Arpine Konyalian Grenier

A Place in the Sun, in Turkey, Malgre Sangre

I am watching hunger. May 20, 2009, Tucson International Airport. The lady bound for Chicago, for her granddaughter’s graduation, has just finished eating her yoghurt and granola mix. She is not too happy about her trip, not happy she’ll be away from Tucson, likes the slow of Tucson. She does, however, wish me a wonderful trip to Istanbul. “It’s good to close the book and go forward,” she says when I tell her I will also visit the Konya/Aksaray region where my father came from. I wait. There’s still an hour before takeoff. Hal would have been a great distraction now, his German/sailor/soldier mind and ways. We all distract ourselves somehow while we’re waiting, my meditation beads tell me. I’m wearing them. So then, next to this cute little girl of probably seven years old who’s coloring pictures as she waits, so intensely filling inside the lines with blue then orange and, and, I have an urge to suggest she color outside the lines (am glad she has not colored the wings of the angel). “What happens if you color outside the line here?” I ask. She smiles. “I don’t know,” she says, and returns to filling in the color.

Having already noticed how much we’re alike, I now want and need to learn to accept that, to also accept and love the unknown I come from. At Gate 15, Dallas/ Fort Worth Airport, they’re announcing KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ flight information in French. I’m surrounded by languages I recognize or don’t. Have I been too long away from these sounds and minds? Always a misfit this I and yet this here feels fit/unfit and familiar in its strangeness. So, to be familiar with a strangeness or, to find the strangeness within the familiar, that’s all pulse, isn’t it? Otherwise, life is unbearable. Agency is fluid, remember? Moving (velocity?) allows sight when screens are in the way. “The dogged, organized and slightly boring make better corporate officers than the warm, flexible and empathic types,” says today’s International Herald Tribune on page seven. Oh well. Dallas to Amsterdam will be a nine hour flight.

There is no other city like Venice, and I bet there is no other city like Istanbul either. I was not brought up to consider (regard?) Turkey. I had never looked at her, let alone seen her. Placed as displaced, the only way to have was by not having and the only way to get out was by not getting out, like the main characters in the film, A Place in the Sun. What did they end up with? They had other options. I do too. Forty some years after I voluntarily left Lebanon where I was born, I will be visiting my father’s hometown wherefrom he barely made it alive way before he’d turned school age. In Turkey, I will be experiencing the culture of my ancestry as well as the culture I had run away from. Turkey and Lebanon, both Mediterranean, both left behind. I want to tend and befriend, accede to the full experience of the four noble feelings: glad, sad, bad, mad. So far, I’ve repressed some of them. No more fight, no more flight.

Amsterdam Airport. Several Turkish women with children are already waiting at the entrance to Gate 53. They look at me as if they know me, their eyes like Armenian eyes. I am leaning against baggage cart racks, planning the introduction to my presentation for the 2009 Dink Memorial Workshop sponsored by Sabanci University, Anadolu Kultur and the International Hrant Dink Foundation. Choke. It seems all I want to do is express gratitude for this opportunity, and love. That is and must be enough, I hope. Sabanci is a fairly new and progressive, private university, and I have heard a lot of good things about the workings of Anadolu Kultur. Luckily, boarding and takeoff have been efficient and uneventful. We’re on our way to Istanbul. The flight is serving me well as I’m practicing Turkish with the woman next to me. She and her children are returning to Turkey for the summer. Her husband is a visiting professor at some university in the United States.

We’re almost there. I see Istanbul, that ancient city, said to have been built on seven hills. At the baggage claim area I notice a Sabanci University greeter’s sign with my name on it. We embrace. The greeter is Ezgi (it is a modern Turkish name, she says), beautiful, smart and personable. One of the precious qualities of the Mediterranean region has always been simultaneity — an attitude of togetherness (asabia in Arabic) that harbors elements of pride and respect towards one’s community and society. Even Aristotle has not properly dealt with this matter in his ethics, I am thinking. Then I wonder, were the so called Dark Ages really dark, was the Mediterranean region included in this (Western) assessment? Maybe not. My ruminations are interrupted by the striking beauty around me. The limousine ride along the sky-blue waters is amazing, the terrain reminds me of the coastline of Beirut. “We’re crossing the Freedom Bridge,” says Ezgi, “it was constructed in memory of our 500 years of freedom.” I feel off kilter, wasn’t that 500 years of capture? I suspect she is being whimsical.

Uses of language: to cover/uncover a choice we forget to remember but also to access, a choice for celebration of capture of or freedom from blind spots, not just of the majority but of minorities as well. “Be brave,” they said. Were they? Women with bodies elsewhere denied them, and Kurds. Others too. So much of Constantinople is in Istanbul, I feel, like so much of the Turkish in me. Conjecture, possibility, likelihood. Relief?

Hotel Troya. It is 1:15 AM. I have checked in and settled down. The uniquely embroidered bedcovers flash unlived parts of my life into my head. My grandmother’s house, her kilims and shawl, I am revisiting to reinvent. Too many thoughts and feelings force me out of bed to pen and paper. Couldn’t sleep and wouldn’t. I also have some trust issues here. Will I really receive a wake up call from the front desk at 6:30 AM?

Flash forward. In the end, I will be speaking Turkish fluently, all the Turkish I have heard in my lifetime but, never spoken. The sound of it will feel good, gemütlich. So too will be the four days of the Dink Memorial Workshop at Tutun Deposu (an old tobacco warehouse, now a cultural venue), the space, the presentations, the hospitality, the attendees, all in harmony. The theme is Gender, Ethnicity and the Nation-State: Anatolia and its Neighboring Regions. Opening ceremonies include Kapilari Acmak/Opening the Doors by Kardes Turkuler and the Sayat Nova Choir, then memories and testimonies, presentations on contemporary constructions of Kurdishness and Armenianness, gender, ethnicity, history, ethnicity and violence, Circassian beauty, the Ahiska Turk, the Abkhaz surrender, Hamshen Armenians (who?), art and politics across borders, the xeni, the yabanci, the koylu, the kaba. Sophia, a Greek-American participant from Michigan State University comments about qualifier suffixes in Turkish; like for example with surnames, ‘li’ is for location as in Konyali (from Konya) and ‘ci’ is for occupation as in boyaci, painter (boya is paint). She is adorable. I am living hunger.

That first evening at Karakoy Restaurant, I sit with Rakel Dink (a stately, wise woman, widower of Hrant Dink) and Fethiye Cetin, an attractive and intelligent attorney and author. The mezza, wine, fish and hospitality are talking. Us too, lovely. Here are participants from 15 countries. Following dinner, Osman Kavala from Anadolu Kultur invites everyone for drinks at Cezayir Restaurant. We are discussing yapmak (to make) versus etmek (to do). Nefret etmek (to hate) has been interesting for me because in Turkish, nefret (hate) becomes a verb only with the auxiliary, etmek. For hate, I prefer to use the auxiliary yapmak (actually have a poem titled, nefret yapmak) because I feel hate does not come from natural action, that it takes effort to hate. So, for the verb to hate, ‘making’ hate makes more sense than ‘doing’ hate, I say. Others have different opinions, especially since the expression nefret yapmak does not make sense in Turkish.

Later, some of us are singing Bank Ottoman, the Armenian revolutionary song about bombing the Bank. This is an incredible experience; fifty years ago it would have been unthinkable. Some want to also sing it in front of Bank Ottoman itself but, that would have been stretching it. I must say that over the years, Armenian revolutionary songs have come to reflect much more than the long lost and sadly dated spirit of the Armenian revolutionary. Sung on the occasion of weddings, funerals and other ceremonial functions, they have become the vehicle for expressing passion at large, fanning encumbrance, urgency, rattling history?

It’s almost midnight, the conversation continues. Osman tells us that a few Armenians have been influential in Turkey’s transition from the Ottoman to the Republic. He mentions linguist, Agop Martayan who was given the name Dilacar (language opener) by Ataturk. He and a few others were noteworthy in westernizing the Turkish language. Martayan also codified the Turkish alphabet and edited the Encyclopedia of Greater Turkey. Then there was Edgar Manas, a prominent composer who orchestrated the Turkish national anthem. When Dilacar (Martayan) passed in 1979, the official Turkish news agency chose not to address his Armenian origins. Osman also states that before Ataturk the Ottoman resembled a ‘mother with no arms’ while after him it was hailed as Anavatan (Motherland), that Anadolu means full mother, and that it is Istanbul (‘I go to the city’ from the Greek), not Islambul, Ahtamar (from the Armenian), not Akdamar. All this time we’re getting closer to one another as we continue to float. At some point we are saved by our union, on a raft, over water. A place in the sun, indeed.

The following day of the Workshop I meet more attendees. Some are local, others first generation here. Ayse Gul’s mother is from Eastern Europe, Osman’s father too. My watch battery just stopped, Hermine takes care of it right away. She is local but feels diasporan. Helene, an artist, asks me to participate in her (diasporan) video project. But everyone is diasporan, I say, there but not there, clueless, ortancil (in the middle), and older is not necessarily elder. I want to loosen and undo matter, I also need glue. I am flushed, yet powerful. Everyone is nice here. There are no ‘where are you’ or ‘how am I doing’ types. The women are beautiful, soul is in their eyes. I can easily be seduced by the men anytime, anyhow. The five times a day call (ezan) of the mosque is beautiful. (Early Christians used to pray that often too, then they changed.)

The last evening, we use public transportation to go to the Giritli Café for dinner. It is fun being pressed against one another in the train during rush hour, experiencing the bumpy ride together, holding unto each other, refusing to let go. A gypsy family entertains us at the Giritli. The performance is stunning, the songs and dances full of love and hope and passion. We’re all alike as we’re different. I feel it.

The Workshop is over. The days seem to have swiftly glided by. In the end, we have developed kinship. The locals present us with gifts: Ebru, a magnificent book on the cultural heritage of Turkey, edited by Ayse Gul Altinay, and another splendid volume titled, Armenians in Turkey 100 Years Ago, compiled by Osman Koker. We are also given lokum. That’s Turkish Delight. Later I bought more lokum from Konya for the folks back home, no one liked it so I indulged. It was superbly fresh and delicious. In the end I have questions, concerns:

- Let’s talk a bit first please.

- Did you know some call me anzkam (Armenian for one who has no feelings)?

- Should I send my poem, He rules his own house, to Nichanian?

- Should I tell him about the titles of my manuscripts?

- Verbs in Turkish seem to have the unique quality of distinguishing between what’s observed and what’s rumored. How to make that work for, let’s say, improving the exploration of causalities?

- Can there really be such a thing as ‘usurping mourning’?

- Why didn’t Zabel Yessayan’s writing have her contemporary, Halide Edib’s complexity, why did she decide to be a writer anyway, why didn’t censorship and abandonment have better effects on her writing, how on earth could she write poetry instead of prose in order to conform?

In the end, several journalists interview me. They print what they wish.

Istiklal means independence in Turkish (I know that from the Arabic), and Hotel Troya is in the Beyoglu section of Istanbul, off Istiklal Avenue. The rates are decent and the staff, pleasant. It is owned and operated by an Arab from Antakya. Other Arabs work here as well, like Sami, Murat. They are from Antakya too. They know Kessab, my mother’s birthplace by Antakya, on the Syrian side. When Murat first introduced himself to me, he said, “My name is Murat, a perfectly Turkish name.” A few days later I find out he is an Arab, Sami’s neighbor in Antakya. Their families are still there. “There is no work in Antakya,” they say. Sad commentary. “We cannot get jobs like other Turkish citizens here either.” Another sad commentary. Ah, the archness and brickness of categories!

Next morning I get up late and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, compliments of Hotel Troya. This is no ‘continental breakfast’, it is more like a generous spread of many kinds of cheese, butter, fruit, choice appetizers and egg dishes, cereals, breads, cakes, and beverages. The figs and cumquats sparkle against each other, ready for consumption. The coffee is well roasted and fresh. I am full. My friend Burcu will be here in a few hours. I am waiting in the main lobby, reflecting on the who and what all of the past few days, all of it highly interactive between participants and attendees, truly. The only intolerance has been that of non-communication.

Having already noticed how much we’re alike and different, I now want and need to learn to love that, shifting and turning without undoing myself, without unseeing or dismissing others either. That will help me love myself someday, love and accept the oppression I come from, the oppressive that has released these new days for me (us). In Armenian, azcagan is relative, it comes from azc = nation. Can I make humanity my nation, or is the thought nationalistic still? How does one categorize nationalities? Shall I give up the concept altogether because it is neither integrative nor constitutive? Yet, an ethnic slant provides powerful multi-layers within the larger world.

Perhaps one must focus on connection. The human, impregnated (embarrazzado), embarrassed and humbled by connecting and sharing is addicted to the connect. Face it, I tell myself, the parameters of ‘then’ were different from those of ‘now’. Beware of easy gratification, of ascribing the ‘grotesque’ to an ‘other’. Civilization is no more that brazen foreign woman, that one-toothed monster coming at you. Do not fear cultivation. Go beyond (Armenian novelist) Raffi’s Zahroumar.

I also very strongly remind my self that when I am not mindful of an inner power, I am afraid. Catastrophe often arises from the fear of those in power who are not really in touch with their inner power. That’s failure between two magnets to connect. Where are the waiting points? The question burns and is burning since conclusions have measured in the missing, and explicity (or by omission one) is limiting. Ah, but the unsoundly extended in the interim. Whirling and swirling, we, sediment or vomit (banal, boyuk) from some concoction neither of us has wished to undo so far. We need a backdrop or setting similar to the Higgs’ field with or against which elementary particles acquire definition. That is the physical world’s metaphor for love — a necessity — humanity’s challenge for a future in which we really can have it both ways — union and progress, and then some. There’s movement and fluidity when we’re learning about each other, plowing, bouncing, lingering, stretching, moving on as we grow. No more (vampire) sucking blood or just yearning and longing, more like werewolves, shape shifting organically. Then there’s hope. It is the hope of the witness whose integrity is integral to generating hope, hope to make the river newly. No more plaster for the cracks, no fuss, no silence, no stutters either. No debunking but the exemplary, to rethink what is time what is space between two magnets. Coherent decoherence. Catastrophic laughter then? Parity is not conserved but passed on otherly then, ebru created colors and shapes allow the passage. Silk.

Ipek is silk. I remember actor/director Caspar Ipekian’s National Theater Group in Beirut. One season it produced Levon Shant’s Heen Asdvadzner (Ancient Gods). I was a young little girl then. Zinc and titanium enhance the toughness of silk now. The gods are at it again, oriental as ever. Untergehen. En face de _

Such was Saturday night’s candlelight poetry reading at Tutun Deposu with Karakasli who writes in Turkish, and me. Later she said, “I will always remember you touched me, you smiled and sang, ben Konyali sen Karakasli/nerden nere nerden nere. You did trust me, Arpine, you opened up your heart and all the love and spirit of Istanbul poured in, it was an unforgettable time, you were generous.” I reciprocate and “because we are strong inside,” I add. Bursar maybe. Some cannot win, having lost sensitivity towards the dipole, a dipole moment is missing.

The concierge informs me Burcu is here. Burcu is Turkish, educated in the United States. She has been kind enough to be showing me a bit of Istanbul during the next few days. Ah Istanbul, the yoghurt seller’s bells, the shoeshine boy, roasted chestnut vendors everywhere. The City is trying to remember itself in order to move forward. The sherbet vendors of the Ottoman are still around in tourist areas. There are dogs (and cats) everywhere, they are called street dogs, not stray dogs; they carry tags. Past Bogaz Turu, the Tunel, over the Bosphorus Canal, it is Dolmabahce, Besiktas, Ciragan, then the first bridge, Ortakoy, Rumeli Hisari, Yali, then the second bridge which is newer. The boat ride is breathtaking. Now the Asian side: Kanlica, Sahil Yolu (sahil = coast), Yenikoy (here’s the summer presidential palace), Sariyer (with characteristic onion shaped domes), Rumeli Kavagi, Anadolu Kavagi. We’re on land again, climbing up to the ruins. There are many who do the same. Then it’s lunch with cherries and kemalpasa (after Kemal Ataturk) at the Yoros Café. The view from this elevation is spectacular. Yesterday I tasted sekerpare. These are scrumptious desserts. What I taste, hear and see has been cementing what otherwise would not have surfaced, as most of experience does not tip or announce the death anthem, as we all want to be coming from somewhere. Be wary of narration, do not give into it, I tell myself. Rest assured. If read to one reads, if looked up to one looks up, from love or fear. The Turkish writer Namik Kemal said, “In the end, regret is useless”. Choose.

I tell Burcu about Biz Miyassine (We Together), a Turkish and Armenian organization based in France. Who shouts loudest. Connection is a basic need, humbling and addictive yes, but there is beauty in the connect. We are after that beauty. It provides reflection, harmony, tells us how to travel in space, in life. Laws of the Universe help me understand that more than one object can occupy the same space and more than one space can be occupied by a single object. I am learning the lesson of refugees, remembering the ‘wild elephants’ below, remembering also the sadirvans (fountains) for ablution. Insight alone is not enough. I need to be where things are simultaneously horizontal and vertical as well.

We walk from Misir Carsisi (Spice Bazaar) to Galata Tower, to the Hyppodrome. Then we ride the local bus to Haghia Sophia where it is not about de formation or re formation but castration/cover up. Maiming? Granted that has come about much earlier than similar silencings, there are staggering reverberations everywhere. That’s ancient history, says Burcu. I revert to the now. How about health education, how well has it developed in Turkey, I ask, as I see too many overweight people. Food is of utmost importance here, of course. We’re in the Mediterranean where emotional connects are mostly set up through food and music. Those are addictive too. OK. What to do with Turkey, what will Turkey do, what Turkey does malgre sangre.

Question: is what one does with the past the future?

We’re at Yerebatan Sarnici, the underground cistern by Haghia Sophia. School children are crossing the street. They are on a field trip. I hear the teacher’s excited voice, “Isn’t this fun, we are going mahajir” (that’s exile, aksor in Armenian). I am bemused. Other, less fortunate children are selling pocket size Kleenex type tissues, one TL each. They are convincing. Later we visit the Blue Mosque, then the Islamic Art Museum. There, I see a most beautifully lettered Tugra (declaration of order). Call to order regarding an issue, any some issue. I need a tugra for love. I tell Burcu I would like it in Kufic (the alphabet used in this region many years ago, before Arabic). She appreciates my hopes and wishes. Next, the Grand Bazaar and Beyazit Square where pigeons, handicraft booths, and stately trees and libraries create a memorable atmosphere along the street. Here’s also Istanbul University, its palatial (Ottoman) Ministry of War chambers house the University’s rectorate now. The static pays the price, definitely, remains residue, its heap of hells alternately capsize and swell. What good is veracity then, its pace cumulates anguish and abandon.

Knock knock, who’s there, open the door, what door, ah yes, say it anyway, anyway lightly. Here are some Turk and Armenian issues: borders, ghosts, mute or loud and raspy. Whispers, no stutters. The following morning Burcu and I light candles and pray at the Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church. Another Turk is praying there too, he says he prefers the church to mosques.

Topkapi Palace is next. Heavily armed soldiers mar the entrance to what may be considered one of the marvels of the world. The setting, the grounds, the intricate mosaics and jewelry are aesthetic masterpieces. It is interesting that the harem is by the old Council Chambers, also interesting that five starred designs (engravings) are after the sixth, eight starred after the ninth. I notice them again and again. It is all a matter of dignity even though dignity must step outside itself, reckon erg, love being, loved. This is my last day in Istanbul. In the afternoon we visit the Kariye Church, the Old City Walls and the Suleymaniye Complex. The latter is being renovated. Later for dinner, we have kazandibi, a creamy dessert made from chicken meat, and kunefe with warm cheese. I hug and thank Burcu. We will stay in touch. Tomorrow, Konya.

The Turkish Airlines flight to Konya has been a pleasure: the clean and friendly atmosphere on board, that delicious sandwich, the cabin music, a captivating rendition of Eastern and Western sound. Kadir, a Konya University volunteer student greets me at the airport. Kadir means capable, he tells me. It comes from Arabic, I tell him. He is charming. In Konya, the ezan is amazingly well articulated both in musicality and words. Ney is the Sufi flute and neyzen is its player, and ‘Oh Mevlevi Presence’ is inscribed in Ottoman Turkish (with Arabic letters) above the entrance to the Mevlana Museum, Mevlana Turbesi (Rumi’s tomb) prostrate while his father’s upright, in his honor. Turbe is tomb. Kadir tells me Rumi’s philosophy and followers are called Mevleni, and his teachings, Mesnevi. There is a beautiful seccade (carpet) I want to take home with me. It is really beautiful. Mevlana was also called Rumi and Celalettin. The region was first Seljuk then Ottoman. So are my roots, I tell myself. I am also Armenian from Beirut, Kessab and Pasadena. Puzzling, baffling, but maybe not. We lunch at a local restaurant that only serves tirit, a local dish - spicy bread assortment smothered in some yoghurt sauce, delicious strips of meat on top. Later, we taste etli ekmek (meaty bread) which is another local dish. The restaurant owner calls me hemseri (relative), is offended when I offer a tip. When the ezan starts, the owner and servers are less social, more reverent. We also indulge in pistachio ice cream and dondurmali baklava at Mado, which stands for Marash Dondurmasi (dondurma is ice cream). Soon Mado will be available in the United States and Russia.

We then visit the blue mosaic studded Karatay (young horse) Museum which used to be a Seljuk madrasa (school), then the remains of the Seljuk Palace. An aesthetically pleasing structure has been constructed around the columns in front; it looks more recent. I notice that hardly anyone visits Tebrizli Semsettin Turbesi (tomb of Semsettin of Tebriz). It stands by itself, a serene and sacred place emanating love and compassion. Semsettin was Rumi’s ‘Other’. Kadir tells me his views about the passion to reason dilemma of human kind. I am surprised as he is only twenty years old. Now we’re at the Alaeddin Keykubat Mosque and Alaeddin Tepesi (hill) where one finds the largest man-made junction of roads in the world, I am told. This is Selcuklu Beledyesi, the doubly fundamental thrives here, the Anatole and the Seljuk. For me there has been a third, the Protestant.

In Konya, I stay at Ogretmen Evi, the hostel for teachers. At the entrance, a quote from Ataturk reads, ‘Muallimler yeni nesil sizin eseriniz olacaktir’. These are wise words to teachers. After checking in, we take the dolmus which is a city minibus, the word means full. It is always full. We pass by Sarraflar Carsisi, the exchange market. They exchange money and gold and all things precious at this glittery complex. Over the bridge, yet another quote, ‘Ya oldugun gibi gorun, ya da gorundugun gibi ol’ (either look as you are or be as you look), then a billboard, ‘Hayatinizi Tatlandirin’, sweeten your lives, it says. My Turkish is smoother now. The sound makes me feel more like who I am. The ezan reminds me of Beirut. I love its daily and repetitive melodic gyrations.

We pass by Konya Lisesi, a 100 year old school. Then, along a crowded street I notice an old, run down building that looks like an Armenian Church, Armenian or Greek or other? It is closed, is always closed, says Kadir. There is a sign in Turkish in front of it, ‘for bicycles only’. Kadir is girisikli (resourceful, entrepreneurial). He reassures me he will find out about the Church. The following day, however, he disappointedly informs me he has located no information at all. The building is an architectural beauty, I am surprised he does not already know about it as he is a local.

For breakfast we have pohaca and simit at a food stand. The old man at the stand asks, “Are you speaking English with the lady?” Kadir says, yes. The man is happy a Turkish young man is speaking English. Dunya Kenti Konya, reads the sign over an underpass. Konya, World City. Fake tulips will do in Konya but, they must be red and in the center of town, just like statues of Ataturk, focal, with message, vocal and local, never the lesser. I hope to return to Konya during the Selcuk University Spring Festival (Bahar Senligi), next. People are reverent here.

On the dolmus again, we’re looking into City of Aksaray travel at two different transportation agencies: Tokat Yildizi and Kontur Ozkaymak. Kadir is originally from Tokat so we choose Tokat Yildizi. The line is Aksaray to Nevsehir to Kayseri to Sivas. Aksaray is two hours from here. On the bus, I am glancing at the landscape but also taking it in. First, we pass by suburban Kule Site (tower city), a cluster of towering commercial and residential buildings, then the region turns ova (plain and wide planes), genis duzluk. Lavender and yellow wildflowers and occasional herds of sheep line the asphalt. The bus attendant is serving complimentary juice and cake. He is gracious. Kadir reminds me of Rumi’s three words — hamdim, pistim, yandim — I’m created (graced?), weathered (seasoned?), consumed (finished off?). I want to remind myself of the cycle of these words everyday of my life. The driver is playing what is called Arabesk music. It is sad and mostly heard by the working class. Then there is Turku which is Turkish folk ballads. Sarki means song, politicians’ affairs often are karanlik isler (dark business, under the table affairs?), dogum guni is birthday, and yumusak is soft. Kadir is telling me all this. (By the way, he is the only person I met in Turkey who has asked me about the Armenian Genocide, and he did use the term, genocide. I told him about April 24th, the Armenian Genocide commemoration day, also that April is Abril in Armenian, and it means 'to live'.)

More exchange on the bus. Kadir tells me Yeva is Havva in Turkish when I tell him Hawa = wind = love in Arabic. My, my, how all inclusive that is. Alan is space, liman is port, hava limani is airport and deniz limani is harbor. Evle is married because ev is home, and being married, one has a home (as if). We chuckle. Akraba is relative, devlet is state as in Plato’s Devlet or Amerika Birlesik Devletleri (USA). “I know bilezik is bracelet, it must come from the idea of being united then, huh, interesting,” I say. We continue, animated as always. I tell him about my poetry manuscripts and about poetry and art in the United States. He tells me about the three main political parties in Turkey. The Secular Party (CHP) is an older and democratric party, they love Ataturk. The Religious Conservatives (AKP) support capitalism, they do not care for Ataturk. Then there is the Nationalists (MHP) who disapprove of capitalism. Himself voted for the Liberal Democrat Party, it is a small party, he says. He then tells me about Gazi (veteran) Antep, Kahraman (heroic) Maras and Sanli (glorious) Urfa. The adjectives were bestowed on these cities for their valor during the 20th Century.

We’re in Aksaray now. It is much smaller than Konya. I am being noticed as an Out of Towner right away because not very many people visit here. We shall spend one full day here. First, we stop by the 12th Century Egri (bent) Minaret, then the Ulucami. Ulu means exalted. I see the sign for a hasta hana and remember the words (hospital, house of patients). There are numerous pasta hanas here as well, pastry shops. For lunch we have karniyarik, incir tatlisi and sarma tatlisi. The eggplant dish and desserts are other worldly. Kadir teaches me to say ‘yarasin’. That is said in response to someone expressing gratification after a good meal, but more so after having had a good drink of alcohol, sort of like a post bon appetit, excusing/allowing for the intake of alcohol perhaps. It is colloquial. I am calling him Sanli Kadir now. We are unable to visit the churches and caves at nearby Ihlara Vadisi because of time constraints. Next time. For now, I’m happy simply walking the streets, having small talk with the locals, touching merchandise here and there.

On the way back to Konya, we see a leylek (stork) at the Aksaray Autobus Station. It is aracil in Armenian. I remember the song, Pari Aracil. The bird brings good news, they say. Softer, lighter against the snow covered peaks of Hasan Dagi, it looks like hope itself. Softer and lighter is safer. Method, tell me more. When I feel, hearing and seeing are superfluous.

We’re having complimentary juice and cake again as the bus crosses the genis duzluk one more time. Kadir is proud to be from Tokat, the region is famous for scarves (yazmalar). Besides Istanbul, Ankara and Konya, the major cities of Turkey are Izmir, Adana, Bursa, Antalya, Diarbekir, Erzurum and Samsun, he tells me. In Gazi Antep, they have 40 variations for making kebab, kelime is word (like in Arabic), seyyar satici is person selling on the streets, nefes is breath while nefis is self. 20th Century Turkish poets, Cahit Sitki Taranci, Necip Fazil Kisakurek and Atilla Ilhan are worth reading, he says. I will do so when I return home. I tell him a bit about my obsession with the neutral non-zero of Higgs’ field. He is fascinated. Now we are testing ourselves as to which Turk in the bus is really Armenian. He says he knows them by their broad shoulders and noses. I say, I know them from their eyes, they look needy as in muhtac insanlar. He we are needy too, hungry. My visit has been icli (hearty) and tatli (sweet). Kadir has been a reflection of what Turkey is slowly becoming these days, the best of the East and the West. Tomorrow I return to Istanbul, then Tucson.

On the way to Istanbul Ataturk Airport, I tell the taxi driver about my bagimlilik regarding Istanbul, my sohbet in Istanbul. He tells me I am hayat dolu (filled with life). I think I am umit dolu (filled with hope). Next time in Turkey, I will also go to Eastern Anatolia, Van and Kars, to Ahtamar and Ani Harabeleri (the ruins, remains of the ancient Armenian City of Ani, of 1000 churches). At the dry point one experiences stance, direction. The origin of excess may have come from the push to eliminate pulse, stance, direction. Kadir has been saying, “Sora, sora, Bagdat bulunur”. It is a proverb. Ask and ask, Bagdad will be found. Question: is what one does with the past, the future? How do I answer? What do I do with remains?

Many years ago I was given a bandaged doll for Christmas. What could I do with it, what can a five year old do with or for the bandaged, bandaged from long, long ago. And yet, all parts of a simulacrum breathe, in time, in space. Those farther away survive as much or as well as those, closer. I am Hye Gin (Armenian Woman). Gin, from gyne. I remember that agency is fluid, and that the functionality of identities is identity too, a gate that can slam shut or open. I’ll go through it not knowing what’s on the other side. Who is to say when which creates, what. The only what I know is the gill I breathe from.

No one is gone or left behind, nothing either. A so called level of mileage between us throttles. It is time to toot the horn. A hard and soft non-existence is running, parsing and bending away from categories. I am culturally un-locatable, and my task is to avoid excess, that’s all. I’ll use myself, manipulating the essentials and how they work at large. I’ll use, instead of express myself, unfolding within a creating, invisible and unaccountable, yet on the grid, abandoning self, not because I cannot be documented but because of gratitude, hope and love. There is no product where love is, but a fullness pushing forward, pushing beyond catastrophe or misuse or the good and the bad. I, visible practice, underpinned by an invisible, conflated and conflagrated for a behemoth size aspiration, an associative moral headed whereabouts, ailing, wailing, failing, longing for many worlds while nurturing the longing. The Turkish poet, Taranci, said, “I want a country … let there be an end to brothers’ quarrels … I want a country … let living be like loving from the heart.”

Question: when a concept or person is unpopular, what happens to the policies surrounding it? Toughen or relax or revise the genetically biased tune or tone, incentives all around, resurgent, hand to hand, interventionist mode driven. I am returning home. On the airplane, the couple next to me has a small child, Noah. They are flushing him with love. Grace is not required but necessary. Hal has been saying he has a lot of love to give, is looking for someone to give it to. That is normal and customary. I now remember I flew KLM Royal Dutch Airlines first time when I left home for the USA, to find myself, I had said, to claim my self. Now I say I have a place in the sun, glowing, without being on fire. Ben kendimi gelistim in Turkey. I developed, moving from unknowingly being Armenian Turkishly to knowingly becoming American, Armenianly.

Arpine Konyalian Grenier is a former scientist, musician and financial analyst, a graduate of the American University of Beirut and the Milton Avery Graduate Center for the Arts, Bard College, New York. Her work has been described as a mosaic of narrative that takes us out of our provincial concentration on American life to encompass broader social and geopolitical issues with a decidedly urban and postmodern sensibility. She has authored three collections of poetry, and has been featured in numerous publications including several anthologies.

previous page     contents     next page



Post a Comment

<< Home