Interview with Markar Esayan
The Miracle of Ordinary People: The EncounterMarkar Esayan writes the weekly column “Narrow Gate” in the weekly newspaper Agos in Turkey. His new book, The Encounter, published by Hay Editions in 2007, is an important milestone in Armenian literature in Turkey. His first award-winning book, entitled The Narrow Room of the Moment (2004), and his latest, in which he tells the story of small people, bear certain similarities insofar as they both relate the history of minorities in Turkey. The Encounter tells the events of 1915 as well as those around the Wealth Tax (1940s) through the eyes of ordinary people.
The Encounter tells the story of ordinary people. Who are these for you?
Before anyone else, I guess it’s me. By small people, I mean that there are a great deal of problems in the way history is transmitted in Turkey. All stories have been specified by the general outlines dictated by a unique historical discourse. Others were left either untold, or were not able to reach a large majority. This in turn has resulted in an important weight put on society’s unconscious. Consequently, I thought that it would be best to return to the stories of those ordinary people. Especially when it comes to minorities, I have been faced with the total destruction of their history since my youth. As I had written in my first novel, since the number of Armenians and other minorities in Turkey has drastically been reduced, we are no longer able to hear the evidence of the value they added to this country directly from them. I believe that literature should serve this purpose. By relating the lives of ordinary people, I thought that this history could be read differently. This has been a very popular literary approach all over the world, especially during the last century. The Encounter bears the same approach; it is a novel that tells how small people played a part in the history of Turkey.
What does the word ‘encounter’ mean to you?
The word summarises the book. Actually, I hesitated between two words: ‘encounter’ and ‘confrontation’. However, I think that ‘confrontation’ is a more abstract and inactive word. It relates to a situation where there is no second person and relationship involved, and is therefore a troublesome word. As for encounter, there is a connotation of willingness and honesty. It involves change and optimism. After the assassination of Hrant [Dink], I am convinced that it is these ordinary people who write history. Real relationships created by small people in everyday life, which turn widespread narratives upside down. These relationships are in fact created at the moment of the encounter. This is what feeds life itself: history silently written by lives invisible to the hearts and inside each home.
What part does the great 19th century Armenian composer, Gomidas Vartabet, play in the novel?
Gomidas was a composer of great renown among the early 20th century Ottoman and European intellectual milieu. I have always been moved by symbolically seeing the tragic events of 1915 through Gomidas’ own story. I would very much like to see the Turkish public opinion appreciate him as its own richness. Unable to bear the pain of those who died in 1915, Gomidas lives with the fear of being taken away all his life, and finally loses his mind. Finally, with the help of Sultan Abdülmecit, he is sent to Paris.
You dedicated the novel to the memory of Hrant Dink, the editor-in-chief of Agos, who was assassinated in 2007. What is the correlation with him in the novel?
What mattered for Hrant was that people could be aware of their own internal chaos and adopt the a humane attitude not to reject this. It is difficult to talk about a subject that divides people. This is because people need to tell their own story while still being somehow afraid. Hrant is very much like the character Pehlivan Usta in the novel. What this character wants to do in the novel is equivalent to what Hrant wanted to accomplish. That is, to return to his own hell and face it, and then transform it to paradise. Listening to ordinary people, this is exactly what Pehlivan Usta and Hrant were doing.