I know a clean cut Turkish guy who repairs clocks. Let’s call him Emre.
At every opportunity, Emre offers me something. When I pass by his shop “Come in, come in, how are you?” Çay? Coffee? Juice? This summer I asked for water. Against all protests he marched out to buy some, commanding me to stay put. Unsure of my preference, he returned with all varieties.
I met him exactly one year ago. I was waiting for a friend in the cold outside his shop and Emre beckoned me inside like no man has ever beckoned anyone before. Uncold, I wanted to stay visible. But, alas, this could not be communicated.
He doesn’t seem to resent the paucity of my Turkish. He supports the Syrian people and keeps Syrian friends. A lot of media come to Gaziantep to do some reporting on Aleppo or Syria (sensible if not sensical) — and once BBC, cameraman and reporter, stopped him on the street and asked him what he thought of all the Syrians living in the city. “I am Syrian!” he flourished them in perfect Turkish. His point was, belief is, we are all the same. He supports the weak against the strong.
Yet. Every apartment in his building, according to him, is full of Syrians — and he hates the constant Arabic barking. He thinks Muslims are troublemakers –“Müslüman — çok problem!” — describing his own confession as a faith in Allah, sans contrivances of man. Like many in the Turkish working class, over five years he has seen his change from a quiet, uncrowded, cheap city, to one that’s overfull, loud with construction, with a rising cost of living. He works late into the night.
Is Emre in contradiction? He will go out of his way to help his Syrian friends (seen firsthand), but won’t hesitate to belittle Arabic or Arab culture (as he stereotypes it). He despises certain high-profile politicians, nationalism, and racism. In his youth (he’s in his fifties now), he went to Europe illegally and experienced the racism that exists there against Turks. Someone reported him to the immigration authorities.
When I first met him Emre kept two Tweetie birds in his store in a yellow cage near the entrance door. One day they were gone. “Syrians.” he told me. Someone had broken his door, too. I don’t know if he knows who it was or was not. But this xenophobic dynamic is at work: any problem that had not visited him before, but visits him now, is wrapped around those who are here now, but weren’t before.
In this case, that happens to be the 400,000 Syrians currently in Gaziantep. And this disposition from an anti-nationalist, predisposed to equality, liberty, and fraternity. So imagine.
There is a fridge and a couch in the back of the shop. Last night were we drinking Efes there — out of sight of Muslim eyes (his words). When it is colder outside than inside his fridge, he puts a tall can in a small bag and sits it in a flower pot for a couple hours.
As I went to leave last night he told me if I ever had any problem or ever needed anything, anything he insisted, I could come to him. I’ve started some Turkish classes, so next time, I told him, I’ll bring my homework, and some whiskey.