Today's Zaman: Human Scenes from Trabzon

Today's Zaman: Human Scenes from Trabzon

Postby avetik » 13 Feb 2007, 19:10

This is an article from Turkish newspaper "Today's Zaman". I decided to cite it here because it may shead some light on the culture of people living there today, although I am not so naiive not to notice author's gennuine intent to improve the Trabzon's PR. Still, it may be interesting for you to read it.

Human scenes from Trabzon


I strongly believe that cities have souls or characters. What makes their characters unique is not just their landscape, the lives that are lived inside them or their history, but also how they react to the blows life deals them.

Trabzon has a beautiful landscape: On one side is the dark blue Black Sea, and the other side steep, green mountains. These blues and greens are unique. I don't think I would be mistaken if I said Trabzon's blue or Trabzon's green. If you know how to listen, Trabzon's sea and many small rivers are trying to talk.

Its people are very unique as well. They are reactionary, impatient, persistent and crazy in their own way, but not at all hostile. Yes, it is very difficult to describe them. But it is obvious the city of Trabzon is suffering nowadays. It is an offended city. Yet it is very proud of itself, too.
I know, it sounds complicated. I was only in Trabzon for two days, and of course, that's not long enough to define a city. To be honest, my impression of Trabzon from the very first moment I set foot there could not be realized with knowledge or science but only with the eyes of the heart. So it becomes less complicated, very simple actually. Let me try.

As you know, last year a priest was killed by a 16-year-old boy in Trabzon. Then, Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was killed by another boy from Trabzon, this time aged 17. There were some other violent events in the city in past years. For details, you can refer to Today's Zaman's Tuesday edition.

My intention is to talk about Trabzon from a different point of view.
I have to admit when I was flying to Trabzon via İstanbul, I was a little nervous. What would I see? What would the reactions of people be?
All my life, I have been to cities where conflicts or tense atmospheres dominated. From the moment you enter such a city, it is impossible not to breathe in this tense climate. However, this was not remotely the case with Trabzon.

In the cities under close scrutiny by national and international media, people usually get very reactionary. They become either hostile or silent and sometimes vexed. This is not the case with Trabzon. Yes, the city is little bit angry to be mentioned as the city of killers, but that's all. Interestingly, it does not have a defensive reflex; however, if it finds someone to listen and understand it, then, it starts to talk in its traditional way: fast, without giving any break and in its own brand of Turkish.

The spoken Turkish there is charming. When the locals start to talk, they're careful to speak Istanbul Turkish (formal), most of the time. But, when they get excited, they revert to their own Turkish. The ups and downs and stresses disappear and it gets very fast. It sounds like a kemençe, a local musical instrument. The kemençe is similar to a violin and has three strings, but it is played on your knees, not on your shoulder. I think well-known Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson compared it to the clack of a door. I must disagree with him. But as I told you before, if someone tries to analyze Trabzon intellectually, he cannot. I don't mean to say understand, but feel it.

As they speak they add "da" to the end of their sentences. It does not have a meaning. At first it was very difficult for me to understand this Trabzon-style Turkish, but within few hours I got used to it. Even after my return from Trabzon, I'm tempted to add "da" to my sentences.

Before I start to try to explain the soul of Trabzon, I want emphasize what it does not have. It does not have nationalistic symbols everywhere. More nationalistic symbols can be seen in an ordinary neighborhood in Istanbul or Ankara. For example, there are no slogans in the windows of cars.

There are no youngsters in the streets shouting and pushing each other, either. It is possible to find them almost everywhere in the big cities. But what I understand from the stories I've been told, when it comes to fighting, the Trabzon people do not lose time by pushing each other but rather get right to the point.

During the flight there, I glanced at my notes about the history of Trabzon. Once upon a time, several foreign consulates, American and French schools, the first printing house of the Ottoman Empire, theater houses, writers, artists and even the first foreign-language newspaper were there.

There are many explanations about what happened to Trabzon. Its economy deteriorated and its families were broken, especially after the city was sort of occupied by women working in prostitution from the former Soviet Republics. There are many theories related to conspiracies, energy corridors, the increasing importance of the Black Sea, foreign involvement and so on. Let me add one: The city forgot its past. This occurred to me suddenly when I was listening to the Black Sea in front of a restaurant. The restaurant itself was formerly a huge Trabzon house. It was made of stone and wood, and the rooms were very large, but the interior decor was simple. On one side of the room, there was a cupboard, from corner to corner, and two long sofas, again from corner to corner. There I noticed that I did not see these kinds of houses in the city center much. The municipal building looks original, but the others are relatively new. I cannot stop myself from thinking that when the roots disappear, whatever it is -- cities, human beings or organizations -- they become more fragile. But the fish at the restaurant was both excellent and cheap. Trabzon people know how to cook them.

When I was going to the Santa Maria Church for the commemoration of Father Santaro, I spoke a little with the taxi driver. "What will happen to Trabzon's situation?" The driver, did not say anything at first. Then he replied, "Many Turkish diplomats have been killed? And what happened? So what?"

I felt that it was time to stop talking. But a few seconds later, the driver continued: "You should understand us. We, as people from Trabzon, cannot standby, we always say what we are thinking, but that doesn't make us killers. Yes, we love guns, and yes, when we get angry, no one can stop us. But to commit a political murder is something else. Look, the killers were too young, they were children. The ones who died were souls, too."

Actually, he used the term "can" in Turkish, which doesn't really have an English equivalent. It can be translated as "beloved soul" or "dear."
While waiting for the ceremony, I needed to use the restroom. I walked a few steps and entered into a small corner shop. There was an old man there; I told him what I was looking for.

Instead of answering me, he made a phone call. He said one sentence into the telephone: "Come here!" Just a few seconds later, a young girl entered the shop. The old man whispered something to her, to which she smiled at me and said, "Come with me." She took me to the nearest building where she whispered something to the lady there. The lady took me to the bathroom. At that moment, I realized that the old man didn't speak to me as a sign of respect actually; he was thinking that to talk about my bathroom needs would be inappropriate.

Was it a coincidence that everybody that I met in Trabzon surprised me in one way or another?

For example, I met with Gültekin Yücesan, a retired teacher and head of Trabzon's Human Rights Association. He is in some way proud of having more than 150 personal and 600 group court cases against him. He is very open critic of state and government policies and is a self-styled defender of democratization and human rights. I asked him if he doesn't fear for his life.

"Not really. I trust the hearts of the people of Trabzon very much. But of course, if there were provocations…"

I realized what he meant as I walk down the street with him. People are stopping him, asking him how he is. I had the impression that he is one of most well-known personalities in Trabzon, or even one of the most respected.

When we were having tea with him in the central park, Yücesan was talking about the demonstrations he helped stage. It is very difficult to understand, wasn't this same city in which a few people were almost lynched because they tried to hold a meeting to protest F-type prisons?
The answer came from a passer-by, who joins us when he sees Yücesan.
He talked nonstop, and when asked about nationalism, he started to talk about his military service in Southeastern Anatolia and their clashes with the PKK. Anyway, most of the youngsters that I met there served as commandos, fighting against the PKK.

"Trying to keep the unity of the motherland is something else. But to be a Kurd is something else as well."

He laughed and added; "As you know, they call the ones who see the sea Laz and the ones who do not are called Kurd."

He told me a story, "Recently, I went to İstanbul. Some youngsters asked me for money. I gave them some, but they said, 'All of it.' I got angry, I punched them and took their money instead. I was staying in the house of a relative where they have a poor woman neighbor. Her husband had run away." He stops talking briefly to curse the husband. "So I gave her all the money, of course…"

He continued: "We believe here if there is no gun in a house, there is no praying in this house either, da. These young idiots has been used by malicious people, da. It is easy to find the soft spot of the Trabzon people, da. And if they don't know anything about life, da, they get used by others, da! I wish not outsiders, but intellectuals like Gültekin were in power to direct us, da."

While I was in the city, I wanted to visit the Sumela Monastery. It is little bit outside of the city on the former Silk Road. As we were approaching, there was suddenly snow on the road. It was breathtaking, those very dark green pine trees piercing white clouds. The wind and the river running from the mountains next to the narrow road were one of the most wonderful choruses I've ever heard. I think my lungs had never met this kind of intense oxygen before.

With a few kilometers left before the monastery, it became impossible to proceed. I told my friends that we should turn back. They were upset. They got silent and were acting as if it was a matter of life or death to reach the monastery. Then I realized what they mean when they say, "We are thick-headed people."

"Let's walk," they said. I told them, "Not a chance." They were about to leave me there. It was so difficult to convince them to stop and have lunch. Well, we had fish again, but this time it was fresh water fish. It, too, was delicious. There are not many types of appetizers in Trabzon, but they have stuffed pazı and kuymak, which is made from a special cheese, corn flour and eggs. To eat it is an adventure as it gets longer and longer because of the cheese. But it is very delicious.

I wondered about the women coming from the former soviet republics. Whoever I talked with saw them as a sort of beginning to the problem. They are not visible during the day, but it is possible to find them in Çomlekçi neighborhood in music halls from the early afternoon on. Well, I prepared stories about them on different occasions, and I know by experience it is very hard to talk with them. But, surprise again: The first lady I approach talks very openly. "Yes, they think that we are the source of the evil here. But you know, they will not harm us. They're not like that. The only harm can come from our lovers!"

Ibrahim, a local, explains, "To kill someone for the sake of personal matters, for example, for honor, is something else. It is very Trabzonish. I will never retreat even one step back if I think I am right. I prefer to die. But to commit a political murder, that's not from here at all."
By the way, I noticed that when people from Trabzon are talking about killing, they usually use two different words. If it is a personal matter, they don't call it a murder. They either say stabbing or shooting. But if it is something else, it is properly called a murder.

He gives a very odd explanation. "Look, the parents of the priest's killer were in the church. Let me explain something, if I kill anyone, my parents would never visit the person's family that I killed. They would think that I was right. So from here it is obvious that, the real killers were not in Trabzon, but somewhere else." Again, the same old story: Trabzon is innocent, and the outsiders are the guilty ones.

I discussed it with another person from Trabzon and said: "Well, if it is really from outside, then it might become normal with an effort. It is still possible to save the soul of Trabzon."

He replied: "If I take this cup and throw it from the window, what happens? We can repair the glass, we can have another cup. We can act like it didn't happen. But everybody will remember it. So, it does not matter what we do, everybody will remember Trabzon for these murders."



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