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Every house­hold had its altru­ist, every fam­i­ly a sac­ri­ficed one. In this ancient court­yard, İsm­ail was the char­i­ta­ble one sac­ri­ficed to a large fam­i­ly. He was the one bear­ing the weight of the entire fam­i­ly, the one who felt respon­si­ble for them all.

Leav­ing a sun­ny spring­time for a land in a cold, snowy, fog­gy win­ter, such was life in Ger­many for İsm­ail. Sep­a­rat­ing from his vil­lage, his coun­try, being scat­tered as an emi­grant, this  trans­formed İsmail’s spring into a harsh win­ter. On the one hand, the lack of Şengül’s love, on the oth­er, his neck under the mate­r­i­al and affec­tive yoke of the courtyard’s occu­pants. At first, he shared a sin­gle room with four friends. The hard­es(, most dif­fi­cult, dirt­i­est jobs await­ed him in Ger­many. Fac­to­ry work­er dur­ing the week, he worked in the vine­yards on week­ends. He took the bit between his teeth so as to buy the trac­tor he had promised his father..

He saved on his sleep time, he saved on his meals, on his clothes. He sent mon­ey reg­u­lar­ly to his father. And through all this, he nev­er for­got to send let­ters filled with love, writ­ten on pages with burnt cor­ners. Final­ly, he set­tled in a two-bed­room appart­ment with a fel­low from his coun­try, and in this way, Şirin’s pho­to could come out of the suit­case and final­ly breathe up on the wall. İsm­ail drew all his strength, all his con­vic­tion, from this pho­to. Şengül was the talk­ing, mov­ing, touch­ing ver­sion of this pho­to. But in this land of exile, his only con­fi­dante was this inan­i­mate pho­to of Şirin, dead, lifeless.

Two end­less years went by this way, with only a tem­po­rary break when one spring morn­ing, amid new­ly awak­ened song­birds, İsm­ail knocked on the door to the big court­yard. Embraces, tears of joy, he was greet­ed with grat­i­tude. Like a dried out tree in the desert, droop­ing through lack of water, İsm­ail leaned thirsti­ly toward Şengül. His daugh­ter Şirin had much grown also. Oh, such a great hap­pi­ness it was, to be togeth­er again after this forced time afar, to be reunit­ed again in this courtyard.

That very after­noon, Sey­dali gath­ered his sons in the court­yard First he prayed, and expressed his grat­i­tude to İsm­ail. Then he announced the good news to the court­yard, with pride and joy: they would be buy­ing a trac­tor. The fol­low­ing day a brand new, ful­ly equipped red trac­tor stood in front of the door.

They hung a horse­shoe on the front of the engine. And, a bead against the evil eye. Every pos­si­ble wish was expressed for it to bring good luck, fer­til­i­ty and abun­dance to this court­yard. Their hopes, their expec­ta­tions were thus gath­ered togeth­er. The red vehi­cle in front of the door was now the apple of the eye for the whole fam­i­ly, the door open­ing on prosperity.é.

But İsm­ail had to return to Ger­many in a month. The family’s dream of pros­per­i­ty would not take shape after two years. Who would dri­ve the trac­tor? Who would teach the broth­ers how to use it? Who would han­dle its main­te­nance? They also found answers to these ques­tions. There was a rel­a­tive in a town close by. “More­over, he was a young man, clean, hon­est, as stur­dy as a lion. He could do every­thing. He had also worked as a dri­ver for years. Why pay a stranger when Mah­mut was there ? If a mis­er­able one could earn his bread, for the love of God…”

And so the door to a new room opened out on the court­yard. A plate was added to the table. Mah­mut was young, hand­some, self-con­fi­dent… The month went by in the blink of an eye and İsm­ail left. With the weight of the entire fam­i­ly on his shoul­ders, he cov­ered the thou­sands of kilo­me­ters again. Before before leav­ing, he addressed a prayer to his father:

That Şengül not be sent out in the fields, to the har­vest, that she might not be bro­ken, crushed…”

Such was his wish. Was he not being crushed and bro­ken in her place? Sey­dali did not raise any objec­tion. Was not the bread they ate brought to them thanks to İsmail’s labor, to his sweat. Had İsm­ail not left Şengül in their care?

And how Sey­dali loved Şengül…


Mah­mut soon became the star of the court­yard. He was a mechan­ic, knowl­edge­able, resource­ful and effi­cient, some­one who was calm and reserved. Sey­dali gave him as much impor­tance as he did to his own chil­dren. Every­one cher­ished him. Up to that point, all was well. Was this not how it was sup­posed to be?

But, wan­der­ing through the court­yard there was a young gazelle, so beau­ti­ful as to dri­ve some­one mad. Mah­mut was trans­formed. The admi­ra­tion for Şengül’s exaquisite beau­ty awoke in Mah­mut, over time, it became a burn­ing fire, an impos­si­ble love. If Mah­mut did not catch a glimpse of Şengül in the day, his life melt­ed away like a candle.

Some­times, in the cool evening, he played the saz1for the tired occu­pants of the court­yard. All these songs filled with emo­tion delight­ed the inhab­i­tants. Their admi­ra­tion grew even more. And there was one of the songs… to be hon­est, it was always sung for Şengül.

Zülf- ü Kakül­lerin Amber Mis­ali…” (You amber-like curls). This love song, full of melan­coly how could it not stir the heart of the courtyard’s inhab­i­tants. Of course, it would touch the heart of every­one, and that of Şengül also….

Once he was fin­ished with the trac­tor, Mah­mut ran after Şengül, who stayed home alone to take care of the kitchen and oth­er house­keep­ing chores. Some­times using the excuse of tend­ing to the motor, some­times an oil change, he invent­ed a thou­sand excus­es, even if it meant sweat­ing over kilo­me­ters for a sin­gle one of Şengül’s smiles. Talk­ing with her, even exchang­ing a sin­gle word by ask­ing her for some­thing, brush­ing against her, feel­ing her breath on his heart, this had become his deep­est desire.

At that time, Şengül was expect­ing her sec­ond child. And she await­ed İsmail’s let­ters impa­tient­ly, smelling them, kiss­ing them. She found con­so­la­tion in telling her­self over and over again that it was only for two years, that the time would pass quickly.

Time went by, as it always does. The Inner fire grew in Mah­mut, became greater… Şengül’s birth cries offered up a lit­tle boy to the court­yard. In one of his let­ters with the burnt cor­ners, İsm­ail had writ­ten “if it’s a boy, his name will be Emre”. No one objected..

As if dig­ging a well with a nee­dle, as if fill­ing a lake by draw­ing water with his mouth, Mah­mut stealth­ily, step by step, man­aged to grab Şengül’s atten­tion. He whis­pered that he sang “your amber curls” just for her. Hence­forth, this song was theirs, a secret that belonged only to the two of them.

A kind of cold­ness crept into the let­ters Şengül sent to İsm­ail, a dis­tance. They were let­ters that seemed to be writ­ten under the threat of a firearm. İsm­ail was not wrong in sens­ing this because Şengül had also begun to love Mah­mut, was steer­ing her heart toward Mahmut’s port of call.

For the first time, with Mah­mut, Şengül expe­ri­enced what it was to be in love, she dis­cov­ered how one can love, can trem­ble with emo­tion. This was the first time love had bewitched her, car­ried her away on a cloud. Şengül was afraid, mor­tal­ly fright­ened. She also felt pity for İsm­ail but, no mat­ter what she did, she couldn’t keep her­self from lov­ing Mahmut.


İsm­ail had tak­en a deci­sion. He was going to bring Şengül and his chil­dren close to him in Ger­many. He pre­ferred inter­pret­ing Şengül’s cold­ness as being caused by work in the vil­lage, the land, the dust… even though real­i­ty was some­thing else entirely.

You were a child, a child. Would you have stretched out in your big sister’s bed otherwise?”

He took your breath of life and put it in your sister’s body. You are not the one he loves, he still loves your sis­ter. I’m the one you loves you and you also love me, this is what love is” said Mahmut.

These whis­pered con­ver­sa­tions, gaz­ing at one anoth­er, gave way to inno­cent touch­ing, to pure kiss­es, Şengül’s rea­son was aban­don­ing her. With time, the des­o­late court­yard became the the­ater of their union filled with ardent desires. In this court­yard a secret love blos­somed, ris­ing up between its walls, a love unsus­pect­ed by every­one, a love no one heard nor guessed at.

As if he was an essen­tial mem­ber of this court­yard, Mah­mut ran to every job, he made him­self indis­pens­able in Seydali’s eyes. The yard need­ed to be widened, kept up, cement­ed and cov­ered. İsm­ail delayed his return a bit longer for this rea­son. An unavoid­able help, Mah­mut con­tributed to the build­ing. He received a gen­er­ous pay­ment for it, out of the mon­ey sent by İsmail.

And what about Şengül? She wan­dered like a love-enchant­ed phan­tom, she secret­ly met up with Mahmut…It went on like this for a while… Then, one after­noon, a let­ter arrived from İsm­ail. From that day on in the court­yard, Şengül and Mahmut’s faces changed. İsm­ail was com­ing back. Then he would bring Şengül and the chil­dren with him to Germany.

It couldn’t go on like this”, he need­ed his fam­i­ly with him, he had become accus­tomed to Ger­many. “There would def­i­nite­ly be no fur­ther return…”

With this news, dis­may fell on Şengül’s heart. “What will hap­pen now?” she asked Mah­mut. “What, now?” Mah­mut kept silent. He didn’t say a sin­gle word. One after­noon, he man­aged to find an oppor­tu­ni­ty, he took Şengül’s del­i­cate hands into his, and said:

I love you, but I have no solu­tions, they will not let us live, nei­ther one of us, they won’t allow us to breathe, let it go, time solves everything…”

Şengül col­lapsed, there, in the court­yard. So there was also an end to the march toward par­adise? Real­i­ty now stood upright in all its naked­ness. At that moment, a fear that had nev­er left her came back with renewed force.

The fol­low­ing day, Mah­mut was no longer there. He had “an unex­pect­ed emer­gency” and had already start­ed on the road back to town. In any event, İsmail’s broth­ers had learned to use the trac­tor, more or less. Sey­dali said prayers for Mah­mut, his wife repeat­ed them.

May the god bless you, may your road and your fate be open…”

Şengül was noth­ing but a hol­low tree, a snake in a tree, a bird in the snake’s maw. A bird on the verge of giv­ing up its soul. Nev­er had she expe­ri­enced such fear, such despair. “If İsm­ail learned about it, if the ones from the court­yard found out, if Sey­dali heard, if every­one knew…”

Fear, anguish, dis­tress, her con­science rak­ing her to the quick… As if, with Mah­mut gone, the enchant­ment had snapped imme­di­ate­ly. Real­i­ty, how cru­el it was.

Şengül stood up, head­ed toward the çar­ka. Inside it, there were jugs of water, suf­fi­cient for the whole court­yard fam­i­ly. She locked the door, undressed. With a cup, she poured the ice cold water on her head, she washed, hit­ting her­self all over. Noth­ing could cleanse her inner self. She couldn’t con­trol this feel­ing that made her shake from head to foot.

A child’s cry in the night spread over the courtyard.

Her son Emre was cry­ing. He was cry­ing as if con­sumed for his moth­er, as if lament­ing for her.

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Translation from French 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.