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Interview with Jaklin Çelik

Photo: Turkishtime
 Untitled Document

The following is the interview with young Turkish writer Jaklin Çelik, published in July 2002 issue of the Turkishtime.

While writer Jaklin Çelik was at the Çemberlitaş Highschool for girls, her friends used to ask: What's your name? Jaklin. Why? And they used to ask her: "Oh, can I touch you?" Nevertheless, Çelik prefers not to talk about identity.

Jaklin Çelik was born in 1968 in Diyarbakır, and moved to Kumkapı, Istanbul at the age of two. She often played around in the streets and listened to many stories narrated by the elderly. Her book "Kumkapı in an Hourglass" where she gathered stories and reflections came out in 2000. The book will be published in the US shortly. Çelik, who is carrying out the Kumkapı leg of the oral history work by the History Foundation, is now working on a book containing a research on churches in Anatolia and stories of "migration".

Let's start from Diyarbakır. At what age did you come to, Kumkapı? What sort of pictures do you have in your mind from that period?
I was two years old when we came. Since I had left Diyarbakır as a child, there is a single snapshot that remains in my memory: the pool in the church garden. I was so scared of it. I went back to that church later on, that pool had "shrunk".

How did your parents explain this migration you lived through obliviously?
When the ignorance of the public was added to some state policies...My father had an ironmongery shop, he often experienced the "don't employ 'gavur's" (offensive word for non-Muslims) phrase. My parents couldn't take it and moved to Kumkapı. Although this was a place where a bourgeois life style prevailed, since it was a port neighborhood at the city center, it drew a lot of migration especially by minorities. Actually, I grew up in a place like Diyarbakır. There were many who went abroad after the September 12 1980 coup d'état. My mother did not want to go at all and it was just as well, too.

The life you recount in your stories is full of details recorded from the perspective of a child. Were you incited to feel that you were "the other"?
I don't like talking about "identity" but identity has an enticing aspect. First there are the four walls of the house, then the street and then the neighborhood. One tries to protect her identity by these shields. I probably pierced these when I was very young; I was always on the streets. When it comes to "other" ness... What is your name? Jaklin? Why? There were girls in the Çemberlitaş Highschool who used to say, "Oh, can I touch you?" when they heard of me being Armenian.

How did you end up writing?
I have always craved to be a theatre actress. I was talented too, but my family's economic condition did not allow me to go the conservatory. After coming to Istanbul, my father engaged in installing electricity and water. We were three siblings and life was tough. I started to write professionally in 1996 for the magazine, Öküz. The owners of Aras Publishing encouraged me to write more and they published my stories.

Your stories seem like an attempt to put on record a period of time or a culture. Do you write in order not to forget these, to remind Armenians or to tell the "others"?
The name of the book being "Kumkapı in an Hourglass" gives itself away. I put everything in an hourglass and keep turning it upside down. I very much believe in gratitude of fidelity. In one of my stories, there was this character called Kayane. In reality, Kayane had asked me, "Will you forget me if I die?". It's been long since he died but I showed that I didn't forget. My point is not just with Armenians, there are also Turks and Kurds in my stories. Because I mean to say that none of us are different from each other.

As a person interested in talking with the elderly from childhood on, all this narration process of yours is in fact a work of micro history...
That is just why I started doing the Kumkapı oral history work for the History Foundation. I suppose I discovered early that the answers to many questions could be more easily obtained from the elderly. There were these very old and lonely women; nobody would pay them a visit during festivities or national holidays. I used to pass by them intentionally and they used to call me and offered me cognac and chocolate at such a young age. For that reason, I immediately took part in these neighborhood workshops formed by the History Foundation and we began to speak with people. However, some tell experiences thousands of times and some just become muted, uttering no words that we really want to hear. I've got this carpenter, Sarkis Usta (Master), aged 87, he tells me: "That was a place where the Greeks used to do sports in the past, there was a cinema uphill in Gedikpaşa". In this way you can go deep down to one, two, three layers below the neighborhood. Unfortunately, we weren't able to complete the project due to problems with the team I kind of have to, I'm not too competent in Armenian. What we spoke in Diyarbakır is a different dialect anyway. A couple of my stories were translated to Armenian; in a while the book will be printed in English by a publishing house in the US.

The following is the interview with young Turkish writer Jaklin Çelik, published in July 2002 issue of the Turkishtime.

How did the project about churches in Anatolia come into being?
This was a project of Çitlembik Publications awaiting volunteers. We volunteered together with Ersoy Soydan. He was already working on "ayazma"s (sacred springs from Byzantian times) in Istanbul. We prepared a plan of 30 cities. Sivas, Ardahan, Artvin, Konya, Silifke, Hatay, Van; we traveled for three and a half months. I know that just in Midyat I visited 80 churches; we probably came round to a total of three hundred. We put together a list using various sources and then tried to update it from periodicals. We had to know how many of them were intact and whether we really had to go. There were times when we traveled 150 km only to be faced with a church wall. Still, I believe that we made up a good inventory for the future. I don't know what kind of reactions it will receive. Our purpose is to document history and not to give a message like "there used to be this much, now it's not there anymore" or "it's all in ruins".

Was the public of these regions helpful?
Not very much. Especially in the Blacksea Region, there are lots of people seeking treasure. There were even those who wanted detectors from us. Would a guy hunting for treasure impart that knowledge? Towards the east, things started to work in a more roundabout fashion. In Bitlis, Hizan I asked about a church, the guy said "there". What he shows are mountains, hills, plains all in one, you can't even separate them from each other. I don't wish to reduce it to Turkey. Everywhere in the world, there are religious buildings that are ruined. People are already ignorant, we can't expect them to care for churches the way they do for mosques.

Are there more memory-stories that you've accumulated?
Right now the topic of migration interests me. Not solely reduced to Armenians, but I'm interested also with Turks who have migrated to Germany and used as guinea pigs, basically with everyone who has migrated. I was so glad about the church project, both, because I traveled around Anatolia and for being able to accumulate mentally material about migrations. I've already started writing.




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