Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Interview with Mamoste Part 2

Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth

            Here is the long delayed second part to the interview with my father-in-law, Kemal Seven (Mamoste) from the Özgür Gündem newspaper—translated into English.

I started this right after my journey to the South and I couldn’t help but notice the connections between the South and the Kurds—first and foremost the 20,000 strong Kurdish community we visited in Nashville (more on that later), but also the Civil Rights movement where an entire race of people threw off the chains of a century of oppressive politics.

 I mailed a postcard to Mamoste that I picked up while I was at the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham, Alabama. On the front was a picture of Reverend Shuttlesworth, the preacher of the 16th Street Baptist Church. He was instrumental in the legendary Freedom Rides—the bus trips across country by mixed white and black opponents of segregation.  The busses were attacked in Anniston (another Alabama town) and Birmingham, the activists beaten nearly to death. (The institute shows a rather nauseating film of the battered and pulpy face of one young white activist after the Anniston beatings)  Many bus companies refused to let them ride out of fear. Shuttlesworth’s moral support was instrumental in their continuation and success.

Protesters were met with tear gas and tanks—like the protesters of  Diyarbakır. In the museum I saw a police tank like the ones that patrol the streets of Southeast Turkey. Apparently they were used profusely by Birmingham’s mayor. The infamous Children’s March—when unarmed child protesters were attacked with German shepherds and fire hoses galvanized the whole nation.

And then the terrorism.

Whites bombed Shuttlesworth’s home and his church for daring to speak out against segregation. The church bombing killed four little girls. Show trials and kangaroo courts ensued—the last of the terrorist bombers was only tried in 2001.  Looking at Turkey’s kangaroo courts today, the struggle on the streets, the violence, one cannot help but be reminded a little at least of the South, of the United States at that time.

Ah, and just what are those kangaroo courts up to these days?

Journalist Ece Temelkuran wrote rather eloquently in a recent article in Al Akhbar English about the Silivri Prison in Istanbul working hard to add new cells. Clearly they are looking forward to more guests. Our aunt is visiting from Şırnak at the moment and says new prisons are under construction there as well. As the CHP’s Kılıçdaroğlu says, the country is becoming an open air prison.

Temelkuran also writes about Turkey’s journalists being driven out of work when they dare to criticize the government. She herself was fired from Haber Türk. Most recently Nuray Mert was let go by the Milliyet newspaper, who couldn’t take the government pressure any longer (Mert was widely known for drawing attention to the state’s increasingly autocratic bent).

I found it curious that Mamoste referred to the ‘Sultanate’ in his interview. It seemed a throwback in an age when you have a wide variety of dictatorial examples to draw from (everyone in America causes everyone else ‘Hitler’ for example) But I think the term is more than mere name-calling—he’s bringing attention to something the Republic denies, a continuity with the dictatorial, old world Sultans who came before, a connection which Kemalists claim was forever obliterated by their hero. But how could there NOT be a continuity? You cannot sever centuries of history from your country’s soul.

Before I get to the second part of Mamoste’s interview, take a gander at what Mark Twain had to write on his visit to Istanbul in Innocents Abroad during his travels after the Civil War in the final connection I will draw between mamoste and the South. This was published over one hundred and forty years ago—when Sultan Abdul Aziz the First was in power, a relatively progressive time with the Tazminat Reforms struggling to modernize the creaking Empire. Tell me what’s different. Tell me that Mamoste’s reference to the Sultanate is not still germaine today.

‘There is one paper published here in the English language--The Levant Herald--and there are generally a number of Greek and a few French papers rising and falling, struggling up and falling again. Newspapers are not popular with the Sultan's Government. They do not understand journalism. The proverb says, "The unknown is always great." To the court, the newspaper is a mysterious and rascally institution. They know what a pestilence is, because they have one occasionally that thins the people out at the rate of two thousand a day, and they regard a newspaper as a mild form of pestilence. When it goes astray, they suppress it--pounce upon it without warning, and throttle it. When it don't go astray for a long time, they get suspicious and throttle it anyhow, because they think it is hatching deviltry. Imagine the Grand Vizier in solemn council with the magnates of the realm, spelling his way through the hated newspaper, and finally delivering his profound decision: "This thing means mischief --it is too darkly, too suspiciously inoffensive--suppress it! Warn the publisher that we can not have this sort of thing: put the editor in prison!"

The newspaper business has its inconveniences in Constantinople. Two Greek papers and one French one were suppressed here within a few days of each other. No victories of the Cretans are allowed to be printed. From time to time the Grand Vizier sends a notice to the various editors that the Cretan insurrection is entirely suppressed, and although that editor knows better, he still has to print the notice. The Levant Herald is too fond of speaking praisefully of Americans to be popular with the Sultan, who does not relish our sympathy with the Cretans, and therefore that paper has to be particularly circumspect in order to keep out of trouble. Once the editor, forgetting the official notice in his paper that the Cretans were crushed out, printed a letter of a very different tenor, from the American Consul in Crete, and was fined two hundred and fifty dollars for it. Shortly he printed another from the same source and was imprisoned three months for his pains. I think I could get the assistant editorship of the Levant Herald, but I am going to try to worry along without it.’   

Part 2—Interview with Kemal Seven, Özgür Gündem.  February 1st, 2012

What is the response to the arrests of academicians like Professor Büşra Ersanlı on the justification that they were giving lessons at the academies?

Our academies, which are legal as far as they are lawful, have become the focus of interest in the world of knowledge, opening their doors to people of knowledge like Professor Ersanlı.  As we proceed, our intellectuals, writers, and scientists will have a positive influence and the door will be opened to an increase in both the participants and in the respect our academies command among the public. The result? The strengthening of our push toward an alternative education, an alternative politics, an alternative system which unsettles those who want to maintain the status quo.

With that in mind, what is the significance of the reaction shown by the academic world against this?

Sadly, the organizational level of our civil society is not effective enough to transform itself into a source of democratic pressure. Even under the existing conditions, however, the efforts on behalf of Professors Ersanlı and Zarakolu are reason enough for positive reactions. The press conferences, media activities, and marches organized by supporters from the faculty, from different foundations and other sectors is a positive sign. A group of professors have even given symbolic lessons at the academies in the name of not keeping silent. We are very grateful to them. We want that similar reactions and support through different actions continue to grow without delay. In order that we do not fall into the helplessness of that German priest who did not speak up against the policies of Hitler, every sensitive person must take their place in the organized struggle. Lovers of democracy, good-hearted academics like Professor Bursanlı are not easy to come by.

How must the academies go on in light of these operations?

I have full faith that a new and different model for living, of Kurdish origin, will be found soon--one that will warm us and light our way in this darkest and coldest of nights. Neither the global capitalist powers, who every day make the world more and more unlivable, nor those segments given to  betrayal and hypocrisy will make us give up our ideology which binds us by the heart and which we see as the salvation of humanity. Democratic Autonomy will enable the majority of society--a revolutionary, free, equal and ecologic society--to understand and take command of their lives to such a degree that it will open a new path to humanity. Our political academies, which are our hope for this utopia, must now reach a wider segment of society in a more planned, conscious, organized, decisive, and all-embracing way. With our strengthened teaching staff and new mechanisms, we must continue to widen our efforts, never forgetting our mission to become centers of knowledge and enlightenment for the people.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Wake--Part 2 Guest Blogger, Julie Novotny

I asked friends who knew Hide as I did for memories and got this rather thoughtful piece from Julie so I am posting it here...with pictures of the man himself.  Julie was smart enough to get photos of him...This is a continuation of mine below

Photo by Julie

It was late and the house was quiet.  The boys had already been ushered off to take their nightly bath, and Kuniko was rousing Sachi from beneath the kotatsu (I loved those heated tables on cold winter nights) to go to bed.  With cigarette smoke curling around his face, in halting, clear English Hide said, “She loves you,” and motioned to Kayo, then five years old, who lay curled up on my lap.  I looked at her, my eyes instantly misty, brimming with love, and busied myself by wrapping my arms and a blanket around her as she slept.  I nodded back at him and smiled, not saying anything for fear of waking her.  He continued, “Thank you.”  The words seemed to hang in the air with the billowing smoke as he looked at me full of gratitude, and I remember being amazed that he was thanking me … for bonding with Kayo and her brothers and twin sister?… for reading bedtime stories to them and playing in the park?… for piling in the van with the family, Hide at the wheel, and having Kayo snuggle into my lap while on the way to and from long, leisurely picnics on Sundays when the weather was nice to see cherry blossoms, temples, festivals?...  for the pleasure of staying up all night talking and drinking wine with Kuniko?...  I knew it was me who needed to thank him for sharing his beautiful family. 
And with Hide I felt a quiet bond.  Perhaps it was not as clear as with the rest of the family, but it was still there…  Like when I would sometimes sit back and enjoy listening to the lively banter at dinner, he would often smile and nod at me once we noticed our shared amusement.  Or for my birthdays with the family-- now years and years ago--- he would usually give me pottery, which I still use and love, after mentioning to him once that I loved Japanese ceramics.  Or when a relative sent the family baked crickets as a delicacy, and while even the kids could eat them without any hesitation, he was greatly amused by the expression on my face as I ate only one (the crunchiness was okay, but I did not like the scratchy legs).  Or when the family would drive me to the airport—after so many times it is hard to count-- he would always drive and would tear up with the rest of us when it was time for me to leave. 
Yet, perhaps I felt this bond because I could also be quiet, so I sometimes understood his struggle to connect with the people around him.  There were many nights at the house when he retreated into his own world, trying to drink away his sorrows, and shared stories about himself and the past to the person sitting next to him.  In the beginning I was frustrated that I could not follow his stories, and often felt trapped by their length, but nonetheless, I could feel the sadness or anger behind the words.  As my Japanese improved, I came to understand his childhood stories, and the resulting pain and loss from which he still suffered.   
Over the course of 20 years, I’ve watched the family grow, sometimes with years apart, but I was lucky enough to reunite with them several times before Hide became ill.  I would go to lunch with Kuniko and Hide, and he was fully engaged in our conversation, something that I had not always felt when I was living in Japan.  He asked about me, my husband (he seemed amazed each time I saw him that I was married), and in return, simply updated me on how he was doing.  Had my Japanese improved?  Definitely not... but I felt that I could understand him better, that he was happy to see me and made an effort to reach out, and that touched me.  The last time I saw him he told me, beer and cigarette in hand, that he had just been to the hospital seeing various doctors and was awaiting test results.  He looked fine, perhaps just a little tired, so I did not worry.
Two years ago, while visiting Jeff, Kuniko and Megumi in Turkey, Kuniko learned of the news... by phone that Hide had cancer.  I could only offer hugs and hold Kuniko’s hand for support at the time, but with my eroding Japanese, I never did reach out to Hide.  I heard from Jeff when he visited Japan later that year that Hide was in remission and in good spirits ... and in my mind that’s where he remained... in good spirits. 
I wish I could have been there to see him one last time and to be there with the family.
I miss you, Hide.  You and your family are so interwoven in me and my life... I hold all those memories, and feel lucky to have been there to share those moments... so many beautiful moments.  Perhaps all those years ago I didn’t say “thank you” and express the gratitude I felt as we sat in the family room around the kotatsu with Kayo in my arms.  I hope you knew how much I cared, how much I loved all those shared moments. 
You will always be in my heart...    

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Wake

(I am indeed going to put part 2 of my father in law's interview--however, the death of a friend a couple of days ago shifted my focus a bit and I've written here about him.)
The last trip to Japan to see Hide-san

When one person dies, a whole world is lost, they say. I say whole worlds are lost—This is a wake for the universe I knew as Hidekazu Tsuchiya—whom I called Hide-san (Hee—Day). I knew only small patches on one world around one tiny star.  


We were eating dinner around the kotatsu in the living room. (Ahh, the kotatsu, those heated little tables—in winter you could stick your feet underneath until they were toasty and lounge there all night—or at least until the wine and beer ran out).  I had finished off a bowl of rice and set it on the table top with the mandatory ‘gochisoosama deshita’ to close off the meal.  I started to stand up, but Hide batted me back down with his hand flopping at me like a bird wing.

‘You see those rice grains?’ he asked. There were several little white bits of rice sticking to the side of the bowl. ‘My dad used to tell me that in each grain of rice there were seven gods and if you left even one grain uneaten, it was wasting the lives of seven gods.’ As the kids stealthily slipped away en masse, I dutifully sat down with my then meager chopstick skills and tried my best to get the lone grains into my mouth. Ahh! I was the new kid! A blank slate to teach the ancient ways!  This was the penalty of being the gaijin—you had to learn the traditions the family blew off.  Everyone laughed at me after that, ‘Dad caught you!’ But I have never forgotten those seven gods.


Summertime night—the same room. He was in his white tank top. I think Kuniko was hanging up laundry out on the balcony—the screen door was open, wet clothes hung heavy on the line. We were both sweating, drenched. He had a white towel around his neck and was explaining some horrible incident from his past. In the background was the washing machine noise and street cats yowling from outside.

‘When I was a young boy in Yamagata, things were very difficult.’ He explained,  a few beers already knocked back by then.  ‘One night, my mother took me by the hand and walked with me down to the banks of the river. I don’t remember where my father was. Sometimes he hit her when he drank.  ‘We should kill ourselves,’ she said. ‘Life can’t ever get better for us.’ She was crying and...’

He stops mid-sentence. The cat yowling has risen to a passionate crescendo. He lifts a finger like Confucius about to deliver a lecture, points out the window and says, suddenly switching to very carefully enunciated English, ‘Cat sex.’


Yamagata—in northern Honshuu one summer. The town of Shirataka (White Hawk).  It’s in a valley surrounded by mountains so that all the humidity pools like a sauna in the streets. I learn a few words in Yamagata-ben (the dialect of the area).  Atsugunee ga—for ‘It’s not hot,’ a phrase I am not in urgent need of. I learn that here you have to do the full on-the-floor-bow sometimes, with your face in the tatami mats. In the van, as Hide takes us on a tour around his prefecture, Anne, one of my fellow Floridians, puts Eiichiro’s toe in her mouth and bites down. Eiichiro is the oldest son—fourteen at the time. He’s talking about that bite for years afterward.  Why did she do that? he asks in wonder. I think it was the first time a girl put his anything into her mouth. Not that we mentioned such things to Hide—he drove us to a caldera lake, a beautiful bright turquoise disk of water in an ashy volcanic cone.

His mother did the on-the-floor bow sometimes at neighbors’ houses—she had a garden and took me , Anne, Brenda, and the kids out to clip cucumbers and peppers. She cooked for us—it was the first and only time I had bear meat. Hide and his mom were both surprised I didn’t flinch when I heard what animal I was ingesting. This was the woman Hide had stood with on a river and planned a mother-child suicide.


Yamagata—one winter. My roommate Aaron and I go up to Yamagata during Winter Break with the family. Dai (second oldest son), Aaron, and I build a giant igloo outside. Sometimes the others help, but it is to the three of us that Hide brings the little grill, and it is him that takes pictures of us as we roast mochi cakes inside our ice house. I remember we had a hamster—the girls’ pet I guess? His name was Uncle Crunchy.

Hide’s ancestors were Christian, part of the first group of Christians that went into hiding in the mountains after the Shogun made the religion illegal. He showed me a rainbow ball of colored string once, the threads falling into a pretty pattern—this was a secret symbol of Christians back in the day I am told. Despite this, there was a Buddhist/Shinto shrine to his father in the house. Sticks of incense in front of a picture. Food sometimes. Lots of snow. More and more snow. His father died just before I met them. It’s strange to think—I saw that picture everywhere, and now it will be his I see instead.


Kuniko has planned the funeral just for family but people are coming from everywhere—work friends (the whole sale vegetable market in Tsukiji), Eiichiro’s friends, Dai’s friends, the girls’ friends, neighbors, University friends, friends from Shirataka.

One winter, Hide and Kuniko’s old college friends came to visit, bringing their young son Yuki. I saw a different Hide than I had ever seen before—laughing constantly, from the gut, shouting off color jokes, teasing, confident, full of bravado. He was like a young college boy. I stayed up with them just to marvel at this transformation. Who knew he could open this kind of face to the world? He could be so sad and morose and self flagellating most of the time. This was someone else. I felt privileged to meet him, to meet his friends. And I never forgot from that day on that somewhere under all that ‘but what about tradition’ grumbling, there was this other man. I remember we went with them to a hula course somewhere in downtown Tokyo, and he danced.

I saw this Hide another time—my calligraphy teacher’s son was an actor, and she got us tickets to the opening night of her his play, Furusato (Hometown). Hide and Kuniko decided to take me along. I learned that they had once been in theater club together. For the first time since I had known them, they acted like a couple. Years seemed to fall of them as we entered the theater. We were all the same age when we sat down. At the end of the play, all these sad middle aged people climb off a train and go skipping through a meadow of rabbits and squirrels toward their long lost furusato. When we left, Hide said he had been really moved. Kuniko found the play a sappy, maudlin—all that whining about the old hometown of yore.  ‘Look forward!’ she said. ‘Look to the future!’ And Hide seemed lost in thought. What was there he missed in his furusato? All those sorrow thoughts...


Two years ago, in the summer, the doctor said that the cancer would be quick. He expected no more than six months. Kuniko was in Istanbul when the call came—visiting me. We were on a rooftop in Kadıköy sipping drinks with the Bosphorous blue in front of us. The ships, the vista of the mosques on the other side.  We both cried suddenly, and suddenly stopped.

 I flew to Tokyo to see him that November. The cancer was in remission—he was a bit sickly—bald and thin from the chemo--but in fairly high spirits. We took a bike ride together through Urayasu on a hunt for him another pet—his beloved dog Gabi had just died. The pretty trees in the fall—those golden leafed gingko raining yellow everywhere.

We never did locate a new house hound, but we did a bit of touring. He was never one for spontaneous trips—he got left out so much on this sort of thing, but that day, because he missed me maybe, because I had come so far, when I said ‘Let’s do something we’ve never done before!’ he agreed (though I could see him hanging back a bit inside). We visited the Urayasu Historical Museum and did a tour. We learned how they farmed seaweed in the old days. It was just the two of us there that day in the whole museum—they were closing—and the man talked us through the process.  I remember screens floating in the water covered in deep green sprouts, the old wooden house, the sky outside burning with autum lava colors.


The day I went back to Istanbul, he had a doctor’s appointment. Me to the airport, him to the cancer center. The cancer had been in remission for a while, and now there was a possibility it might be coming back. Test results were coming in today, those ghastly mestasizing cells.

When we said goodbye, I felt as clueless as I do now. What to say—they didn’t make set little phrases for this. You’re dying, but not as soon as I thought,  I’m going thousands of miles away, and may not be able to come back in time, and it’s always been a little awkward between us despite all the affection.’

Mata ne,’ I said as I left the house. ‘Not goodbye, but see you later.’

‘Thanks for coming,’ he told me. ‘I wanted to drop you off but I have to go to the hospital again.’

‘I’ll be fine.’

‘You know, I’ve always considered you one of my sons.’

Eiichiro told me the same thing, ‘My dad thinks of you as one of us.’

I remember his garden that day. He always had a garden—plants grew like mad things in his hands. Pink azaleas, bright purple four-o’clocks, marigolds, daisies, a burst of blue morning glories, an arch way of vines at the gate.


His sons. Eiichiro and Dai. My brothers.

It was some years ago during the Urayasu Festival and his sons were running a bit wild.  Eiichiro had just started working at a bar with Yakuza connections, I was hearing stories of his few weeks as a small-fry paint thinner addict. Tattoos, a drunken motorcycle accident. Dai, at 17, had just accidentally gotten a girl pregnant. The boys were a bit dodgy that summer—at least to someone as longing for the old order as Hide was, whenever parental fealty and soldierly respect were in fashion among Japanese kids.  We were walking home from a festival, aching from carrying around the mikoshi festival shrines all day and he said, ‘You know, Jeff, everything that my sons have become is thanks to you.’
A mikoshi festival picture borrowed from Eiichiro...

 I choked, then laughed.  ‘I hope you mean that in a good way, right now...’

‘No, no,’ he said. ‘They are wonderful boys. I mean in the long view of things, they are good boys, and I wanted to thank you.’

 I thought he could also thank himself and his wife and the boys themselves, but it made me supremely happy.

The festival—with thirty other men and a smattering of women we carried our mikoshi through the streets of Urayasu—the shrine itself balanced on two gigantic logs which we in turn balanced on our shoulders, all day long for three days.  It was as heavy as a redwood—Hide and I stayed together the whole time on our neighborhood team, but Eiichiro had his own team of rowdy boys that he was managing and was flitting about, directing this or that. We shouted sore sore sore, maida maida maida!’ and gave the shrine god the best ride of its eternal life. That night we ached so badly I couldn’t move an inch. We dragged ourselves to the public bath right next door and melted into the steam and hot mineral water. The bath was closing forever when the festival was over—the soak was free. ‘Something important will be lost,’ Hide told me and I agreed.

We sank into the huge tub with the other shrine bearers. A man with a dragon tattoo down his back was there as well—yakuza. We glanced knowing at each other and tried to look nonchalant about it. I groaned and moaned at the muscle pain. Hide laughed at me—but he was in just as sad a shape. That night he’d bought a platter of sushi and sashimi, and of course sake and beer.


When my father died, Hide sat down at the end of the kotatsu with a glass of sake and in that somewhat lecturing way of his told me about his father’s death.  I didn’t tell him all the details of mine at first—but he seemed to guess it wasn’t a clean death. He said he wanted to help. We’d both lost our dads. They had been heavy drinkers. We resented and loved them all at once. We shared something now. We understood how easy it could be to get stuck thinking about those things—getting stuck in the thorns when we tried to pull ourselves out.

One spring, during my first year in Japan, he drove me, the boys, and Matsuge (a family friend) down to Tokyo Bay for some fishing. I remember the worms that bit—they even had spikes along their body that stuck out when you touched them. They tried to clamp onto the end of your finger when you stuck them on the hook.  He chuckled softly at my squeamishness—I remember that chuckle there, a bit exasperated, a bit withdrawn. He baited his own hook and shook his head.


This is all a bit of a lie because so many of the details of these memories I don’t have anymore—I am filling in the blanks with parts that don’t matter as much. It’s been twenty years since we became part of each other’s lives and fourteen years since I left Japan and two years since I last saw him. And there were nearly 11,000 miles between us at the end, and in those two years since my last visit, I didn’t call him once, though for my wedding gift, he had the idea of having each family member write the character for ‘Love’ in their own unique style, which was perfect—his meticulously careful   AI   was first--and I would like to have introduced him to Delal. And I don’t know why I didn’t call him. Part of it was I feared what I might find out how bad things had become, part of it was it made me sad how much of my Japanese was going and how much I couldn’t say anymore. Of course, now I can’t say anything at all to him.
Ai--'Love' in Chinese/Japanese calligraphy

But this is a wake. I imagine myself there, drinking beers with the kids—all grown and married now except for Eiichiro who is most likely leading the party. And he’s being loud and we are all sharing memories and I am right in the thick of things telling stories, too. And it’s late, but there’s no sign of slowing or stopping. Eiichiro will announce he’s going out for more Kirin or Sapporo, and Dai and I will go, too.


That last visit, someone I knew desperately wanted some work pants he’d seen in a You Tube video of Japanese construction workers. I don’t remember who it was anymore—a Turkish friend, a foreign one, no one at all important. Hide drove me all around town looking for those pants—I had just mentioned it in passing, imagine someone ordering of all things, construction worker uniforms from the Far East, and Hide made it a crusade—store after store.  And when I expressed some interest in a pack of glove like socks—they had spaces for toes!—he bought me a huge pack of the things.


And I think of him like this. I think of planet sized Japanese nashi pears. I think of Fuji apples and bokchoy and mountain yams and sweet potatoes and trefoil and a hundred varieties of fruit and vegetables, some of which I had never seen anywhere else but Japan. He brought them home from the wholesale market. Watermelons and canteloupe and pumpkin and yuzu and aloe. He had this weakness for snake oil cures. One year it was eating raw aloe dipped in soy sauce (maybe it helped, who knows?) The next year it was acerola juice. The next copper bracelets which kept away all sorts of illnesses according to the marketing campaign hawking it.


I see him like this.

He had a big helmet of silver hair, streaked a bit with black. There was a small chip in his front teeth. He left before dawn for work and came back late and went to bed early (on Saturday, too) and he mourned the time he missed with everyone, but never seemed to know how to really let himself go. He was sometimes like a big log fallen across the river, the water rushed past him and he trembled where he lay but never moved.

He looked like his mother. Sometimes he dyed his hair black, or grew a moustache.

It feels funny that I am here in Istanbul where no one knows who’s been lost. You lose a friend and it gets swallowed quickly in the current of an every day life that never included him. Not just dead, washed out of existence.

I think he was outside of things a lot. I felt bad about that sometimes.  He’s in so few of the pictures I have from Japan. I have only one at the house here in Istanbul—it was taken that winter in Yamagata. We are all sitting around the kotatsu. He’s got his hair dyed black, a moustache, he’s grinning and eating a tangerine. Eiichiro is wearing my glasses. I’m blind but have Uncle Crunchy the hamster and Kayo is cutting her eyes in my direction as if I might suddenly try to eat it. Dai is making a silly face. Sachiyo looks dazed or ill. It’s clearly cold—we’re in sweaters and hugging the kotatsu.  I have lots of other pictures from Japan, but he’s in none of them.

‘I feel left out,’ he told me once.

He was a lonely man, but didn’t need to be maybe. Maybe he didn’t know how to just let go and become a part of things. To forget all those hang ups. I sometimes know how that feels. Don’t we all?

Is this all I’ve got? All the memories?

I’ll miss you Hide. I’m sorry I didn’t call. I’m sorry I can’t be there now to say good bye.

We’ll light some incense here, Buddhist style.

And I’ll say a Christian prayer.

And I’ll recite the poem that I recited for my own father.

Ample make this bed

Make this bed with awe

In it wait till morning breaks

Excellent and fair

Be its mattress straight

Be its pillow round

Let no sunlight yellow noise interrupt this ground

And maybe a poem in Japanese—something about the snow of winter, and how the flakes look like cherry blossoms, and the melancholy, and how the spring flowers are long gone but the memory remains, and it falls outside and gathers in every growing drifts.

A link for the seven gods...
The Mogami River--courtesy of the Tohoku Kanko website

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Interview with Kemal Seven (Father in Law) in Özgür Gündem--Part 1

This interview appeared in the Kurdish run Özgür Gündem newspaper last week. This is the first part of my English translation here. It starts with an introduction from the editors. I had a tough time with this, the prose is political, thorny, and the syntax difficult to translate. The pictures are the pictures from the article.


An Inside Analysis of the ‘KCK Operations’

Since April of 2009, thousands of people have been incarcerated in the so-called ‘KCK’ operations directed against the Kurdish political movement. In wave after wave of operations, Kurdish politicians, human rights advocates, union members, journalists, elected city officials and attorneys have been targeted. These operations have begun to include segments of society that stand close to the Kurdish political movement. These operations have continued without relent, and thousands of people have been locked up for more than three years, under indictment but unable even to defend themselves. The operations under discussion have been termed a ‘political genocide’ by the Kurds, and the officials of the reigning AK Party have admitted countless times that these operations are the result of cooperation between the government and the judiciary. With this as the general framework, two correspondents of the DIHA, Ömer Çelik and Çağdaş Kaplan, found themselves among the 36 journalists arrested in the December 20, 2011 operation against institutions in the Kurdish media. They have prepared a series of interviews with prisoners in Kandira’s High Security F Type Prison. The first guest in Çelik and Kaplan’s series, named ‘An Inside Analysis of the KCK Operations,’ is one of the instructors at the Peace and Democracy Party’s (BDP)Academy and current prisoner at the Kandira High Security F Type Prison, Kemal Seven.

DIHA—The Dicle Haber Ajansı (Tigris River News Agency), quickly and in short, a news agency targeting news for Kurds and news in Kurdish.

If Society Awakens, then this sultanate will come to an end.

The aim is that by criminalizing the legal activities of our academies, the rest of society will keep a distance from us, because if society awakens, the current sultanate of elite politicians will come to an end. Their basic fear is this: democratic autonomy will open the way for a new humanity so that egalitarians, revolutionaries, advocates for freedom, and ecological entities will be understood and embraced by the majority of society

Ömer Çelik/Çağdaş Kaplan

Q. Why were the BDP Academies targeted?

The purpose of targeting the academies is obvious. The academies serve as centers of both knowledge and enlightenment. They offer as their dominant mission: contributing to the efficient cooperation of sensitive and aware individuals with organized democratic structures of freedom advocates. And while it is unacceptable, it is also understandable that the academies, as focal points of an alternative manner of social structure on the path to the construction of a Democratic Autonomy, have been targeted. This approach makes clear the Fascism at the heart of the unitary nation state. In today’s world, knowledge and science, thus the academies, equal power, and the state will never accept or tolerate a power it cannot control. For this reason, by criminalizing Kurds, whom they regard as enemies, they are trying to paint them as illegal institutions in the eyes of society. The basic aim of the operations is this.

In terms of Kurdish politics, what do the political academies assert? Where do they stand and what do they want to achieve?

The academies play an important role in making sure there is a correct understanding of the details of Democratic Autonomy, which is an important aspect of the statutes and programs of the BDP. They also make sure this understanding is communicated to the masses in the correct manner. When it comes to what they want to achieve, in place of the mentality of an ultra-centralized nation state system which is destructive of moral values, which is colonialist, which is monist, we hope to accustom the masses to the need for an understanding based on democratic, ecological decentralized units of regional autonomy, which ensure gender equality, and in which the role of the state is reduced. 

To help society grasp the need for a localized and democratic system for both the governed and those who govern, from town provincial legislatures to the national parliament, from village communes to the neighborhood and city councils.

To ensure that politics is founded on a political line with a strong moral base. To ensure the understanding, to the best of their ability, of every segment of political society which perceives the struggle for wealth and privelege as their right. To make people grasp, as much as possible, that in place of international capitalist groups and nation states with imperialist designs, our life relationships need  a natural social philosophy which teaches that happiness for all human beings can only be achieved with a civil society organized in accordance in harmony with the environment.

What is the basic characteristics that separate academies of the other political parties and yours.

We run our schools on a strictly volunteer basis, while their educational efforts rely on payment. The education given at their academies is structured on the idea that the teacher transmits information to the student, whose role is to listen. As for us, student participation is of the essence. There is a reciprocal system of teaching and being taught. The aim of their academies and education is to serve the racist, monist, Turk-Islamist line. Ours aim is a multicultural and democratic lifestyle.  In place of outmoded and distorted historical and sociological information, we stand on scientific data and multifaceted results.  Other than the BDP, the aim of the education given by the party in power and the other opposition parties has been money. They are oriented toward maintaining control with an understanding based on a sacred state, profit, and getting rich. The BDP Academies, on the other hand, aim to create a balanced, livable society in harmony with nature, a free and democratic society that is not colonialist or focused on profit. The most important difference of all is that while at the system’s party academies, the educational philosophy is based on an understanding that enslaves people and deifies the state, we seek equal, free, and strong-willed individuals. What is holy is the right to life.

After the operations, government authorities, in regard to the curriculum at the academies, said they were ‘inciting the people to rebellion’. What is your view on this?

The political academies are in the position of being centers of strength. If centers of strength are not under their own supervision, then the prevailing powers began to fear them and plot to get rid of them. As they put this paranoia into practice, they thrust the academies into a full psychological war with their efforts to secure the legalization of this paranoia. Those who say that the academies are encouraging people to rebel have sunk into a pit lacking conscience or morals. These proclamations also attempt to intercept the reactions which can come from sympathetic people. The aim is that by criminalizing the legal activities of our academies, the rest of society will keep a distance from us, because if society awakens, the current sultanate of elite politicians will come to an end. Their basic fear is this.

Why are the political powers so unsettled by the democratic participation of people in politics?

Because governments under the supervision of monopolies and centers of global power have people well on their way to becoming mere servants. With antidemocratic policies, they seek, as much as possible, to strangle the political defenders of democracy and take them down a road beyond a point that can be affected  by politics. The people can only participate in politics in proportion to their ownership and knowledge of democracy. This opens a way to change the status of the party in power which sits inside the darkness of its colonialism and dirty dealings. The basic reason for the wild attacks of those unsettled is this.