Being an Armenian in Turkey (8): Mino - The most beautiful woman on the island, and its most handsome man
Mino's island, the island's Mino
Oh, Mino! Beautiful Mino... Mino the Armenian... Real name: Mihran…
Kinaliada, the first island when you sail from Istanbul, is the smallest of the Princes’ Islands. It is not much bigger than the palm of your hand. You can walk around it entirely within 40 minutes. By bicycle, it's 20 minutes tops; and that is at a leisurely pace.
The gentry, the bums, the frumps and the scruffs all have to pull off their tricks on a quick stroll by the sea, because that is its only avenue.
On this promenade you will find restaurant Mimosa. Rich Armenian women have their hair done and dress as if they were going to a wedding when they dine there for the evening.
With its battered wooden chairs and rickety tables, if you would hand it to a fishmonger, he would make a shabby shack out of it. And yet, it is the finest the island has to offer in those days.
That is to say, Mimoza is the place to go if you feel like sprucing up...
Here, in Mimosa, where my uncle Bartev, who was the most important person performing Armenian music in Turkey at that time and still is, was performing, is where I see Mino for the first time.
Mino is sitting at the front-row table, wrapped in stylish tights beneath his bare torso and sporting a charming look on his handsome face.
In contrast to his nakedness, he is flanked by frumpy women topped with birdcage hair and sporting sumptuous ornaments, over-groomed men clad in necklaces that jump out of their shirts with four buttons undone; in short, the high-society of a small island.
They seem to be listening to Bartev, but everyone is impatient for the mike to come to Mino's table. Finally the moment arrives. Mino greets the whole room with a naive bow of his head and starts singing in the most teasing voice I've ever heard:
"The air is filled with a pungent smell of coal,
The doors close before the sun sets.
you are the only trace that remains in my dreams, from this dreary quarter resembling an opium den!
Golden bracelets on your wrists
Would tickle all men deep down.
Your short skirts fluttered in the wind;
At the most, you sang obscene songs.
The flirtatious girl of our neighborhood, oh Fahriye!"
What's going on here? What time are we in? Where are we? What spell has Mino cast on us?
It's not yet time for the waiters to start serving. It's been minutes, when will this applause come to an end?
Both men and women are in love with Mino; that much is clear. He is the most beautiful woman on the island, she is its most handsome man.
The next day, Mino is beside a fishing boat, rejoicing over the treasures that fill its nets. The following day, next to the old men playing pots and pans in the café, he lets out an extravagant expletive for the card that he just cannot draw, which leaves everyone On another day, a famous star arrives on the island for a concert. First thing they do is to ask for Mino. It turns out that Mino is an old friend of the superstar.
While I am about to deem myself a hero just for giving up on the idea to do identity checks for admissions to the tribe that I am in the process of forming in this life limited to a few narrow streets, Mino has rallied the whole island around him, teaches them poetry, manners and about grandiosity.
Mino died young.
Shortly before his death on a Saturday night, he performed on the island wearing fabulous makeup and costumes that would have made Marilyn Monroe green with envy.
And since his death, the island has not been able to produce a more dazzling and captivating story to tell anyone about itself.
*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.