“Whosoever chooses to follow guidance, follows it for his own good; whosoever goes astray, goes astray to his own loss.” – Qur’an, Sura Al-Isra, 17:15
"I came to say goodbye," I say, as I touch the rough bark of the tree. The wind is harsh. The branches are bare. There are no leaves to shake. Winter is angry with all of us.
Nature has always been sore at East Anatolia, or West Asia — the part of Turkey that doesn’t want us. The mountains, the rivers, were a refuge, but also, a trap. And this tree, Dad, was it not a refuge, too? For both of us?
I’m a big girl now, Dad. With thick eyebrows I don’t pluck. The state that had to protect me, unwillingly, since you’ve gone, is sending me away to Sweden in a few days. They want this Kurdish girl out, Dad, this time out for good. They have even found some school that is going to accept me for free. They can do it when they want to. But they don’t know that I won’t stay there. I’ll run away, make money, and come back. This land is mine, this tree is mine, and I’ll come back.
The day they found me here, I was swinging on the swing you had tied on this tree. Humming a little song that was in a language they would try to make me forget. It was dusk, but there was no one to summon me back home. I had nothing to go back to.
I had you, and you were there, beside me. Hanging down from the thick branch on the other side of the tree. We made a perfect balance, I thought.
The day I found you here, you were also swinging, on the rope your hands had tied on this tree. You were good with ropes, Dad. They never failed. But you thought you’d failed your own people. You’d been tortured, cursed, called a terrorist, a fucking Kurdish dog, but you hadn’t said a word to the police. You had no names to give to them, your lips were sealed by blood stronger than anything. But not stronger than the blood we shared. They said “Ayshe Leila,” and you understood. You had to protect me, because you knew they would have no mercy, even with kids. Kids get lost easily. Kurdish kids get lost more easily. You gave them the names; you betrayed your brothers who were fighting for a freedom never to come.
You did not lose me.
But I lost you.
I lost you because you were a proud man. A man who couldn’t live with the feeling of treason, a man who would no longer be able to look in the eyes of his people and smile. You didn’t feel man enough to raise your daughter with pride. You knew they would take care of me. But, Dad, how could you not see that I wouldn’t care? I miss our house with the unmowed grass.
I had come to the swing that day, Dad. You thought this would be the last place I’d come that evening, as I always had so much homework. But I came, I was still a little girl who liked her swing.
It was late spring. The branches were not bare as they are now. They were green and resplendent, almost happy, almost shiningly happy. I was walking through the fields, through the thick grass, towards my tree, singing to myself, clinking my colorful bracelets, not lifting my head to have a look at the tree that was expecting me.
And then I did. I saw your willowy body hanging down below the greenest leaves I had ever seen.
I didn’t cry. I walked to the other rope, sat down on my swing, and went back and forth, back and forth, till people came. I sensed who the people that you hated were. They were going to take care of me.
“You have no mom, right?” they asked. They knew the answer, but they also knew this would be the hardest question I could bear at that moment. They enjoyed it.
“What’s your name?” one of them asked.
“Not any more, sweetie. You will be Ahu now.”
They took me away to be raised in houses, boarding schools, cities I’d never known, cities where the revenge of my own people, who now knew about your betrayal, wouldn’t find me. I became Ahu, then Hande, then Ozge. New Turkish names, Dad, you wouldn’t like them.
They said I can be Leila again in Sweden.
“Fine,” I said. “I’ll go.”
I’m an MFA candidate in the Fiction Writing Program at the New School, and I currently live in New York. I came here from Turkey, but I was born in Bulgaria, to a Turkish family. In 1984, a few months after I was born, hundreds of thousands of Turks, who were allegedly Bulgarians converted to Islam under the Ottoman rule, were assigned Slavic names. Turkish names were removed from tombstones; mosques, language schools, newspapers were closed; speaking Turkish in public was banned. My family moved to Istanbul years later, but with the collapse of Communism in 1989, many people fled to Turkey, where the state welcomed them and condemned the ethnic repression of the Bulgarian government. Ironically, the Turkish government had been doing the same thing for years to another ethnic minority. The Kurdish identity, which is recognized only now, had been denied through assimilation for quite a long time. Using Kurdish names was forbidden, with the pretext that letters like x and w did not exist in the Turkish alphabet. It wasn’t difficult for me to identify with the Kurds, we’d been ignored in the same manner: “There are no such people here.” Beriwan became Perihan in Turkey, the same way Husniye morphed into Hristina in Bulgaria. The violent and exclusive policies of the Turkish state were especially harsh in the 90s, when this story takes place. Many journalists and activists were detained and tortured on terrorism charges, and the Kurdish militant PKK group turned against many of its people, suspected of being informers.