From the internationally bestselling author of Serenade for Nadia, a powerful story of love and faith amidst the atrocities committed by ISIS against the Yazidi people.
Disquiet transports the listener to the contemporary Middle East through the stories of Meleknaz, a Yazidi Syrian refugee, and Hussein, a young man from the Turkish city of Mardin near the Syrian border. Passionate about helping others, Hussein begins visiting a refugee camp to tend to the thousands of poor and sick streaming into Turkey, fleeing ISIS. There, he falls in love with Meleknaz-whom his disapproving family will call "the devil" who seduced him-and their relationship sets further tragedy in motion.
A nuanced meditation on the nature of being human and an empathetic, probing look at the past and present of these Mesopotamian lands, Disquiet gives voice to the peoples, faiths, histories, and stories that have swept through this region over centuries.
Release date: June 29, 2021
Publisher: Other Press
Print pages: 160
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The ancient town of Mardin, where Disquiet takes place, is right on the Turkey-Syria border. This part of Turkey has little in common with the Aegean, Black Sea, Caucasus, or Mediterranean regions. Mardin is part of Mesopotamia, not far from the Iraqi and Syrian borders, where Kurdish fighters, especially the YPG (the primary militia of the Syrian Democratic Forces), regularly clash with the Turkish Army and where more than fifty thousand people have been killed since 1978. With American and Russian armies involved there as well, this area has become one of the most volatile spots in the world. Our protagonist is a young Yezidi (like Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nadia Murad). Yezidis practice a religion that is unique and that precedes Christianity. For centuries, Yezidi have been massacred by Arabs, Ottoman rulers, and others—and more recently, by ISIS.
Turkey isn’t a single entity. There are, so to speak, many countries within Turkey, where many different languages are spoken. Turkey has split allegiances. Turks from the westernmost cities, such Istanbul, İzmir, or Bursa, have trouble identifying the languages, traditions, and cultures of Mesopotamia. Ibrahim, the male protagonist of Disquiet, who is from there, thinks that he is proud of his roots, but in fact his attachment is purely romantic and not based on true understanding. His alienation from a culture he would love to embrace is a crucial part of the novel, and is representative of the fact that a majority of Turkish people rarely visit the eastern border of their land, nor can they read Arabic. The culture they identify with the most is Greek, since Greeks and Turks lived together for five hundred years as subjects of the Ottoman Empire.
JOURNEY TO HUSSEIN
That Which Mixes With The Red Wind
What made it difficult for me to tell this story were two statements that I heard and was unable to forget. They kept wandering through my mind.
The first was “You can’t protect me any longer, Mother, not even if you took me and put me back in your womb.” The second was “I was a human being.” Two different people, two different places, and two different statements that affected me deeply.
But first let me tell you how it all began. We were gathered around the oval table on the second floor of the newspaper for the editorial meeting we held every morning at 11:00. We were going over the news, and the chief of each section was filling us in on the details. As usual, the colleague we’d nicknamed “Chief Inspector Recep” was laying out his most gruesome photographs for the news that would appear on page three. We were accustomed to the way he spoke: whenever he said he’d got a fantastic shot, we knew we would be confronted by images of horrifying accidents or murders and that we would definitely see mangled bodies. In the language of journalism, the more blood in a photograph the more fantastic it is. He began with the femicides that he referred to as “common occurrences.” A young woman who was stabbed in the street by her former husband, a policeman who shot his wife with his service revolver and then killed himself. He read each story, showed the photographs, and then moved on.
In the end he spoke of an incident to which he didn’t attach much importance. A Turk named Hussein Yılmaz, who worked at his two older brothers’ pizza place in the German city of Duisburg, had been stabbed and killed by neo-Nazis. The severely wounded thirty-two-year-old native of Mardin had been brought to the hospital but did not survive. The mayor of the city made a statement deploring the incident and defending the rights of the millions of Turks living in Germany. He went on to say how they couldn’t allow this kind of hostility toward Islam and Turks. There was no gruesome photograph because they don’t print photographs like that in Germany, but a stringer had found a photograph of the deceased in the Mardin census records.
The editor decided to go with a brief version of the story, since it might catch the interest of religious readers, but something else had occurred to me. If this person’s name was Hussein Yılmaz, and if he’d been born in Mardin and was thirty-two years old, it couldn’t be anyone other than my childhood friend Hussein, unless two people named Hussein Yılmaz were born in the same city in the same year.
I asked Chief Inspector Recep where in Mardin this person was born, and when he answered that his official residence was in the Kızıltepe district and that he’d been born there, I had not the slightest doubt that the man killed in Germany was our Hussein. The boy I’d sat next to in class for years, with whom I’d played tipcat and marbles and stolen baby birds from their nests, that small, curious boy I hadn’t seen in years.
When I flew to meet Hussein’s family in Mardin, that ancient city, lost in time on the Syrian border, was once again covered with red dust. The streets and the clouds of red dust that painted the houses seemed like a set designed by an expert director, appropriate for creating the atmosphere for the burning pain of a family that had lost a son and for the prophetic words Hussein had uttered to his mother.
I was familiar with these clouds of red dust. As a child, when Hussein and I were at school together, red winds like this would also blow in from the Syrian desert, and we would all be covered in red in a desert heat that made it difficult to even breathe. When the red wind came, the shopkeepers would gather their goods off the counters. Everyone would rush inside, and those who remained outside ran along coughing as they held handkerchiefs over their mouths. When I returned to my city after many years, I was once again greeted by the same red clouds.
“You can’t protect me any longer, Mother, not even if you took me and put me back in your womb!”
These had been his last words to his mother. The old woman, whose eyes were red from weeping, kept repeating these words as she wiped her tears with the edge of her white muslin headscarf. His sister, Aysel, had heard this too. She’d also been there when they were saying farewell at the door. She’d thrown her arms around her older brother’s neck, but he’d sunk into a deep listlessness. It was as if he’d given up on life: he didn’t even raise his arms. In any event he couldn’t raise his left arm because of the bullet wound in his shoulder. It was as if he knew he was going to his death; his sister said it was then that she felt there was nothing they could do to help him, and that perhaps it was because of that girl.
“You can’t protect me any longer, Mother, not even if you took me and put me back in your womb!”
These weren’t the last words he uttered in his life, but it was the last thing he said when he was parting from his mother and his sister. In any event his father had already died, and his two older brothers were in Germany.
The day Hussein bade farewell to his family was also tinted red like this. Aysel told me that when she last saw her older brother at the door, his face was orange from the dust. Her mother poured a bucket of water after him, calling after him to not think bad thoughts and to go and return like water, but he’d already disappeared into that red cloud.
“The last time I saw my son he looked as if his face was covered in blood,” his mother said. Then she turned to Aysel: “Don’t ever mention that she-devil’s name in this house again. She consumed my mighty son, she brought disaster wherever she went, she extinguished our hearth— that she-devil should only be referred to as a she-devil.” About two months after he left Mardin, Hussein was in the emergency room of a hospital in Germany. It was there he spoke his last words, which he struggled to get out: “I was a human being.” According to his older brother, when the Indian doctor heard Hussein repeat these words before he died, he’d recorded it on his telephone because he realized that no one present could understand. Later, the doctor played the recording for Hussein’s brothers, and asked what it meant. They translated it into German for him. The doctor, who must have thought they’d mistranslated, asked if he’d said “I’m a human being.”
“No,” they said, “he said ‘I was a human being.’ He’s using the past tense and talking as if he’s already dead.”
The medical report his older brother brought back to Mardin with his remains read “Hussein Yılmaz, citizen of the Republic of Turkey, thirty-two years old, died on September 26, 2016, at 11:44 p.m., as a result of knife wounds to the abdomen and kidneys.”
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