We took a night flight. We didn’t know anybody in Diyarbakir who could be meeting us at the airport and flying at night, we weren’t sure if it was adventure that we sought, or not. Of all the preparations, Sona had fulfilled only the one of finding the address of an Armenian house that now served as an otel, which was promised to be arranged for a slightly cheaper price for us. But a number of concerns started to poke us right at the airport, and Sona and I looked at each other with the wordless expressions of an old friendship that had used up all possible words. In uncomfortable situations Sona usually suspends the questions and rejections in the air, I – the reliance and assurances – don’t worry, I’m here.

We bumped for some two hours upon the clouds, then landed next to a kiosk that was the airport of Diyarbekir, where the luggage got quickly fished off the conveyor belt, and the airport emptied out; the doors even got locked. It was just us, left to cope with the taxi drivers in the night, who mumbled for a while over Sona’s handmade map that consisted of a couple of lines quickly drawn into her small notebook, and specified no landmark, cut off from any relation with a larger scale of space and reduced to an illegible thinness. The drivers were in a hurry and could not make anything out of the map, but they had already loaded the luggage into the trunk as they discussed amongst themselves in what dark corner the Armenian house could be, where these two girls, having presented themselves as being from Georgia, were heading. Near the glass doors a woman was standing and smoking, leaning on her black suitcase. A gemstone sparkled on her nose. Then the car that she had been waiting for arrived and, gesturing us over at the last minute, she drew us away from the grumbling drivers, and by pressing both hands to her ear, she got her message across –let’s go and sleep at my place, you’ll wake up in the morning and decide what to do. We looked at each other – Sonik and I – the woman resembled a trader from Sadakhlo; we got in the car.

The driver turned out to be her father —benim babam— who having turned up the Kurdish music to its highest, was flying the gray Honda as he shouted at his daughter as what are these games you’re playing? And it seemed like she was explaining that the taxi drivers had stormed the girls, I couldn’t leave them on that abandoned road at night, could I? But the situation was such that the father and daughter were more unpredictable for us than the taxi drivers, who are more or less the same in every corner of the world. We arrived. Take off your shoes at the door and enter a house that is furnished with everything necessary, but seems empty with every item emitting the chill of emptiness. There are people sleeping in the rooms. On the sofas, on the floors. We are led to a guest room that is cold and dimly lit. Grandpa has already learned that we are from Armenia, and constantly repeats Karapet Khacho, as we warmly nod trying not to show our confusion. The family is Kurdish, we learn, when he tells Sona that years ago he would only listen to Erivan on the radio, and Karapet Khacho would be the one providing them with a connection to the outside world. We thus come to the conclusion that Karapet Khacho must have been the host of the Kurdish program, a name we were to hear often from the lips of many people in Diyarbakir.

Anna Davtyan in Istanbul. Photo – Hayarpi Hovhannisyan

Mehmed got up from his bed to greet and sit in front of us. They gave us the good news that Mehmed had just been released from prison and his sister Hemdiye who had come from Istanbul, was seeing him for the first time since his incarceration. We smiled and tried to understand what sila meant – a word they constantly repeated to clarify the reason of Mehmed’s imprisonment. Grandpa turned his finger into a gun and aimed at me. It was grandpa’s thesaurus. Weapon. If you’d not known that Mehmed had been locked up you just looked at his face and you’d know that he’d been locked up. A heaviness hanging from his black face, bloodshot eyes, a gaze – confusing and confused, focused in concentration, as well as distraction. To look at his eyes, you had to overcome something on his face, which at first seemed to be the tired folds, the darkness of his skin and his hairy jaw, then turned into something more intangible, therefore, more unavoidable. My gaze would retract like the eyes of a snail. He was not looking either. His father was roaring loudly, upset we did not understand Turkish well and encouraging us to learn Kurdish. Kurmanji, kurmanji.

Hemdiye’s boys got up from their beds and came over. Seyhan presented his European appearances with white skin, with fair hair freshly moisturized and arranged in the night bathroom, and circled around the room the impressive motor of his body – not anything chewable in everyone’s mouth. From the next day on, he would be very helpful to us in issues of Turkish, being the quickest to guess what we wanted to say, and translating what others were saying into words and gestures understandable to us. Two hours later, grandpa declared us his daughters, Hemdiye our sister, Mehmed our brother, and said – no hotels, you’re staying at our home. By our home he meant Hemdiye’s home, because he and his wife lived a couple of buildings away with Mehmed, his wife and four children. He said Mehmed will be your driver with his araba and take you wherever you need. Thus, we withdrew to the room allocated to us, beneath the woolen blanket of two connected beds and were awoken in the morning by the squeals of the children receiving the gifts that aunty had brought over from Istanbul. The presents of clothes were then scattered all over the house, stuffed back into bags by casual hands, only to once again find their feet and walk out to lie around in the corridors of the apartment. Breakfast was set on the floor, very near to the table’s foot, and Mehmed’s son Ahmed was almost eating from under the table. The grandmother with tattoos on her face was performing namaz next to the breakfast tray. Narrow-waisted tea glasses were wandering about on the tray, etc.

Mehmed took us for a ride on his araba, a Honda. He was limping. He had uncovered and showed us his leg at night – the kneecap had been stabbed and screwed, he had then grabbed the knife when it changed direction towards his heart, but they had twisted it and cut his thumb. He had been taken to the hospital, then directly to jail, about which Mehmed would say only two words – çok zor. He could not bend his finger, could not bend his knee, but no matter how many times I told him do not climb this wall, he would not listen. The wall-fort of Diyarbakir.

The wall—the fortress, the citadel-tower—extends through Diyarbakir – long, thick and black. The city’s priceless granite gemstone. With steep folds of stairs. Everything around it is a paper helmet with decorations of technical and commercial trash. Mehmed says it is second only to the one in China, then directs his taut body towards the ascending stairs up the wall, and seems he is folding over in two pieces when he climbs them. A big black wall with big black stones that swoops down on the feeble gardens of the valley. A generator of power and beauty. Wikipedia claims that the Assyrians built it. We consider it Armenian to ourselves as we walk, but this consideration has been accepted by our feet only, as they lean confidently on the stairs and push forward. It is like Armenia’s Khor Virap, the narrow windows of the walls look out to the open fields in the same way, and to the fort’s own long tail, that explodes in black into the green. My feelings avoid clarity, they swing sideways into the frame of interest and tiredness, my consciousness wanders, doesn’t want to focus—the question of wanting on the whole vanishes, as my mind lingers on the mandatory procedures of photography which I do not want to fulfill either. I took just one photo, a general scene of the valley with a section of the wall, and my mind remained drawn only toward the pain of Mehmed’s knee that he resisted dragging his tensed body forward, my small camera pressed into his palm like a burden. There were many tourists, and a whole herd of photographs rushed to join the never-ending whirlpool of photos where things are deprived of meaning and nameless.

Mehmed was driving fast, the screeching of the Kurdish music hitting the highest pitch. His slim forearms were hovering over the steering wheel; he would swerve sharply or abruptly brake. Those who, like Mehmed, have long, architectural nails, are considered by the results of physiognomic appraisals to have a strong talent for creativity. But Mehmed had an Internet café. His hands were covered in countless scars and trembled when he carried out minor movements – like raising a tea glass to his lips, or pointing out at something in his phone. His original internal refinedness had been layered with thick peels of tradition and upbringing, and he would not let his wife call him on the phone, be photographed or create a Facebook profile, go anywhere on her own and all sorts of other shit.

Mercan – his wife – green eyes, light green skin, broad chest and breasts, and a headscarf that kept slipping off her head to be straightened by her skillful hand – unwillingly and delayed, after even the lowermost bunches of her dyed hair had been revealed. In her years of twenty-seven she had four children, two others had died. She was not miserable, would demand what was due for her, what the customs allowed: the customs allowed little. Her father-in-law, with his occupant behavior, would sit till late at night for conversations needing the time of deserts, and one day Mercan’s patience cut it short. She pulled her father-in-law on a barbeque stick, asking why she had to sit with the feverish child in her lap and Ahmed with a toothache, waiting for baba to feel fit to take them home. The father-in-law and Hemdiye-the-sister battled back, while Mehmed remained quiet. Then he slammed the door and left, leaving his wife behind.

The non-absorbency of Mehmed’s gaze passed on the next day. His eyes began to acquire the quality of the well-known simile of grape berries, which was, however, what they in fact were. And, as Sona said, a sweetness would fill them when on her soft feet his daughter, Ecem Su, would approach him, with her wild ways of swaggering, disobedience, and an unblinking gaze. Wild, which is wonderful. Mehmed’s eyes would sink in as his nose followed her hair moving in his lap, as he inhaled the smell of something that translated from Turkish as queen’s water. Ecem Su ~

Hemdiye’s house was a refuge to those who were avoiding police searches. Mehmed did not sleep at his house, he slept at Hemdiye’s, as did the other wanted on the police list—Hakan, the son of their elder sister—a young man of around sixteen whose story in Turkish also circled around the word sila. Another of their many sisters had been convicted of theft in Istanbul, which had caused a third sister to call and intercede for sending money to hire a good defense lawyer. Mehmed would angrily move his long arms saying – she had stolen kilos of gold, while I dug and dug for two months to find Armenian buried gold, while work demands food, work demands drink, but I found not a single coin, all I did find was a clay pot full of bones and teeth, what use of it? Mehmed says. Mehmed says to us.

When in a bookstore we met Frederique, a Dutch female journalist living in Diyarbakir for many years, and when she found out we were from Armenia, she immediately asked for an interview. We sat in the arched corner of the Armenian guesthouse, which now served as a bookstore whose owner had learned Armenian and shone with happiness at having met us. Frederique asked me a question and I said I felt nothing, I was empty, felt no connection to the place, what I loved was Mehmed’s family, yes, I knew the buildings were Armenian, Sona and I sometimes put our palms to the building; on the beautiful black stone, but I felt removed, distant, broken, in two halves. She was a bit surprised and then more surprised when she learned we did not feel like addressees of Kurdish apologies; if they had actually reached the point from where the whisper of apology arises, good for the serenity of their own soul. If I were the one to ask for an apology, I would not ask, I would be unable to, I would rather the ground open up and swallow me. Frederique remained in questions. She was a tall woman; I have always felt awkward looking up while speaking.

From the next day on, we began to walk around in town without Mehmed. Mercan and Mehmed had argued. It turned out that the previous day Mercan had allowed herself to call Mehmed to tell him that Ahmed had a toothache and needed to see a doctor, while Yusuf had a fever, but Mehmed had not gone, and had stayed with us. We gave Mercan our numbers and told her –call us, and we’re not going to take your husband with us as a punishment to him. And we didn’t.

Within the Wall that kept out the big new districts, lay the old town, and within the old town, around the central square, lay the black-stoned houses, hidden from sight by a busy commercial area, and within the network of black houses and narrow streets stood the Saint Kirakos Church, with all the beautiful and delicate buildings that it brooded on and preserved, which Armen would indicate one by one and say –an Armenian’s house, an Armenian’s house, an Armenian’s house, an Armenian’s house, an Armenian’s house, an Armenian’s house, an Armenian’s house… Endlessly. Some were empty, some had been transformed into pretty teahouses, but most of them were occupied. Kurds lived there. You would not notice the houses immediately; they do not stand apart from each other. You walk along a narrow cobblestone alley with a high wall stretching out continuously on both sides, and it is only when you open the low wooden or iron doors that you can see what an Armenian’s house is. A beautiful two-floor structure which encloses a courtyard on four sides, with a small pool, with flowers, high windows lined next to each other in arches, balustrade staircases, and doors everywhere. It seemed the rooms were not connected to each other through internal doors, but rather each room had a separate door that opened into the courtyard. It was, in any case, like that in those houses that had been converted to teahouses and were preserved with care, mainly taking into account the big potential for tourism in Diyarbakir.

The gathering place of men, called the “Culture House”—the door to which I had opened in curiosity, putting us into the surrounding of the Kurdish intelligentsia – doctors, lecturers, artists and artisans, who were sitting in a circle in the courtyard dived into a tea-colored mosaic of countless glasses—had also been an Armenian’s house. One of the grandfathers of the gathered men had been named Arshaluys, as had the grandmother of another one of them. The one whose grandmother had been Arshaluys asked us to write her name in Armenian on a piece of paper and, after looking for some time at the writing Sona handed to him later, he carefully folded it and put it in his breast pocket. At some point someone had told Sona a statistic that every fifth person in the two million population of the region was Armenian, but was concealing his identity out of fear or shame. But what I felt was it was not out of fear or shame as much as it was out of inertia, which eagerly crushes any desire for initiative beneath itself. We were drinking tea in the courtyard of the Armenian house and there was a kind of silent, humble reticence in those people, whose completely male space, where no woman ever entered, had now been invaded by two women, who they suddenly afforded more rights than they did themselves. And we availed of that right – a share for others – by asking them to invite their wives or their female intellectual friends there from time to time. The intellectual men smiled sadly at the two young women who had come from a country unbearably far, the presence of which they felt and did not feel beneath their feet.

We would walk in the direction of sounds, of smells, in the direction of black stones, following our internal GPS. Mehmed would not take us to those places; he did not know them either. We happened to come upon a Kurdish music fest by choosing one of the narrow streets. Where Armenian music was also played, with Kurdish lyrics, and tons of çiküfte was sold in the tasteful yard of the Armenian house. Delilo is the most famous Kurdish dance, which I had danced the previous day too on the bridge –the Ten-eyed bridge (On gözlu köpru)– below which the river Tigris flowed, which now had a different name, Dicle; and a thought kept creeping up to me as I danced, that I was reestablishing or confirming something with my dance, but which was then collapsing again, disappearing piece by piece in the murky yellow waters of the calm river.

Aram Khachikyan would greet and say goodbye to Armenians in Turkish, but the word kurik (sister), would suddenly distinguish itself among the Turkish words. He was always on the territory of the church, in his gray suit. We also met his daughter at the church, whose greeting—which would consist of two quick kisses on each cheek, as is customary in Turkey—lasted longer than that, longer than the Diyarbakir wall, included a tight hug of interwoven arms, included staring and staring into each other’s eyes, encircling through one another, weaving a language. Her father puts his tongue bound by the lack of knowledge of Armenian into the mouth of the church bells and rings them out twice a day –ku-rik, ku-rik, ku-rik, ku-rik~

It had been twenty days since Güzide had moved from Malatia and started working at the church. As she spoke, her eyes wandered along the high walls, the high bell tower of the church, like someone defending something unfamiliar but dear. She had learned years ago that her mother was Armenian. She had a duty, perhaps, I don’t know – she did not know either. She spoke French and English, she was the problem solver there – the guide at the church, its guard, the saleswoman in the souvenir shop, the Diyarbakir information center, the one looking for a teacher of Armenian, the one eager to learn the language.

His head lost at the pain and joy at learning about his Armenian identity, Armen or Abdurrahim, who pointed out the Armenian houses to us, would constantly repeat the names of the Armenian people he knew in Armenia or elsewhere. “Meri Musinyan, hay, ha? Khndir chka. Narine, bjishk, hay, gsirem, ari dun, ha? Shat lav, khndir chka.”[1] He then would take out the smallest square piece of obsidian from his pocket with a cross engraved on it, and would press it unbearably into his palm, but the square was too small and would not reach his fingers, so he would put it back into his pocket sighing – always into that tiny pocket, which protrudes out with its rectangular borders from the real pockets of jeans, and from which one can take out small items by digging in with a single finger.

It is dark and Armen is constantly looking at his watch; his Kurdish wife has a negative attitude towards the fact of his Armenianness and the tardiness connected to it. But Armen is shakily playing music on his small phone – Dle yaman, Nazan, Eva Rivas, Komitas – and we sing sitting in the small square, singing along with the phone, while the gang of Kurdish kids is attacking and retreating, climbing like cats on the metal frame of the bus stop, destroying the flower pots and breaking the tree branches, then turning again to us, having abated their curiosity. To us – the murmuring night shadows.

The third day and our trip is to end with a concert by Onnik Dinkjian. The same story here – a father saved by the Kurds, a son who remembers the stories of his father and eventually returns to his father’s birthplace, a mother lost in the massacres, her talent of singing and her voice, hereditary genes, which have ended up placing an oud in the hands of Onnik’s son Ara, while years later when both are men in an advanced age, they hear from a woman that an uncle had played the oud as well and the whole city had known of his mother’s voice. Then everything is a fog, and now, for the first time and again that woman’s voice rings out in Diyarbakir through her son’s mouth, while her grandson holds her brother’s oud in his hands.

The concert hall is packed. The stage is taken by the sweetest and saddest old man of old men in the world, who sings the songs of Tigranakert-Diyarbakir in the exact same way that they should be sung. Sona and I understand that it is late. We have invited all the people at our house to the concert asking Mehmed for three days to bring Mercan along; he had promised… The only one interested in that concert was Mercan, who had never gone out in her time – no concert, no theatre, no cultural event had ever occurred in her life. She was grumbling with Mehmed from morning to evening for the concert –she wasn’t asking him, she was demanding her right, but having had accepted beforehand she didn’t have that right. With the word çocuk they shut Mercan’s mouth. Mercan was her children’s kindergarten. The most incomprehensible and improbable thing to her was that I was in Turkey while my husband was in America, and I had walked all over Diyarbakir with her husband. Mercan did not need a language to show her amazement and confusion. What is more, Mercan was a leading expert in non-verbal communication, and her talent hit the top of sign language, but besides the supporting use of her eyes and hands, she knew how to arrange and emit sounds in such a way that the need for dictionaries and grammar disappeared. We have had long conversations with Mercan about big and small issues of the world, from feminism to Mehmed’s internet café, and that there is no need to raid the hospital every time with the whole family– taking us along – when one of the children’s temperature goes up: they’d rather not walk barefoot and take the aspirin the doctor gives them at home.

Mercan was not allowed to the concert. They did not come either. Nobody came from the family; they had gone to the hospital. Husein’s temperature had gone up and Seyhan was on the same path. Mercan had been getting ready since morning. When we were getting dressed in the room, she was dishing out advice. We wore what she pointed us towards; we put on the makeup she advised. We looked good… but Mercan did not come.

Having lost yet something else, we sat in the hall, Armen between us, with the sweat pouring from excitement down his body.

Yearning!! oh, yearning!!… began the song… it grabbed our throats, eyes, noses and mouths, squeezed, and squeezed, and squeezed. The Tigris was flowing down Armen drenching his body with salty waters. For the first time in three days, something sharp and blunt piercing down my head, throat and stomach crashed roaring onto the bottom of my abdomen, and the sound of that roar reached my ears. I realized only for a blink what had happened, my whole body turned into consciousness, swam in pain and the stench of grease, the dense water with its thick surface lashed against the banks; I swallowed, swallowed, swallowed, got exhausted, leaned my head back to the seat. A deep breath. Then, the lucid thing came to replace the nameless one. I began to see the young man of the song, who was holding the girl he loved for the first time in the twilight –her waist is slim, you’d rather not squeeze it –and they trembled before each other in the narrow alley next to us, where there must not be many people at this time of night.

I imagined the boy to be Serhat. He was the waiter in a café who had come and gone, asking questions, and, bringing the check, had told us that his father was Armenian. Slim he was, handsome, trembling. He had seen something within us, was hovering, hovering around, unable to understand it. We had invited Serhat to the concert as well, but because of his work he couldn’t come, although he called us a thousand times and sent us a thousand texts. During the concert, I was gripped by the obsession of waking Serhat from his slumber. Sona probably felt the same, because after the concert she bought a disc about Dinkjian’s life for Serhat, and we went to his workplace in the middle of the night–Armen with us, his eye on his phone, on which constantly buzzes the calls of his Kurdish wife. I imagined the boy waiting for his girl to be Serhat. I imagined Serhat in the narrow alleys, I imagined he must know they belonged to him, that they suited him the most, that his own slimness was their match. But Serhat was so tired after work that he had even forgotten the few English words that he had been using the previous day, and although he accepted the disc happily, we could not find the strength and the way to explain into what we had transformed him, and what else he could be. He left, and just later realized that we were leaving in the morning, returning to Istanbul, so he began to call again, and somehow, through a couple of English words, explained that he would come to the airport to see us off.

I took just one photograph

We waited for Serhat, the plane was already boarding, but we stood amid the morning noise and the enthusiasm of the taxi drivers, we waited mostly feeling sorry for him to have to come all the way there and miss seeing us. But Serhat called again, saying that he was at work. Then later that evening, when we were walking in Taksim, he kept calling –I don’t know if he did not believe, or did not understand, that we were already in Istanbul- he kept asking, “You are in Diyarbakır?” We kept saying no, Serhat, we are in Istanbul, we had attended a badly organized Armenian concert, we are going home after that, we are in Taksim, it’s raining.

Translated by Anna Davtyan, Nazareth Seferian


[1] Pronounced mostly in the Western Armenian, translating to, “Meri Musinyan, Armenian, yes? No problem. Narine, a doctor, Armenian, I love. Come home, yes? Very good, no problem.”

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