Being an Armenian in Turkey (22): FINAL: Forgetting to be silent, learning to speak
Part of it, I’ve written.
My enjoyable, lonely, crowded, sheltered, vulnerable childhood has come to an end. My wild and enraged, but always joyful first moments of youth. The same youthfulness which only became further confused as it thought it understood, the same youthfulness which first met contradictions. Gone.
Now, I am the father of two children. And tell no one, but my beard has a smattering of gray hairs.
And so, what have I taken from all that has transpired? There is so much that I seem to be yelling out into the world…
I do not know whether my childhood memories are good or bad… I do not know whether I look upon them fondly… I do not know whether I emerged from all this stronger, or even more wounded…
It’s just that I was unable to carry the cumulative weight of the motivations of the crowds and the masses. One by one, I conquered all those things held sacred by others to which I could have surrendered myself… But you know, it’s simpler, sometimes necessary even, to depend on people, or on the things that others all consider to be reasonable. This gives one faith. It seems I persistently fashioned with my own hands this faith in various ways, groping around in the unknown by rule of thumb. It seems I made up a term for this, and called it a “tribe.”
Perhaps nothing is as ideal as I make it out to be. Perhaps this is simply the way that I describe it. Perhaps this is only the way I want to see it. Perhaps I’ve solved the secret to life. Perhaps it truly is like this…
Will all these things I’m writing teach me anything in the end? Perhaps by reading this book I might be able to learn a thing or two about my life.
I saw women with neck rings for the first time in my childhood on the television. A tribe in South America…
That tribe possesses a knowledge that is outside humanity’s universal aesthetic standards. Starting in their early childhood, rings are put around the necks of girls. Over time, each ring changes the girl’s appearance, the shape of her body. With each ring, the woman experiences bigger and newer pains. These pains persist until the body accepts the presence of the ring and becomes one with it.
Just as the body has accustomed to it, the next ring is placed.
The woman with the longest neck is considered the most beautiful in the tribe. Yet when you and I look upon her, we become enraged and uneasy. To the rest of the world, this is a terrifying sight indeed. Natural creation has been changed. That which is acceptable, legitimate, and ideal has been changed…
Yet the woman who is treated by the tribe as if she is a work of art seems always to be proud and happy.
From then on, these women are never able to remove the rings from around their necks because their necks snap the moment they rid themselves of the metal. The body and the spine, without the support of the rings, can no longer keep the head on the torso. When you remove the rings, you die…
A ring-necked woman’s perspective on life affords her an advantage we do not have.
She is able to look down at us from at least a head or a head and a half above the rest of us.
I think I’ve begun to perceive everything that I experienced in life as a ring of my own. From the outside, with all that I know and all that I have experienced, I give a different impression: one beyond the confines of all supposedly legitimate or acceptable identities. Because as the “other” among the masses, I had to be able to make sense of all the states and situations beyond what is taught or conveyed by society.
And each time I understood this, I put on another ring. Then, enough time passed for me to get accustomed to its presence.
To be Armenian, to not be Armenian; to be Turkish, to not be Turkish; my mother, Sadri Alisik, September 6-7, the island, Mino, Ali, my marriage, my children, politics, my life…
Yet another ring was placed around my neck with each matter. I do not know whether this should make me happy or sad.
Because you are destined to die the moment you remove the rings.
Will I be incapable of carrying the things inside my head, and my head itself, without those rings?
I do not know if I have the courage to add new rings.
Is this in my hands? Am I the one who makes this decision?
Did I place these rings around my own neck with my own hands, or did someone force me? Or have certain rings been placed around all our necks at an early age?
Were new ones added before the pains of the previous could be forgotten? Or did I grab them and put them on myself, I do not know.
But, if I am to always describe myself in relation to a tribe, and if you were to ask, “which tribe in the world does your tribe resemble?” I would respond without vacillating, and I would say to you, “I would love to be of the tribe of the Ring-Necked Women.”
I think that is where I am from…
*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.