You Rejoice My Heart

You Rejoice My Heart

London: Gomidas Institute, 2007,
xvi + 384 pp, map and photographs,
ISBN 978-1-903656-72-3, paperback
UK£20.00 / US$30.00
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In accordance with a publishing contract that I signed in Turkey with Doğan Book Publishing, 3,000 copies of Rejoice My Heart were ordered and printed up in December, 2000. They were to be distributed on January 15, 2001. However, on January 12, the responsible director of the printing house communicated the following message to me: "Because of a warning from on high, we won’t be able to distribute your book at present! We are going to wait until a more propitious time!"

I waited for a whole year. Countless times I asked when my book was to be distributed. The answer I repeatedly received was "We can’t publish your book at present! The political situation in Turkey is not right!" Finally, I decided to have my book published in Germany, paying for the publishing expenses out of my own pocket.

When it first appeared, You Rejoice My Heart received great attention. I received letters and telephone calls from places throughout the globe. You can read a selection of these in the appendix of this edition.

I went to the headquarters of the publishers on August 17, 2002 in order to discuss the status of my book. The company directors told me:
"Haven’t you heard? We had your You Rejoice My Heart destroyed!" and then they showed me the "Destruction Order" that had been signed by Istanbul’s 13th Notary Public. Without asking me, without informing me in advance, and without any official inquiry against either myself or my book, all of the printed copies of this title had been destroyed in a paper shredder on June 21, 2002 and in the presence of Istanbul’s 13th Notary Public (A copy of the "Destruction Order" that was later sent to me is also found in the appendix of this edition).

In a letter jointly signed by the publishing company’s board of directors, they defended their decision, saying "By destroying this book, we believe that we have prevented a new, black stain upon our country that could occur through a new case being opened [against it in the court of public opinion]."
During periods in which democratic rights, and the freedoms of thought and expression are being trampled under foot in Turkey—particularly after the military coup of September 12, 1980—a great many books, newspapers and magazines have been destroyed or condemned to the flames; a great many writers, intellectuals and artists have been tried and punished for the "crime" of free expression. But for a publishing house to voluntarily destroy with its own hands a book that it had itself printed and published, and in the presence of an official notary public... This was unheard of! The slogans "Democracy is coming!", "Restrictions on freedom of thought are being lifted!" are often claimed here, but if that’s so, these reforms are coming at a snail’s pace; sometimes it seems that we’ve barely progressed!

What a shame that the political order in Turkey remains such that publishers can be intimidated enough to destroy their own books, that creative freedoms remain blocked. What a shame for all that creative effort that has been wasted!

The destruction of books, the restriction of freedom of thought, and the punishment of those persons who speak truth and lift the veil off society’s taboo subjects: nothing will be achieved by all this. Those who actually believe that they are accomplishing something by this are not only deceiving themselves—they’re also deceiving the society in which they live. What’s more, they are bringing shame to Turkey.

I am publishing this second edition in Germany in the hope that Turks, Armenians, Kurds, Syriac Christians and all other peoples will get to intimately know and understand one another, that ties of friendship between them will be revived, that a culture of peace will eventually develop within Turkish society, and that the disgraceful actions by humanity and the great sufferings of the past century will never be forgotten nor experienced again. I convey my thanks and gratitude to all of the readers and friends who have leant me their assistance.
Kemal Yalçın
Bochum, March 1, 2003

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kemal Yalçın was born in the Honaz sub-district of Turkey’s Denizli Province in 1952. After finishing primary school he went to the Gönen Teacher Training School in Isparta.
In 1973 he graduated from the Çapa Advanced Teachers’ College in Istanbul and the Philosophy Department of Istanbul University’s Faculty of Literature. After that, he taught philosophy at the Kaman lycée in Kırşehir and the Kabataş Lycée in Istanbul.
During the years 1975-1976 he served on the General Executive Committee (Genel Yönetim Kurulu) of the Universal Education and Instruction Employees Unity and Solidarity Committee (TÖB-DER).
He worked in journalism and publishing in the years 1978-1980.
In 1981 he came to Germany, where, since 1989, he has worked as a Turkish instructor in Bochum.
His works include:
Sürgün Gülleri (‘Roses of Exile’, poetry)
Geç Kalan Bahar (‘The Late Spring’, poetry)
Emanet Çeyiz (‘The Security Trousseau’, novel)
Bilim Tuktusu (‘Passion for Knowledge’, autobiography)
Barış Sıcağı (‘The Warmth of Peace’, poetry)
Sinifta Çiçek Zor Açar (‘Flowers Don’t Bloom Easily in the Classroom’, recollections, stories)
Almanya’da Türkçe Anadil Eðitimi (‘Turkish Mother-tongue Education in Germany’, study)
He has received the following prizes:
1991 – First Prize, poetry; Petrol-Iş Award
1996 – First Prize, poetry; Cologne Multicultural Society Award
1998 – Novel of the year, Turkish Culture Ministry
1998 – Abdi Ipekçi Special Prize for Friendship and Peace
1998 – Turkey-Greece Communications Prize

Excerpt, p. 166-68
"I lived through the calamity of September 6-7, 1955”
But as soon as we began thinking we’d made it, yet another calamity befell us. This time, in 1955, we were struck by the disaster of September 6-7. The Cyprus question came up again and tempers were inflamed. The newspaper pages were full of it, the radio was screaming about it constantly. ‘Partition or Death!’ they proclaimed. Rallies in support of the Cypriot Turks were being held on a daily basis. The crowds were incited with such claims as ‘They’ve bombed Atatürk’s house!’ For the first time in the history of the Republic the government gave permission for a rally to be held in Taksim Square, at eight in the evening. Were they going to allow a rally to be held in the evening in the middle of Beyoðlu, where the majority of the population was non-Muslim? Would you give permission for an evening rally, under the cover of darkness?
They took care of Istanbul and Izmir on the same day—at the same hour, even! When it was over, there wasn’t a single Greek house or shop that hadn’t been torched, smashed or sacked. And along with the Greek property, Armenian and Jewish property was also burned and destroyed. But Turkish homes and shops that were on the same street, right next to Greek shops, would be left untouched. Everything had been planned in advance, the houses and businesses of non-Muslims had been marked. The people who had been entrusted with the task showed that they themselves hadn’t been marked. The main target was the Greeks. But the Armenians also got their share of it, as well.
Beside our home in Gedikpaþa was the home of Vasil. I can still see him before my eyes, as if it were only yesterday.
The looters came, like in a procession. In their hands they had axes and sticks.
‘Is there a Greek house here?’ they demanded.
‘No, this is an Armenian home!’ I answered.
‘Well, that’s even worse! Attack it, boys! Smash it!’
Then they proceeded to break and turn over every place. They defiled Greek women and children. They set churches aflame. They beat all of the priests who they found and cut off their beards.
There was a church across from our house. My father had served as a sexton there. The looters came at night and pounded on the door.
‘Hey! Don’t you have a Turkish flag? Why don’t you display it?’
My father said: ‘This is an Armenian church. Please, don’t destroy it! Please!’
Then they began to crowd around my father and rough him up. The primary school director, Sitki Bey from Kirþehir, heard the shouts and came down the stairs and intervened. ‘Do not do this!’ he said, pleading with them. It’s eleven o’clock at night. Who hangs out their flag at such an hour?’
‘Are you an infidel?’ they demanded, grabbing the director by the collar.
‘No, I’m the school director! I’m a Turk!’
‘Show us your identity card!’
‘It’s in my house!’
‘Go and get it!’
Sitki Bey went and brought his identity papers and showed them, proving he was indeed a Turk…. He was very afraid, but through his intervention, Sitki Bey had rescued the Armenian church from the flames.
The looting finally ended. So did the pillaging and burning. They did what they had set out to do. There was even a whistle, a cue! The looting, the burnings, the beatings, the attacks… it all remains in my memory!
Afterward, they arrested a lot of innocent people and punished them, claiming that it had been the communists who had been responsible for the events. A handful of intellectuals who had had no connection to the events were even sent into exile! One of these was my close friend Dr. Hulusi Dosdoðru. There wasn’t a thing that they didn’t do to him!
I spoke frequently with Kemal Tahir and his circle. After reading his books I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. After reading his books, I began to understand, not to see the Turks as the enemy, but to perceive the Turkish reality. The more I read, the more I understood the Turkish reality, the nationalist feelings inside me began to give way to a love for humanity. I loved both Armenians and Turks. There was no more enmity left inside me!
And the more I read, the more my desire grew to develop my aesthetic sensibilities. I still found pleasure working as a tailor. But I had become a well-known tailor in Istanbul by sewing clothing for famous and wealthy people. The books that I read changed my view of the world. I could now see my surroundings, the things that I had experienced, more clearly than before. I took great pleasure from culture and art. The more my cultural world grew and developed, the better my tailoring became.
The Armenians had been artisans and master craftsmen in the days when non-Muslims used to intermingle with Turks and Kurds. They used to be specialists in their occupations. It’s still the same way. But the Armenian wasn’t trying to be superior to the Turks or the Kurds. He was just trying to overcome the conditions in which he lived. Naturally, along with this, the tradition of master craftsmanship and the transmission of masterly abilities from father to son also played a role in preserving this continuity.
But living as a minority in Turkey today forces a person to be more cautious…. You must be careful and mindful from every direction, and to be aware that you are always under scrutiny. You must always be industrious. There is bitterness and suffering in every Armenian’s past, and in every Armenian living in Turkey today. Their spirits are wounded, damaged. Their personalities bear the traces of the unforgettable disasters of the past. If you’re an Armenian in Turkey, that means you’ve escaped death. Ultimately, you’re a humiliated Armenian!
Under these conditions, laziness and failure are unacceptable. Everything to which you set your hand you must do as well as you possibly can. In your life’s struggle you simply have to be smart, long-suffering, tolerant and industrious, so that you can win the race where the odds are stacked against you. The state closes off many avenues to you. If you’re an Armenian, you cannot be either a governor or a military commander. If you’re Armenian, you cannot find work in government service. If you’re Armenian, you’ll end up in one of the good, free professions. If you’re a doctor, you’re a specialist; if you’re a tinsmith, you’re the best tinsmith in town; if you’re a tailor, you’re the best tailor. Only in that way can you succeed in the uneven life struggle in which you find yourself….
These were the conditions that caused me to become a master tailor. I was one of Istanbul’s most famous tailors. I earned a lot of money. But I never had peace of mind.
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