The dolmuş – a Turkish minibus share taxi – jumps and bumps along the uneven road while furry dice with the word “Mashallah“ on them dangle from the rear-view mirror. Outside, there are arid, parched hills, pistachio and olive trees as far as the eye can see – a precursor to the great deserts of Syria and the Middle East. We are headed to Ayran, a Kurdish village in south-eastern Turkey, home to around 5000 people. It is summer and I am travelling with Hadice Kalender, who was born in this village in 1970. When she was 16 she underwent an arranged marriage here and, a couple of years later, like so many from Ayran, she emigrated to Berlin.
Walking through the dusty streets it doesn’t take me long to come across a pocket of young people speaking German. Berliners, in fact, here for the summer with their parents. I strike up a conversation with Bülent, who lives in Moabit, and Mehmet, a Reinickendorf local, and we head off to a tea house – the only tea house – for a soda pop and a chat. Amid the chatter of the chain-smoking old men playing cards and okey (a tile game also known as Rummikub, brought to Germany by the Gastarbeiter) – and the incessant swarm of flies – the teenage boys tell me about their lives in Ayran. For the young Berliners, it’s a summer of freedom, made up of motorbike riding, playing with the village animals and going to discos in the nearby town of Birecik. There they attempt to flirt with the local girls while evading their fathers, who if they find out, stand to fix them up in an arranged marriage. Chatting to them, I get a sense of the different way of life here in Ayran.
The inhabitants of this village are Kurds, Turkey’s largest ethnic minority, indigenous to the land (the Euphrates, demarcation line between Turkish and Kurdish Turkey is a mere 20 kilometers away). The villagers still vote AKP to a man and there is no PKK activity here to speak of, as there is eastwards as of Mardin. Below is my interview with a couple of Ayran Alamancis (German Turks), who shed some light on the unique preoccupations of a border straddling people, at home neither in Germany nor Turkey.
Robert Rigney: So I heard it’s a bad time to visit the village – because of the problems with the authorities.
Bülent: The problems are nothing new. Now there’s this Fetullah thing happening [a reference to Fetullah Gülen, the charismatic American based Turkish hoca, whose Islamist movement has been accused of being behind the 2016 failed putsch attempt].
Robert Rigney: And you are not allowed to wear Kurdish insignias.
Bülent: That’s right. And people who voice an affiliation with Kurdistan are regarded as terrorists.
Robert Rigney: What’s it like having one foot in Ayran and one foot in Berlin?
Bülent: There are the Germans and the non-Germans. Here we are regarded as Germans and in Berlin we are regarded as foreigners. You’re nowhere at home. But here we Germans stick together, regardless of whether we know each other or not. Here there are a lot of Germans. Many have gone to Germany to live forever.
Robert Rigney: What is that guy over there doing?
Bülent: He is selling old stuff. Either people give him stuff or he picks it up himself. It’s actually against the law, but this is Turkey.
Robert Rigney: Are there people who have lived in Germany for a long time and have decided to exchange Berlin for Ayran?
Bülent: Say for instance your child has committed a crime. You don’t want your child to go to prison, so you come here. Here you are beyond the reach of the law.
Robert Rigney: You said there are sometimes brawls between the Germans and the locals.
Bülent: All the time. We have a lot of fights with the people of this village who don’t live in Germany.
Robert Rigney: Why is it?
Bülent: Who knows. It’s been like that for years. They think that we have loads of money and are stuck-up. It keeps getting worse…Here’s Mehmet. Mehmet knows more about this village. He‘s my cousin. He‘s also from Berlin.
Robert Rigney: How is it for someone from Berlin to be here?
Mehmet: It’s just like Berlin. You are a foreigner wherever you go. In Germany and here as well. There are a couple people here that don‘t like the Germans. They say we are arrogant, although that‘s not true. It‘s no vacation feeling here. You visit rather relatives who couldn’t make it over there, for whatever reason, and help them a bit.
Bülent: Most of the people from our home can‘t make it over because of lack of money. And if someone comes then it‘s one person from the whole family.
Robert Rigney: Do you look forward to your trip to Ayran?
Robert Rigney: What can you do here that you can’t do in Berlin?
Mehmet: You can’t do much here. But if you come here of course you look forward to it, although one knows that there will be fights and arguments. And then having to stay indoors till six because of the heat, and then only being able to go outside after six because it’s cooler. To be outside at this hour is hell. How hot is it now? Easy forty degrees. But still one loves where one is from, no?
Robert Rigney: Do you feel freer here than in Berlin?
Mehmet: Here we can ride motorbikes. Here you’re actually not allowed to do it. But no one cares. This is Turkey so no one cares. You can talk to the policeman and tell him “I’m the son of so-and-so”, or the grandson of so-and-so. And if they know him, then they just let you go. Most of us come here by car and they let you go without checking you. I came by plane. My father drove here. But when I go back in a week I will go by car.
Robert Rigney: How long does it take? Three days?
Mehmet: Actually, it takes a day and a half. Our parents don’t take any breaks. Just to get gas. My father drives from here to Edirne, takes a break there and then drives the rest of the distance without stopping.
Robert Rigney: You told me that there is a rival village.
Mehmet: It was like that in the past. Five kilometers from here there’s a village. They were enemies of our fathers. Now that’s done with, and the youths are enemies now. They have gas station, so we always have to go there to get gas.
Robert Rigney: You said there were vendettas between families here.
Mehmet: Vendettas happen mainly because of women, isn’t that right?
Bülent: Back then.
Mehmet: Now I don’t think there’s anything like that. But here if anyone hits on your daughter or your sister, or does something very wrong, then there’s honor killings.
Robert Rigney: Do you know any stories?
Mehmet: I myself don’t know any.
Bülent: There aren’t any honor killings anymore. That was back then.
Mehmet: Now we’ve become modern.
Robert Rigney: You also mentioned that you had to watch out how you deal with the local girls.
Bülent: Yes. If the father finds out then he can hook you up with an arranged marriage.
Mehmet: It’s also like that in Germany. But in Germany you feel a bit freer. But if someone hits on your sister you can’t stay calm. Or if someone hits on my daughter then I can’t stay calm. In the village it’s much worse than in Germany. Here you either get married or the families will have problems.
Robert Rigney: Could you imagine taking a girl from this village?
Mehmet: If my father says, “Marry that girl”, then I have to do what he says. I will marry that girl. We have to listen to our parents. You can’t fool around. Of course my father doesn’t say, “You’ll marry her.” He says, “Mehmet, I have found a nice girl. Why don’t you talk with her?” But if my father says something, then I’ve got to. At first comes Allah, then my father. So, that’s why one has to listen. And if you say, “Baba, I love a girl”, then he has a look at this girl. Fathers can tell who’s right and who isn’t. Fathers can tell one hundred percent if a girl is the right one or not. He knows what will harm me and what won’t harm me. He talks to you. Before he does anything he talks to you. It’s not like he just says, “Marry her”, and that’s what you have to do. Of course, he talks to you. And so I know that of course my father knows something. Even if he doesn’t know her.
Robert Rigney: What does your father do?
Mehmet: My father has two companies. He as a cleaning company and a construction company.
Robert Rigney: Which district do you live in Berlin?
Bülent: Many of our families are in Reinickendorf. This is my brother, Yilmaz.
Yilmaz: The other thing about this village is the pistachios. And the important thing is that if someone is buildings a new house, then the others help out.
Mehmet: People build the houses themselves, with the help of the community.
Robert Rigney: Have you helped out in the construction of a house?
Mehmet: No, never. The young people like ourselves don’t do any work. Maybe sometimes we help out with the pistachios.
Robert Rigney: The main source of money in this village is pistachios, or?
Mehmet: Yes. And olives. Olives are very valuable here.
Robert Rigney: Is that hard work, the pistachios?
Bülent: Yeah. Of course.
Robert Rigney: You told me yesterday that a girl was possessed by a jinn.
Bülent: My cousin told me about that. Something like that gives me the creeps. A girl was possessed. Or something like that. We don’t know if it’s superstition of if it’s true.
Robert Rigney: And if you want to see a bit of life then you go to Birecik. That’s a bigger town. They have a disco there, isn’t that right?
Bülent: Yes, there’s a disco in Birecek. You can find everything in Birecik. From clothing to I don’t know what. There a Versace t-shirt costs six euro. We buy almost everything here. There are people who come down here with one pair of trousers and one t-shirt and go back home with a bag packed full of stuff.
Mehmet: Clothing is cheaper here.
Bülent: Definitely. People here aren’t aware of brands. They have never heard of Hugo Boss.