Vahan Isaoglu

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To Be an Armenian in Turkey...
By Vahan Isaoglu
Translated by the Weekly Translation Team

It is a strange feeling to be an Armenian in Turkey.

Even though after the so-called assassination of Hrant Dink, thousands of people shouted "We are all Hrant, we are all Armenian," even though many others mistook that slogan for something else, it really meant "We are all human."

It is a strange feeling to be an Armenian in Turkey. In fact, one can hardly get there just by shouting.

To be an Armenian in Turkey is to be asked to prepare topik1 by friends who know. It is telling the government official your name and getting a peculiar look from him, then being asked "Are you Armenian?" with a scornful stare. It is having your name misspelled everywhere. During military service, to be an Armenian in Turkey is to be asked by your friends to say kelime-i shahadet2 ("just for once").

And yet, it is to fall in love with the Maiden's Tower3, to be absorbed in thought watching Istanbul from the Galata Tower4.

To be an Armenian in Turkey is to have children who read anti-Armenian remarks in their school books; it is to have no answer when they ask what it means. To be an Armenian in Turkey is to be mentioned as "an Armenian friend.but a really nice fellow."

And yet, it is to sing Turkish classical music from the heart at a table with fish, with raki5, with midye dolma6.

To be an Armenian in Turkey is to be called by some friends on some occasions, who say "Don't worry, they are ignorant. We know you, we love you."

To be an Armenian is to hesitate to say your name when you meet someone, and when you do, it is the habit of trying to guess what the other person is thinking from his or her face.

It is to brood over what you are going to tell your children if they hear the ministers calling a terrorist leader an "Armenian seed."

To be an Armenian in Turkey is to be asked what you think about the French laws. It is to have to start your answer with a "so-called." To be an Armenian in Turkey is to be unable to become a dustman, unable to become a civil servant.

And yet, it is to remember how much you love Turkey, when you throw simit7 to the seagulls on a ferry.

To be an Armenian in Turkey is to have non-Armenian teachers placed in your schools-teachers who are told by some "important" people to be their "eyes and ears."

It is to find a subtle way to discourage your children from wanting to be governors or ministers when they grow up. It is to have to convince them to be something else, without breaking their hearts, without explaining everything. Because to be an Armenian in Turkey is to be unable to become a policeman, a civil servant, a deputy, an army officer, even though you are a Turk. Unlike Turks in Germany, who can be all those things.

And yet, eating arabasi8 soup, watching Hababam Sinifi9, loving cig kofte10 is to be Armenian.

To think, to produce, to be an artist is to be Armenian.

Whenever the idea of emigration comes up, it is to think how much you love this place.

To be timid like a pigeon.

And yet, it is to proudly sing the Independence March11 every morning and shout "Happy to be a Turk" in a Turkey where you don't have a say.

Only when a Turk of Armenian descent becomes a civil servant or army officer will I believe that I am regarded as a Turk. Until then, I'll be singing Edip Akbayram's Aldirma Gonul12.

That's what it is to be an Armenian in Turkey-to be attacked by some when you sing Sari Gelin13 in Armenian, and then say "never mind" and start singing it in Turkish. And, sometimes, it is to lie on the street with a hole in your shoe, eternalizing your ideas, making thousands of people learn to sing Sari Gelin in Armenian.

In short.

It is not an easy thing, to be an Armenian in Turkey. And yet it is beautiful, different as much as beautiful. It's a love affair, to be an Armenian in Turkey.

When you are told to "leave if you don't like it," it is to say, "And yet, this is my country as well."


Endnotes (1) Armenian dish made with chickpeas, sesame seeds and onions. (2) Profession of faith in Islam, which means "I testify that there is no god but Allah and I testify that Mohammed is the messenger of Allah." (3) A tower that sits on a small islet located in the Bosphorus off the coast of Uskudar, Istanbul. (4) A tower located in Istanbul, to the north of the Golden Horn. (5) An alcoholic beverage of Turkey. (6) Dish made with mussels. (7) Circular bread with sesame seeds. (8) A kind of chicken soup with batter. (9) Popular comedy film directed by Ertem Egilmez. (10) Raw kofte (meatballs), a specialty of Urfa region. (11) National anthem of Turkey. (12) A popular song, whose title roughly means "Never mind, my heart." (13) Armenian/Turkish folk song.