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At the end of the hall, a large room, two clos­ets one on the left, the oth­er on the right, two good-qual­i­ty adjustable beds. At their bed­side, two tables and on them, two bot­tles filled with water, along with glass­es… Above the beds, emer­gency call­ing sys­tems  — should the red but­ton be pressed, staff will come run­ning toward this last room in the hallway…

She, he, do not own a sin­gle sou­venir pho­to with lov­ing looks, to dec­o­rate their walls, or places on their tables. There is only one  dec­o­ra­tion show­ing a land­scape, nailed to the wall between the two large win­dows. A land­scape, with­out a house, with­out a human pres­ence, just daisies bloom­ing under tall trees… That’s all.

How much would it mat­ter for them, to have per­son­al items? If truth be told, in this room, there is noth­ing oth­er than the two of them. The final late crumbs  of a life… Two old peo­ple attempt­ing to keep those final crumbs from falling to the ground, not let­ting a sin­gle sec­ond go by, and who trem­ble. There is noth­ing beyond this, no door on which to knock after this one, this here is the last stop, this is a retire­ment home.

This is the İzci fam­i­ly. The cou­ple, Hasibe and Mehmet.

In the saga of the cheap labour migra­tions that began in the 60s —  in oth­er words, the open mar­ket on cheap humans — the con­voys left from Sirke­ci sta­tion in Istan­bul and end­ed at the Munich train sta­tion; the İzci fam­i­ly was among them.

Mehmet did not see very well out of his left eye. There­fore, Ger­many did not accept him as a work­er. Suit­case in hand, he went back to his coun­try with his bro­ken dreams. He was a man from the Black Sea area. A child of thick beech forests, of moun­tains shak­ing hands with the sky, of bound­ing streams, of deep lux­u­ri­ant valleys.

The admin­is­tra­tion of the Repub­lic estab­lished after the col­lapse of the empire which dis­ap­peared in his­to­ry, was no more able to rem­e­dy the pover­ty of the inhab­i­tants here. Despite all these beau­ties and bless­ings of a fer­tile nature, there is a pover­ty here than press­es down on the necks of peo­ple and is the cause of much suf­fer­ing, as in all the oth­er regions in the country…

Was it the end of the world, if Mehmet could not go to Ger­many? Of course not. As strong as a moun­tain, Hasibe was the one who would go. Tall, strong Hasibe, where she put her foot down, the earth trem­bled, if she squeezed a stone, she pulled the sap out of it…Hasibe had a surly dis­po­si­tion, one that didn’t let any­thing pass, she didn’t low­er her head, she didn’t let go of any­thing, and this is what made her grow. She resem­bled her country’s lands, she was as strong as a gal­lop­ing horse and in just as good health too.

She was leav­ing behind two lit­tle chil­dren who still called milk lolo but it didn’t mat­ter, was she not leav­ing pre­cise­ly for their sake? Wasn’t all this for a bet­ter future, a bet­ter life? And Mehmet trust­ed her, “even in a reg­i­ment, she would not fail at honour…” 

Hasibe ddid not know how to read or write… like almost all the oth­ers apply­ing for the work.

Hasibe’s height, good, her weight, good, she had healthy lungs, hands and feet were in good shape, so were her teeth, her eyes… A woman admit­ted by the Ger­man health con­trol, on all scores. “Sehr gut”, they said.

Hasibe could do any­thing, no mat­ter what the job, she would bear it. As long as her pover­ty could end, as long as her face could smile…She would now go to great Ger­many, the war had end­ed over there, they no longer changed people’s flesh into soap. Those who have already been there informed her she would come back with her suit­cas­es full of money…Even if the work con­tract was only for one year, even that would be enough…Hasibe wouldn’t eat any­thing, she would save up every pen­ny, and would come back to her home, mak­ing it warm and joyful…

Sirke­ci sta­tion was crowd­ed. You would have thrown up a hand­ful of earth, it would nev­er have touched the ground. Men of a clean appear­ance wear­ing ties and hats, short hair, mod­ern, women in mini-skirts, all in good health…

Like the oth­ers, Hasibe did not know a sin­gle word of Ger­man. Nor did they have a gov­ern­ment on which to fall back, one that would pro­tect them, that would guar­an­tee health and work con­di­tions. Nor did Hasibe have a class con­scious­ness, that of a work­er. Noth­ing of all that… Noth­ing, nada.

But as she had man­aged the health eval­u­a­tion, she bent her head, she ent it out of despair. Peo­ple such as Hasibe would do any kind of work at all. They have to. Their oblig­a­tion is that of despair, their despair is that of poverty.

The peo­ple of my coun­try are the best source for pro­duc­tion and ser­vices, and the cheap­est… What could be bet­ter than that for the Ger­man bourgeoisie?

The train jour­ney began, last­ing three days and three nights. Women and men trav­elled in sep­a­rate coach­es. Anatolia’s his­tor­i­cal and fer­tile lands remained child­less… with a last look behind the depart­ed… behind those who went away and nev­er returned, leav­ing a trail of incin­er­at­ed songs. Thus did the great migra­tion of Ana­to­lian labour enter his­to­ry, the jour­ney toward exploita­tion, unde­ni­ably the great­est tragedies of ruined, destroyed families.

allemagne migration turquie

After this trans­porta­tion end­ing at the Munich train sta­tion, a new jour­ney began, this time at the bus ter­mi­nal of the same city. Sources of cheap labour, peo­ple from my coun­try dis­persed into dif­fer­ent towns in West Germany.

But this kind of work is not like mind­ing live­stock, and even less like han­dling a sick­le or pick­ing ears of corn. One way or anoth­er, they would get used to it… They got used to it. To doing all the heav­i­est, most dan­ger­ous, dirt­i­est work the Ger­mans did not want to do… They got used to it and what’s more, they worked as if these were their own father’s fac­to­ries or firms, putting their own lives at stake.

Hasibe was one of those who got used to it. After years of labour in a can­ning fac­to­ry, she began with some friends as a work­er in the auto­mo­bile indus­try. She did not go back, Hasibe, did not go back. Money’s face is gen­tle, she got used to it and could not go back, and that was that.

Four years lat­er, Mehmet and the chil­dren arrived in Ger­many through the fam­i­ly reunion plan. Mehmet also became a work­er, also in the auto­mo­bile indus­try. Work­ing and work­ing, that’s the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, it con­sists of exploita­tion against bread, no one looks at the tears in their eyes. Work­ing, and working…

There, they had anoth­er child, a girl. Hasibe named her after her own moth­er: Fatma.

She did not man­age to rebuild a true link with her first two chil­dren, Hasibe. The chil­dren would spend their entire lives in the revenge state of mind of aban­don­ment. There were days when Hasibe had enough, and days where she want­ed to die. Such was her life as it came and went.

But she gave all her love to Fatma.

Life goes by. How to stand so much labour? How to go on with so much nos­tal­gia, so much feel­ing of exile? Faced with soli­tude, with trea­son, with exploita­tion down to the mar­row of your bones, to silence, to waves of hes­i­ta­tion “to stay or to go back?” Faced with the grow­ing prob­lems of grow­ing chil­dren, even a stone would break. This is what hap­pened to Mehmet. When the time came to enjoy his retire­ment, dia­betes land­ed on him…First, he was ampu­tat­ed of one leg, at thigh lev­el, then a sec­ond. Who was there to take care of Mehmet, oth­er than his road companion?

By then, Hasibe her­self was but a shad­ow of her for­mer self, because of all the work. Hence­forth, both of them were ruins. Their chil­dren had flown the coop years before…

If only Hasibe could take Mehmet with her, as she did with her dreams while fill­ing her suit­cas­es on arrival. Even if there was only half of him left, even if he wasn’t much, she would go back to the Black Sea, to its moun­tains shak­ing hands with the sky, and she would savour the mem­o­ry all the hard work she had done here.

If only with a call, with a ges­ture, she could gath­er up the neigh­bours, drown these lux­u­ri­ant val­leys in gales of laugh­ter, throw to the way­side her Ger­man con­sist­ing of a few words, silenced for years, if only she could throw it into a cor­ner… If only she could howl in her native tongue, if only she could sob in her native tongue, let­ting the sor­row of her heart rain down on the moun­tains, if only she could…But there was noth­ing doing, even if she want­ed to, she could no longer go back.

Here at least, there was a health sys­tem that was still func­tion­al for the time being. What would Mehmet become over there?

Mehmet who was noth­ing but a hand­ful now…


An apart­ment soli­tude that they have been liv­ing for years now, where no one knocked on the door except nurs­ing aids, where their lives were lost, where they were even lack­ing the faces of their chil­dren, where what lacked the most was a voice, a ges­ture. Both were retired, both need­ed help. The retire­ment home was now the last door on which they could knock.

Here is the large room at the end of the hall­way… On the door is writ­ten “İzci Family”.

Wasn’t there a time when Mehmet beat Hasibe. A time when Hasibe insult­ed and cursed Mehmet. Dur­ing the four years of their sep­a­ra­tion, didn’t a thou­sand fox­es wan­der through Mehmet’s head, didn’t he think, imag­ine many things… No matter…

This room, this space filled with their two breaths for­gave every­thing with dig­ni­ty, excused all the past suf­fer­ings. How did this huge soli­tude join these two labour­ing hands. These two hands that had nev­er been as close, nev­er had their voic­es been so inter­wo­ven, their breaths keep­ing one anoth­er company.

In the retire­ment home, a four-storey build­ing, nice and square, built in a sub­urb, only one oth­er per­son spoke Turk­ish. A young woman who planned their pork-free menus and who came to them when­ev­er the red but­ton was pushed.

He last­ed two more years, Mehmet… Dur­ing two years, he loved Hasibe as he had nev­er loved her before. He under­stood her as he had nev­er done…Hasibe gave Mehmet the finest love of his life. There was no one inquir­ing as to their fate, not one child, not one acquain­tance to walk into this room, at the end of the hall and make their hearts beat with excite­ment, drown­ing them in joy.

Mehmet, a clever one, had become a “mem­ber of the mosque” in his day 1. His remains were trans­ferred back to the coun­try by Diyanet 2. His cas­ket was tiny, like that of a child… Hasibe was moved into a small­er room. In her hand, the red but­ton became her only toy. The red but­ton became her most pre­cious pos­ses­sion in the world. She thought the young woman work­ing in the kitchen was her daugh­ter Fatma.

- Come Fat­ma, sit down… Fat­ma, my dar­ling, take me in your arms, hug me tight, don’t ever let me go.

- Are you hun­gry, Fat­ma? Are you cold? Embrace me Fat­ma, hug me, don’t let me go.

The clouds of the Black Sea, com­pan­ions to the moun­tains where is grown the best tea. Does not tea open the door to social rela­tion­ships, to ties that bind?

- Make some tea, Fat­ma, bring some tea Fat­ma, EMBRACE me Fat­ma, don’t let me go.

Who was Fat­ma? A new slave labour­er, exploit­ed in this cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem for her val­ue added sweat. The boss­es didn’t care about Hasibe’s nos­tal­gia over Fat­ma. After each push on the red but­ton, could “Fat­ma” come to her res­cue? An order (!) fell from on high, and “Fatma’s” vis­its became rare. She sulked, Hasibe. She sulked against the whole world, she sulked against the food, called for Fat­ma, cry­ing in her rough Black Sea speech.

- Come Fat­ma, come, embrace me, hug me, don’t let me go… Fat­maaaa come.

Four years after Mehmet, Hasibe also died, with the red but­ton in her hand, call­ing “Fat­ma”.

Diyanet also trans­ferred Hasibe’s remains to the coun­try,  bur­ial fees were paid in advance.

So alone, so aban­doned, so destitute…Thus was anoth­er worker’s name erased from the records, anoth­er who had come from the great­est pro­le­tar­i­an migra­tion from Anatolia.

As if she had nev­er lived…

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges

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Suna Arev
Née en 1972 à Uzun­tar­la (Elazığ).Dans une famille de huits enfants, elle est immergée dès son plus jeune âge, par­mi les tra­vailleurs agri­coles à la tâche. Tel un miroir qui date de son enfance, la péri­ode du coup d’Etat mil­i­taire du 12 sep­tem­bre 1980 a for­mé sa vie poli­tique. Diplômée de l’École pro­fes­sion­nelle de com­merce d’Elazığ, elle a vécu, en grandeur nature les com­porte­ments fas­cistes et racistes dans sa ville. Mère de qua­tre enfants, depuis 1997, elle habite en Alle­magne, pour des raisons politiques.
Suna Arev was born in 1972 in the vil­lage of Uzun­tar­la, Elazığ dis­trict. From a fam­i­ly of eight chil­dren she became one of the agri­cul­tur­al work­ers at an ear­ly age. The mil­i­tary coup d’état of Sep­tem­ber 12 1980 served as a mir­ror in shap­ing her polit­i­cal out­look. After obtain­ing a diplo­ma from the Elazığ Pro­fes­sion­al Busi­ness School, she expe­ri­enced the full force of fas­cist and racist behav­iours in her town. She has lived in Ger­many since 1997, for polit­i­cal rea­sons. She is the moth­er of four children.