Mahallemizdeki Ermeniler

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İsmail Arıkan (2001). İstanbul: İletişim Publications, 2nd Edition, 126 pages, ISBN: 9789754708615

“Mahallemizdeki Ermeniler” is written based on the life stories of the Armenian population that have lived in a small Anatolian village, Darende, in Malatya. Time period that is covered in the book approximately started in the mid-1920s and reached up until the mid-1950s. The characters, places, and the events are based on the childhood memories of the author. Therefore, all the resources of stories in this book and their reality bases are rooted in the subjective perspective of the author. Since all the mentioned Armenian people are real people who were neighbours of the author, overall coherence between the title and the content of the book is highly related. The main claim stated by Arıkan is that until now most of the books which are written about Armenian people and their experiences of forced deportation are concentrated mainly on the urban elite population. However, he wrote about the experiences of the poor Armenian people, “other” Armenians in his exact words. In that regard, while the author had succeeded to illustrate it to some degree; however, there can be also found some conflicting points that are incompatible with such a claim. The further examination of the book and these convergent points will be mentioned and demonstrated throughout this essay.

Primarily, to start with a general examination we can point out the tone of the author and his choice of words. While the tone is not highly-sophisticated but rather a stark and modest tone, we can say that the book is not very easy to understand at the first sight. The underlying reason here is resulted from the time slot of the memories which is early republican years. Therefore, some of the words chosen are no in use today, and also some of them are specific to the mentioned area, local dialectic. Nevertheless, Arıkan has been explaining such terms either between parenthesis within the text or in footnotes. Thus, the overall level of the book in a literary perspective enables him to have a wide audience. Beside these, the author’s choice of words about woman characters can be regarded as quite odd. He preferred referring people separately as young women and girls for pointing out their marital status, and also often used the word ‘’taze’’, meaning fresh, while he was talking about young girls. Other controversial usage of words results from Arıkan’s frequent referring to people as Armenian or Muslim even when there is no need for such labelling. The emphasis of ‘’us’’ and ‘’them’’ was quite common throughout the storyline of the book. We will further examine this point while talking about the storyline and characters of the book in the following paragraphs.

Secondly, I will continue to examine the book by looking further into the characters and the storyline. Throughout the book we have eleven Armanian characters introduced. These people were the ones that continued to abode in the village even after the deportation law. All of them have various craftsman related jobs, usually have small houses and small families. At that point, Arıkan seems to succeed the claim that the book is about non-elite Armenian people because none of them neither live wealthy lives nor have huge purchases. Furthermore, they were the “other” Armenians in the sense of their high level of integration to the society in contrast to Armenian people living in big cities like İstanbul. Most of these people changed their religion, speak Turkish fluently, named their newborns with Turkish names while themselves also took new Turkish names. On the one hand, they were no longer Armenians who have distinct religious and cultural practices but integrated into Turkish society excessively. Then, on the other hand, they were seen still as aliens from the local villagers. For instance, the author stated that children memorise people who have Armenian ethnic background, and grown-ups also treat them differently. For another example, it stated that Muslim-Turk families at that times had no problem with having Armenian bride but they do not wish that their girls married to Armenian boys. Therefore, Armenian families with boys feel a strong urge to migrate to Halep, since their boys cannot marry in the village. As a consequence, few of the remaining residents also decided to migrate in following years, now they were leaving their hometown not because of the government policy but for social-related issues.

On the other hand, we can see Arıkan conflicting with his major aim for writing this book which was to drive attention to the lives of poor Armenian people, since these people somehow have whealty positions in the eyes of Muslim-Turk villagers. For instance, when some of the Armenian people have to migrate and leave their homes behind, the villagers immediately start searching their empty houses as the hope for finding hidden treasures. The underlying idea behind such action was that the Armenian minority was still better-off then the rest of the village. They should have higher economic status in order to hide golds and money but in reality the situation was the opposite. Furthermore, Armenian people who were forced to migrate had faced vital dangers through the road, and many of them were killed by robbers. At that point, the author argues that, if the events taken reverse, meaning the deportation was ruled by Armenians and Muslim-Turks had to migrate, then there would be no much killing since they do not have money to attract thiefs as Armenian people had back then. Once again, there is a conflict within the main goal of the book because of the representation of mentioned Armenian people as wealthy people. Therefore, it can be stated that the author conflicts with his own ideas as reflecting the poor population while even himself has a more elitist perspective about them. Such representation creates confusion while thinking about the overall position of the book and its author.

In conclusion, the book is understandable for a wide audience, and easily accessible because of its relatively low price. Harmony within the title and the content is quite balanced. Coherence mainly resulted from the fact that the title directly refers to one of the main ideas of the book, illustrating the Armenian neighbours. However, the other main objective stated as demonstrating the other Armenians as poorer and much more integrated than urban Armenian minorities have failed for several reasons. Following examples, consideration of Armenians as more whealtier than their reality, and the situation that local villagers were not satisfied with the integration level of minorities even they were highly assimilated into Muslim-Turk society, were the main reasons to argue such failure. For all the reasons and examinations, expectations of some people, based on the author’s introduction, may not be properly fulfilled.

 

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