14 Days in Diyarbakir - 14 Photos of Amed - 14 Pieces on Tigranakert.
"Repair's" special correspondant MJM, a french-armenian journalist, has recently spent two weeks in the current capital of the South Eastearn Anatolia to meet with the past, present and future of the thousands of Armenians who used to live in this city before the 1915 genocide. During his travels, MJM shares with us his many encounters with places, women and men whose story is undeniably related to the Armenians.
This photo essay was done in May 2013, some situations described in these articles have evolved since then.
Day 12 – Mustafa and Çakir: a prettified memory
Burçin, a journalist friend who helped me a lot to prepare my stay in Amed, had advised me to go and see the old metal smiths working not far from the four-legged minaret in Old Diyarbakir. It is where we meet Mustafa, 58, a hardware shopkeeper who almost seemed to expect our visit. After explaining our purpose, he has us seated on patched up chairs and calls a passing çay vendor from the street. No need to ask him questions, he delivers his memories bit by bit and at high speed. “On Friday were religion classes and some teachers told the pupils who didn’t want to attend to go home,” recalls Mustafa. Half of the class vanished. It means that they were Christians, he concludes, swallowing his tea in one gulp. We understood that women were Christian just by looking at their way of wearing their scarf. Between the eyes and the lower forehead, four fingers up for Armenians, two for other Christians,” he explains while a young worker is sharpening a blade close to us. Later in the conversation, he remembers an old friend who, he says, was around Armenians a lot in the neighbourhood. He offers that we meet him.
Two days later, we meet the famous Çakir, sporting cream pyjamas and a greying moustache, who welcomes us in his tiny apartment where he lives with his wife. We are hardly seated before – surprise – this former shoemaker of 83 starts asking me questions… in Armenian: “I speak Armenian better than Armenians!” declares the man who learnt Mesrop’s tongue with his shoemaker boss. Unfortunately, after suffering a stroke, the old man has trouble remembering the old days, and the scraps of his spotty memory yield only little information on the time when Armenians and Kurds lived together. “We gave them some turchu (marinated vegetables), and they gave us basturma (cold cuts), kawarma (meat confit), all kinds of things! We shared foods, there was a lot of solidarity in those days. We all played money games, no-one spoke Turkish, we all spoke Armenian. There was no unfriendliness between us,” insists the old man, whose memories have certainly sweetened over time. However, we also read in his few reminiscences an indication that many Kurds retain good memories of gavurs*,“very honest and fair in business, with a great sense of honour and probity,” according to Mustafa. The words “solidarity, cosmopolitan” and “harmony” that he uses to describe bygone Diyarbakir leave me no less perplexed than pensive.
The 30-year-old freelancer and photographer, MJM, has worked for various newspapers and magazines. His recent work with the Yerkir NGO has permitted him to further develop his views and understanding through photos and documentaries in Armenia and Turkey. An overview of his work is available on his website www.mjm-wordsandpics.com.