Monday, May 30, 2011

Black Vest and White Shirt

‘The months before a wedding are a nightmare,’ a married friend told me at lunch the other day. ‘Finding a house, moving, buying furniture, managing the relatives, invitations and everything else—it’s a hot pit of stress and strain.’

We have one thing taken care of at least. We have decided to stay in Delal’s old apartment out near Çamlica hill. Her uncle repainted it for us this past week and on Saturday, we dropped by to pay him and say thanks. The usual round of tea drinking and chatting ensued. A picture on the wall of her uncle’s parents inspired him into talking about his grandmother, an Armenian who escaped the genocide by hiding among the Kurds. Her name was Makrik.

‘Weeks before the genocide began,’ Delal’s aunt began, her eyes wide with amazement at the story she was about to tell. ‘She had a dream that she was drowning. She saw a man in a white shirt and a black vest reach down in the water and lift her out, saving her. Later, when the soldiers came, everyone in her family was killed. She and her sister escaped by hiding under a pile of corpses. Then they covered themselves in mud and fled down the river, breathing through reeds. Her sister died but his grandmother found our village. She was making a living by sewing for people. Oh, but she could sew! She knocked on the door of his grandfather and there stood the man from her dream. Black vest and white shirt, just like she had seen him. Now he was already married but he told his wife, ‘There’s this girl, an Armenian, very handy with a needle and threat. She is in big trouble.’ His wife said ‘Go bring her here! At least she can help me with all these children and the housework. I can’t manage it alone.’ They married and she converted to Islam. And like that, he had saved her, just like in the dream!’

The friend I was having lunch with is married to a Turkish woman, and when I brought up the topic of the genocide he just kind of shrugged and said, ‘I think it was all just a civil war that got out of hand.’ It’s not the first time I’ve heard a foreigner buy into the Turkish government’s line, but it’s always disappointing. Marrying into a Kurdish family, I don’t really have to worry about any friction over historical matters. Delal’s aunt and uncle say ‘genocide’ rather freely. They’re from the land where it happened. They come from a people (Kurds) enlisted to help in the slaughter, whom, as far as I can tell, don’t have the same squeamishness about admitting what happened and why. Perhaps because the same thing would be attempted to some degree against them. (From the stories I’ve read of the Dersim massacres alone—the piles of bodies, the escapes down river, the excuses made for the killings—the parallels are legion)

A small step was made this past week when an Turkish-Armenian singer, Sibil Pektorosoğlu, had her song broadcast in Armenian. It was a huge first on the national channel. The comments on the newspaper article making the announcement were the usual nationalist claptrap—‘Why are we being so nice to these people?’ one asks. Referring to the celebratory tone of the article ‘Why do we go to them like beggars showering praise over their songs when Turkish singers publish great songs every day?’

Her song is here, and its a bit sugar poppy, but its a huge first in a country where admitting that more than one language exists on native soil sometimes risks a jail sentence or an assassination attempt.

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