets of the island.
My family's traditional foothold was in Buyukada* for a long time.
For some reason, we stopped going there. That's why I have very few memories of Buyukada from my childhood. Slopes in all directions, an overturned phaeton, a unique smell on the island, my story of almost falling into the deep well of an apartment building, seagulls and cats...
Enter Kinaliada... In contrast, Kinaliada occupies an important place for me. Kinaliada was a miracle... A piece of land in the middle of the vast sea on which lives are built...
Each season brings its own flavor; the season of blooming bougainvillea and the season of trees losing their leaves are both beautiful in their own way...
The way people enjoy birth and suffer death is also quite different on the island. It is also not so easy to come and go on the island. Not everyone can just come as they please. And you can't leave it just like that either...
The Karagozyan Orphanage maintains a summer camp in Kinaliada. On the top of the hill there is also a Greek monastery, where the eyes of the Byzantine Emperor Romanos Diogenes* are said to have been buried, which also offers camping facilities for students during the summer.
My first visit to Kinaliada was thanks to these two camps. First, I spent a few weeks in the Armenian camp. Hrant Dink was the head of this camp at the time. Rober Koptas, who became the editor-in-chief of Agos after Brother Hrant, was also a friend of mine from that camp. I expected my days in the camp to be a great adventure, but it was not quite the case.
One morning, after breakfast, they shaved the heads of all the guest children, including mine, with a machine.
They told us that long hair brings lice. I felt terrible.
My mother must have resented this very much as well, for she took me away from the Armenian camp and brought me to the Greek camp on top of that hill. By the way, even though Armenians and Greeks are regarded to be the same in Turkey, you know that they are not the same at all.
This means that you, as an Armenian, cannot bring your son to a Greek camp just like that. Even if you do, they will not accept you into the camp. Oh, by the way, I may have forgotten to say that my mother is Greek. It's my father who is Armenian. I was admitted to the Greek camp thanks to that fact.
I spent the rest of the summer there. Let me tell you another truth: Greeks don't have much love for Armenians. They see themselves as more urban, more sophisticated, and more educated. They are not entirely wrong. I was feeling privileged, maybe for the first time.
To begin with, the Greek camp was more elegant. As my mother handed me over to the attendant, I scratched my shaved head as I looked around the lovely courtyard of the monastery.
The monastery is a majestic stone building with panoramic views, perched on the highest point of the island, overlooking the Sea of Marmara from every angle. It is truly gorgeous, with its spacious and distinctive courtyard, the monument to its founder at the entrance, the wooden sitting areas in front of the church, and the atmosphere that always feels fresh.
Besides, how many camps are there in the world that promise so much adventure, where Diogenes' sad story could at any moment become a horror movie in a child's imagination?
Besides, at that time there were very few guest students in the Greek camp. Where would they find students? Today there are even fewer, but at that time, there were still fewer Greeks than the number of Japanese tourists in the country.
Thus began my life on the island.
All my knowledge was forged on the slopes of Kurtulus in the early days and on the streets of the island later. As I said, the island was a miracle. It was the story of lives built on a miracle.
In those years, we were neither coarse like the Kurtulus children, nor fragile like the children of our Armenian schools. We were more genuine.
One chooses people for himself. He inspects them with his hand, observes them with his eye, smells them with his heart, and if they please him, he chooses them. And from those he chooses, he forms his first tribe. I was in the process of defining a new safety zone for my life. The best thing I could do was to establish a new tribe for myself and submit to it.
Within this tribe, we had the luxury of making the rules for ourselves. Yes, we were the ones who would make the rules of this tribe; not the mother, not the soldiers, not the police, not the state, but us. In the friendships I made in this tribe, all the identities I had accumulated at that young age were already in place. Moreover, it was the first time they were all together. Both those from the neighborhood and those from school were gathered on a piece of island.
The power of having solved all the problems we were carrying around was so great that we may have given in to that power a little.
It wasn't long before we were the rowdiest, most belligerent and rascally kids on the island. But believe me, we had a lot of fun. I don't regret it in the least. Besides, we were a shield against those who came from Istanbul, made trouble, and disturbed the islanders. We were the volunteer guardians of the island.
The island was a different world, a different culture in every way. Remember how Hansel and Gretel left breadcrumbs on their way in the fairy tale... When we were young, it was as if we found our direction and our way by collecting those breadcrumbs on the streets of the island. It was only much later that I learned who left those breadcrumbs.
It turned out that ours was an island where the legendary actor Munir Ozkul, unforgettable poets such as Orhan Veli, Can Yücel and Zahrad, the famous sports commentator Orhan Ayhan and many more lived. If you are interested, look them up on the internet. Perhaps we have unwittingly followed the traces they left behind. We traced what they scattered all over the island.
After all, we were compatriots with all of them.
The Princes’ Islands: They consist of nine large and small islands and two reefs near the coast. Five of the islands (Buyukada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, Kinaliada and Sedefada), which together form the Adalar (Islands) district of Istanbul province, are inhabited. Sivriada, Yassiada, Kasik Island and Tavsan Island are not permanently and regularly populated.
* Prinkipo, largest of the Princes’ Islands.
** Romanos IV ruled the Byzantine Empire from 1068 to 1071. He ascended to the throne and gathered a large army to defend Anatolia against the Turks, but when he failed against Alp Arslan at the Battle of Manzikert, he was deposed and blindfolded by the Byzantines before losing his life.
*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.