The high point of being funny at my seventies primary school was scribbling a capital T on the map of the Netherlands on the wall of the play-learning room near Urk. Woahah. With pencil, it was that cowardly. I can’t recall exactly why that was liked, but I fear that children in the last century used ‘Turk’ as a container swear word for anyone who was not a native Dutchman.
Well takes Özcan Akyol, in the second season of The Cousins of Eus (NTR). the viewer already three weeks to the country of birth of his parents. The fourth time, Sunday evening, he was able to explain with reasons that ‘the’ Turk does not exist, not even in Turkey. He says that he belongs to a minority not only in the Netherlands, but also in Turkey. He is Turkish in the Netherlands, but Aleliet in Turkey. Alevism is a liberal-humanist offshoot of Islam. In this episode he speaks with Kurds and Armenians, with Arabs and Suryoye. And then there are the Lazen and Circassians, the Zaza and Turkmen.
Travel programs also come in different types. You had Ruben Terlou in China, Jelle Brandt Corstius in Russia. They spoke the language, and they sought out the people who told them the stories of the land. But they remained strangers, outsiders. And that’s not Eus. At least, that’s what I think, when I see how easily he talks to people there too.
‘Happy and joyful’
Eus is looking for the ‘common denominator’ of all those population groups in the country that has barely existed for a century (Turkey will celebrate its centenary in 2023). Seems sensible to me, safer too, to look for what fraternizes instead of what alienates. In Sanliurfa, a city of two million inhabitants, he finds all togetherness. Kurds, Turks and Arabs live there and whoever he speaks to, everyone is so “happy and happy” that you suspect something in the drinking water. Eus is there at the time of Ramadan, the month of fasting, that certainly contributes to the best mood. Eus concludes that faith brings and keeps the people in this prophetic city together. And that common denominator went just a little too fast for me. I was still chewing on what the young men he spoke to on the street said. They raved about their city, everyone was each other’s brother. One had been to Istanbul once, but he didn’t like it. Why? The girls. They were dressed too naked. This gives the impression that people are not only kept there in Sanliurfa, but also below it. No fasting during Ramadan for Eus, by the way. Not that he ate the wrap with lamb liver and lamb fat, prepared especially for him. But that was because he doesn’t like liver.
Eus visits an Armenian village in southwestern Turkey where 130 people still live. A Suryoye village where of the 150 families, fifteen are left. The inhabitants still speak their own language, profess their own (Christian) faith and they have their own culture and customs. They don’t have only young people, one after the other leaves for the big city, or rather to Europe. Young people gone, culture gone, language gone, Eus argues. In the last Armenian village he talks about it with ‘grandpa Musa’. He has been writing for years about the history of his village and the seven neighboring villages that are already extinct. In what language?, asks Eus. Turkish, Grandpa says. Eus, surprised: “You are Armenian, aren’t you?” Grandpa, equally surprised: “What does that have to do with it?” In a single gesture he wipes Eus’s nostalgic conservatism off the table. He is a ‘Turkish citizen’ and thus writes in Turkish. Is it not a pity that his language is disappearing? Will grandpa be a concern.
In the Suryoye village he meets a Turkish German who comes to live there again, his German-born adult sons also want nothing more. In Europe, he says, you remain that stranger. An outsider. To which Eus says more than asks: “And not here?”