Black Tea, White Milk

The 19th of January is the day my father was born in 1949. He would have been 68 years old if he lived. He died in 1999, when I was turning into a teenager, leaving childhood behind. It was a Friday. I had choir practice at school and my aunt came to pick me up bringing my cousin with her. I could tell something was off. I didn’t ask. We went to Istiklal Street close to my school in Beyoğlu. Istiklal was very vivid as always, packed with tourists as well as locals from all ethnicities and genders. I bought a hairband for my cousin who was in her twenties. She wanted to discover Beyoğlu since she didn’t live in Istanbul and I played along. When we arrived home, finally, my aunt asked if I really wanted to go in. That we could go to her place instead. She knew that I knew. I said “Yes, I want to go in”. In fact I didn’t know yet what it meant to lose a father.

When my father died within a week because of an illness that looked like a simple cold at first, we didn’t know that the same year was pregnant with the big earthquake of 1999, killing officially seventeen thousand people in Turkey, leaving tens of thousands of children orphans. It was a year full of death and loss.

In 2007, I spent my semester break doing an internship at a respectable publishing house in Beyoğlu. Everyday, I would take the long train commute from my mother’s apartment to Yeşilköy, one of the last prominent Armenian neighborhoods in Istanbul and then the dolmuş bus to Istiklal street where the tall building of the publishing house stood next to the Galatasaray square. Since I only went to work on week days, I never saw the Saturday Mothers on my way who would occupy the Galatasaray square silently on Saturdays, marking the space with their loss. Their children were lost in a war that has never been named as such by the state. Barely knowing these women’s stories, I would walk pass by Galatasaray and walk into the tall building.

That day was no different than others. I was going to prepare a nice cup of tea with a drop of milk despite the disapproving looks on my fellow colleagues’ faces. I would explain to them that my sensitive stomach could not handle all that black Turkish tea we were served during the day and that I had to add something to soften the strong aroma. The news we got on the 19th of January were not easy to handle and the milk certainly didn’t help me to swallow it.

While I was on my way to the cafeteria for my lunch break, I saw that photo on the big television screen across the elevators. A body lying on the street covered in black and white newspapers. The soles of his shoes facing the camera. All I could see was that Hrant Dink was shot in front of the Agos newspaper where he was chief editor and his right shoe had a hole on its sole.

The previous year, both Hrant Dink and author Elif Şafak had been charged with “insulting Turkishness” under article 301. The meaning of Dink’s non-fictional essays were completely distorted by the court and Şafak’s fictional novel characters became alleged criminals. Whereas Şafak’s case was dropped, Hrant Dink received a six-month suspended sentence and numerous threats from Turkish ultranationalists.

According to the security cameras, a 17 year old boy with a white beanie had killed Dink. It was clear from the beginning that he was not the real murderer, maybe only one of the many. Today, on January 19th 2017, it has been ten years since a boy pulled that trigger with hate. The trial has been going on for ten years.

Every year on the 19th of January, I face the loss of two men. After a while it became impossible to think about my father’s birthday without also mourning the death of Hrant Dink. For the last couple of years on the 19th of January, I started to change my Facebook profile picture with a photograph of Dink I especially like where he is smiling compassionately towards the camera. Everytime I do that, I secretly long for the fatherly love that has been long lost to me. I know that my feelings are shared by many who were in fact privileged enough to have met and worked with Hrant Dink in person. I do feel their loss. The loss of a father. The loss of hope and compassion that would soften even the worst pain, like the drop of white milk in a cup of bitter black tea.

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