The Tercan plateaux in Erzincan. Think of spring lambs scattering in the new growth, think of those breads baked over wood fires and think also of their sharing, still warm, with everyone who smelled their scent… Think of the cries from the children playing with no hidden thoughts, no scheming. Think of the immaculately white cotton cloths smelling of soap, spread out on lines strung up between trees, floating in the warm breeze…
Think of those love stories in the shade of the immaculate white cloths, as pure as childlike shyness, as natural as childlike shyness…
Think of the fact that all that is beautiful is shared, that the one who stumbles is taken by the hand and put back on his feet, that friendship is the cure to everything…
And also, think of Zeynel!…
Leaning against a mulberry tree, grabbing his saz 1, singing Pir Sultan’s verse 2
I am Pir Sultan, so haughty one
You come, you pass without a greeting
Beautiful one, why do you avoid the conversation?
Zeynel Abidin is a youth from Tercan. His family was exiled there from Dersim. He grew up with the pains of a wounded people. The exile’s wound experienced by the one torn from his roots, a wound that never heals. Does not the exile bear in his chest sufferings for which there is no cure? Such is Zeynel Abidin’s family also… It is discriminated against, treated with contempt because of its identity, its beliefs, its traditions, kept behind closed doors by the system in place.
“If you stone a cat, if you chase it, if you hurt it, you corner him without leaving it any escape route, in the end, it will claw at you…out of despair, it moves into self-defence…”
If a cat who is nothing but a cat does this, what do you expect from a wounded human? Zeynel Abidin, whose family was chased out of Dersim, to whom harm was done where he landed, is this system’s opponent.
The people’s poverty, the mediocre justice and the twisted wheel of Order wounded his heart… And since he was in pain, he rose up against order and joined the organised struggle.
Zeynel Abidin, est un ami pour la vie de Süleyman Cihan, tué sous la torture. Ce Süleyman, assassiné par la main tortionnaire de l’Etat.3 Zeynel est tombé dans la prison de Metris, son corps, pour lui aussi, fut déchiqueté sur des planches de tortures, mais il ne livra aucun nom. De toute sa petite taille, il résista dans les salles de tortures, il devint un géant…
Zeynel Abidin is friends for life with Süleyman Cihan, killed under torture. This Süleyman, assassinated by the State torturer. 4. Zeynel also fell into prison in Metris, his body was also torn on the boards of torture, but he did not give any names. With all of his short stature, he resisted in the torture chambers, he became a giant…
Zeynel is so short that even his height was made fun of. Zeynel didn’t care. He took refuge in his books, he read constantly to clear his horizon. During these dark days of imprisonment, books were his most faithful friends. Zeynel had nothing but his books, his saz and his comrades.
What is a comrade? Much more than a brother or a sister, such a binding link means stepping up as a volunteer to shield the other with your chest from the bullet that might reach him or her. It means “don’t die, I’ll die in your place.”
Do counted days pass more quickly? Imprisonment always ends, some day. Zeynel’s ended also and then, he fell in love. Following his liberation, he married and offered the world a daughter and a son.
How many homes did the 1980 junta burn down, how many thresholds were covered in blood, how many were left with incurable wounds. Thus was Zeynel wounded, like so many others. Prisons, tortures, endless persecution, threats, death sentences, assassinations of revolutionaries…
The migration of manpower that began in the 60s, from Anatolia toward Europe, was replaced in the 80s by that of the victims of the coup d’état. Europe opened its doors that time to political refugees. They rushed forward, like a flood, everywhere in Europe, but gathered in Germany for the most part.
Zeynel was one of those victims of the coup d’Etat. Stuttgart became Zeynel’s living environment.
Here, noting resembled the Tercan plateaux, here no cloths smelling of soap were spread out in the sun. Here, not the shadow of a cloth, only fabricated loves, calculating, accounted for, based on profit. Here, there were strict rules, discipline, a dour-faced capitalist system. There was ambition for money, as if one was always one hour late from a salary. There was a road like a vicious circle, going from the house to the job, from the job to the house… Here there were no kind-hearted mothers sharing their freshly-baked bread…
Comradship? It also took a direct hit. Became rare, it was mostly faked and that was all.
You searched for family brotherhood. Count on the fingers of one hand… But, despite everything, would it be proper for a lover of the revolution to compete in the games of capitalism? Stuttgart is a huge industrial city and in this new environment, Zeynel was like a mute one. His knowledge of German was so limited you might as well have called it nonexistent. He did not participate in production either, although he worked here and there, he never held down a regular job…
All political associations are in competition with one another, they can’t stand one another and whoever is not one of them is no more considered than a piece of shit. Always the same faces, always the same business, always the same political arguments… No way out of the habits and the formulae learned by rote. For most of them, it was a matter of being “the most noble of revolutionaries” on the outside but, at home, of subjecting their wife to a maximum of violence, making the life of their companion in misfortune, a living hell.
Did Zeynel physically abuse his wife? We do not know. Since we don’t know, we cannot say. But he separated from his wife. He left with his favorite books and also with his saz. He went to Wiesbaden and took shelter at his brother’s. In this country, whoever steps away from production, stumbles. Here all doors are open. Some wanted to get rich quick, fell prey to games of chance, succumbed to them, others were vanquished by drugs or « business with women »… A number of them collapsed… And , in all corners, there were also eyes, eyes that did not see those who fell.
Zeynel was a man who caught fire at the slightest provocation, he quickly became annoyed. The bag in which his books were stacked was always hanging behind the door. He encountered a problem with his brother, grabbed the bag and left the house.
The streets of Mainz awaited him. He slept in back alleys, he transformed the stones of the sidewalk into his pillow.
Zeynel, close comrade of Süleyman Cihan, Zeynel who had not broken under torture, this Zeynel who never gave the name of a single comrade, was vanquished in Germany by the capitalist system. He gave up here, alas…
Germany is a rich country, Germany is modern, but if Germany is rich, it is because it exploits so many.
As everyone was insensitive, as everyone had sold his or her soul, only a few comrades asked about Zeynel, fallen to the street, and brought him to a shelter for the homeless in Frankfurt. His saz and his books stayed with him. The shelter is one of the crime-ridden places in this town. The lowest classes of society live here… It is a place where the residents are for a majority addicted to drugs, where knives flash, where the most violent fights can break out. At the slightest provocation It is a dirty place where no rules of hygiene prevail…
Zeynel was in his room with his saz and his books.
Here also, there were racist fascist Turks. His traditional and revolutionary songs bothered them. There were tags on his door, fights broke out and here also, he received death threats.
Then the streets of Frankfurt became Zeynel’s home. He went back out into the alleys. He slept on benches, he spent his nights in abandoned warehouses or in hallways, between two doors.
Still not a word of German… The streets of Frankfurt knew him, Zeynel, particularly the Kurds and Alevis… They fed him, bought cigarettes for him, gave him their unused clothes to cover his small body…
Following his separation from his wife, his children were raised in hostility toward their father, they were formatted in this way.
Zeynel Abidin had another problem when osteoporosis was diagnosed. Frankfurt is cold, the back alleys in Frankfurt are dark and deserted. Zeynel was cold, constantly. Zeynel was hungry, constantly. Zeynel was afraid, Zeynel with an empty stomach in the wealth of this modern town, at the epicentre of money, Zeynel poorer than a fakir and just as solitary.
He was cold, Zeynel, constantly From time to time, a comrade would pick him up, bring him home, wash him, feed him. Or an Alevi, filled with pity, would open his door. But Zeynel could not stay anywhere, he went back to this life in the alleys of Frankfurt, every time. His illness was not only wasting away his small body little by little, it was also taking away his words. Zeynel was now speechless, he expressed himself in writing.
“I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m alone.”
In this final period he chose the Frankfurt Alevi Association as domicile. Here, there was still a charitable heart beating, a hand reaching out to the collapsed one. Here, there was a door behind which he could sleep, a plate with a warm meal off which to feed.
He had an attack that paralyzed him. Cihan Özkaya, President of the Alevi association, took care of all the paperwork. He had Zeynel admitted to a hospital. As an institution, they did everything they could to act in a humane way, not to abandon Zeynel.
As an institution, all that could be done was done, but it was much too late.
Having lived in the street, not for a few days or weeks, but for years, Zeynel’s body was also failing. Linked to machines, mute, his eyes remained devoid of expression, frozen.
His journey, begun in Tercan, his life of almost twenty years without shelter in Frankfurt and other neighbouring towns ended in the Alevi cemetery of Frankfurt. His life, exiled, stoned, nailed, mortified, led all the way to his burial in this cemetery. For his funeral and the condolences, the Alevi Cultural Association provided its support, took care of all needs.
His children were absent from his funeral. There was only his brother and his sister who lives in Switzerland and a few old comrades. Following his death, social media said:
“Sleep in the light, comrade…”
“Zeynel Abidin Gündoğdu is immortal,, he will go on living in our hearts.”
Author’s note: This is a text in which I speak out against human values disappearing and it is not intended as casting aspersions on this or that organisation. What then can I say?
“May Zeynels no longer die in the streets, a bit of love for Zeynel, a bit of respect for his life filled with burdens.”
Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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