Special for The Armenia Weekly
I was in Istanbul recently as part of a Lebanese production team working on a mobile phone commercial for a third country. Normally this would have taken place in Lebanon, but the politically unstable conditions here are diverting work into Turkish coffers. Interestingly, I was booked in a hotel located only a hundred meters away from the Armenian Agos newspaper, whose founder, Hrant Dink, was assassinated on Jan. 19, 2007. While resting and waiting for time to pass, I recalled my first ever visit to Istanbul where, once again unknowingly, I had booked a hotel just a street away.
In 2009, I was back in the city to film Marc Nichanian for “Milk, Carnation & a Godly Song,” my film about Taniel Varoujan, the Armenia poet who was killed in the genocide.
I met Marc in the lobby and, sipping sugared tea, we discussed where to film and what to talk about. Bored in the dark and gloomy lobby, we stepped out for a stroll, and that’s when he pointed out the Agos office—and the sidewalk where a single bullet had knocked Hrant face down, killing him instantly.
“This is where he fell to his death,” Marc said in a choking cold whisper. I took that walk again, to the same spot as if a impromptu pilgrimage was drawing me there, with Marc’s voice ringing in my ears.
As agreed, Y arrived on time to drive me to the studio. I had no idea where was I being taken, but once I was in the back seat of the van, Y, like every driver I have ever met, wanted to entertain me with his redundant questions of where was I coming from, how long the flight had been, if this was my first time visiting the city, and similar questions in limited English and French taxi language. I convinced myself that this might be a good chance to improve what little I knew of the Turkish language.
We drove through the congested traffic and our conversation got longer, like the bridge over the Bosphorus heading into Asia. We had ample time to get into more personal questions, and talked while maintaining eye contact via his interior rear view mirror.
He asked how I knew Turkish. I said that I was Armenian, that my grandparents had been survivors of the genocide, and that they had left their homes behind in Aintab and Sivas. He said he was originally from Bingol. “Are you a Kurd then?” “Evet [Yes], Nigol Bey,” he nodded, with his black hair falling over his forehead and almost touching his eagle nose. I asked what sort of Kurdish he spoke, and he responded easily: Zaza. “Are you a Kurd or Alevi,” I inquired. “Alevi,” he said, with a smile. “And I am happy that you guessed!”
Then he told me a bit about his very large family and his life in Istanbul, and when I asked about the studio we were headed to, he nicely explained that we were going to Baykoz—to the abandoned industrial zone that someone had purchased and was using as an investment by renting out studios for low-budget productions. My studio, he said, was in a giant dilapidated building that used to be a factory for “ayakkapan…how say in English, you know, ayakkapan, yes?”
“Ayakkapan,” I said, was the new word for shoes. (It used to be “kundura” in old Turkish, which I learned from my grandmother). “Evet evet,” he said, lighting a cigarette at a sharp curve just before getting off the bridge. “Simdi Asya’dayiz,” he said proudly, as we had just conquered the Asian continent. We drove through a forested area in the misty cold and sprinkling rain, surrounded by a dark gray sky and naked trees, as he continued his questions of who I was and what I did.
I told him I was a filmmaker, and that coincidently one of my films—titled “Kunduralarımı İstanbulda Bırakdım” (“I Left My Shoes in Istanbul”) had been shown in Istanbul. Had he heard about it? “No,” said Y. “I am sorry I have not, but is it based on a book? I read a lot.” I told him it was an original film, which I had written, and that there was no book I could refer him to. He nodded and went silent. Then lit another cigarette.
After a few minutes, he said, “Nigol Bey, may I ask a question? Does the film have anything to do with Hrant Dink?”
After a moment, I said, “but how did you add one onto the other, how did you make the connection?”
“It is impossible for me to forget the corpse of Hrant Dink, covered with a white sheet on the sidewalk, with the only visible thing the black rubber soles of his shoes and a bit of oozing red blood. That image has stayed in my mind so fresh until now, Nigol Bey. I see it everyday, all the time.”
I was astounded, and had no words to say. Just then, we arrived at the Baykoz Studios, where I had to spend hours in the cold to witness a production in chaos (to put it mildly), waiting for my turn to play the role of mad scientist.
Among the several drivers on hand was Y, and he was adamant to be my driver again. This time, silence prevailed, as he was tired after driving for 20 hours and had to concentrate on driving through the dense fog. By the time we arrived at the city’s center on Osmanbey, it was almost 3 a.m., and the streets were empty except for a few drunkards coming out of speak-easy pubs.
He whizzed by Agos and I jumped out of my silence, pointing to my right and righteously announcing, “That’s were Hrant was shot, Y Bey,” pointing to the sidewalk.
“Yes, that’s were it was,” he said. “Every time I drive by, I say, ‘May God give the criminals what they deserve,’” and he parked the van at the gate of the hotel.
And so it goes…