Story of an Island of Hope (I)

It has always been negligibly considered as a natural outcome of wars and adversaries. Adversaries of the war and the glory of it all has always been of significance in a world molded by wars. Changes in human lives and maybe their destruction have been irrelevant. On one side death, exile, violence that is war and on the other side praises to war and adversaries. The conditions are vastly different for authors who focus on men and nature in lieu of dominant perspectives under such an environment. For them, the changed facade of men and nature are more noteworthy than wars, winners and losers. Some of the authors focus on the destruction, lost values and lives after the war. Some focus on the evil within men. Some on hope. Yaşar Kemal holds a particular place among those authors with his sharp imagery of war and his stories founding life upon this violence with a never-ending faith in hope. His story-telling is epic. He focuses on hope, happiness and ordinary day-to-day life in his every work-of-art. He touches upon a happy and common life about the atrocity of war which entails the battering of men, poverty, desperation and hostility in his trilogy of “Story of an Island”. Within this book lurks a hopeful and happy story where Yezidis are slaughtered, their bodies are tossed to the Euphrates, Euphrates rivers down the blood of the Yezidis, thousands of soldiers are “impaled” in Allahuekber mountains and Sarıkamış and Greeks are exiled.

In Yaşar Kemal’s trilogy of “Story of an Island”, an island of heaven is formed atop of war, injustice, betrayal, exile, atrocity and poverty. Reader comprehends by every line read that the author is implicating that for every evil there is also good and that the world might be the theatre stage for atrocity and injustice as well as a stage for happiness and living well. The stories of Chechnian tavern, Dengbej (Bards or poets of Kurdish Roots), Greeks, Circassians, Fisherman from the Black sea, Alewi elder exiled from Crete and many people who share the same goal of establishing a new and happy life under the shadow of war are intertwined within this island. The island gives life to those who suffered the war profoundly. Moreover the island performs this duty in an incredible manner of tolerance, understanding and love. Nobody gets angry, curses, instigates or stirs up problems about anyone. Although they have arrived to the island with unbearable pain of war and exile, they merely become angles on the island. It is a Greek island. Everything they have done with utmost effort and labor ceases to exist for them once the Greeks are exiled to Greece. They experience exile in its cruelest sense. Some of them lost an arm or a leg in the fight for this country and some of the mothers lost their children but nonetheless they are banished. Their beautiful houses, gardens, stores and furniture are passed on to the homeless people who accommodate the island following lamentable exile from their territory with a history of hundreds of years.

Anatolia is desolated after the war. Mothers refuse to leave their villages believing that their suns will return one day although they have received their identification tags. Thousands of mothers look forward for their beloved ones. Thousands of children lose their father. Families separate. War and all that is experienced in its course are never forgotten in the minds of the people. From time to time, some of them feel that they are still fighting. It seems as tough everyone migrated and that no one is left behind. However the largest exile is the one of Greeks.

Exile of Greeks is not facile to comprehend. What is the reason of this irrreversible exile which affects the lives of millions? The following expressions related to this subject are stated within the novel; “what was this hostility after the intimate friendship and companionship? Why did people fail to unite in happiness as they do in suffering? Which right justifies the exile of the people of this beautiful island from their home of thousands of years to a place they barely know when war is done, dead is dead and the living live?”

Local people who have lived in brotherhood with Greeks sorrow for the exile of Greeks. Their bonds of companionship draw them closer. When exiled some of them give away his best boat, some of them his house, furniture, stores. A dialogue takes place in the novel: “What did the Greeks say to be banished! We were living here together just fine. They did nothing against us… Benediction followed them. There are no wall makers, carpenters, tailors to sew our clothes, blacksmiths to forge our steel, doctors, veterinarians, boat constructors, or repairmen left here.”

Another dialogue is as follows; “law, law! Arm of Hristov is left in Çanakkale (Dardanalles) as my leg; in battle at Anafartalar… is this law? No body can banish him. His left arm is in Çanakkale, do not make him leave his heart here.”

It seems as tough all the efforts of Greeks have returned them only harm. They are exiled from their home of hundreds of years. After the exile of Greeks, the island in which the story takes place becomes a deserted land. Mastics, fresh smell of fish, best fisherman of the territory with their boats full of fish, carpenters, tailors, blacksmiths, and engine repairmen disappear instantly with the exile. Beautiful houses, boats, gardens and stores live in a pitiful loneliness which will haunt them forever after the exile.

There will always be people who strike out a sour note on what has been lived. They only bear their own point of view even on things you have lived. If there is war, they try to get the vacant houses or lands of the deceased. If people are hungry, they try to take advantage of the situation and try to buy something from them to make a profit. They do not consider if there is poverty and they never accept themselves as liable. There are two people in the novel with such characteristics. One of them is Hacı (Hadji) Remzi.

Hacı Remzi visits the island following the exile to meet his friend Perikles. Hacı Remzi ceaselessly compliments Perikles to make up for the lack of sadness in his face. He tells him that the exile of Greeks is incomprehensible and unfair and that he had done all that he could to prevent the exile of Perikles who fought together with Hacı Remzi and also saved his life. He indicates that it is unfair to be exiled from the country that is fought for. Hacı Remzi finally signals out his intention by the following expressions to Perikles “I decided to do you a favor before you go, I came with my friends here so that we may purchase your boat, these sofas, these beautiful carpets, your gold plated dinner ware from Italy or what have you so that you sell them for the right price and not be looted. I came to give my condolences and to prevent you from selling your goods for nothing. What do you say Perikles?”

Perikles listens to all that he says with an emotionless face. The silence of Perikles reflects desperation, betrayal and sadness of his inability to accept to be exiled form his home. Hacı Remzi fails to stand and bear this silence and fires the following words by the push of his anger caused by his failure to carefully conceal his mischief and betrayal with beautiful words “speak, speak you, say something you bastard. Speak you pig, I say you speak, you filthy dog. Speak you infidel…”

Hacı Remzi tells Perikles if he does not give his belongings willfully he will take them by force. Hacı Remzi threatens Perikles and tells him that these lands are theirs no more and that after thousands of years these places reek of their smell and then he leaves the island. Hacı Remzi is a wicked man who seeks profit from disasters and atrocities. He does not hesitate for one second to value a person he fought with just as long as he serves to his benefits.  He is a character to draw a lesson from within this story and that is not more than what he deserves.

The island awaits the newcomers to reside on it with its beautiful houses and unfinished works following the departure of Greeks. From that moment on, the island becomes the unique place in which people from four corners of Anatolia and Greece reside to dress their wounds of war.

Senar Ataman


Görsel: Beyza Yıldırım

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