Below is a text by artist İz Öztat which she penned after her return to Istanbul from Diyarbakır, where she had gone as part of the peace initiative “I am walking for peace.” On December 27, participants of “I Am Walking For Peace” set out by bus from Bodrum towards Diyarbakır (a distance of roughly 1,500 km), stopping in Muğla, Ankara, Adana, and Urfa, gathering a group of approximately 70 people to join their march.
İz’s text was initially published in Turkish on 5harfliler, an online feminist publication. I found it significant to include the English translation of this text on m-est.org, because the fragmented, diaristic tone and İz’s inclusion of her comrades on this journey—the texts that she took with her—is an important counterweight to the monolithic statements and actions that the people of Turkey are being subjected to.—Merve Ünsal
As I’m reading the news, I see the photographs taken by security forces in Sur and shared with the press. In the photograph pointing at the barricades put up by the Separatist Terror Organization, graffiti partly visible through the rebar catches my eye:
I come across this on social media:
The path to cope with these days, to stop the war, the deaths, the destructions goes through voicing our demand for peace in unison with more zeal and courage and being in solidarity with the people of the region. For this reason, we who are for peace have decided to organize this march called I am Walking for Peace with the goal of multiplying the voices against war.
I decide to partake in this instinct.
I am with The Dilemma of Orpheus: Since those who survived were able to survive by denying that which was unbearable in the Catastrophe, since it was not possible to survive without turning the Catastrophe into no longer a catastrophe, since what those who survived irrevocably lost was the very capacity to speak of the loss, since no narrative can reintegrate with language the reality of the disintegration of language, the Catastrophe has not been told.
Loss cracks representation and creates its own expressions. The border that separates the dead and the living is not there. I, are not singular, but plural.
At the Bodrum Municipal Square, those who are setting out and those who are seeing them off are making placards: I am walking for peace so that we don’t exhaust our words. The musicians with whom we had sung Streams will flow free at the Boğazpınar Festival are seeing the caravan off. No slogans, no banners, we leave Bodrum cooing like birds.
I don’t know anyone. As soon as we set out for the road, everyone is asked for a sentence to be shared on social media explaining why they are participating in the march. To be able to look friends in Amed in the eye…
We go a short ways and reach Muğla, the Roboski Commemoration is continuing at the square.
Since the dead cannot be buried in the absence of justice, I prepare myself to speak with all the ghosts I run into.
I have two books with me, one is Among the Ruins. I read from 1911:
I repeat, we all must recognize the true face of our blood-soaked country, and be able to look at it head on with courage. What I saw and heard is capable of shaking an entire state to its foundations. Theoretically no one is contradicting this. This feeling became an important urge, this is the main feeling which drove me to write these pages without reserves of any kind, as a free citizen, an authentic daughter of my country, with the same rights and duties that everyone has. These pages should be read not as the fruit of an Armenian woman’s hypersensitivity, but as the spontaneous and sincere impressions of a human being on the same level as everyone else.
In order to bear witness to the Cilicia events of 1909 in which 25,000 Armenians were killed in and around Adana, the author sets out on a fact finding mission with a delegation a few months after the events. The question she asks and makes one ask is: Writing and imagination, can the Catastrophe be measured by these?
We start the day in front of the train station, commemorating those killed in the Ankara Massacre. Digital prints with their names are on the ground with carnations, side by side, on top of one another. Their voices turn into a howl, I cannot hear what they are saying.
I have a few hours in the city before we get back together for the meeting in the evening. We are wandering around with my new comrade. We enter the shop of a watch repairer. When we ask how he learned the craft his life story unfolds before us. He tells us that he learned it from his Syrian (paternal) grandmother whom he thinks was Jewish, after leaving Ağrı for university and working in various fields he returned to this vocation. He says he does not want to be buried in these lands: When I die I will not be able to defend my rights.
I want him to fix time; to bind the time of trauma that broke from before and after, to link the hours spent with ghosts in purgatory to the flowing time, to stop the time so that we are not too late.
We have our first meeting. The experiences that prepared everyone for this journey and the reasons behind the need to go to Diyarbakır are different. We are afraid, we are brave, we are few, we are many, we are free, we are feminists, we are conscientious objectors, we are teachers, we are students, we are homemakers, we are mothers, we are the civil society, we are anarchists, we are citizens, we are environmentalists, we are public servants, we are academicians, we are workers, we are unemployed, we are precarious, we are writers, we are white-collared, we are artists, we are a commune on the move, we are being silenced, we hear voices, we want to raise our voices. We need to make decisions together. Consensus or majority? The feelings and thoughts of every single one of us are important, we proceed with consensus. We merge!
Flowing through the streets in single file we reach the parliament. We demand a return to the negotiation table, then we talk with two parliamentarians who have come to meet us: Do not say support, support is something given from the outside, we are together. A word from her lips clings to me, like the haunting ghosts; denier, denier, denier…
We continue on our way, increasing in numbers, we gradually get to know one another. We reach Adana. We arrive at a table already set with food, then disperse to be hosted in the homes of our friends yet unbeknown to us.
Sleep escapes me, I read from 1911:
With its lack of any moral concern and myriad consequences, the dimensions of the catastrophe were infinite.
Am I able to comprehend the word catastrophe? Construction works will start after the operation. Can I make sense of the catastrophe? In the place where mourning and comprehension is impossible, I fall asleep with my ghosts.
In this destroyed, annihilated city, the high tower of the Armenian Episcopal Church, the only one left standing seemed to contemplate the surrounding ruins. The bell, now silent; hung down like a paralyzed tongue. Since the catastrophe, its sounds, whether sad or joyous, had been ceased as a sign of mourning…
Was it really ceased as a sign of mourning?
On the way from Adana to Urfa, the bus transforms into a utopic capsule and detaches from dimensions of time and space. I ask everyone which books they have brought along and get to know my comrades through what they are reading. There is a suggestion to hold a forum. A stage is set up at the front of the bus, as it gets dark, lighting solutions are found. We manage to form a circle in a rectangle and listen to each other.
The idea of sinking deep into the heart of the catastrophe produced a gloomy impatience in all of us, nevertheless we walked on the deck in silence until late at night…
My friend who is a teacher in Cizre receives a text message. He finds out that a medic he knows was shot and killed while treating a wounded woman. As the distance shortens it becomes impossible to console or be consoled. The youth in the back seats invent new lyrics for halay. So that words are not exhausted…
At four in the morning, we set out for Diyarbakır. Once everyone has had their tea, we work on the press statement that will be read upon our arrival. As we cross the Diyarbakır provincial border we meet in a common language. Snow and birds greet us!
Workers are shoveling the heaps of snow in front of the municipality with wooden tools which I learn is called berfıng. In the space they have cleared, halay starts accompanied by the new lyrics written by the youth. We are shoulder to shoulder, we are cheerful, we are not ashamed!
Inside, I listen: A society cannot be engineered… No one can know where a flowing body of water will change its course… Giving voice to peace… Clamor… Destruction…They closed the gates, the city is trapped inside the castle walls…A war that wants to end life… Dead bodies waiting out in the open… We saw that our scream was not left hanging in a void… We are individuals, we are the people… We salute the free and equal future of the peoples of Turkey.
When we get out we see the municipality square is filling up. Looking at the faces of the people we move toward the front. Right there, the being who died in Cizre yesterday; the acquaintance of the friend sitting next to me and now the photograph carried by the person standing next to me. The dead and the living merge. I hear the words I have come to surrender my will to you, then a stun grenade explodes. Nobody moves. Since we know that the Peace Group comprised of intellectuals and artists who reached Diyarbakır a day before was able to walk to Sur together with the people, we are thinking we too can walk with the already obtained permission.
Hidden behind white head-clothes, that endless procession of heads in mourning rippled and eddied as if tossed by a storm.
Putting the rest into words becomes difficult, the schizophrenic crack deepens. I do not know how to overcome the discrepancy between what I have experienced, and that which has been reflected in the press and alleged in the court records. I realize that the word is yet to be uttered and that I have not made an effort to learn the language here. I arrive at a dead-end where words are imbued differently.
We find out that of the 25 people detained following the police attack without warning, five were from the I am Walking for Peace initiative. I realize that I do not yet know the meaning of the word detention in this geography. I sign: In our view, these detentions aim to sustain and consolidate the atmosphere of intimidation that has already been created, to prevent any act of solidarity with the Kurdish people and to isolate them.
The next day, everyone is talking about the sounds; the sounds of missiles, the sounds of falling. Someone says, we grew cold, inside…
Give us blacks we are in mourning. Write to İstanbul! Have them send us black cloths.
Yet no one here wants to wear blacks. They generously offer their colors. I go to an exhibition. I come across life in Gelincik [Poppy]. In front of a demolished home, four bodies are pressing on, holding on to one another. The one in the front is holding a globe. The contours are black, figures and the background merge into one another; yellow, green, red. We are cheerful, we are living! And I learn the other name for living.
On the fourth day of detention, our friends are brought into court. As we wait, we wander the margins of the city walls where you can still walk. In a teahouse ensconced within the city walls two white doves stand above the cupboard. They cannot fly. Three things fall one after another. We shiver. I want to erase from my body the sound I heard, in its stead I try to put sounds from the poet. I call from 28 Kanunisani [28 January] written in 1923: woof… woof… gobs… spit
We buy simit and sit at a coffee house. From the news we find out that it was rockets that fell, and one killed a woman at the breakfast table where it landed. Drinking tea around the stove; I go into a trance with the fire, music and Dağ [Mountain] I take from a shelf: a bowl of snake / take it use in river’s stead / so long as you restore me to my mountain / you the shaman who knows my ancestors
The judge decides to release our friends pending trial. The court case will continue. They have to live with the knowledge that everything they produce can be turned into evidence against them. The beautiful child of the home that is hosting us draws cartoons every day. A man holding a package in his hand says, Man what’s in this, and in the next panel he is lying on the ground; the thing he is holding explodes.
Due to weather conditions our flight is canceled twice. We go to the home of a family generous enough to host eight people on the mattresses they have made themselves. We collect snow from outside. The mother of the home pours her homemade molasses on the snow. We plunge our spoons into the bowl. We are cheerful, we are together!
We sleep. The snow melts, water finds the newly formed cracks; it merges, holds, slushes up, overflows! If this schizophrenic crack would be riven, riven so that finally, we can be islands…
This is when the officiant, turned toward the assembly, said, while making the sign of the cross:
* (Armenian) May peace be with you.
Titles of the works and quotes are italicized; names of persons have been deliberately omitted.
Translators’ note: The English translation of quotes from Among the Ruins has been taken in part from The National Revolution by Marc Nichanian and Amid the Ruins translated into English by Jennifer Manoukian.
Translation by Liz Erçevik Amado, Irazca Geray
İz Öztat is an artist, who lives and works in Istanbul. www.izoztat.com