فصل 31

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فصل 31

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We’re Not Stupid, We’re Just Poor

the secret meeting at the hotel asia

When Zahide rushed out to the horse-drawn carriage that was to take Turgut Bey and Kadife to the secret meeting at the Hotel Asia, the light was failing and so Ka, watching from the window, could not quite make out what the faithful servant had in her hands. In fact, it was an old pair of woolen gloves.

Uncertain as to what he should wear to the meeting, Turgut Bey had taken the two jackets he had from his teaching days—one black, one gray—and spread them out on the bed with the felt hat he saved for national holidays and inspection visits and the checked tie he had not worn for years except to amuse Zahide’s grandson. He would have spent a good deal more time poring over the other elements of his wardrobe and the contents of his drawers, but, seeing him acting like a dreamy girl wondering what her father would let her wear to the ball, Kadife stepped in to make the final selection. After buttoning his shirt for him, she helped him on with his jacket and his coat; then came the pair of white dog-leather gloves that she struggled to pull onto his small hands.

At this moment Turgut Bey remembered his old woolen gloves. Stubbornly insisting that these were the ones he had to wear, he sent Ipek and ˙ Kadife rushing around the house frantically to search every wardrobe and every chest from top to bottom; upon finally finding them, they saw how many holes the moths had made, and they threw the gloves aside.

But once he was ensconced in the carriage, Turgut Bey insisted yet again that he wasn’t leaving the house without them; years ago, he explained, when his left-wing activities had landed him in prison, his dear departed wife had brought him these gloves, knitted especially for him. Kadife, who knew her father better than he knew himself, saw the matter for what it was: If the old man was insisting on these gloves as a talisman, he must be very scared indeed.

After the gloves had arrived and the carriage set off into the snow, Kadife asked her father to tell her more about his prison days; she listened to his stories (how he’d cried whenever he received letters from his wife, how he’d taught himself French, how he’d worn these very gloves to bed on winter nights) as intently as if she were hearing them for the first time, occasionally interrupting to say, “What a brave man you are, Father!” And then he did what he always did when he heard his daughters utter these words (which over the last few years, he’d hardly heard at all): Fighting back tears, Turgut Bey enfolded Kadife in his arms and, shuddering, kissed her cheeks.

When the horse-drawn carriage reached the Hotel Asia, they saw that the lights were still burning in the street outside.

As he stepped out of the carriage, Turgut Bey said, “Look at all these new shops. Let’s see what they have in the windows.” Kadife knew he was dragging his feet out of fear, so she was careful not to hurry him. Turgut Bey proposed they stop for a cup of linden tea—if a detective was following them, he said, they might as well give him a run for his money—so they made their way into a teahouse, where they sat silently watching a race on television. Just as they were leaving, Turgut Bey spotted his old barber, so they turned around and went back inside, so as not to be seen going to the meeting.

“Do you think we’re too late now? Do you think we’ll offend them if we don’t go at all?” The fat barber at a nearby table seemed to be eavesdropping, so Turgut Bey spoke to Kadife in whispers. He took her arm, but instead of heading straight for the back courtyard, he now went into a stationery store, where he picked out a navy-blue pen. When they finally reached the back courtyard of Ersin Electric and Plumbing Supplies and turned toward the dark door that was the back entrance to the Hotel Asia, Kadife saw the blood drain from her father’s face.

Not a thing was stirring at the back entrance to the hotel. They stuck close together; no one was following them. They took a few steps inside, but in the darkness Kadife had to grope her way to the stairs that led to the lobby. “Don’t let go of my arm,” said Turgut Bey.

The lobby was in semidarkness, its high windows hidden behind

heavy drapes. There was a weak, dirty lamp on the reception desk, which barely illuminated the face of the unshaven, unkempt clerk standing behind it. In the darkness beyond the desk they could make out a few other shadowy figures wandering about the lobby and gliding up and down the stairs. These were either plainclothes police or black marketeers who dealt in livestock or lumber or undocumented workers smuggled across the border. Eighty years earlier, this hotel had been popular with Russian businessmen; after the revolution, most of its custom came from Istanbul Turks and aristocratic English double agents heading into Armenia to spy on the Soviet Union; now it was full of women who’d come over from Georgia and the Ukraine to work as prostitutes and petty smugglers. By and large it was men from the villages around Kars who rented rooms for these women; they’d live there together during the day, almost as married couples, and after the men had gone back to their villages on the last minibus of the day, the women would come downstairs to drink coffee and cognac in the dark recesses of the bar.

As Turgut Bey and Kadife made their way among the wooden chairs

once draped with red tapestry, they found themselves face-to-face with one of these tatty blondes; Turgut Bey turned to Kadife and whispered, “The Grand Hotel, where Ismet Pasha stayed when he was negotiating the Treaty of Lausanne, was just as cosmopolitan as this,” and with that he took the navy-blue pen out of his pocket. “I’m going to do just what Ismet Pasha did in Lausanne: I’m going to sign the statement with a brand-new pen.” For the longest time, he wouldn’t move; it wasn’t clear to Kadife if he was stalling or listening for noise on the stairs. And when they finally arrived at Room 307, Turgut Bey said, “Let’s just sign this thing and leave.”

It was so crowded inside that Kadife at first thought they’d come to the wrong room. Seeing Blue sitting glumly near the window with two other Islamist militants, she took her father across the room and sat him beside them. A naked lightbulb hung from the ceiling; on the table was a lamp in the shape of a fish, but the room was still inadequately lit. The fish was made of Bakelite; propped on its tail fins, it held the lightbulb in its mouth, and a state-owned microphone was hidden in one of its eyes.

Fazıl was in the room too; the moment he saw Kadife, he jumped to his feet, and when the others rose to pay their respects to Turgut Bey, he remained standing. He looked stunned, as if someone had cast a spell on him. A few in the room thought he was about to speak, but Kadife didn’t even notice him. Her eyes were on Blue and Turgut Bey, whose eyes were on each other, and the atmosphere was tense.

Blue had decided the West would take the statement more seriously if the Kurdish nationalist who signed it was also an atheist. But the thin pale teenager who’d reluctantly agreed to sign had a difference of opinion with his Kurdish nationalist associates as to the wording. Now the three of them were waiting sullenly for their turn to speak. Since the associations of angry, hopeless, jobless youths known to admire the Kurdish guerillas from the mountains tended to convene in the houses of individual members, and since association directors were often being arrested, beaten, and tortured following frequent raids on meetings, it was hard to find these youngsters after the coup. But the three young Kurds had an even more pressing problem: The mountain warriors might find their very presence in this room suspect. They might decide that these young men had it too easy in these warm city rooms and accuse them of accommodation with the Turkish Republic. In fact, the charge that the associations were not sending their fair share of guerilla recruits up to the mountains had demoralized the handful of members who had not yet been arrested.

Also at the meeting were two old-wave socialists, both in their thirties. The possibility of a joint statement to the German press had been conveyed to them by the Kurdish youths, who’d gone to the socialists to brag a little and also to ask for advice. Socialist militancy had once cast a long shadow over Kars, but now it was spent; these days no socialist would dare set an ambush, kill a policeman, or start a mail-bomb campaign without first seeking the support of the Kurdish guerillas, and the result was an epidemic of premature decrepitude and widespread depression in their once-formidable ranks. Now here were these old militants who’d come uninvited to the meeting, having heard there were still a lot of Marxists in Europe. At the far end of the room, just beside the oldest socialist, who looked bored, sat a relaxed, clean-faced comrade, who was in high spirits, knowing he would relay the details of the meeting to the local MIT branch. His intentions weren’t malign; he did this to help the ˙ associations head off police harassment. He would inform the state of any activities he didn’t like—most of which seemed unnecessary in retrospect anyway—but in his heart of hearts, he was proud that there were rebels out there fighting for the cause, so proud, in fact, that he would brag about the shootings, the kidnappings, the beatings, the bombings, and the assassinations to anyone who would listen.

At first no one spoke, so sure were they that the room was bugged and that there were several informers present. Or if they spoke, it was with a nod in the direction of the window to note that it was still snowing, or to admonish someone for stubbing out cigarettes on the floor. The silence lasted until a Kurdish granny unnoticed until that moment stood up and told the story of her grandson’s disappearance (they had come in the middle of the night and taken him away). Even only half listening to this disappearance story, Turgut Bey felt uneasy. He was as appalled to hear of the abduction and murder of Kurdish teenagers as he was angry to hear them described as innocents. Holding her father’s hand, Kadife tried to make sense of the disgust and contempt in Blue’s face. Blue felt he had walked into a trap, but fearing what people would say if he left, he remained, against his better judgment. And then: (1) the Islamist youth who was sitting next to Fazıl, and whose connection to the murder of the director of the Institute of Education would be proved months later, began to argue that the director had been assassinated by a government agent; (2) the revolutionaries in the room made a long announcement about a hunger strike begun by their friends in prison; and (3) the three youths from the Kurdish association read out an even longer statement, in which they threatened to withdraw their signatures from the joint declaration unless the Frankfurter Rundschau published it, thus restoring Kurdish culture and literature to its proper place in world history.

When the granny, who had come to submit a petition on behalf of the missing teenager, asked where this German journalist was, Kadife rose to explain: Ka was indeed in Kars, she said, in a reassuring voice, but had stayed away from the meeting lest his presence cast any doubt on the impartiality of the statement. The others being unaccustomed to seeing a woman address a political meeting with such confidence, she quickly gained their respect. On hearing that Kadife would do everything in her power to get her story published in the German papers, the granny threw her arms around Kadife and began to cry, and then gave her a piece of paper on which someone had written her grandson’s name.

The well-meaning leftist-militant informer chose this moment to present the first draft, which he had written in longhand in a notebook; as he read it, he did his best to look inscrutable.

Almost everyone warmed to the title at once: “Announcement to the People of Europe about the Events in Kars.” Remembering how he felt at that moment, Fazıl would later smile and tell Ka, “This was the first time it ever occurred to me that our small city might one day have a role to play on the world stage.” (Ka would later use these very words in his poem “All Humanity and the Stars.”)

Only Blue adamantly opposed the title. “We’re not speaking to Europe,” he said, “we’re speaking to all humanity. Our friends should not be surprised to learn we have been unable to publish our statement—not just in Kars and Istanbul but also in Frankfurt. The people of Europe are not our friends, they’re our enemies. And it’s not because we’re their enemies, it’s because they instinctively despise us.”

The leftist in charge of the first draft interrupted to clarify that it wasn’t all humanity that despised them, just the European bourgeoisie.

The poor and unemployed were their brothers, he reminded them, but no one other than his fellow socialist was persuaded.

“No one in Europe is as poor as we are,” said one of the three Kurdish youths.

“My son, have you ever been to Europe?” asked Turgut Bey.

“I haven’t had the opportunity yet, but my mother’s brother is a worker in Germany.”

This provoked some laughter. Turgut Bey straightened his chair. “Although the word means much to me, I have never been to Europe either,” he said. “This is not a laughing matter. Please, would all those in the room who have been to Europe raise their hands.”

Apart from Blue, who had spent many years in Germany, no one

raised his hand.

“But we all know what Europe has come to mean,” Turgut Bey continued. “Europe is our future, and the future of our humanity. So if this gentleman”—here he pointed at Blue—“thinks we should say all humanity instead of Europe, we might as well change our statement accordingly.” “Europe’s not my future,” said Blue with a smile. “As long as I live I shall never imitate them or hate myself for being unlike them.” “It’s not just Islamists who take pride in this country, the Republicans feel the same way,” said Turgut Bey. “If we say all humanity instead of Europe, what do we have?”

“Announcement to All Humanity about the Events in Kars,” said the man in charge of the statement. “That might be too bold.”

There followed a discussion in which they considered replacing Humanity with the West, but the freckled man beside Blue objected to this too.

The Kurdish youth with the shrill voice then suggested the more modest An Announcement, and this met with everyone’s approval.

Contrary to all expectations, this draft was in fact very short. And although no one took issue with the opening lines—to the effect that a coup had been “staged” at the very moment when it had become clear that Islamist and Kurdish candidates stood to prevail in the upcoming elections—Turgut Bey objected that people here were known to change their minds on a whim, giving their vote to the party that stood for everything they themselves had opposed only a day before, and that it would be better not to imply with any certitude that this or that politician was sure to have won.

In response, the leftist-militant informer in charge of the working draft said, “Everyone knows this coup happened in advance of the elections in order to prevent certain people from winning.” “You have to remember that we’re dealing with a theater troupe,” said Turgut Bey. “The only reason they’ve succeeded is that the roads are blocked. Everything will be back to normal in a matter of days.” “If you’re not against the coup, why are you here?” asked a boy with a beet-red face seated next to Blue.

It was hard to tell whether Turgut Bey had even heard this disrespectful remark. In any case, Kadife rose to her feet at this same moment (she was the only one in the room to stand up when she was speaking, though no one, certainly not she, saw how strange this was). Her eyes burning with anger, she said that her father, having spent many years in prison for his political beliefs, remained categorically opposed to all forms of statesponsored oppression.

Turgut Bey quickly removed his jacket and sat her down, saying, “I have come to this meeting because I wish to prove to the Europeans that in Turkey, too, we have people who believe in common sense and democracy.” “If a big German paper gave me two lines of space, this would not be the first thing I’d be aiming to prove,” said the red-faced young man contemptuously; he would have said more, had Blue not laid a warning hand on his arm.

It was enough to make Turgut Bey regret having come. He mastered his disappointment by convincing himself he’d just stopped by on his way somewhere else. Assuming the air of someone preoccupied with matters far away from this room, he rose and took a few steps toward the door; but then, noticing the snow accumulating on Karada˘g Avenue, he walked over to the window. Kadife took his arm as if to suggest her father might be unable to walk any farther without assistance. For a long time, father and daughter stood there like mournful children trying to forget their troubles, as a horse-drawn carriage made its way down the street.

One of the three boys from the Kurdish association—the one with the shrill voice—succumbed to curiosity and joined them at the window. The others watched with a mixture of respect and apprehension; as they wondered whether there was about to be a raid, the room grew tense.

The various factions were soon so worried that they reached an agreement about the rest of the statement in no time.

The statement declared the military coup to have been the work of a handful of adventurers. It was Blue who suggested this, rejecting a broader definition that might give Westerners the impression that the military had taken over all of Turkey. In the end they agreed to describe it as a “local coup supported by Ankara.” Brief references were made to the Kurds who’d been shot or taken one by one from their homes and killed and to the torture and intimidation suffered by the boys from the religious high school. “A wholesale assault on the people” was amended to read “an assault on the people, the spirit, and religion.” And they changed the last line, calling finally not just on the people of Europe but on the entire world to unite in protest against the Turkish Republic. As he was reading out this line, Turgut Bey caught Blue’s eyes for a moment and saw contentment in them. Again, the old man was sorry he had come.

“Now, if there are no further objections, let’s sign this at once,” said Blue. “Because there could be a raid at any moment.”

By now the statement was a tangle of crossed-out words, arrows, and circled emendations, but this deterred no one from rushing to the middle of the room to jostle for position with one objective: to sign and be off.

A few were already heading for the door when Kadife cried, “Stop! My father has something to say!”

This only heightened the panic. Blue ordered the red-faced boy to guard the door. “No one may leave,” he said. “Let Turgut Bey make his objection.”

“I don’t have an objection,” the old man said. “But before I put my name to this statement, there’s something I want from that teenager over there.” He pointed at the red-faced boy, now standing guard at the door.

“And not just from him—from everyone in the room. I’m going to ask a question, and I want an answer first from him and then from the rest of you, and if I don’t get it, I won’t be signing this statement.” He turned to Blue to gauge the force of the remark.

“Please, be my guest, ask your question,” said Blue. “If it’s in our power to answer it, we’ll be only too pleased to do so.”

“Just a moment ago you laughed at me. So now I want you to tell me this: If a big German newspaper gave you personally two lines of space, what would you say to the West? I want that boy to go first.” The red-faced teenager was strong and powerful, with an opinion on everything, but the question caught him unprepared. Clutching the door handle more tightly than ever, he looked to Blue for help.

“Just say whatever you think you’d say, so we can leave,” said Blue, forcing a smile. “If you don’t, the police will be here.”

The red-faced teenager searched the air as if struggling with an exam question he knew how to answer only yesterday.

Hearing nothing, Blue said, “Fine, then let me answer first. I couldn’t care less about your European masters. All I want is to step out of their shadow. But the truth is, we all live under a shadow.”

“Don’t try to help him, let him speak from his own heart,” said Turgut Bey. “You can go last.” He smiled at the red-faced teenager, still squirming. “It’s a difficult decision. It’s a complicated business. It’s not the sort of dilemma you can resolve on your way out the door.” “He’s looking for excuses!” someone shouted from the back of the room. “He doesn’t want to sign the statement!”

They all retreated, each into his own thoughts. A few moved to the window, to watch another horse-drawn carriage swaying back and forth on its way down the street. Later that same night, in describing the “enchanted silence” that had fallen over the room, Fazıl would tell Ka, “It was as if we were all brothers suddenly, as if we were closer to one another than we’d ever been before.”

An airplane passing far above them in the night sky broke the silence.

Everyone heard it. “That’s the second plane today,” Blue whispered.

“I’m leaving!” someone shouted. The speaker, a pale-faced man in his thirties in a pale jacket, had gone unnoticed until this moment. He was one of the three workingmen in the room. A cook in the Social Insurance Hospital, he’d come in with the families of the disappeared and he couldn’t stop looking at his watch. According to later reports, his older brother, a political activist, had been carted off to the police station for questioning, never to return. It was said that the pale-faced cook wanted to secure a death certificate so he could marry his missing brother’s beautiful wife. He’d petitioned the state a year after his brother’s disappearance, but the police, the secret services, the public prosecutor’s office, and the army garrison all gave him the brush-off; he’d joined the families of the disappeared two months earlier, not out of any desire for revenge but simply because they were the only people willing to listen to him.

“You’ll call me a coward behind my back, but you’re the cowards. And these Europeans of yours, they’re the biggest cowards of all. You can go ahead and quote me.” He kicked the door open and walked out.

Someone now asked just who was this “Hans Hansen Bey.” Kadife panicked, but to her great surprise Blue courteously explained that he was a well-intentioned German journalist who took a deep interest in Turkey’s problems.

“Beware of Germans with good intentions!” cried someone at the back of the room.

“My friends, let’s not hang back like frightened little schoolchildren, waiting for the other kid to speak first,” someone else said.

“I’m at the lycée,” piped up one of the boys from the Kurdish association. “I knew what I would say before I got here.” His voice couldn’t have been calmer, but his face burned with passion. “I’ve always dreamed of the day when I’d have a chance to share my ideas with the world—and so has everyone else in this room. What I would say is very simple. All I’d want them to print in that Frankfurt paper is this: We’re not stupid, we’re just poor! And we have a right to want to insist on this distinction.”

“Such humble words!”

“Who do you mean, my son, when you say we?” asked a man at the back. “Do you mean the Turks? The Kurds? The Circassians? The people of Kars? To whom exactly are you referring?”

“Mankind’s greatest error,” continued the young Kurd, “the biggest deception of the past thousand years is this: to confuse poverty with stupidity.”

“And what exactly does he mean by stupidity? He should explain his terms.”

“Throughout history, religious leaders and other honorable men of conscience have always warned against this shaming confusion. They remind us that the poor have hearts, minds, humanity, and wisdom just like everyone else. When Hans Hansen sees a poor man he feels sorry for him. He would not necessarily assume that the man’s a fool who’s blown his chances or a drunk who’s lost his will.”

“I can’t speak for Hans Hansen, but that’s what everyone thinks when they see a poor man.”

“Please listen to what I have to say,” said the passionate Kurdish youth. “I won’t speak long. People might feel sorry for a man who’s fallen on hard times, but when an entire nation is poor, the rest of the world assumes that all its people must be brainless, lazy, dirty, clumsy fools.

Instead of pity, the people provoke laughter. It’s all a joke: their culture, their customs, their practices. In time the rest of the world may, some of them, begin to feel ashamed for having thought this way, and when they look around and see immigrants from that poor country mopping their floors and doing all the other lowest paying jobs, naturally they worry about what might happen if these workers one day rose up against them.

So, to keep things sweet, they start taking an interest in the immigrants’ culture and sometimes even pretend they think of them as equals.” “It’s about time he told us what nation he’s talking about.” “Let me add this,” said one of the other Kurdish youths. “Mankind refuses to laugh any longer at those who kill and murder and oppress.

This is what I learned from my mother’s brother when he came to Kars from Germany last summer. The world has lost patience with oppressive countries.”

“Are we to assume then that you’re making a threat on behalf of the West?”

“As I was saying,” the first young Kurd continued, “when a Westerner meets someone from a poor country, he feels deep contempt. He

assumes that the poor man’s head must be full of all the nonsense that plunged his country into poverty and despair.”

“And if he did, he wouldn’t be far off the mark, would he?” “If you’re like that conceited poet and think we’re all stupid, stand up and state your case. That godless atheist will end up in hell, but at least he showed some courage. He went on live TV and looked the entire country in the eye and told us to our faces we are stupid.”

“Excuse me, but people on live TV can’t see their audience.” “The gentleman didn’t say he ‘saw,’ he said he ‘looked.’ ” “Friends! Please! Let’s not be a debating society,” pleaded the leftist who was taking minutes. “And also, please try to speak more slowly.” “If he’s not brave enough to say what nation he’s talking about, I refuse to be quiet. Let’s be clear that it’s treason to give a German paper a quote trashing our nation.”

“I’m no traitor. I agree with you,” the passionate Kurdish youth said, rising to his feet. “That’s why I want to tell this German paper that even if I got a chance to go to Germany one day, even if they gave me a visa, I wouldn’t go.”

“They’d never give a European visa to a feeble, unemployed nothing like you.”

“Forget the visa, our own state wouldn’t give him a passport.” “You’re right, they wouldn’t,” said the passionate but humble youth.

“But say they did and I went, and the first Western man I met in the street turned out to be a good person who didn’t even despise me, I’d still mistrust him, just for being a Westerner, I’d still worry that this man was looking down on me. Because in Germany they can spot Turks just by the way they look. There’s no escaping humiliation except by proving at the first opportunity that you think exactly as they do. But this is impossible, and it can break a man’s pride to try.” “You started badly, my son, but you’ve ended up in the right place,” said an old Azeri journalist. “But I still think we shouldn’t say this to the German press, because it will lay us open to ridicule.” He paused for a moment and then asked cunningly, “So what nation was it you were talking about?” When the teenager from the Kurdish association sat down without

speaking further, the old journalist’s son cried out, “He’s afraid!” “He’s right to be afraid. He’s not on the government payroll like you.” Neither the journalist nor his son took offense. Everyone was talking at once, but not in frustration: All the joking and teasing and keeping score had made the atmosphere festive and intimate. Later, on hearing Fazıl’s account of the proceedings, Ka would observe in his notebook that this sort of political meeting could go on for hours, and the beetlebrowed, mustachioed, cigarette-smoking men who attended them did so precisely to enjoy the pleasure of the crowd, even without realizing that they were having a good time.

“We will never be Europeans!” cried one of the proud young Islamists. “They may try to roll over us with their tanks and spray us with bullets and kill us all, but they can’t change our souls.” “You can take possession of my body but never my soul!” said one of the Kurdish youths. He made his contempt clear by reciting the line in the style of a Turkish melodrama.

Everyone laughed. And to show he didn’t mind, the boy who’d been speaking started laughing too.

“Now I’m going to say something,” said one of the youths sitting near Blue. “No matter how hard our friends here try to draw a line between themselves and the lowlifes who ape the ways of the West, I still sense a certain note of apology. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘I’m so sorry I’m not a Westerner.’ ” He turned to the man in the leather jacket who was taking notes. “Please, dear sir, ignore these preliminary remarks!” He spoke like a polite thug. “Here’s what I’d like you to write: I’m proud of the part of me that isn’t European. I’m proud of the things in me that the Europeans find childish, cruel, and primitive. If the Europeans are beautiful, I want to be ugly; if they’re intelligent, I prefer to be stupid; if they’re modern, let me stay pure.”

No one in the room would sign on to that sentiment. The ensuing

laughter preserved the new spirit of the gathering, with everything now said giving way to a joke. Then someone went too far—“But you’re stupid already!” At the very same moment the oldest of the leftists and his friend in the black jacket both had coughing fits, so fortunately no one was sure who had uttered these insulting words.

The red-faced teenager guarding the door rattled off a poem.

“Europe, O Europe,/Let’s stop and take a look,/When we’re together in our dreams/Let’s not let the devil have his way.” Fazıl had a hard time hearing the rest over all the coughing, taunting, and sniggering, but he could recount in detail the objections to it; jotted down on the same sheet bearing his record of the various two-line statements for Europe were these snippets of reaction that ended up in “All Humanity and the Stars,” the poem Ka was to write shortly afterward.

  1. “Let’s not be afraid of them, there’s nothing there to be afraid of !” One of the old-guard leftist militants now approaching

middle age.

  1. The old Azeri journalist who could not stop asking, “To what nation are you referring?” said, “Let’s not sacrifice our

Turkishness or forsake our religion.”

  1. A defeatist in the crowd slyly asked, “And whatever happened to the millions of Armenians who once lived all across Anatolia,

including Kars?” in the course of a long speech about the

Crusades, the Holocaust, the American massacre of the Red

Indians, and the Algerian Muslims massacred by the French. But

feeling pity for this man, the informer-secretary did not write

down his name.

  1. “No one in his right mind would ever want to translate such a long and idiotic poem, and Hans Hansen would never let it be

published in his newspaper.” This from one of the three poets in the room. It was their chance to bemoan the luckless isolation of Turkish poets on the international stage.

At the end of his recitation of the poem that everyone denounced as idiotic and primitive, the red-faced youth was drenched in sweat; there was scattered, rather contemptuous applause. Most seemed to agree that it would be unwise to let this poem be published in Germany, as it might give rise to more ridicule. The Kurdish youth whose mother’s brother lived in Germany was the most outspoken on this point.

“When they write poems or sing songs in the West, they speak for all humanity. They’re human beings—but we’re just Muslims. When we write something, it’s just called ethnic poetry.”

“My message is this: Write this down,” said the man in the black jacket. “If the Europeans are right and our only future and only hope is to be more like them, it’s foolish to waste time talking about what makes us who we are.”

“Ah, of all the things said so far, here is the one that will most effectively convince the Europeans that we’re idiots.” “Please, once and for all, state clearly which nation it is that’s going to look idiotic.”

“And here we are acting as if we’re so much smarter and worthier than Westerners, but gentlemen, I put it to you that if Germany opened a consulate in Kars today and started handing out free visas, the city would be empty within a week.”

“That’s a lie. After all, our friend over there just told us he wouldn’t go even if they offered him the chance. I wouldn’t leave either. I’d do the honorable thing and stay here.”

“And many others would stay too, gentlemen, make no mistake. All those who wouldn’t go raise your hands so we can see you.”

A few gravely raised their hands. A handful of youths saw them but remained undecided. “And why is it that those who would go are seen as dishonorable?” asked the man in the black jacket.

“This is hard to explain to people who don’t already understand,” said one mysterious fellow.

Fazıl noticed that Kadife had turned away, looking mournfully out the window, and his heart began to thump wildly. Please God, he thought, help me preserve my purity, protect my mind from confusion. It occurred to him that Kadife might like these words. It occurred to him to make this his quote for the German newspaper, but with so many people speaking, there was no chance for him to be heard.

The only one whose voice rose above all this noise was the shrill Kurdish youth. He proposed to tell the German newspaper about a dream he’d had. Pausing from time to time with a shiver, he explained how in this dream he’d been sitting all alone in the National Theater watching a film. It was a Western film, and everyone in it was speaking a foreign language, but this didn’t make him uncomfortable; he somehow understood everything they said. And then, in the blink of an eye, he entered the film itself; it turned out that his seat was not in the National Theater but in the sitting room of a Christian family. There, before his eyes, was a table laden with food; he longed to fill his stomach, but for fear of doing something wrong he kept his distance. His heart began to race: there, before him, was a beautiful blond woman, and the moment he saw her he remembered that he’d been in love with her for years. The woman was warmer and more gentle than he could ever imagine. She complimented him on his clothes and his manners, kissed his cheeks, and ran her fingers through his hair. He felt so very happy. Before he knew it, she sat him on her lap and pointed out the food on the table. Only then did he realize that he was still a child, said the Kurdish youth, with tears welling in his eyes. It was because he was still a child that she found him so charming.

The old journalist broke the silence. “No one could dream a dream like that,” he said. “This Kurdish boy made it all up just to mock us to the Germans.”

To prove the authenticity of this dream, the teenager from the Kurdish association offered a detail he’d omitted from his earlier account: Every time he’d woken up since the dream, he’d remembered this same blond woman. He’d first seen her five years ago; she was stepping out of a bus, one of a group of tourists who’d come to see the Armenian churches. She was wearing a blue dress with straps that she also wore in his dreams.

This produced more laughter. “We’ve all seen European women like that,” said someone, “and we’ve all been tempted by the devil.” It was an opportunity for a few mischievous anecdotes, off-color jokes, and angry diatribes against Western women. A tall, thin, and rather handsome youth who had stayed in the background until that moment launched into a story about a Westerner and a Muslim who met at a train station. Sadly, the train didn’t arrive. At the end of the same platform they saw a beautiful Frenchwoman waiting for the same train. . . . Anyone who’d ever attended a boys’ school or done his military service recognized this for a story about to draw a parallel between sexual prowess and national culture. It contained no rude words; its coarseness was hidden under a veil of insinuations. But in no time at all there fell over the room a mood that would later cause Fazıl to exclaim: “My heart was heavy with shame!”

Turgut Bey rose to his feet. “All right, my boy, that’s enough,” he said.

“Bring me this statement so I can sign it.”

He fished out his new pen, and it was done. The noise and the cigarette smoke had worn him out, and Kadife had to help him stand.

“Now listen to me for a minute,” she said. “You seem to feel no shame, but my face is red from what I’ve just heard. I cover my head with this scarf so you won’t see my hair, and maybe you think this causes me undue hardship, but—”

“You don’t do it for us!” someone said in a respectful whisper. “You do it for God, to proclaim your spirituality!”

“I have a few things to say to the German paper too. Please write them down.” She was enough of an actress to know that her audience half hated and half admired her. “A young woman of Kars—no, don’t write that; say a Muslim girl who lives in Kars—has covered her head for personal religious reasons but also wears the scarf as an emblem of her faith. One day this girl is overcome by a sudden revulsion and pulls the scarf off her head. (The Westerners would greet this as good news. If we did that, Hans Hansen would certainly want to print our views.) When she pulled off her scarf, this girl said, ‘Please God, forgive me, because I have to be alone. This world is so loathsome, and I am so powerless and so full of woe that your—’ ”

“Kadife,” whispered Fazıl. “Please, I beg you, don’t bare your head.

We’re all here right now, all of us, including me and Necip. It would kill us, kill us all.”

Everyone in the room seemed confused by these words. “Stop talking nonsense,” someone said, and then someone else, “But of course she shouldn’t bare her head.” But most looked at her expectantly, half hoping she was about to do something shocking and newsworthy and half wondering who had staged this melodrama and who was playing games with whom.

“The two lines I want to give the German paper are as follows,” said Fazıl. The buzzing in the room grew louder. “I speak not only for myself but for my friend Necip, who was so cruelly martyred on the night of the revolution: Kadife, we love you very much. If you bare your head, I’ll kill myself, so please. Please don’t.”

According to some reports, Fazıl didn’t say we love you but I love you, though it’s possible these witnesses adjusted their memories to explain what Fazıl would do later on.

“No one in this city may talk about suicide!” bellowed Blue, and he stormed out of the hotel room without even pausing to look at Kadife; this brought the meeting to an immediate close and, although they were not particularly quiet about it, they’d cleared the room in a matter of seconds.

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