Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Small Update

It’s been over three months at this point since mamoste was arrested. (I am tired of writing father-in-law—it sounds too formal and cumbersome. Mamoste, which is pronounced mah-moh-stay and means teacher in Kurmanci Kurdish, is what most people call him and how I address him in letters so…it’s mamoste here, too.) They have been arresting others left and right—just yesterday the head of the academy where mamoste taught was taken and thirty two others throughout the country. Pretty soon there’ll be so many people inside that their collective mass might shift the earth in its orbit a bit and bring about some world shattering calamity—maybe this is what the Mayans were yammering about.
Many prople gathered in front of Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) building in Istanbul following the news on detentions targeting 123 addresses in 17 cities. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜREL
The newest batch of arrests by the Ack! Party. The link goes to an article.

We are getting used to having him in prison—rather, it’s become the normal cycle of life. Delal visits with with various combinations of family members every week and I get familiar with prison and trial vocabulary—F tipi, hucre, koğuş, celse, sorgu, savcılık.  Kandıra is apparently not too shabby a place to be if you have to be in jail. They have exercise day once a month and weekly computer classes. Hot water comes twice a week. Thank God for small favors I suppose.  

Last week—on the once a year New Year’s family all-inclusive luxury visit!--we discovered that I can never go see him because foreigners are haram in the high security prison system, even foreigners married to daughters of the incarcerated. I suppose they suspect us all of working for ‘powers trying to split Turkey’. It infuriates me, but then there’s only one thing you can do. The same thing you do for every other thing to come out of this political purge, the same thing small monkeys do when confronted with a giant enemy, like a rabid Silverback—submit --but rip up grass angrily to at least put on a tough face.

This blog is that grass.
This little guy if threatened by someone bigger--like Erdoğan--will not fight but angrily pull up grass to get his aggression out. This is me, now--although my tail isn't as long.

I don’t know what I would say to mamoste if I were to visit. I get tongue-tied around him. Conversation never seems to go like either of us wants it to, and yet I want to see him.

I remember the first time I ever met him was at the BDP Academy—the party school (no, not in the sense of UCLA) he was arrested for teaching at. Delal had told me that their new political party was opening some courses that day, and she wanted to go lend moral support. I agreed. A minibus ride later, we were climbing the stairs and I was shaking hands with maybe the fourth of the many moustachioed men running around. Only this was no ordinary bıyıklı amca.

‘And of course this is my father,’ she said.

‘Oh, of course.’

I choked on the hello. This was the man that for two years, she had thoroughly and completely freaked me out about. The great Paterfamilias.

For example:

One day we had been walking in the park, and Delal suddenly grabbed my hand, gave it a yank and took off running down a side street. ‘I think my father is coming!’ she was panting breathlessly. We hid like kids behind a patch of trees waiting for the menace to pass.

‘Why don’t I ever meet your parents?’ I used to ask. This question would make her eyes as wide as saucers.  Back then I had no idea—really neither of us did. We were in Istanbul—we tended to forget a bit who we were in the big city rush.

Here was a young woman out of rural Anatolia whose ‘courtship’ traditions were very clear about certain things. And really, unknowingly, so were mine—coming as I did from a family tied to the rural South. Here, meeting her parents would mean most likely marriage and the commencement of a potpourri of formalities that I had not the first clue about—the promise ceremony, the engagement, the dowry, the parents’ meeting. It was an announcement to a very tightknit and conservative community of hundreds to go into action with the whole machine of Kurdish marriage tradition. 

While not meeting her parents for that bunch of mine in America meant she was hiding something. How could you build anything serious without getting to know the family first? There was a whole host of little get to know you events that we were blowing off without a thought. Who were these people? Was she stringing me along? Was she embarrassed of me? My big head? My Americanness?

One day we literally ran into him in the streets of Kadikoy and a panic ensued—luckily, we were with other foreigners so I could blend in to the background with a wave and a casual, ‘These are my foreign friends.’ Anywhere near the residences of his brothers and sisters—who are everywhere—we couldn’t hold hands or kiss or walk within several yards. I felt like I was on my first restraining order.

‘I don’t know what he’d say if he knew about you,’ she’d announce tensely. And it was clear she was afraid for some reason, and she conveyed that fear to me so effectively that when we finally did come face to face, I was petrified—and have been a little ever since.

For example—there was the Dance of the Checks, my most hated Turkish/Kurdish ritual.

The afternoon that we first met at the academy, we took mamoste to a pide restaurant for tea and dinner. As the check came, I reached for it only to have him snatch it out of my hand. I made the usual protests, ‘No, no, no,’ and tried to get it from him, but he grew quite adamant. ‘No! It’s on me.’ Delal was making a series of gestures as if guiding in an airplane. I went for  the check one last time only to get a look that told me really, I should leave well enough alone if I knew what was good for me, and as he went downstairs to the cash register, Delal groaned and said ‘How could you!’

Exactly, I thought, how could I have managed to pay?

‘Did you see the exasperated look when I insisted? I am sure the man would have been offended if I hadn’t relented.’

‘That’s all a show!’ she replied. ‘Well, maybe not everything is ruined. Didn’t you see me signaling you?’

A guy in orbit would have seen her.

I remember one of the rougher relatives asking me what I thought of mamoste one night. He was driving me home in his van at around one in the morning. ‘I like him, of course.’ I answered, recklessly frank. ‘We didn’t meet for the longest time and it got a little awkward at first, but you know what they say, girls marry their fathers. I think we are a lot alike in some ways.’ My escort gave me a rather skeptical once over and scoffed, ‘Oh you think so, do you? Well, I’ll tell you, I respect mamoste more than anyone else in the world. He is the best of men. What do you have in common with him?’

I gulped. ‘Well…uh, we both like languages. We study a lot just because we like to. We’re both teachers. We compulsively lecture people.’

He was glaring.

‘I’ve even learned a little bit of Kurdish in mamoste’s class.’

‘You?  Ha! Like what?’

Nave min Jeff e. Ez başim. Çawa ni?’

‘You’re all right,’ my driver laugh-snorted, and then popped into a gas station to buy me a beer which, we drank together outside the door of my house.

I didn’t really get what I had unwittingly set in motion by meeting mamoste until I read Hrant.

Hrant Dink also had a rather difficult time with his father-in-law. Like mine, he was the leader of a people in peril out east. (While mamoste is not the official anything out in Conag, everyone knows his name. He is an important community leader both in Istanbul and out East. He goes to all the weddings and funerals, keeps up with all the news and history, attends the protests, the meetings, goes to hospital bedsides and heads committees and is inordinately generous with his time, money, and heart with the whole community. In fact, he’s kind of part of my identity in Turkey--I belong to the Mala Kemal, now, the House of Kemal.

Similarly, Hrant’s father-in-law was the leader of a clan of Armenians in the Southeast who had disguised themselves as Kurds. And he did not want to give his daughter to anyone outside of their clan. And Hrant had a much harder road than I did. Mamoste was pleased when he finally found out about Delal and me, not so Colonel Siament.

Hrant and the other Armenian children of Joğvaran went in the summer of 1962 to Tuzla on the outskirts of Istanbul on the Marmara Sea. There, with their own hands, they built a camp for themselves from the ground up—the dorms, the gardens, the wells, the stables and chicken coops—everything hammered and nailed and laid by the kids themselves. It was here at the Tuzla Camp that Hrant first met his future wife Rakel. This part of that translation is that story.

I am splitting this into two halves, because I am told reading long long articles on the Web is something people don’t do.

By the way, I am referring to Rakel Dink’s father as Colonel Siament in the sense of the many Colonels you run into while reading about the Old South. He was not in the military but an aga, the feudal lord like master of a clan and the idea of a Southern colonel was the closest English equivalent I could think of.

(By the way...I hope I am not breaking any legal or moral copyrights here--I am translating only piece of Tuba Candar's book for my private blog because I was impressed and want to share with non Turkish speakers. I am making absolutely no money at all. The pictures come from newspaper websites because I can't go back in time and take my own.)


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