Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey
Nov 29 2014

Being an Armenian today in Istanbul (2)


Continuing from last week, my last set of questions to my Armenian
acquaintances was `Are you thinking of leaving? What makes you stay?
What do you want this place to be like?'

Talking about her school years, my colleague Vercihan ZiflioÄ?lu said
that for both her Turkish and Armenian teachers, `thinking and
questioning' was the only issue that was never acceptable. They agreed
only on this matter.

`They wanted unquestioning little brains, whereas I, even from that
age, was questioning. My path as an individual was not very easy. A
father with a French education, a freedom-loving mother, and a
`Vercihan' just back from France, it was obvious that my journey would
not be easy in this land where I belong. There is, of course, also
`being Armenian,' which means `being different.''

`I was interested in literature. When I brought Nazım Hikmet books to
school one day, they wanted me to take these books out of the school
immediately. I could not understand. On the one hand, I was asked to
take Nazım Hikmet out of school; on the other hand, all the other
landmark writers in the Armenian literature who I loved were said, in
class, to have died of `tuberculosis.' One day, when I asked why all
of the writers had died of tuberculosis and how such a coincidence was
possible, just like the day I brought Nazım's book to school, I was
asked to go home early and warned not to ask any questions on this
matter. This is because all of them had lost their lives in the tragic
events of 1915.

`It was the Nazıms and Orhan Velis and Armenian writers who died of
`tuberculosis' who have shaped the `Vercihan' of today. Despite all
the bans and impositions, I have learned to question. Instead of
getting stuck at the troubles that society went through, I searched
for new roads. I have witnessed the pain of other people in many
different countries of the world. I learned that pain should not shape
the future, but I also did not deny the pain of my ancestors.

`You ask me if I want to leave. Even asking this question means you
actually perceive me as `the other.' If one day I decide to go to any
other country, be sure that I will never lose my ties with Istanbul
and Anatolia. I would be here at every opportunity.

`As a woman, I want to be able to sit in an ordinary café without
being the target of some strange stares. I should be able to, once in
a thousand years, to stay alone and order wine for myself ¦ I want a
more modern, free Istanbul that stands up to its identity.

`My grandparents used to prepare themselves for one week before
strolling down Ä°stiklal Avenue. They would put on their gloves and
hats and look in the mirror. Women would do their hair, put on their
best clothes. Of course, times have changed; we cannot be like them,
but I would like to live in that beautiful Istanbul with its cafés and
the pastry shops they told us about.

Meanwhile, the young publicist, S., said Istanbul truly is a very
beautiful city. `I believe we should really appreciate it. I have
traveled a lot and when I talk to people and tell them I live in
Istanbul, I see the spark in their eyes. I wish this city was a place
where women and men live under equal conditions, where women's purses
are not snatched, where women are not murdered by the dozen every day.

`My ancestors were born here. We can trace back several generations,
all born and raised here. I see this place as my country. I am not
thinking of leaving because I feel that I belong here. Even though we
may experience unpleasant situations from time to time, we have never
thought of leaving our country as a family. Our wish is to live in a
country where everybody is able to defend their ideas freely. This is
not for minorities only; this is for all the people living in Turkey.'

Aslin AslanoÄ?lu also said that even though she has some concerns, she
would not think of leaving her country. `Frankly, if an unwanted act
or incident happened to me, I would not generalize it to all my
non-Armenian friends. I would want all my non-Armenian friends to
approach me like that too. As a result, I have very strong
friendships, a life I have formed for myself. Absolutely, definitely I
am staying here because I love my country. This is the only reason.

`Even though I have listened to certain unpleasant memories from my
family about those times when they migrated from Anatolia to Istanbul
and about the rural environment before that, I have also listened to
stories involving very strong Turkish-Armenian relations. I have never
acted with fanatic feelings.

`I have to add that I wish not only the city I live in, Istanbul, but
the entire country should be a place where the rights of minorities
are embraced; and equal circumstances, as equal as they can be, are
provided for all minorities. I do not like using the word "minority,"
but this concept should include not only Armenians but all other
cultures, atheists, homosexuals and our handicapped citizens, all of
our people who are seen as `the other.''