MARKAR ESAYAN

Khojaly and being an Armenian

I always thought I knew Turkey well. In Turkey, where being Armenian -- or Alevi »»

I always thought I knew Turkey well. In Turkey, where being Armenian -- or Alevi or Kurdish -- inherently holds a political meaning, I started getting to know the country in which I was born in my early childhood.

Nevertheless, it took me a long time to figure out why my friends in Osmanbey, my neighborhood, whom I loved -- I should note that I had no reason to see them as separate from me -- had been harsh towards me sometimes and called me “gavur” (infidel) rather than using my name. Something made me different. I was smart enough to know this had something to do with me being an Armenian, but I had almost no idea about what being an Armenian meant and what this difference corresponded to.

When I was a kid, we would play with marbles; we had a team. We used to keep the marbles we won in a joint account. I do not remember whether the idea was mine, but I was responsible for keeping the marbles. This meant they trusted me. We were the leading marble team in the neighborhood, and because we had won all marbles in the neighborhood, we decided to open up to other areas. Our company was exponentially growing. I had sacks of marbles everywhere in my room, and this made me proud. I was one of the best players on the team. The team’s profits were not so huge from the games in which I did not participate. Everything was fine for me, up until to that day…

I do not remember his name. The leader of the team, out of the blue, told me that day that they did not want to work with me anymore. I was shocked and upset. I was not ready to be abandoned like this, but I strongly felt that it was something about me being an Armenian. Back then, our lives had become harder than ever; the number of people who would shout “gavur” behind our backs was growing. I was unable to understand how I had suddenly turned from Markar to gavur to the kids who lived around the neighborhood. I realized it had something to do with my Armenian identity, but, oh my God, I could not see why.

I begged them -- and I even cried because of his harsh treatment. They told me they did not want to stay friends with me anymore and they would take the marbles from me as well. They wanted the marbles! This was the end of my life for me back then. I was unable to tell anything to anybody. I felt like I was doing something terrible; it was like I had committed a grave crime and I was flawed. I was ashamed. If so many people wanted to get rid of me, I must have been -- outnumbered and alone -- the one who was at fault. I internalized this feeling.

I gave them the marbles; our friendship was over. And the playtime in the streets that had been pretty important to me was not meaningful anymore. I hung out with others kids who had also been excluded, but I was not happy. I secluded myself; then I was sent to a boarding school. My father wanted to send me away from Turkey. The streets and the country were harsh; it was the 1970s. Those were the days when the headlines of the papers were all covered with the word “Armenian.” At night, my father would complain about what difficulties he had encountered during the day. I saw fear, worry and anger in the eyes of my father, who was the ruler of the world to me. I was like a photocopy of emotions. I felt what my parents were feeling even if I did not hear it: It was fear and despair. Despite that fact it was a huge trauma for me to be sent away to a boarding school, getting away from that environment was good for me.

Those days and feelings that I have been trying to forget came back when I saw what happened at the meeting held to remember the Khojaly victims in Taksim. I was stunned to realize that the hatred was bigger than such a grave anguish as Khojaly. My feeling like claustrophobia relapsed. Why do these people hate Armenians so much? Will hatred of Armenians not end in this country? Will this feeling of alienation in this country where I was born, where I grew up and where I plan to be buried end some day? Do I have anywhere else to go? This is the only country where I know the language, air, water, bread, winter, troubles and sadness. Like Hrant Dink, I do not want fake heavens. But I also do not want to be humiliated and cursed. I cannot stay indifferent. Khojaly, Bosnia and others… Can’t I share these pains without facing condemnation, humiliation and hatred of my identity and race? Can I not be in Taksim without being afraid of anything? I cannot. It was already evident from the placards and announcements in the papers that this event would turn into a venue of hatred.

But all these people can’t be just wrong, right? Perhaps, obviously, I was the one to be blamed.

2012-02-29

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Columnist:: MARKAR ESAYAN