Is the name of Turkish writer Kemal Yalcin familiar to anyone? It is not a household name, so don't be embarrassed if you don't recognize it. Not yet. Although he is a prize-winning author with many novels, short stories and collections of poems to his credit. He was born in an ancient Greek town of Turkey in 1952, but he has lived in Germany since 1982, and he teaches the Turkish language in the City of Bochum. One may ask why he doesn't live in his native country, since he has become a best-selling author. The answer is the topic of his books. Although his early collections of poems may not put a threat on his life, his later novels will.
One novel is entitled "Dowry on Loan", which is based on a true-life story. Indeed, the author reveals that there were one thousand Greeks living peacefully with one thousand Turks in his native City of Honaz in the Denizli region. One day in September 1920 all the Greek men disappeared from the town. The grandparents of Yalcin were neighbors of the Greek Minoglu family, whose mother trusts the dowry of her two daughters to the Yalcin family. Of course the Greeks never return to the town, but the dowry is carefully preserved with the Yalcin family for three generations for 76 years. Then Kemal's parents request him to travel to Greece and return the dowry to the surviving members of the Minoglu family. Kemal Yalcin finally finds the grandchildren of the family, during a second trip, in a remote Greek village, and, to everyone's surprise, returns the trusted dowry to them. The book has been translated into German and Greek and became a best seller.
This true-life story has symbolic ramifications as well.
Kemal Yalcin's second venture to write a docudrama is on the plight of Armenians in Turkey during World War I.
Although the Nazi and Soviet regimes have earned the reputation of having established the most effective censorship, the successive Turkish governments proved to be so successful in suppressing memory from their history that today, third or fourth generation Turks are dismayed to learn, during their travels abroad, about the enormity of the crime perpetrated against Armenians during the Ottoman era.
Kemal Yalcin had to follow the same path to discover the truth about the Armenians for his book entitled "You Rejoice My Heart". He writes in the introduction of his book: "I returned to Turkey in the summer of 1998. In order to plan my book, I had decided to travel to Amasya to interview the eyewitness survivors of 1915, the victims of the 1942 "wealth law" to punish Greeks, Armenians and Jews, and the survivors of Ashkale labor camps designed for the same minorities and to visit Ani and Aghtamar. All my relatives, except for my mother, discouraged me. The Armenian issue does not look like the Greek issue. You will be in trouble", they warned me.
Heeding his mother's advice Mr. Yalcin takes the proposed trip and completes the book, which is published by the Dogan Publishing House, which had released his previous novel. He was interviewed by CNN-Turk and Samanoglu TV stations. The book was to be released on January 15, 2001. Three days before that date Yalcin received a phone call from the publisher informing him that parties "higher up" delayed the release of the book. The CNN and other stations discontinued broadcasting his interviews, most probably by order of the same "higher up" authorities.
After waiting for ten months, the publisher delivered to the author a copy of a unilaterally cancelled contract, along with a document signed by a notary public that he had witnessed the shredding of 3,000 copies of the book "You Rejoice My Heart".
Heartbroken, Mr. Yalcin personally financed the publication of the novel in Germany. He has hence received a profusion of commendations from his readers in Turkey, Germany, France, Canada, Sweden, Italy, Holland and the U.S. The book has currently seen its second run. Archbishop Karekin Bekjian, Primate of the Armenians in Germany, has translated and published the book in Armenian.
Mind you, all those fascist style repressions had been taking place in the same period when Turkey was making cosmetic changes to its constitution to be admitted into the European Union.
Unfortunately, CNN seems also to be a party to this repression. A cable network, which prides itself on bringing unbiased news to your living room, has yet to report a single incident about the murder of 35,000 innocent Kurds and the torching of 3,000 Kurdish villages to force their inhabitants into Turkish Gulags.
But Mr. Yalcin writes in his introduction: "There is a saying in Turkish that you cannot cover the sun with mud. Whatever I have written I have heard from live eyewitnesses and discovered through my own research. I have not added a single word from my part. I leave the rest to my readers to judge."
Mr. Yalcin's book is another crack in the wall of silence. The first crack, perhaps came when Tanner Akcham called a spade a spade and identified as genocide whatever happened to the Armenians during World War I, although he stopped there, by admonishing Armenians that they should be satisfied with a recognition and should not dream of any retribution or territorial concessions.
Some Armenians have a knee jerk reaction to any kind of Turkish Armenian rapprochement. The fact is that with every contact – either with diplomats, through TARC or in scholarly forums – the issue becomes a topic of public debate and the new generations of Turks are intrigued to learn about the dark pages of their recent history.
And perhaps one day, another Mr. Yalcin may deliver the symbolic "Dowry on Loan" to Armenia.
One of the most compelling statements in the book is the following passage in the introduction: "I bow to the memory of Armenians and Assyrians who lost their lives on the road of deportation through planned killings. That is the greatest pain of our century, the stigma on the face of humanity. Your pain is my pain. As a Turkish writer I beg forgiveness from you and from mankind."
Indeed a Turk, unlike any other Turk.
All the shenanigans of Turkish authorities notwithstanding, we say: Mr. Yalcin, you rejoice our hearts with your novel and with your touching introduction.
February 16, 2004