Saturday, October 22, 2011

I promised something funny...I lied. Oopsie

After the Hakkari Attacks

There’s this growing sense of dread.

We are walking home from the Cuban restaurant—a night of salsa and mojitos—and suddenly we come upon the place that, just a week ago, had been a Lebanese falafel cafe. They’d had everything you could want—tabouleh, humurs, falafels, shwarma and a moody but excellent Lebanese cook who also made, from his days in the Netherlands, Holland fries. The Lebanese menu is still there below the window—but everything else is different. The name is now Ali Usta’s Liver Restaurant. The men cooking at the grill are younger and don’t speak Arabic, and the signs hanging from the second floor advertise tantuni wraps and künefe instead of lamb shwarma and falafel platters. Maybe it’s because I was discussing the belief in demons with a friend back at Cubaneo (we both come from Southern evangelical backgrounds), but I have this feeling that the place is being possessed. Something about it feels different than the buildings around it—a dark energy.  It’s such a strange metamorphosis—the Turkishness slowly creeping groundward. There are thousands of liver restaurants in Kadıköy alone.  Why do we need this clone? Why can’t this one non-Turkish restaurant not fold? Does everything have to crushed into this sameness? Why can’t they leave it alone?

I used to have a dream when I was very small. I would be playing on the street and our little house on Hampton Avenue would suddenly undergo a ghastly transformation. Towers would rise out of the roof, the windows would stretch and darken until they looked like eyes, and the tree in our yard would die and twist into a mangled claw of wood and branch. When the change was complete, the windows started to glow red. And no one else noticed but me. In the dream, my mom would come come from work and call me inside for dinner, and I always awoke as we walked in the door, feeling both relief and a presentiment of some coming doom. There were demons in there.

I lie in bed with Delal that night—she asks me if something is wrong, and I can’t quite understand why this restaurant’s closing has affected me so, and so I say nothing. When I close my eyes, I see again that bright October afternoon and we are walking into downtown Üsküdar. We passed through the bazaar and into a street market, then emerged in a crowd of cops. They were everywhere, standing in groups and staring north toward a building I recognized—the BDP headquarters where Delal, Zelal, Hoca, and I celebrated the election of thirty-six independent ministers to parliament with a euphoric crowd of election workers. I remember the wall to wall crowd cheering as each new minister was confimed—there were hugs, whoops of joy, kisses on the cheek. Now the building had been completely emptied out. There were ‘For Rent’ signs on the windows though the BDP placard still hung out front.

Delal and I hurriedly crossed the street past the milling police and she called her father (the Hoca). We stopped right in front of the entrance to the street market, and she began speaking Kurdish loudly into the phone. A headscarved woman started staring at Delal first, running her eyes from head to foot in a kind of wide-eyed fear. Then a man behind her stopped to watch as well. The sound of the language had clearly disturbed them. But were either of them undercover cops? Or just potential leaders of a mob? Or maybe were they just maybe staring for no reason at all. I kept stealing glances at the party building, the windows showing empty rooms—floor after floor of nothing and yet the bright yellow BDP sign still hung out front, destined for destruction.

Red Turkish flags fly everywhere, a statement not of morning but of war. The threats from the Prime Minister’s Office increase. Official reports place the number of Turkish soldiers killed in the Hakkari attacks at 24 but uncomfirmed reports from Kurdish channels say its more likely around 80. This is the biggest PKK assault since the early 90s at the height of the undeclared civil war. Who’s telling the truth? Who knows? They’re taking back the story of the 22 batallions over the border—‘Most of our troops are operationg inside the country; the invasion story was a misunderstanding,’ they say now. How could they have gotten something like that wrong? Last night on a news program a woman said, ‘We should have completely assimilated the Kurds when we had the chance.’ Left no trace of them. Erasing a people perhaps is a logical solution for a place where a genocide and several ethnocides have never been answered for, much less called ‘wrong’.

It was a gorgeous Fall afternoon in Üskudar—crowded, noisy, but the October sky had that haunted look my dream used to have, and glancing around at the dense cluster of buildings and banks and mosques and cafes it seemed like they had undergone some sort of change—there was a spirit in them now, something demonic.

The friend who I talked with about demons has a wife who works at a school teaching business classes. Her students had told her the night before that there had been terrorist attacks by the BDP. In the minds of the mob, the PKK are the BDP are the Kurds. There’s no difference. The BDP had attacked no one, but their offices were being attacked all over the country—masses of people marching in the street crying out the glory of the Turkish nation and their soldiers. Why does mourning for soldiers you’ve never met always turn into such savagery?

Demons. My sister’s mother in law ran a church in North Carolina. At some services, they performed exorcisms. My brother-in-law told me when he was young that he remembered sitting in the back pews and watching a man come up to the altar. The preacher lay his hands on the man’s forhead and the man began to shake, then a ball of fire erupted from his body and swept past the whole congregation and out the door. He trembled when he told this story—I know he believed it. His mother confirmed it. She’d laugh and slap your knee if you questioned her about it, and say ‘Lord, honey, I cast out devils every day. That was nothing!’

We are in no immediate danger, I’m sure of it. But something is not right, here. It hangs in the air like an invisible cloud. Maybe it will pass quickly. The students at school are planning some kind of demonstration on Monday—there’s a call for everyone to wear black (though I suspect this is a rather unscrupulous attempt to get out of wearing school uniforms). At lunch, a woman got angrily up from the table when I was talking too loudly about the injustice of assimilation.

By the pricking of my thumb, the witches said, something wicked this way comes.
Nazlı Ilıcak is the journalist who said 'I wish we could have assimilated them completely, but we couldn't and now we are stuck with giving them 'democratic rights'.


Anonymous said...

Be careful yani...

Capenwray said...

Nice writing, Jeff. I saw a group of school boys, ten-year olds, doing the nationalist chant in the Gaziantep park. They had red flags and the "right" attitude. At the same time as they were acting "grown up" they suddenly broke out of their formation of mimicry to chase and knock each other down. Tackle-tag and politics.