‘They looked at me’ by Ah Muhsin Ünlü

 

 

                while walking in the street today

                all the girls looked my way

                allah allah!

                why are they all looking at me?  I asked myself

                later on, to my surprise, I realised

                I’d been wearing Murat’s shirt

 

 

poet: Ah Muhsin Ünlü

translator: Caroline Stockford

publisher:  Sel Publications 2005, 2013, 17th edition.

book title:  gidiyorum bu

About the poet:  Ah Muhsin Ünlü was born in İzmit in 1973.  He lived his life from the age of six as a student, for twenty-three years.  He began writing poetry at quarter to six on the evening of the 22nd of June 1993 and stopped at twenty past eleven on the morning of the 4th of September 1998.  He hopes for favourable conditions to prevail one day under which to pursue poetry once again.

 

 

Burden by Ayfer Tunç

The truth is like an iron shutter – if you get caught underneath it you will be crushed.

 

We had no intention of causing so much distress; absolutely not. How could we have guessed that a thing like this would happen?

We’ll ask our questions, we thought, and if she wants to give an answer, she will. If she doesn’t want to answer, she won’t, and the worst-case scenario – she’ll kick us out of her house. That’s what we thought.

Of course it’s never quite that simple. We were making a documentary about the Turkish Republic’s Medal of Honour and before we’d set off for her house we’d had a long discussion among ourselves as to how to frame the questions. Shall we refer to it as a ‘campaign’ or as a ‘massacre’? The words that you choose when you’re posing the questions are very important – for example, I wasn’t going to use the word ‘genocide’. The truth is like a shutter made of iron and if you get caught underneath it you will be crushed. That’s the most tragic aspect of historiography; in attempting to open the shutter there are those who are crushed beneath its weight – and no-one writes their story down.

We had a lot of arguments before going to see Neyyire Hanım. ‘Let’s be honest,’ we said, ‘and ask her outright. Let’s say, “How do you feel about the fact that your father, as one of the officers who participated in the massacre, may or may not have been responsible for the murder of over fifty thousand women, men, children, elderly people and, worse still, babies?’’ Then again, we thought, the poor old thing is no longer a spring chicken. For eighty years she’s been believing that her father was an honourable officer and to just come out and ask her a question like that would be inhuman.

On the other hand, if we didn’t ask our questions one way or another then we would be guilty of adding a litte more shine to that medal of honour that had already been polished up for so many years; and that certainly wasn’t our intention. In the end we decided to make ourselves appear impartial and go for the soft approach by starting a sentence with something like ‘some historians would say…’. It would be a front, of course. We were not impartial, because to reach the truth you have to be partial to the truth – and thus you have already chosen your side.

Were we honest? I’m not going to get into an argument over where honesty begins and ends but to tell the truth, I have to say that we weren’t very honest because we opened Neyyire Hanım’s door with a lie. There are some doors that you can’t open with fair play. In order to enter the house of an old lady, ask questions that will probably expose the lie that she has lived with her entire life and be able to access documents that might lift the iron shutter of truth you first have to gain her confidence. Being honest is not as easy as people think, since when the matter in hand is written on the dark pages of history honesty can sometimes be the adversary of truth. Yes, it’s a paradox – trying to achieve what’s right by doing what’s wrong but, sadly, honesty and truth don’t always go hand in hand.

You can’t just say to the person you want to interview, ‘We’re making a documentary about the bloodiest pages in the history of the Republic and we’ve come to ask you questions about your father’s role in the massacres.’ If you just come out with something like that, the person won’t talk. Why not? Because from that moment on you are an enemy in their eyes – and why should they talk to an enemy who has come to expose as a lie something they’ve believed in for so long?. And more importantly, they’ve beaten you to it and have already asked themselves that question. It may only have lasted a fraction of a second but they’ve already had their moment of doubt. It may have been in a dream or perhaps in their subconscious, but the question has been posed and they then spend the rest of their lives trying to forget that fleeting moment when they asked, ‘What if?’.

So, you have to start by choosing a vague, relatively ordinary topic and during the interview you slowly increase the weight that your questions carry. If you ask your final question at the beginning, the chances are that you will go back empty handed, and for this reason you have to be aware of the psychology of the person in front of you and always keep the tension under control. It’s unlikely that you’ll get right to the end either, as there’s always a moment when the interviewee tunes in to the subtext of what is happening, and that’s the moment when their trust in you is shattered. As you’re trying to raise the iron shutter of the truth, they suddenly stop trusting you and that makes you feel like crap! And that’s the price of this job.

At the end of the day we not there to talk to the man who’d actually taken part in the massacres and been rewarded for it with a medal of honour – but to his daughter and granddaughter who believed that he’d been a patriot ready to lay down his life for his country and who had spent their own lives trying to live up to this honour bestowed on the family.

We didn’t ring up Neyyire Hanım’s daughter, Serap Hanım and say that we wanted to speak to her mother in relation to a documentary we were making about the officers who had participated in the bloodiest massacre in our history. No, we said that we were making a documentary about the recipients of the Medal of Honour who had participated in the ‘manoeuvres’ and left it at that. The woman nearly jumped for joy, assuming that we were going to secure her grandfather’s place in history. I admit, ours was not a very ethical approach.

But the interview developed in a way we could never have expected. There was a kind of chemistry, I don’t know how else to describe it. You know, when one thing comes into contact with another and bang! you have an explosion; that’s just what it was like.. And it wasn’t our fault, either. Granted, we did have a motive in all this, but what happened was not our fault; honestly.

Neyyire Hanım lit the fuse of her own accord and we were just there to witness the shocking fallout.

It did make our job easier in some ways, because we didn’t have to experience that moment when they lose all trust in you and you feel like crap. But even so, it was still pretty awful, witnessing someone else falling apart like that. And it wasn’t even the bloody-handed officer’s daughter but his granddaughter who went to pieces. She’ll never get over it.

You do feel a bit anxious, of course, when you have a hidden agenda in relation to the person you’re interviewing. But given the kind of country this is, the kind of times we’d been through and the nature of the history that we were trying to rake up, hidden as it was behind such thick iron shutters – we had no other choice and so decided to take it as far as we could. Some historians have said that they prefer a neutral starting point, a stock-standard sentence from which to begin to probe their way forward towards that bloody massacre. But whichever way you do it, at the end of the day every medal of honour is dipped in blood.

But the opportunity didn’t present itself for us to ask our sugar-coated questions. Serap Hanım fluttered around us like a moth, pouring tea and offering cake, ‘please eat some, for goodness’ sake, please’… The woman was going on about how difficult our work must be and flattering us; sincerely. This is the dirtiest side of the job. The fact that the person of whom you’re going to ask agonizing questions goes around treating you like an honoured guest. No, we didn’t want any tea, thank you very much, no cake, no, please don’t go to all that trouble. It’s enough to make a person shout, ‘No! We’ve come here to ask you the kind of questions that will swamp you in deep sorrow, so no! No cake!’

I told the cameraman that we should record the photographs they were showing us first. This way, if they kicked us out, at least we’d have something to show for it. They had some important photographs, you see, some of which were records of the massacres. Their Medal-of-Honour- daddy was standing there smiling his best smile whilst stamping out the rebels.

The touching part was that Serap Hanım had laid out the family photo album, her father’s medals and insignia upon a coffee table in an effort to assist us in broadcasting this glorious period in history to the world.

We weren’t exactly sure of Neyyire Hanım’s state of mind, either. The woman was 83 or so and there was a chance that she wouldn’t be ‘compos mentis’. But we had nothing to worry about, as her mind and memory were as sharp as a pin. You could tell that she was a very astute lady. First there was a bit of smalltalk of the order of how ‘there was so much traffic over the bridge nowadays’ and ‘yes, this city is getting harder to live in by the day’. Then it was our turn with the, ‘why don’t you sit there, let’s put a microphone on you and get the lighting right, and can we move this chair a little over this way?’, of course we could, we were free to turn her house upside down in order to set the perfect stage.

We started by asking her when and where she’d been born and if could she tell us a little about her family and her childhood. I felt really uncomfortable with these questions as I had no interest whatsoever in her answers. These were just the warm-up questions to get her into the flow of talking about herself and gradually opening up. But in answer to our questions Neyyire Hanım gave surprisingly clear, comprehensive answers full of the detail we were after.

The old lady was completely in love with her father. She told us – there could never be a better father than hers in the whole world and no children ever loved their father as much as she and her siblings loved him, her daughter’s face shone with pride, while I inwardly cringed and outwardly smiled. I nearly snapped when she showed me the photographs of her decorated father posing over corpses. The urge to get up and throw the pictures at her was almost overwhelming. When you consider how the interview ended, I can’t help but be staggered by the seemingly heartfelt love that this woman expressed for her father and by her worship of this man she’d crowned with the halo of a hero. With hindsight, I think that in her own approach to the borderlands of death she wanted to relieve herself of a burden that lay on her conscience. Did she just decide at that very moment to come out with it? Was it something she’d been thinking about for years? I don’t know and I’ll never find out.

It’s really odd, but the alarming end to the interview came about when I asked her about her own mother’s death. Had it been an illness or, perhaps, an accident? I only asked it as a throwaway question to lead us into chatting about her childhood, family life and eventually her father. In retrospect, it makes me think that I’m not really that good at my job. I didn’t pay enough attention to inoccuous questioning and reading between the lines. The iron shutter of truth flew up of its own accord, quite by chance, and I had nothing to do with it.

Firstly there was silence. I repeated my question. Silence. As the silence grew, Serap Hanım spoke in her mother’s place. ‘Grandmother got ill didn’t she mother? You remember, you told us, she’d just had a baby and she got puerperal fever … and they couldn’t save her,’ she said.

‘I lied’, said Neyyire Hanım.

That’s how it started. That split-second before the detonation.

Serap Hanım was shocked by her mother’s answer. It’s as if she could tell that a family secret was about to be revealed, one too enormous to ever be swept under the carpet. When I think back, I’m sure that she had no idea what was coming, her face betrayed that much. But more than that, I think she sensed the presence of something that must never be spoken of and that had needed to be buried in a place deeper than mere forgetting. And so she tried to change the subject, ‘Never mind how dear Grandmother died,’ she said, ‘Shall we move on to another question?’ But Neyyire Hanım did not want to move on. The mother and daughter began an obstinate battle of ‘yes/no’ with each other and when Serap Hanım saw how determined her mother was, she wanted to end the interview. She told us to leave. We didn’t. So then she accused her mother of having gone senile and tried to convince us, unsucessfully, that her mother had lost her mind.

All at once Neyyire Hanım said that her mother had committed suicide. One simple sentence. ‘My mother grabbed hold of my father’s service pistol, put it to her head and pulled the trigger,’ she said.

Her daughter screamed, ‘No!’. The bomb went off.
The old woman said it again, differently this time.
‘My mother-killed herself-with my father’s-service pistol’.
Full stop.
Then everything erupted.

What had happened was this:
The medal-of-honour-bearing-officer had finally returned from manoeuvres to a great family dinner. The house was full of people – children of all ages, and all the relatives sitting around the table. Neyyire Hanım was nine years old and well remembered the coal stove burning away, emitting a cosy ‘bup, bup, bup’ noise. The stuffed, spit-roasted lamb filled nearly all of the table, specially roasted by her youngest uncle in honour of his brother’s return. Her two month old baby sister was on her mother’s lap, sleeping like an angel, a charm against the Evil Eye pinned to her tiny shoulder. Everyone was jubilant at the safe return of Neyyire Hanım’s father from military operations and happiness was so thick in the air you could almost hold it in your hand. They ate the enormous lamb.

Eveyone was chatting away, her father, uncles and aunties, nephews and nieces, soldiers who had come to congratulate her father, his civilian friends and their wives… ‘Water may run still, but the enemy never will’, they were saying. They were talking about the country’s enemies, within and without, and came to the conclusion that the enemy within was much more dangerous as it had nested in the heart of the country and sucked its blood. They went on about how their soil was still wet with the blood of the martyrs who had fought to unify this country, never to be divided; how each person in this country was a soldier, from babies in the womb to one-hundred-year-old-grandmothers, and how one’s duty was to lie down and die for one’s country. Her father then went on to tell them how he had eradicated the bloodstock of the rebels, sparing no gory detail as he spoke. He told them how the rebel’s children and even pregnant women had to die and how, for the continuing good of this country, their little bastards must not be born, and why that was the reason they had cleansed the land of the trecherous pregnant women and their children. Everyone had agreed with him with great enthusiasm.

They’d sat up until late, eating and drinking. Her mother hadn’t said a word all evening and her silence was passed off as her being overwhelmed with joy at seeing her husband safely home.

Later that night, when everyone had gone, her mother sat and looked for some time at the baby sleeping on her lap, before putting her to bed and taking a seat at the table.

Then she’d started to cry. ‘Did you kill babies?’, she asked her husband, ‘And did you kill pregnant women? And what about old people who couldn’t lift an arm to defend themselves?’. Neyyire Hanım’s father was stunned. He’d been expecting acclaim, not inquisition, he wanted his wife to be roused by his heroism and proud of his medal. But her mother just kept crying and asking, ‘Why?’

‘Why did you kill babies?, she’d shrieked, ‘Because if you hadn’t stamped out their father’s line they might grow up to bring trouble to this country?’..

Neyyire Hanım had felt awful for her mother and hadn’t wanted to see her parents arguing.

Then her mother suddenly reached for her father’s service pistol, put it to her head and fired. Everything happened in a few short seconds. She could still see the blood running down the wall to the floor. That was all.

‘Now I can die!’, sobbed Neyyire Hanım, ‘Now I can die! Now I can die!’. But it was her daughter who had turned into a woman possessed. She grabbed hold of her mother in a frenzy and we had a real struggle to free the old woman from her daughter’s grasp.

 

Author:  Ayfer Tunç

Translator:  Caroline Stockford

 

Night Butterfly, Kurdish novel excerpt

An excerpt from Chapter One of ‘Night Butterfly’ by Haydar Karataş – translation in progress.

This is the true story of his mother and grandmother’s experiences in Dersim, Turkey in the 1930s and 1940s when the majority of Kurdish men living in Dersim had been marched into forced exile or massacred by Turkish military troops.  Women and children were left stranded, starving in their villages after the soldiers had burned all the crops and taken their livestock (and man power) away.

 

 

After the Armenian incident my father and his brother Sahan took over the administration of the Bactrian tribes from their father Yusuf Ağa. They, and the armed men they had gathered to their side, were responsible for security in the Bactrian region. They also wanted to bring my mother’s four children by her earlier marriage to this household. These were times when clashes were frequent and increasing.

At the time in the Bactrian region there were the armed bands of Yusuf Ağa’s two sons, Sahan and Hıdır and also the armed band led by Pırço. Pırço’s outfit was extremely brave and were dressed from head to toe in armour taken from the Bronze soldiers. The Bronze Hun army attacked Dersim on two occasions from the direction of Erzincan but were never able to fully enter. When the soldiers of 1938 entered Dersim the armed bands of my uncle Sahan and my father Hıdır joined forces with that of Pırço.

They set off to bring my mother’s children from her first marriage to Weroz. Baki, who was working in a salt mine in Kemah was now fourteen years old and Ali Riza was eleven or twelve. Their little brother Hasan, eight, was also with them. Soldiers had raided the village of Eniesıt where they had been living and marched the entire village off into exile somewhere beyond Erzincan. Those who managed to escape fled to the Bactrian region. When my uncle Sahan, my father and Pırço heard that two children had been taken along with the villagers they set off after the soldiers.

They came as far as Kemah. There they managed to overtake the soldiers in a valley near a former Armenian refugee village1 that had been emptied of all inhabitants during the Armenian incident. They confronted the soldiers and there followed a heavy clash in which the forces of my uncle, father and Pırço killed many soldiers and took possession of their guns, horses and provisions. However, they failed to find the captives who were being marched into exile from Ovacık and therefore had to return to the village of Eniesıt.

There they found out that the men and boys who formed the line being marched into exile had all been executed along the way. Baki had been in that group. As they put a manacle around his neck and led him off on the road, his brother Ali Riza had managed to escape and had followed the column of captives as far as the refugee village.

The villagers told my father that the soldiers set up camp with the group of men they were marching into exile just below the village and handed the captives over to another regiment as the day was drawing to a close. Towards morning screams were heard. The villagers couldn’t understand what had happened. Then they discovered that the entire group of captives had been bayoneted.

The place where the group of men and boys being marched into exile were killed was a flat crop field. The next day, soldiers on duty spotted Ali Riza who had been following the group. The child ran off in the direction of the refugee village and, if what the villagers said was true, those now living in the village hid Ali Riza. The soldiers searched the village and gathered all the inhabitants in one place but they still could not find the child. When Ali Riza looked out of the window of the house he was hiding in, to see what was going on, he was spotted and taken captive by the soldiers.

The man who was hiding him in his house said that he’d taken him in with the intention of making him his shepherd. The commander in charge of the soldiers claimed that the boy was an Armenian. They gave his clothing to my father. There were two bayonet holes in Ali Riza’s shirt. One had pierced his stomach at the front and had pricked a hole in the material on the other side where it exited, the other wound was where they’d stabbed him in the liver.

My uncle and father hid the deaths of Baki and Ali Riza from my mother and for a long time she believed that Baki had taken Ali Riza to Kemah and that they’d both found work and had been spared.

After my father died his place at the head of the armed band was taken by a man called Doğan. One day Doğan told my mother the truth about the line of captives. However, even if my mother believed it at first, she soon took to denying it had happened. She kept fantasising that her children would be coming to join her. As these hopes of hers grew with each passing day, Doğan, who by now was my mother’s third husband, took her to the village where it had happened. The villagers there told the story once more to my mother.

The place where Baki had been killed was a flat wheat field. My mother told me that the crop there had grown as high as a man and that it swayed in the cool and gentle breeze like the blonde hair of a girl. The dead were buried under this field where a dozer had dug a mass grave. As for Ali Riza, the villagers had buried him on a hill right next to the village cemetery. My mother was more upset that Ali Riza was lying on that hill all alone, than she was about his death.

 

Excerpt from Night Butterfly by Haydar Karataş

İletişim Yayınlar, İstanbul

Draft translation by Caroline Stockford 2015

ISBN
9789750507700

8. baskı – Eylül 2014
255 sayfa

Just bring yourself

Just bring yourself

 

w passpYou see, the problem with letting go of material possessions
is that you’re left with nothing but the flesh
tower of bend and balance.

You becomes so very precious
all your world is inside it
all your treasures
all your memories
your art
your light
your language,
your courage, what’s left of it,
your carpets, frayed at the edges
your favourite jumpers, long gone
and You.

You only brought yourself

But we only take visas,
not favours, love or culture,
or tears of joy,
embraces, thanks
or a gentle, warm hand placed on top of ours
in silence.

 

 

Caroline Stockford

Dec 2015

The bow by Behçet Necatigil

 

The Bow

Sounds well up from the deep
not even your love can help
Wait until it passes
Don’t strain the bow much tighter
you’ll snap it

The eye within you cannot see
the crawling thought in the dark
For now I am swathed in layers
from you the cloths have fallen
you are naked

A cool breeze is blowing
You, are all heat
My hands have slipped from yours, the bridge destroyed
How can I bring you to my side
You are distant

by Behçet Necatigil

translated by Caroline Stockford

at the 2015 Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature

 

Yay

Derinden sesler geliyor
Durduramaz beni aşkın
Bekle geçinceye kadar
Yayı daha germe
Kıracaksın.

Karanlıkta kımıldayan düşünceyi
Göremez sendeki göz
Örtülere büründüğüm şu anda
Düşmüş senden kumaşlar
Çıplaksın.

Eser serin bir rüzgar
Sen çok sıcaksın
Koptu senden ellerim, köprü yıkıldı
Seni benim tarafa nasıl alabilirim
Uzaksın.

So many by Behçet Necatigil

Image result for unsent letters

 

So many

What became of
So many love letters
That illuminated
Nights of longing
Maybe they weren’t sent
For fear of the dark

So many love letters
Written, left unsent
Years later
Read without being received,
Answers came
Without being sent
So many love letters

by Behçet Necatigil

translated by Caroline Stockford

at the 2015 Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature

Nice

Nerelerde kaldı
Özlem gecelerini
Aydınlattığından
Nice aşk mektupları
Karanlık korkusundan
Belki de yollanmadı

Nice aşk mektupları
Yazıldı yollanmadı
Almadan okunduğundan
Yıllar sonra yanıtları
Geldi yollanmadan
Nice aşk mektupları

 

Poem for evening by Behçet Necatigil

Image result for evening

Poem for evening

Suddenly you remember
And he you – suddenly sometimes
Where is he? What’s he doing now?
A longing sparkles between the memories.

This ‘evening’ – what a strange word
It’s like hearing it for the first time, it makes me uneasy
Evening: Will I find him if I look upon the roads?
I don’t know

The fire will extinguish soon
and longing cool
We’ll meet again one day
One day, one half evening.

by Behçet Necatigil

Translated by Caroline Stockford

at the 2015 Cunda Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature

 

Akşam Şiiri

Birden hatırlarsın,
O da seni – – birden bazan:
Nerde, ne yapar şimdi
Parlar bir özlem anılar arasından.

Bu akşam ne garip sözcük
Sanki ilk duydum, yadırgıyorum:
Akşam. Bilmem bulur muyum
Yollara baksam?

Söner yangın birazdan
Yatışır özlem.
Bir gün karşılaşırız
Bir gün, bir yarım akşam.

Blood by Behçet Necatigil

 

Blood

Within sheaths and layers, blood cannot be seen
A pink wave on rose cheeks
A blue ribbon on snow-white hands
Red blood cells suddenly drop
In blind wells, lost

Family traits passed on in white milk
Greed hides for years in a generous soul
Ugliness in the skin-tight shirt of a beauty
Imposes itself on a coming generation
Blood can’t be seen buried under the skin

The murderer, psychopath, the epileptic
Wakes, having slipped into transient sleep
A dirty drop seeping from far-distant breasts
A poor soul still in childhood
Suffers sins of faces he’s never seen

Year upon year a friend hides his enmity
Pus building up within
Releasing its familiar voice through us alone
The buried link in the chain of genes
Awakes, slyness of the deep exposed

Blue or red
Leaks down from deaths
Arriving in strange feelings
A so-distant relative lives in our body
Suckles the same hope as us in our sleep

Suddenly a thin vein is blocked by a blood clot
One always cheerful, never seen to be sad
Hears from a secret voice hushed in his artery
The awful news that toppled his grandfather
And collapses whilst walking the street

Ferhat and Kerem walk towards a mirage
Their legs are tired, the road is long
Thirsty for Şirin, hungry for Aslı
They are united, is that the lot?
Blood pushes, it is weary.
Held back by shame, pride and fear
On the outside people veil what they say
topped with foam
Blood
Says everything
Openly.

Eve lives on in blood from girls and women
In guns and knives
Cain
Lives on

Tomato carnation cherry blood
Sun fire coral winter summer blood
Humankind earth water air
First there was blood
Only later
Came white

 

Behçet Necatigil

(Varlık, 418, 1 Mayıs 1955)

translated by Caroline Stockford and Arzu Eker-Roditakis

at the 2015 Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature

 

Twenty-seven steps by Gökçenur Ç

The-asylum-project-empty-bed-erik-brede

Twenty-seven steps

(Darkness is the only excuse for the mess on the paper,
the shadows are clawing the walls of the ward
I sit crossed-legged on the lower bunk, as the meds mix with my blood
the sherbet of sleep thickens sweetly,
I hold my battery torch between my teeth, and as I try to shroud its light
with my blanket, I rip the back cover off my favourite book

and write to you
-just as you’ll guess straight away The Eternal Stone-)

I wandered by the riverside reading your letter
took a grasshopper in my hand
and walked for twenty-seven steps not knowing what to do with him
I thought of the day I brought you my manuscripts

You and me, you’d written,
we’re like two small spoons forgotten
in a bowl of cooling angel-hair soup
two toppled chairs
a blue table – made love upon

You and me, we’re like a door
and a note slipped under it

Two boats floating towards eachother
that think they’re approaching the pier

You and me, constantly
write down what we are like
without really knowing what we are

(NB. Remember that night when we sat on the sea
the brush of pure touch and salt igniting the leaves)

.

Poet: Gökçenur Ç
Translated by Caroline Stockford at the Cunda International Workshop for Translators of Turkish Literature, 2014

photo: Erik Brede