BETWEEN ADAPTATION AND NOSTALGIA:
THE BULGARIAN TURKS IN TURKEY
FOREWORD - Antonina Zhelyazkova
THE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL ADAPTATION OF BULGARIAN IMMIGRANTS IN TURKEY- Antonina Zhelyazkova
MOTIVATION OF THE BULGARIAN TURKS TO MIGRATION - Tsvetana Gheorghieva
BULGARIAN TURKISH IMMIGRANTS OF 1989 IN THE REPUBLIC OF TURKEY - Donka Dimitrova
UNDERSTATED, OVEREXPOSED - Peter Krasztev
RELATION TO BULGARIA, THE BULGARIAN PEOPLE, AND THINGS BULGARIAN - Jale Hodja and Emil Milanov
Turks in Bulgaria - Immigrants in Turkey
Arnavutkoy - Kucuk Cekmece
I estimated that the trip from Arnavutkoy, the favourite place to stay as well as place of amusement of foreigners living in Istanbul, to Kucuk cekmece, where a refugee camp from which the inhabitants refused to budge had been bulldozed a few days ago, was going to take two to three hours. Close to the station, directly under the Pan-Mediterranean-style facades sluggish anglers hung on their lines and kept pulling out their tiny, wriggling prey from the water full of garbage and jelly-fish. / fishermen were languidly pulling out their prey, - two or three /pieces/ at a time - out of the net sunk in the dirty sea water/ I got on the roundabout line, since I failed to cram into the direct bus. We left Ortak?y - once inhabited by Jews, but now having an entirely Greek atmosphere - with its baroque-like mosque and hidden synagogue, the giant hotels of Be_ikta_, the eclectic Dolmaba?he Palace, built in the last century by the last Sultans for themselves and their populous harems (it was embarrassing, no doubt, for a "European" ruler to live in the Topkapi, which was about as comfortable as a tent in a Turkish medieval military camp). Then we turned up the hill by the In?n? Stadion and crossed the Soho-like, bustling streets of the _i_li district. Finally we stopped on Taksim Square - I hopped on a single-track tram (probably the same make and the same year as those in Lisbon) running down Istiklal Boulevard, remarkable for its Armenian Gregorian and Italian Catholic church flanking either side, and interspersed with international brand name shops and caf?s which became brothels by night. From the end of the street I walked down to Galata Bridge. "Welcome to Asia", I muttered to myself at the next block, at the sight of loitering Arnauts, grey-faced and moustached, with their women hidden under veils - their ancestors had moved into the abandoned houses of Greek merchants once living there. On the other side of the bridge, Kurds were pulling at my sleeve to buy tobacco from them, fresh from "Kurdistan", on my right the Egyptian Bazaar; peeling myself away, I took the fast tram up to the monuments of imperial glory, away from this frantic business centre where tourists were milked, and then, leaving Aksaray, dashed through Vatan Avenue which was a miniature Gorky Street (now Tverskaya - editor’s note), or so the Russian sign-boards and the ethnic proportions seemed to indicate. I hitched a microbus from the immense, muddy and filthy parking-lot of the Topkapi, and - off we go again, through the housing estates and the satellite towns, passing Atat?rk Airport, passing Avcilar, famous for its casinos, and all the while I keep myself amused imagining that it is not a real tour of a real city, but rather a road movie, edited in counterpoint to make some deliberately didactic point about our Europe sweeping down on Asia, about the frantic fight going on here, between thousands of traditions, between the past and the present, between the secular/profane and the religious/sacred - though in fact this is not at all what the history of the place is about, the projected celluloid tape manipulates the spectator by creating the illusion of temporality: any continuity is mere appearance.
There are about three hundred thousand dramatis personae
in the following story: the exact number of the Turks who emigrated from
Bulgaria after 1989 will remain a matter for debate until the parties involved
tire of the argument - the question is unanswerable and finally not that
important. The collective misfortune of these migrants is to have lived
their lives in two states, as a minority group in one, as an immigrant
group in the other, but treated in both as human raw material for experiments
in the realisation of the currently advocated idea of how to save society.
As a minority group in Bulgaria, not only were they reduced to a state
of helpless dependence - which was not uncommon in our part of the world,
- but they were specifically chosen for sacrifice to an increasingly pathological
obsession with the nation-state by those in power. And when, in 1989, hundreds
of thousands of them emigrated to Turkey en masse, with tourist passports
in their pockets, the tables were turned: the high-and-mighty rulers of
the host country, too, reckoned that the life and fate of those who had
found a new home in their country belonged to them, and that through them
they could influence political developments not only at home, but in Bulgaria
Over seven years have passed since the "big trip" - a length of time which, according to the long-term emigres, is enough for the newcomers to judge whether one might successfully adapt to the new society or would rather be permanently resigned to life on the fringes. A series of events - their collective experience - has become history ever since, a discourse about the past, accepted with a taciturn consensus by the community, has been established, and their former identity as a minority group has also been re-shaped and certainly quite strongly influenced by those "discourse-creating factories" which placed the immigrants under their own guardianship immediately after their arrival.
Between October and December 1996 I visited cities in Turkey where these immigrants had settled down in droves. I talked as informally - and impartially, I hope - as possible without a dictaphone or obvious note-taking to several hundred people. I tried to grasp the moment when personal grievances were sublimated into a story, when the experience of an individual became the history of a community and the sense of banishment and strangeness was replaced by the comfort of a permanent home and settled way of life. In many cases this was not at all difficult - the struggle for survival and even progress, if successful, had invested former humiliations in Bulgaria with a meaning; the immigrants who had not succeeded since 1989 could still comfort themselves obliquely that those stuck at home were not doing any better. Yet, the trauma will remain a trauma forever, and there is no definitive cure, only a continual treatment -demanding a continual reconstruction of memories.
... what matters is the direct personal experience that
somebody has, rather than their formal position.
(Thompson, 1988,p. 188).
Apart from Petar Stoyanov, the president currently
in office, and a few inveterate human rights activists I never met a Bulgarian
who would admit out loud to being deeply ashamed of what had happened in
the country between 1984 and 1989, or who regarded the genocide against
the Turkish and the Pomak minorities as anything other than a minor
stylistic error. The evacuation of Turks from Bulgaria had started immediately
after 1878, the end of the Russian-Turkish war, and by the end of World
War II, approximately five hundred and fifty-five thousand Turks had left
Bulgaria. But this is a mere trifle compared to what began after the Communist
take-over, when the Turkish minority, like all the others, was placed under
the guardianship of the state. Following the first period of the Communist
regime (1948-1951), one hundred and fifty thousand people fled to Turkey
in 1951 from nationalisation and the collectivisation of the land. The
next period, up to 1960, was marked by a "tolerant disintegration": this
was a time when Turkish-language culture in Bulgaria flourished and when
it was practically preferable for a Turk to be Turkish rather than attempting
to integrate into the majority’s society. Then came the miserable 1960s,
the era of "intolerant integration": ethnic schools and theatres were closed
down, Turkish newspapers were banned, listening to Turkish folk music in
public places was prohibited. After the signing of the Bulgarian-Turkish
agreement in 1968, two hundred thousand Turks emigrated, and this - unlike
the 1951 wave - could in no way be perceived as economic emigration.
According to a friend of mine, a former Bulgarian diplomat in Ankara, the "valves" (i.e. the borders) used to be opened from time to time in order to keep the number of "rapidly breeding" Turks constant. But from 1973 on, the concept of a "unified Bulgarian nation" gained overwhelming currency in the Bulgarian press, indicating the beginning of an era of "aggressive homogenisation": the Turks were increasingly absented from ethnic and geographical descriptions of the country; the names of Pomaks were forcefully Bulgarianised, mosques were closed down and it was prohibited to wear shalwars, to celebrate Muslim festivities, to organise traditional weddings and funerals, to keep in touch with the motherland; and to use the Turkish language became punishable. An increasing number of “engaged” authors came to produce historical novels about the Turkish domination, making the point that nobody but Bulgarians have set foot on the holy Bulgarian soil for thousands of years until the Turks invaded to forcefully convert the Christian Bulgarians to Islam or put them to the sword. In 1984, the "rebirth program" sought to eliminate "history's mistake" by changing the names of "Bulgarians with a Turkish name”. And eventually in 1985, a sigh of relief was heard: "There are no Turks in Bulgaria".
‘You do not exist’, O'Brien answered.
Some writers go as far as to say that the USSR uses Bulgaria to test a new policy before applying it to her own people. According to the late Benningsen, the forced change of names imposed on the ethnic Turks in Bulgaria might be the experimental prelude to a similar policy contemplated by the USSR for the Muslims living there.
The general loss of memory is not to be explained solely psychologically; it is not simply childhood amnesia. Rather it is social amnesia - memory driven out of mind by the social and economic dynamic of this society.
Is that what they say? Well, they are wrong. Economically, perhaps, everything was fine, but otherwise... This is mere nostalgia: old times, stuff like that, everybody wants to be young again, this is the only explanation. Besides, they are incapable of thinking things through...
Almost everyone had a true horror story about the renaming
period. I met people who refused to resign themselves to being renamed,
would not accept their new documents and chose imprisonment instead, or
transportation to the punishment camp on Belene Island. These were the
resistance fighters and there were about a thousand of them. They were
beaten up by the police, but - as M?cettin, the waiter in Avcilar told
me - had the good fortune of the freezing spring weather, which meant their
open wounds did not fester in the unheated but stuffy tents they were given
for accommodation; they were re-settled in ethnically pure Bulgarian villages,
but - as Sabri in Ankara pointed out - would never have learnt otherwise
that there were Bulgarians without racial prejudices; they were imprisoned
for years, but - as Zeynep told me - would never otherwise have met that
woman who was in for eighteen years for smacking a policeman on the head
when her three-year-old son had been hit by a tank in the street, and who
had to remain silent at visiting hours when her husband came, because she
spoke no Bulgarian and was not allowed to speak a "foreign language".
The renaming - though it was seemingly well-organised and methodicallly carried out - was probably administered by the local forces without central reinforcement, unless they asked for it specially in case of need. All those who had "foreign" names were given a list with names to choose from. Seliha's entire family chose Russian-sounding names and when she was asked why, she said: so that when the Russians come in a few years I would not have to choose a new name again. The neighbourhood was first surrounded by armed security guards and then the lists were handed around, from apartment to apartment. Some people went into hiding but emerged sooner or later, because their old names disallowed them even from working, drawing money from the bank or driving a car.
In certain areas, the local "elite" were gathered in advance - shepherds and pharmacists alike - and removed to a camp where they were made "politically conscious", forced to dig several kilometres long trenches and live it rough, shown the more shadowy side of life, then given their new documents and, in return for the usual signature - under no circumstances to inform anybody, etc. etc. - allowed to go home “safe and sound”. Only then their families learnt for the first time that they were still alive. Indeed, some of the university graduates could only get manual work afterwards, but at least they were finally Bulgarians and that was the cost they had to pay for the protest they were able to make in their last days as Turks. For example, Recep, a guy I met in Bursa, had chosen an unusual form of passive resistance: when in 1985 it became obligatory for ticket-inspectors on the train to wear name tags (with the new names on, of course), he secretly began to believe in Allah. Perhaps somewhere in the depth of his soul he had always wanted to be different.
One incurable fixation of the Bulgarian authorities was the "foreign contact" about which I heard only one story: immediately after the renaming some teenagers managed to get into the British embassy from where they were told to buzz off immediately and advised to "do the work" outside, with the embassy's special attention. As their ill luck would have it, the teenagers took the advice seriously and started producing and distributing leaflets, but the police caught them and locked them up immediately. Not even a sorry was uttered by the British side.
THE ROAD TO HELL
A narrow gate was set up in the waiting-hall of the station. Policemen stood on either side while masses of emigrants queued in front of it with those who came to see them off, on the other side only those whose passports had been checked. Everyone was allowed as much luggage as they could carry on the way through - there was no return. I pushed the children - one of them was twelve years old, the other sixteen - they passed, then it was my turn, I tried crosswise and lengthwise but did not manage, so I put down one of the suitcases and eventually got through. It was only afterwards that I noticed that I had left the water-can on the other side of the gate. I was not allowed togo back for it or to ask somebody to give it to me. Then we travelled five days in the sweltering heat to the Turkish border.
K???K ?EKMECE - ARNAVUTK?Y - ARNAVUTK?Y
_aban accompanied me to the road on my way
back, worried that the dolmu_-microbus might be too expensive for me, hugged
me and said that he would call me as soon as he had a phone to call from.
It was already eight o'clock in the evening: it takes an hour for the microbus
to struggle through the traffic jam, I calculated, another half an hour
in the tram to Emin?n?, from there at least an hour by bus to Arnavutk?y
where I will look for a pub to watch the second half of the Valencia-Be_ikta_
match. At half past nine I was still by the Aksaray - I got off, because
I saw people running, I thought they were probably running to find a place
in a pub where the coded transmission could be watched. I followed them,
but it turned out that they were catching a bus on which the sign said
"Arnavutk?y" in big black letters, it was just leaving. I was sweating
like hell, but happy to have discovered something, a new itinerary, which
was perhaps shorter than the coast road, and if so, then I could actually
get there in time for the second half. There was no traffic on this road,
the bus dashed along and whenever it stopped, which it did rarely, only
men got on, moustached, dark-skinned men in deformed, worn-down shoes,
shabby smeary trousers and uniform-like overcoats bought in the bazaar.
I, in turn, just stared at a book by Isabel Fonesca, happy that I would
get home quickly, even taking a detour, because in this monster of a city
you never know where you are, you just realise suddenly that you are there,
even though you feel that you are going in the opposite direction. When
we left, one after the other, the ugly industrial buildings behind, and
the bus did not stop at all any more, I started squirming in my seat, put
Fonesca in my pocket, took out my map. At this sight, the Arnauts standing
around me started to grin and gesticulate, and appeared less and less like
people who were heading for my cosy, elegant Arnavutk?y. None of them knew
how to read a map, of course, they just kept saying "Arnavutk?y", but I
could tell from the way they pronounced the word that there was some vital
error and trouble ahead: either I had got lost, or this bus was not going
to get to Arnavutk?y before the morning. It was about eleven o'clock when
I got off, and they kept gesticulating and saying: here you are, this is
Arnavutk?y, but there was neither sea, nor lights there, only these horrid
far off suburbs, a slice of Asia wedged in Europe, not even the real Arnavutk?y,
literally the Village of the Arnauts. I tried my luck with the only taxi
around. The driver, who knew how to read the map, muttered and showed me
that we were not even on it. The radio roared, I asked him how the match
was going, he said that it was probably going swell for me, for the Be_ikta_
was losing. I looked at him, genuinely offended, and said in my best body
language that I was a Be_ikta_ fan and wanted to watch the match. I got
in the car, we hardly drove three hundred metres, when he stopped by a
tea-shop - it was probably his regular hangout - a place of four hundred
square metres with a population distribution of five moustached guys per
square metre, all staring at a single screen. Two guys jumped up immediately,
the others made some room for me in the fourth row, and they bought me
three cups of tannin-tasting tea one after the other, because the driver
had explained to them that this European knew accurately the names of the
entire Be_ikta_ team, including the reserves and the coach. The taxi driver
sat loyally through till the inglorious end of the match and then, for
a small fortune drove me back to glamorous Arnavutk?y. To Arnavutk?y, which,
in a bee-line, is exactly as far from K???k ?ekmece as from the other Arnavutk?y,
and I had three quarters of an hour, so I amused myself with the idea that
if two neighbourhoods, in or around a city, could have the same name and
still be diametrically opposed to each other both in terms of architecture
and population, then everything in this country could be duplicated without
it bothering anyone, because everybody knew one’s own place - there could
be two capital cities, two identities, two conceptions of the state, two
histories, words and gestures could mean completely different things, doublethink,
Orwell would say. In this sense, each decision can be implemented (or shelved)
in two different ways, there can be two stories behind each event, or a
story can tell two events at the same time, and this is how it must be,
for this cleverly edited film, this road movie is not for broadcasting,
only for being spread out, it is no more than a celluloid strip which can
be held in the hand and the cuts stuck side by side can be looked at, and
thus the illusion that anything follows in consequence of anything can
be carefully avoided.
In a way, Atat?rk was the first g??men here: he was also from the Balkans, then he came here and made a country out of this utter chaos... And now we are here...
This time, however, Erbakan and ?iller, this duet of prime
ministers working in rotation, walked into the trap: the lives of ethnic
Turks were at stake, who - according both to republican, Kemalist principles
and to traditional Islam culture - were entitled to refuge in the motherland
any time. The idea of expelling brothers in blood and faith has never before
occurred to anybody in the history of Turkish statehood, and the only thing
that can explain it now is the crisis of an a priori schizophrenic state
The late president ?zal's decision to receive several hundred thousand (how should he know exactly how many) Bulgarian Turkish refugees in 1989 was very fortunate. Whether it was the right step to take or no, is still and largely disputed today, but without doubt he killed several birds with one stone - in the ideological, in the political, and in the economic field. With its initial spur, the emigration process, was suddenly appreciated and regarded by the West as having been the catalyst of the Bulgarian political upheavals. Human rights organisations were also satisfied with it, because in the face of a mass emigration, the Bulgarians were compelled to admit that there was after all a Turkish minority in their country, and on the other hand, it revealed Turkey to the world in a new light: as a country not only militant and exclusive, but also tolerant and receptive to the exiles. The West rewarded this new image with plenty of aid and support for building projects, thirty per cent, at the most, of which - according to Ismet Sever, president of the Union of Balkanite Turks and some other observers - was used as intended, while the rest trickled into the enterprises of various government officials. And finally, this act conformed to both Islamic and Kemalist traditional norms, between which two poles the country had been wavering for decades.
Kemal Atat?rk, the first President of the Turkish Republic, reckoned that Turkey was the place where all Turks should live in. Today, we may admire or revile him for his not that original idea, we may curse him as a bloody dictator or respect him as an ardent military leader and founder of a state. It can not be denied, though, that there have been few dreamers of his kind in the world who have managed to put the modern-times ideal of the nation-state so perfectly into practice. And furthermore, he achieved this in such a seemingly hopeless land as Asia Minor, which, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, was the homeof a tribal Muslim conglomerate that lived in miserable conditions and were far enough from the national idea principle and hardly its candidates. Atat?rk did no less than invent "the Turk" - he adapted L. B?rne's 1830 slogan for the Junges Deutschland : "We want to be free Germans") to local conditions, making it sound in the following way: "Let us all be Turks, so that we could be free". The only thing he added - in thought if not in word - was "And I myself am going to determine what a Turk is - a European image, women without veils, Latin script, more alcohol and sex, and as little bowing towards Mecca as possible”. Many Albanians, Armenians, Kurds, Greeks and sons of other nations, whose names and minds were not easily made to adopt the Turkish pattern, became all victims of his conception of the state, but its other elements were only partially realised.
?zal's 1989 decision did not ruffle many feathers even in Islam circles, which were otherwise not very well disposed towards him, since, in their conception, hijra was a holy duty for each Muslim. Hijra or hegira is quite a flexible notion, its archetype is the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina, that is, metaphorically, from the place which is not desirable for practising the Muslim faith to a place where there are no obstacles for the believer. It has three main interpretations: the hijra is a spiritual escape from the profanity of reality, an actual escape from the place where atrocities are committed against the Muslim population (this is a possible interpretation in the case of the Bulgarian Turks); and, finally, an exodus from a place of destitution and poverty. In those times, the Turks, mostly believers, did not realise that the vast majority of the immigrants were inveterate atheists, therefore they regarded their exodus as a perhaps unconscious, blood-driven hijra.
EXISTENCE - THOSE WHO HAVE MADE IT
The migration of peoples has always a good effect on the economy, because a lot of energy is liberated, which is then transferred into work. Just take a look around - here in Turkey it is mainly the immigrants who are making it.
SETTLERS AND SETTLEMENTS
The inhabitants of Pursaklar do love the place,
but, at the same time, they would leave it immediately if they could: they
are attached to it in the same way as you are attached to a second-hand
jacket - you feel it would be a betrayal to get rid of a piece of clothing
which served so well at its prime, but you do not feel like wearing it
in the presence of other people. Objectively speaking, Pursaklar is a bizarre
place indeed: five thousand people live in sixty-two blocks on top of a
hill in the midst of a wasteland about ten kilometres from Ankara and two
or three kilometres from Pursaklar village. That was the only place, they
said, where the government could find land for sale; none of the immigrants
living in the capital city believes that they wanted to lock them up in
a ghetto. There are no mosques here, only a loudspeaker installed on a
pole at the bus stop, from which, by wire, the voice of the muezzin from
the neighbouring village can be heard; there are no pubs, no caf?s, clubs
or restaurants - why should there be, asks Sezer, my faithful guide over
this period, people only come here to sleep. In case you go out, you do
not mind spending ten dollars for a taxi to take you home. There are some
stalls, however, selling alcohol, soft drinks, tobacco and basic foodstuffs.
I talked to some of the owners of these; they are satisfied with the business,
but "if my wife could get a better job", says Ibrahim, who only covers
for his wife over the weekends, "I would hand in my license immediately."
During the day potatoes are sold from trucks, the old ladies in shalwars and shawls - pensioners - stand in queues with patience they had learnt in the old days. One third of the inhabitants of Pursaklar are pensioners, that is people supported only by their families, because they do not get a pension from either the Turkish or the Bulgarian state: the former does not even have a stipulation to do so, whereas the latter refrains from remittting the three or four dollar allowance per month with actully no particular reason. Should they attempt to go to Bulgaria and fetch it themselves, they will be compelled to wait in offices for months, spending several times the amount of their pension on food and accommodation. Many of them try to cultivate the land between the buildings, trying to grow vegetables on the pebbly soil rather for the sake of working in the garden than with any genuine expectation of success. "You will never see the locals do that", Sezer points at the gardens, "they've never even held a hoe in their hands".
The settlement in Yalova and the Kestel neighbourhood by Bursa are not very different from Pursaklar. In Yalova the immigrants' territory is separated from the outside world by a fence, the place has a decent entrance opposite the tea-shop, which constitutes the only local spot for community life. There used to be a pub, but it was locked up by the gendarmerie, because - Ilyas tells me - on one occasion some locals turned up, got drunk and called the immigrants to account for why they got everything free - it ended in a fight. "The locals do not even know how to drink - they get drunk immediately, and then have to prove themselves", he adds with contempt.
The inhabitants of Ka_ithane, one of the immigrant settlements built in an inner neighbourhood of Istanbul have no doubt that the wire fence is not merely a symbolic but a very real defence against the locals, who jealously call the place a "resort". "They came to bully us the other day, but our kids are much stronger and don't like at all to be called giaours. We complained to the police that they kept coming here to disturb us, and the policeman told us - not officially, of course - to settle things by not hesitating to knock any intruders on the head. Then he would take matters in his hands and stitch them up. Only those we invite get beyond the fence, everybody else is an intruder or a burglar. This will not happen of course, but it is not hard to understand our people: they are more irritated not only because they live a harassed and hectic life, but because the place itself is oppressive." The problem with the housing estate is not that the buildings are not standard (the ceilings of the apartments are low, the rooms are confined), even so they are all right to live in and the immigrants “are happy to have anything at all”, but the buildings are built so close together that the only space between them is a corridor-like alley. There is no public lighting, a punishment of the Islamist local government to the immigrants from whom they got merely three votes at the previous elections. "We are living in a ghetto, the families only maintain contact with each other - our culture is just too different from theirs", Ali remarks finally. But by night, even in the darkness, there is a bustling social life, light streams from the open doors of shops and confectioneries, the children amuse themselves by playing leapfrog, badminton and football, boys chat up girls, adults stand in groups, talking in the shafts of light, “businessmen” sell “uncostly” brandy and dry pork sausage smuggled in from Bulgaria.
Mehmet, the owner of the tea-shop urges me to enter the store-room of a grocery which is furnished on the ground floor of a half-constructed building. We sit down with all the others, drinking thin Turkish beer and chewing greasy, thick-cut Bulgarian salami to go with it. Me and seven other people are listening to Sali, who is telling stories, now in Turkish, now in Bulgarian, about his work on a construction site in the Soviet Union, where he earned relatively good money, but later left everything behind in Bulgaria. He could not get used to the cramped apartment he was given, so he decided to build a house for himself here in Kira?, a distant suburb of Istanbul, whatever the cost. He would like to restore to his family the standard of living that they were used to "back home". He saved up some money, bought a plot of land, and then spent a week digging the foundations and putting up the walls with the help of his relatives. They finished a room, moved out, rented out the apartment, and ever since he has been buying building materials with the rent, and building a little more each weekend. In two years the house already has a roof - two or three more years and everything will be in its place.
There are several hundred immigrants living like that in Kira?, in the one completed room of their house, designed to be a palace - no days of rest and recreation, subordinating the entire life of the family to a single cause. Those who were able to even got their parents moved into the single room with them: more rented apartments, less expenditure, faster progress in construction. The others whom I drank beer with in the store-room - which doubled as a speakeasy - were also wearing denim tainted with oil-paint and lime. The company changed completely three times till the evening. They all had finished up their working hours in some urban area, then, after a two-hour trip back and a quick beer, got stuck into working on their houses.
And when the house is finally ready one day, there will be a road, and light, and shops, and pubs, they will have built another city within the boundaries of Istanbul, the inhabitants of which are to recreate the world from which they fled seven years ago, or rather a world that existed only in their memories.
"This country will go to ruin because there are no women here and what everybody wants is to fuck all the time", remarked Sezer, the guy from Pursaklar, who was just about to join the army and so had spent his last two weeks doing the things he would not be able to in the barracks. Whenever he saw a dark-skinned, moustached man, he could not refrain from calling him a "fucking lazy crow". He was deeply convinced that the reason why there were no women around was that the damned locals were hiding them and filling their heads with moral bullshit, so that they were eventually unable to have a decent fuck, or only from behind, keeping the real thing for their husbands - not like in Bulgaria, where a man could easily start up with a girl and nobody had a word to say. And these crows, Sezer continues, who do not let their daughters come out of the house, and who spend entire days loitering on the streets, have the nerve to paw every old woman they see. "Our tragedy, us g??mens', is to have to live in the same country as these people."
The world must change here or we will never adapt to it in our lifetimes.
The Balkanite Turks' Union for Solidarity and Culture,
or, the Dernek (Union) as it is better known, is an independent non-governmental
organisation, according to its statute. It was established in 1983, but
only started to function legally in 1985, when those in power realised
that it was worth paying attention to the warnings they were receiving
that something was about to explode in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian side has
always considered the Dernek as a branch office of the Turkish secret service
and the military lobby, which may be true, in so much as the Dernek principles
are undeniably reminiscent of the Kemalist world-view of the military and
the security services. However, if that is the case, it is hard to explain
how the organisation dared to defy the then President ?zal - “a latter-day
Atat?rk” - in 1989, advising that it would be better not to let all those
people enter the country, and that the question of emigration would be
better settled by a new bilateral treaty. "Now you can see what it
has come to", Ismet Sever, the president of the Dernek, explained impetuously,
"three hundred thousand people at the border, tumult, chaos - anybody who
wants to enter the country can find a way to do so. The problems should
have been solved there, locally, but instead, they shifted the responsibility
onto Turkey, and this state is simply incapable of accomplishing the task."
Listening to Mr. Sever, it sounds as though someone even more powerful than the government must be behind him: it would be more than irresponsible to give voice to one's disdain for the Turkish Islamist government in power so spectacularly and boldly. But then again, his opinion of the previous regime is no better - they unscrupulously stole the foreign money that was intended for building apartments. He estimates that barely five per cent of the immigrants received the apartments they were promised. At least three hundred thousand people entered the country illegally ever since, just as they had predicted - it was only reasonable to expect that families would seek reunion.
As we talked, the impression grew on me that this rather offhand treatment of information concealed political ambitions. The Dernek, although it does not receive even the smallest budget subsidy, is rapidly expanding - they currently have their branches everywhere except in Ankara and have opened offices, operating as clubs and caf?s as well, in almost every district of almost every town of the West coast. In half-built Kira?, for example, they have already opened an office, the Dernek in Yalova is the most dazzling building in the neighbourhood, designed with guest rooms on the top floor, its caf? also serves as an employment agency. The membership fee everywhere is large enough to cover the pay of full-time executive officers who meet regularly at the Istanbul headquarters, in my friend Mehmet's tea-shop.
The organisation in Bursa publishes its own paper and I had a long conversation with the editor-in-chief, Sami Kocao_lu, a retired army officer, amateur poet and journalist. Mr. Kocao_lu said exactly the same things as Mr. Sever, perhaps the only difference being that he estimated the proportion of those immigrants who had been provided with lodgings by the government at ten per cent.” The rest were hard hit by the transmigration, he says, the old people found themselves in the void and those who could make it, owe their existence exclusively to their own efforts.” Finally he says a few words about Atat?rk: the Balkanite immigrants are the repositories of Kemalist traditions, it is with them and through them that the dream of the founder of the republic - a European Turkey - can be best realised.
There are lots of g??mens in this neighbourhood. This is where we had Mrs. ?iller elected, because her parents were also immigrants from Dobrudja. In the beginning she worked well, but then she had a row with Mesut Yilmaz, the president of the Kemalist party, and hitched up with Erbakan's Islamists. Here the MP will be whoever we propose. Now we are about to give a push to Yilmaz, because we are really fed up with the rest here.
Parallel with the losses of the central power, the local authorities gained power, basically took over the control of their region and got out of central control gradually.
This was not the first time I had visited the ruined camp
in K???k ?ekmece. The night before I had stumbled along the concrete debris
in the moonlight, a somewhat bizarrely romantic scene, with the sound of
the waves in the background: again, hardly the scenery fit for a road movie
- actually more reminiscent of a meagre budget disaster film.
The light was on in Mehmet's hut but nowhere else - God knows where he got the electricity from. One of the kids is sickly, he says, his wife could not find work as a result and the eldest daughter has just got a job as a secretary. The two smaller kids were already asleep, the elder girl, made up, was sitting on the edge of the bed - looking more or less well for her setting. They shifted up on the bed for me. In the tin stove, they were burning the drift-wood found on the seashore. "We haven't been able to leave the camp, although we were warned half a year ago that they would pull it down. We have paid the instalments for the apartment, but we have not been allocated one yet, and we have no relatives in Turkey. If we had any, we would have gone to them straight away in 1989." The wind blew through the gaps in the walls of the hut, Mehmet tried to stick a piece of newspaper into one of the gaps in the tin roof. "When they came with the bulldozers, nobody believed that they would bang into the huts while people were living in them. But they did. We were told to get out, everybody took only what could be carried along. The furniture, things like that, were left inside." An hour later it started to rain, the water was trickling down the inside of the wall. It seemed impossible to insulate those walls. "Then we collected a few doors, straightened a few tin plates and set up our house on a relatively undamaged concrete block. With the kids, we cannot live like Mustafa, who just lies down on his bed under the big blue sky and covers himself with a few cardboard pieces. He is there now, you can look at him." I looked at him. Mustafa was sleeping under the rubble on some kind of mattress, the rain was pouring down on him, but the nylon sheet he had over the paper kept his den dry. "We were told that the camp had to be pulled down because of the city-planning, you know, it used to be military barracks before and it was not very pretty here, on the seaside. But for us it was OK, we had a room, heating and water."
The next day, on the day of my long trip, I met both Mustafa and his wedding sponsor ?zer personally. ?zer had more respect for order, he had built his hut closer to the sea and kept a portrait of Atat?rk in it. They had just arrived from the market where they had picked out the best of the leftover rotten vegetables and fruits; they had also been to the butcher to pick up whatever was left after the dog-owners had been. "We were too old for them, we weren't accepted for any jobs. When the camp was pulled down, they told us that we could go fuck ourselves." Among the ruins some people were digging in the garbage, hoping to find something, anything that might still be put to use. A few hundred metres further two Gypsy families had put up their tents, reckoning that they too might find something under the panel pieces. "We daren’t even expect an apartment", ?zer said, "because we didn't have enough cash to put down a deposit. But its just as well", he grinned, "because those who did didn't get one either."
Saban (I spent the rest of the afternoon at his place) came up to me with a bucket full of mushrooms. "I just picked them, they’re really big after the rain yesterday." Above the hut there was a Turkish flag on a pole several metres high. In the beginning his Bulgarian was peppered with Russian words - he had not spoken the language for years, he frankly explained. Originally he had worked as an electrician, then as a leather merchant; he had two shops in town, but his friend and business partner who happened to be a Kurd, unwittingly ruined him: one day a group of people came into the shop armed and said they were going to shoot the guy before his eyes, because he had deserted their terrorist group. _aban signed a cheque - to bail the guy out, but in order to cover it, he had to sell the shops, with the goods, within the afternoon. In the meantime his wife left him and moved to another camp with the children. He bought some leather on credit and went off to sell the stuff in Georgia, but the moment he crossed the border, two Mafia gangs came to blow over his leather, he was kept in custody for nearly a month, until finally he escaped back to Turkey with the help of a Georgian girl after a thousand adventures. "The whole thing is like the script of an action film - sometimes I myself find it hard to believe. But the nervous breakdown I had afterwards was very real. While I was in hospital, the girl who had saved my life several times in Georgia became a whore, and ever since she's been walking the streets around Aksaray." Then he went looking for a job in a factory - he had to pass an entrance exam on something to do with diagrams - the last time anyone had asked him anything like that he had been at the age of fifteen; nevertheless everything was going fine, until they realised he was a g??men and he was told “Sorry, but you don’t suit the requirements”. He could not be familiar with the local terminology, he was informed. "Anyway, I am happy to be alive, it is like a gift", he said and invited me to taste the mushrooms he had been cooking in the meantime, but I had to be on my way.
_aban accompanied me to the road, worried that the dolmu_-microbus might be too expensive for me, hugged me and said that he would call me as soon as he had a phone to call from. It was already eight o'clock in the evening: it takes an hour for the microbus to struggle through the traffic jam, I calculated, another half an hour in the tram to Emin?n?, from there at least an hour by bus to Arnavutk?y, where I will look for a pub to watch the second half of the Valencia-Be_ikta_ match...
AMNESIA AND SOLIDARITY
According to Richard Rorty, Orwell's vision was of a world in which human solidarity was - deliberately, through careful planning - made impossible (Rorty, 1989, p. 209). The people I talked to recalled, almost without exception, that after the renaming none of their former friends expressed any sympathy, or if they did, it was wordless - a look in the eyes. Yet, even the most radical of them did not speak about their former neighbours, friends or colleagues with hatred: in fact, they understood their fear and exonerated them of the charge of betrayal.
It had to do with party politics, because the Turkish population was underdeveloped. In every sense. When they heard 'Ahmed, Hassan, Mehmet' - nobody paid attention to them, but as soon as they had a Bulgarian name, nobody noticed that they were Turks. This was party politics, so that we wouldn't feel that we were slighted.
If you want to get ahead here, forget what you had there.
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