Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Istanbul Weekend-Armenians

Istanbul has finally started to be cold, halfway through January. On Saturday, I went with Delal to the European side. In Taksim Square there was a memorial march for Hrant Dink, the Armenian journalist assassinated here a couple of years ago. The killer was a teenage boy, but everyone is certain that some nationalist/fascist government organization was behind the whole thing. So we marched.
Everyone had signs. Mine was in Kurdish and Turkish, "For Hrant! For Justice! Ji bo Hrank..." Delal's was in Armenian. Three of her friends from work were there, a red headed bearded Armenian man (the accountant at her company), his buddy, and then a third guy who thrust his hand into the middle of all of our introductions, and in a stern unsmiling face loudly announced his name. "He's classic Armenian activist!" Delal whispers. "You can tell by looking." He wore a beret, a black and white scarf, and devil's goatee. He darted around like a piece of popcorn, looking here and there with jerks of his sharp chin. When the shouting started, his voice was the loudest. It exploded behind me and made me jump, everyone else turned to stare before shouting themselves. "Hepimiz Hrantiz, Hepimiz Ermeniyi-iz!!" We are all Hrant!! We are all Armenian!!" Delal grabbed a bunch of fliers to hand out and thrust some into my hand. A man with thick, flowing white hair and a bushy moustache made some opening statements through a megaphone. "We must remember the broken body, shot dead on the sidewalk! He died because he spoke out for brotherhood!" Then began the march. We commanded the whole width of the Istiklal Avenue and the tourists and shoppers and teams of boys out scouting for girls had to pull to one side and flatten themselves against the shop windows as we passed. A few people glared at us in hatred, many smirked, some took fliers. "Hrantin katili biliyoruz! Adaleti istiyoruz!" We know who Hrant's killer is. We want him brought to justice!" I did my best to shout, but felt self-conscious. I'm just not used to this sort of thing. Delal asks me how to say "kortej" in English. "Dunno. What is it?" I ask. "Uf! You know, when you march, each political party lines their people up in rows and they move together, each with their own signs." "I'm not sure we ever do that," I say. "Don't you protest?" "Well yeah, but, it's not really organized into groups or whatever. I have no idea what you'd call that." "Kortej! We get it from English." "Sorry, never heard of it."
There are cameras everywhere, TV cameras, big photojournalist cameras, zoom lenses, polarized lenses. Many times they are pointed at my face. I try to smile. Istiklal, where we are marching, has been the scene for a lot violence in the past. Police tear gassed May Day protesters, for example, just last Spring. And we are marching for an issue we are technically forbidden to discuss. Armenian is a naughty word. I can't help wondering where these pictures will end up. "Half of these photographers work for the government," Delal whispers. The march stops at the Galatasaray High School, an old building from the Sultan's days smack in the middle of Istiklal. The Sultan's seal is in scarlet and gold on top of the spiked gate. From an opera house across the way, a writer comes out. He's so short I can't see him over the heads of the crowd. He reads something, a statement of solidarity, and everyone cheers, whistles and ululates. Behind us I can't help notice a table that says "America! Get the Hell Out!" Young leftists in yellow and red are handing out fliers. "Should I go talk to them?" I ask Delal. "They don't mean you! They mean your government."

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