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The class­room was filled with chil­dren chil­dren star­ing out of stunned wide eyes, chil­dren whose only thought was for bread… Their fam­i­lies had entrust­ed them to the chief-teacher say­ing: “Take them, their flesh is yours, we’ll keep the bones.”

The chief-teacher belonged to one of those who came from dis­tant Asia, invad­ed these lands with the blood­ied hooves of their hors­es. Nev­er had the world known a more pow­er­ful and sacred nation than theirs!

There was a girl in the class. Her name was Der­man, Memo’s eldest daugh­ter… You know, the ones the songs sac­ri­fice to love: “she is bare­ly thir­teen, four­teen years old” 1Der­man… She was a bit taller than her peers, with a gold­en tan like that of wheat, she had long braids of black hair reach­ing down to her waist.

So beau­ti­ful she took your breath away, she was the “blond teacher’s” favorite.

So tell me Der­man, how much are two plus two?” The blond teacher took hold of Derman’s hands, he held the soft and frag­ile fin­gers, then, so the oth­er chil­dren could see, he had her write on the black­board with the white chalk, still hold­ing Derman’s fin­gers. He taught them that two plus two were four, he taught them with Derman’s hands. Then came the time to learn the alpha­bet: “Der­man catch­es the ball, Der­man skips rope, Der­man runs“2

What had Der­man known, oth­er than her mud house fed on pover­ty, and fam­i­ly violence?

Good, Der­man”, “Bra­vo, Der­man, you are very smart Derman”…

Memo who was poor was short on every­thing, as were all the oth­ers in this vil­lage. Memo, father of a fam­i­ly of 9 per­sons, who had caught the atten­tion of a State ser­vant, a stranger, for the first time. Memo had now become “Memo Efen­di” 3. The teacher appre­ci­at­ed him, raised him up, he also found work for his eldest Der­man, what more could he do?

Wouldn’t it be a good thing if Der­man han­dled the house­work for the teacher? That she washed his clothes, cooked for him, served up his tea…

Derman’s work meant soap, tea, sug­ar for this poor house­hold. It meant socks for bare feet. It meant black rub­ber shoes for her broth­ers and sis­ters. It meant bit­ter tobac­co for Memo. Derman’s work meant a few scraps for their unquench­able need…

Thank you to your hands, Der­man, may your road be with­out obsta­cles, how beau­ti­ful you are Der­man, sit down beside me Der­man, don’t be afraid, I won’t hurt you Der­man, relax Derman…”

Yes, that’s right Der­man, open your legs, let your­self go Der­man, relax Der­man, don’t tight­en up Der­man, let go, Der­man, I’ll take you away from here, I’ll save you Derman…You life of suf­fer­ing will end Der­man. Every­one will envy you , you will be the wife of a civ­il ser­vant… Ah Der­man, how lucky you are, Der­man, you are Allah’s beloved servant…”

When sum­mer arrives in these moun­tains, it announces the wed­ding of Moth­er Earth. When the moun­tains, the stones and the val­leys turn green, noth­ing bad can hap­pen to this impov­er­ished peo­ple. The earth is gen­er­ous, it offers every­thing it has to the mis­er­able ones, like its immac­u­late milk. It turns the trees into brides and grooms, it brings fer­til­i­ty to the homes with their earth­en roofs…And so, that sum­mer was like that, like every oth­er summer…

But there was a prob­lem, a big prob­lem. Der­man was preg­nant. Hence­forth, Der­man was two lives in one.

The blond teacher warned her not to tell any­one. “May the god pre­serve it, if out of jeal­ousy they held you back, if they could not stand that you become the wife of a civ­il ser­vant, if they stopped you from begin­ning a lady from the town! …Walls have ears, don’t say a word, don’t tell any­one, ever!” That was the blond teach­ers’ only advice for Derman.

Der­man was pale, she had lost weight, she couldn’t swal­low even a mouth­ful, she plunged deep into dreams of oth­er worlds. Because there was anoth­er soul inside her, grow­ing with her. As for the blond teacher, he car­ried on every day, as if noth­ing was amiss. And the vil­lagers showed no lack of respect and affec­tion for this “wise man, son of a wise man.” Because this man knew every­thing, he was a most devout and suave man.

Her moth­er was the first to notice the changes on Derman’s body. Her swelling bel­ly, her pale lips, her moth­er saw these…It didn’t mat­ter if Der­man was sub­ject­ed to tons of blows by her moth­er, would she talk? Lat­er, Memo would learn of his daughter’s pregnancy…

Heavy sticks were bro­ken on Derman’s back…How her hair was pulled off her head by hand­fuls, how her tears flowed in streams. Only Allah knows. Came the day when the blows she received while pulling her knees up against her bel­ly to pro­tect it, with the blows falling on her back. She was in pain, her young flesh was torn, her young body no longer could stand the pain, could no longer resist the insults, she told her moth­er every­thing, to her alone. Did she have any oth­er door she could knock on, oth­er than that of her moth­er? As for the teacher, ever since the preg­nan­cy, he behaved like a “bum”, and ignored Derman.

Now Memo’s home WAs like a house in mourn­ing. Memo smokeD his bit­ter tobac­co, his wife chant­ED her laments, she saID noth­ing oth­er than “Wiyy, what is hap­pen­ing to us, wiyy”

Memo clenched his fists, he gnashed his teeth until they bled. He wait­ed for night time, if the vil­lage were to hear about it his head would hang low, his oth­er chil­dren would be demol­ished. He rose up in anger, went to the teacher’s door. The street was emp­ty except for the bark­ing of dogs and the sounds of insects, the street was deserted…

Der­man and her moth­er wait­ed anx­ious­ly, but Memo was not com­ing back. He returned sev­er­al hours lat­er, tired, abashed, with his cap in his hand, Memo crossed the thresh­old into his house, his back stooped low.

Was Memo dead or alive, it was impos­si­ble to tell. Der­man was asleep on a mat­tress with his broth­ers and sis­ters. Asleep is a big word. Stretched out, as taut as an ark, she wait­ed. She wait­ed to find out what had happened…

Her moth­er asked Memo “come on, tell me what happened?”

Memo sighed deeply. “Well, uh…” he said. A thou­sand year old suf­fer­ing, the tongue of one who was for­ev­er “the oth­er” sud­den­ly unleashed:

I went to the teacher’s with no one see­ing me, I walked close to the walls. I knocked on his door. Call­ing me ‘Mehmet Efen­di’ he showed me in. I told him about Der­man. He swore, his hand on the Coran. He chid­ed me for accus­ing him like that. What’s more he added, what we were doing was crim­i­nal, I would even go to prison for insult­ing a civ­il ser­vant. It could be one of the vil­lagers’ doing…”

Was there any proof? Shame on us, he had real­ly not expect­ed this from us, he would have pre­ferred that I had not come to see him, and that he had nev­er heard about it. And tri­als would be very cost­ly, even sell­ing all the cat­tle would not be enough. What would the flesh on my back look like if I went search­ing for jus­tice at the State’s door.”

Then Memo had left his house and plead­ed with the huge moun­tains, the white rivers, had tak­en refuge in them implored for their help, let his tears flow…“Come Xizir 4, he said to the grey horse, come to your children’s aid…” He begged “don’t force me to low­er my head, don’t dis­hon­or me in front of everyone”.

Memo and his wife remained seat­ed, des­per­ate, hands on their chests. “Then, Dap­pir,” they said, “if some­one can be a rem­e­dy to this, Dap­pir is the one. She will abort the child, the mat­ter will be set­tled with­out any­one know­ing about it…”

What else could they do? In the morn­ing, the moth­er went to Dap­pir. She kissed her shoul­der, rubbed her face against her skirt. In a qui­et cor­ner, she told her every­thing. With hot tears flow­ing, she said “you are our ‘bilan’ 5, no one else can help us but you.”

Dap­pir went to the house, had Der­man lie down and exam­ined her all over. She mouthed the most improb­a­ble insults, put her hand between Derman’s legs, scold­ing her say­ing “have you no con­trol over your bottom?” 

Then, “it’s too late”, Dap­pir announced, “it’s too late that child can­not be abort­ed. If it’s done, your daugh­ter will die. It will mean sac­ri­fic­ing Derman.”

And they didn’t have a sin­gle rel­a­tive who lived far, far away. There would be all the gos­sip, all the insults in the world…

Der­man would have to hide from every­one, hide her bel­ly and then, they would see about it when the day came. Des­per­ate­ly they told them­selves “Allah is great” and the wait­ing began…

The chief-teacher dis­ap­peared. The earth said “nev­er saw him”, the sky answered “nei­ther did I”. He left and dis­ap­peared. Noth­ing was left of him, not even a name to curse lat­er. Just “the blond teacher”, and that was all…

How days trans­form into years, how hours turn to stone, no longer mov­ing, only Der­man, her moth­er and Memo knew…

Sim­mer left its warm bed, entrust­ing it to win­ter. Der­man hid her bel­ly under her mother’s wide dress­es. It snowed on the moun­tains, it snowed as if to weave a shroud for Der­man. Der­man took blows and insults every day, she shut her­self away, her world became darkness…

Memo and his wife also fled from oth­ers, their world nar­rowed, turned into a gaol one step wide.

Only Dap­pir knew of their sor­row with­out rem­e­dy, they could only let their poi­son flow toward Dap­pir, toward no one else.

Dappir’s house was out­side the vil­lage. Der­man would give birth in Dappir’s sta­ble, no one would hear, no one would know. Der­man would hide there and when the snows melt­ed, they would take the child and hand it over to the child pro­tec­tion institute.

Dap­pir knew Derman’s day was near. The child was about to be born.

Deprived of vit­a­mins, devoid of strength, Derman’s body suf­fered for two days. For two days, her moan­ing was absorbed by the walls. Dap­pir held her up, they walked back and forth in the sta­ble. Both were tired, sleep­less, exhausted.

Final­ly, Derman’s waters broke.

Push Der­man, push, it’s almost over, push sweetheart…”

Dap­pir alter­nat­ed between push­ing Derman’s bel­ly down and cov­er­ing her mouth so her cries wouldn’t be heard. “Push Der­man, push, almost there, push.”.

The child slid out… Dap­pir sat on Derman’s skin­ny legs. Dap­pir who had served as mid­wife to all of the village’s women, who had cut the umbil­i­cal cord of all the chil­dren, who announced the good news, received presents…But this time, for Der­man, noth­ing was right, it was a total­ly dif­fer­ent story.

Between Derman’s frail legs the child’s head appeared first, then, his black hair, as long as four of Derman’s fin­gers held togeth­er. Dappir’s hands pulled the child out. Derman’s pains stopped imme­di­ate­ly, she breathed deeply, she was delivered.

The child cried, he made a sin­gle “wahh”, then he cried no more…

Derman’s eyes stared. The child’s neck was between Dappir’s hands who had clenched them to cut off his breath. Yes, Dap­pir had stran­gled the inno­cent one. In the sta­ble, by can­dle­light, there were pairs of eyes, opened wide as wide as the Earth… Derman’s and Dappir’s, crossed each oth­er, stunned, wide, nev­er to close again. Two looks that would become ene­mies lat­er. These final looks, as if cut off with a knife. This exchange opened a wound that would nev­er be for­got­ten nor healed.

Der­man looked at her child, then at Dap­pir; Then, like so many oth­er women before her, she fainted…

It is called the saxaoul. This tree grows only on the edge of rivers. Its branch­es are flex­i­ble, they bend, they­can be shaped eas­i­ly, becom­ing bas­kets car­ried on the back, pour­ing out manure from the cat­tle. The bas­ket is light, sol­id, but not that time. That time, the saxaoul bas­ket was heavy, too heavy. Because it con­tained the heavy corpse of a baby. A new­born, soon to become food for fam­ished wolves..

Out­side, the snow was piled up to a man’s height, the cold was tomb-like, there was noth­ing but bark­ing dogs and howl­ing wolves. It must have been was is known as Hell. Dap­pir placed the twitch­ing body of the baby in the bas­ket full of manure and threw it on the com­post pile. Out­side, there was a smell of blood and the howl­ing of wolves.

With her own hands, Dap­pir cleansed her hon­or. These hands whose worst ene­my she would become, these hands that would close on her throat every­where she went, these hands that would stran­gle her always and everywhere.

These asphyx­i­at­ing hands that had stran­gled, turned to stone with stains like clumps of ploughed soil, these hands that cried out, that bled… Dappir’s hands were old­er than every­body else’s, they were big­ger, more painful, heavier…

Nobody likes Dap­pir… Not even Dap­pir likes Dappir…

To be continued…

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.