Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Lifetime Exile to Istanbul

He said, “Help me, doctor!”, “Please rid me quick of this tonsillitis trouble. I need to get back home to my village.”

In fact, he had never wanted to leave his village. If only he had been free to do so, he would never have gone to Istanbul for years, and wouldn’t have bat an eyelid. Every year he used to teach at the village school from the 15th of October to the 15th of April and then began cultivating the land wearing his white, loose farm clothes, and sandals on his feet. He preferred this routine which gave him the chance to meditate and write, to life in the city. He had managed to harmonize his boundless interest in literature with village life; an interest he gained at schools he attended in Istanbul; at the Ecole Française, at Getronagan, and especially at Robert College.

And there he was, after a trip starting from his village on the banks of the Euphrates, heading toward Trabzon, reaching the capital after a ship journey, and setting foot to the baker’s in Beşiktaş where he worked as an apprentice as a child, for the first time in seven years. The journey took eleven days, it was November. Two months ago, his wife Voğıda gave birth to a boy on the day of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross; and the baby boy was baptized as Haço. He thought of nothing but his village, he had left, saying “I will stay no more than two days and will be home in twenty-twenty five days at most, so don’t you worry”.

Once more, he damned the day he caught tonsillitis, a result of his insistence to stay too long in one of the “kıpçik”s, a name given to the little lagoons in the rocks. In another place the illness might have been tolerated, but in his hometown, no one would bear entering winter with tonsillitis. If ignored, those tiny tonsils would even bring the boldest tough men down and before you know it, you would be bedridden.

When Doctor Uncuyan, whom he visited after seeing the ads in the newspaper for “painless tonsillectomy”, told him that the operation was over, he was on cloud nine. The operation had run smoothly. He thanked the doctor a thousand times, paid the operation fee of twenty kuruş. The doctor’s surgery was in Bahçekapı, close to Sanasaryan Han. How long would it take to run to catch the boat departing from Galata anyhow? As he was about to reach the port, he began to run faster, without apologizing to people he was bumping into. However, he was late. They said, “It has been twenty five minutes since the boat left. It must have reached Büyükdere by now.”

This is the story of how this villager of Armıdan was helplessly stuck in Istanbul on that November day.

Since the next boat was a week later, he went back to his father’s shop selling cattle feed in Üsküdar. During those days when he wandered around aimlessly, town criers began to announce that the government was calling up men for conscription. He was twenty eight then and was immediately enlisted. Since he had worked as a baker, he was appointed to the task of delivering bread to the military troops on the Anatolian side. While he worked ceaselessly in the army, he could think of nothing but his family. Then the news started to come in that Armenians were being forced to migrate from all corners of Anatolia. After May, he received no further news about what had happened to his family, his wife, grandfather, mother, and four children. His family may have drowned in the wild waters of the Euphrates, or maybe the sands of Der Zor had sucked them in.

Hagop Demirciyan, also known as Hagop Mıntzuri, led a life similar to one of his most favored long walks. This long walk lasted until 1978. He was unable to leave Istanbul, a city he adopted as his land of exile. He got married once more and he had children again. He sold cattle-feed, he worked as a baker and a clerk. He never stopped writing. He brought to life the memories of his lost country, engraved into the depths of his mind; he told the story of the people of his homeland, no matter where they came from. He became one of the most remarkable literary figures of 20th century Armenian literature with his books and writings published in papers. As for what happened to his family, he told their story, too, so briefly, so silently; only towards the end of his life.

Translated by Ahu Sıla Bayer

May 11, 2007

1 comment:

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