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World

Chiya Miksi: The Man Without a Tail

By KANI XULAM 23/6/2013
Half a century later, Chiya Miksi, also known as Aydin Ayhan, remembers all-too-well the traumatic event that permanently scarred his life.
Half a century later, Chiya Miksi, also known as Aydin Ayhan, remembers all-too-well the traumatic event that permanently scarred his life.


Let me tell you about a remarkable Kurdish gentleman.

Better yet, let him tell you:

“The year was 1960.  I was ten years old.  We had just moved to Mamak, Ankara.  One day, I went out to play ball with kids in the neighborhood. They spoke Turkish. So did I.  But, apparently, with a Kurdish accent. Instead of accommodating my desire to play with them, they ganged up on me and took off my pants.

“I had no idea what they were looking for.  I soon found out.  One of them shouted to the others, ‘he doesn’t have a tail.’  They would have been happier if I had one.  Their elders had misled them...  But the children felt free to satisfy their curiosity by invading my privacy.  A gregarious person, I became reserved overnight.  With no history of speech impediment, I began to stutter all at once.”

Half a century later, Chiya Miksi, also known as Aydin Ayhan, remembers all-too-well the traumatic event that permanently scarred his life.  “I really suffered a lot in Ankara,” he says.  “If I had been older, I might have handled the abuse better; if I were younger, I would have adapted faster—spoken Turkish without an accent—and might have avoided the cruelties that became part of my youth.”

I heard these poignant words from Chiya last Friday over an elaborate meal he prepared for me in his home in Springfield, Virginia.  He had no problem remembering the appalling events of his early teens.  He impatiently—I felt—wanted to unload them on me faster than I could fathom.  I was warmly reminded of a Roman saying, “A pleasure shared is doubled; a problem shared is halved.”

If the Romans were right, I was more than happy to be his scapegoat.  But I also felt a little guilty.  I was spared the very personal cruelties of his boyhood years, enjoying the fortune of growing up in Kurdistan where we Kurds were an absolute majority.  A few of our Turkish friends, the children of civil servants, never dared to play such wicked tricks on us; they always begged us—even bribed us—to accept them as our playmates.

  If I had been older, I might have handled the abuse better; if I were younger, I would have adapted faster—spoken Turkish without an accent—and might have avoided the cruelties that became part of my youth. 

Chiya’s heritage goes back to Miks, a town in the province of Wan in northern Kurdistan.  If you are familiar with Kurdish literature or its history, Feqiyê Teyran, the most famous son of Miks, will automatically come to mind.  In addition to Kurds, Armenians have also lived in this former Roman outpost. 

Today, however, there are no traces of Romans, save the remnants of their ancient fortress.  The Armenians are gone as well, or have gone quiet.  The place is filled with Kurds, but is administered by Turks.

Although Kurds call it Miks, as does Chiya, the Turks have given it a new name: Bahcesaray.  That is how you find it on modern Google maps—totally barren of its Kurdish, Armenian or Roman association.  But Chiya counts dozens and dozens of people in and around Miks as his friends and relatives.

All think highly of Chiya’s father, Kemalettin, or even his grandfather, Serafettin—both are buried in its cemetery.  They were the Kurdish aristocracy and Chiya thinks they may have been related the great classic Kurdish poet Feqiyê Teyran (1590-1660), known for his Kurdish language literature and the valiant struggle by Kurds against foreign domination, such as the Battle of Dimdim (1609-10).  Mahmut Khan, an associate of Bedir Xan, was a relative. 

Chiya’s father was in his teens when Ataturk’s republic was being violently forged.  But his blazing trial by fire came seven years later in the Valley of Zilan.

What the Mamak district of Ankara represented for Chiya, the Valley of Zilan in Kurdistan did for his Old Man.  The Kurds had taken up arms against the Turks.  Chiya’s father was a conscripted soldier in the Turkish army.  Although acting as a secretary, his units were involved in the gruesome task of clearing the Valley of Zilan of its Kurdish “rebels.”

On July 16, 1930, Cumhuriyet, the Machiavellian mouthpiece of the Turkish government, declared to the world that the victorious Turkish army had completely wiped out 15,000 “law breakers.” 

Unfortunately, this gross distortion of actual butchery callously ignored the fact that these “law breakers” included helpless Kurds of all ages and sexes.  All living Kurds, including infants, were heartlessly annihilated, so the actual number of Kurds killed was probably much higher.

  If Mamak had painfully turned Chiya into a born-again Kurd, the Valley of Zilan had savagely converted his father into a dedicated Turk. 

If Mamak had painfully turned Chiya into a born-again Kurd, the Valley of Zilan had savagely converted his father into a dedicated Turk.

I guess it is all a matter of degrees, isn’t it?

If you put two cubes of sugar into a cup of tea, you get a tasty, refreshing drink; if you put ten, you get a syrupy concoction.  Chiya may not know it, but his limited interaction with the Turkish kids proved to be somewhat “salutary;” that of his father’s with the Turkish army was simply poisonous.

Chiya doesn’t know how his father felt after his army stint, but we can safely assume that he must have been very happy.  He settled in Bitlis and married a relative, Memihan, from his hometown of Miks.  “The first thing he wanted his wife to do was to learn Turkish,” Chiya told me.  “Ataturk’s bust was part of our house furniture,” he added.  After what he had seen in the Valley of Zilan, he wanted to make sure that the same would not happen to his own kids.

Over the years, he and his wife parented nine kids, and all were named after famous Turks.  What the Westerners know as Tamerlane, in Turkish Timur, became the name of a brother of Chiya.  Chiya had a sister called Turkan, but she died young.  Another brother was named Orhan, the second ruler of House of Osman, the founder of Ottoman Empire.

The sultan of the family, Orhan, proved to be gifted in a number of ways.  Although Turkish was spoken at Chiya’s home, he learned Kurdish from his relatives and was a natural leader among his peers.  When Kurdish families needed help writing letters to their sons in the Turkish army, Orhan was there to help and earn his spending money as well.

Brilliant in school, he attended the best schools in Turkey and later won scholarships to attend universities in Paris and New York.  As a family, “We were mighty proud of him,” Chiya told me pointedly.  “Some Kurds took pride in Ocalan, we had our own Orhan.”

   When Kurdish families needed help writing letters to their sons in the Turkish army, Orhan was there to help and earn his spending money as well.  

While doing his PhD in New York, Orhan invited Chiya for a visit to the Big Apple.  Already unhappy in Ankara, Chiya jumped on the opportunity.  “It was the best thing I ever did,” he told me. 

To this day, he is grateful to Orhan for enabling him to come to the United States.

Chiya can now travel from Virginia to New York to visit Orhan’s family in half a day, compared to seven days and seven nights it took him to travel the distance between Ankara and New York. 

He had no problem in coming to America, obtaining a visa because he was a high school student.  The first leg of his journey took him by bus from Ankara to Istanbul.  He deposited his luggage at a hotel in Sirkeci and decided to see the city before his scheduled departure.

That decision, and the razzle-dazzle fascination of Istanbul, turned out to be nearly disastrous for Chiya.

“The hustle and the bustle of Istanbul simply took my breath away,” he says.  Having never seen a sea before, “I found myself gravitating towards it and wanting to taste the fish sandwiches and see its fishermen.”  Chiya became so captivated that when he wanted to get back to his hotel, he had no idea where it was.  Warned not to trust strangers, “I went to the police station.”

Sadly, that was almost his next near-fatal mistake.

“I told the officer on duty that I was going to America and had lost my way to my hotel in Sirkeci to catch my train to Luxemburg.  He didn’t believe a word of what I told him.” 

After checking Chiya out in disbelief, he turned to his colleagues and said, “The boy wants to go to America,” and laughed out loud.

  I told the officer on duty that I was going to America and had lost my way to my hotel in Sirkeci to catch my train to Luxemburg.  He didn’t believe a word of what I told him.

He then ordered a guard, “Take this eastern boy to the bus terminal and help him find his way to his village.”

Fortunately for Chiya, “When the policeman found out that I was serious and would not leave the place as ordered, he told the guard to take me to Sirkeci where I wanted to go.”  Once there, Chiya recognized his hotel from its facade.  A week later, on November 3, 1968, he landed at JFK airport in New York.

It took 13 years for Chiya to go back to his village as the Turkish police officer had suggested he do when he was in Istanbul.  “I had worked hard in America and gotten myself a beautiful camera to take a lot of pictures of my early youth,” he told me.  “Instead, I got a lesson that I will never forget for as long as I live,” he said.  The bus from Wan to Miks was full and we stopped on the way for a bit of rest.

“I took out my camera and took out some photos of the mountains.  A Kurdish man in his sixties approached me and asked me if I were a journalist.  When I told him I wasn’t and that I was a native son, he asked for the name of my family.  I told him I was the grandson of Serafettin Beg and Kemalettin’s son.  He asked me how come I didn’t speak Kurdish.  I told him I didn’t know how to speak.  He spat on my face and wanted to walk away.”

Chiya cleaned the man’s salvia from his face and told him: “If you had fought bravely, instead of seeking shelter behind a woman’s dress, I would have spoken Kurdish to you.”  Since he didn’t, Chiya said, he was as much at fault as I was for not knowing Kurdish.

“It has been hard to be a Kurd,” Chiya told me.  “I doubt if a Dane goes through what we Kurds do on a regular basis.”

Today, some 32 years later, Chiya Miksi is a proud father of five Americans with his partner Louise.  His kids are all voting age adults and two of them are college grads.  “My daughter Suheyla,” he radiated with extreme pride, “works for the office of Violence Against Women.”

  It has been hard to be a Kurd. I doubt if a Dane goes through what we Kurds do on a regular basis.  

I asked Chiya what he thought of President Obama, “I am disappointed in him.” 

When asked for a one-word response to Mustafa Barzani, “Pride,” was his response.  How about Sivan Perwer? “Courage.”  And Abdullah Ocalan?  “I like the man, he stood up to the Turks.”

What does he like most about America?

“Its openness.  It is like a mini United Nations here,” he said.  If he could gift anything to Kurdistan, what would it be?  “An elementary school,” he told me.  If he had a chance to have dinner with a dead Kurd, who would it be?  “Mehmed Uzun,” he said.  How about a living Kurd?  “Qubad Talabany,” he added.

A delightful evening with Chiya showed that he indeed has no tail!

And in America, no one has to jerk his pants off to find out. 

Instead, one finds that Chiya, now a pastry chef in the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, apparently inherited the great Feqiyê Teyran’s poetic genes, judging from one of his 2005 work, Flame of Hope, which tenderly epitomizes the endless and undying Kurdish quest for freedom.

Comments

 
Suleyman BOTANI | 24/6/2013
He is my best friend,he is good KURD's,good father and good person We loves you Heval CIYA
Nesiho Asiraki | 24/6/2013
Kani,pênûsa te xweş be..Nivîsel pir xwesike di derheqê hevalê min a nû ya hêja Ciya da....Spas ji bo nivîsê...
Eziz Bawermend | 24/6/2013
Many thanks, Kani, for sharing this story with us. Love of freedom and justice unite people irrespective of their ethnic origin or affiliation that they choose or their life experiences confer upon them. Your writings are like a vintage wine, they get better as you age!
murat mutlu | 25/6/2013
o benim dayım,gururludur. onunla onur duyarım. he is my uncle and i proud of him.
Hurriyet | 25/6/2013
Aydin, is a good friend to me as well. He has come a long way since I met him. His American experiance hasn't been too kind to him, since his mother in law rejected him as well. Aydin was a successful businessman when I first met him, we clashed a lot, he refused to hire black people at his restaurants those days, but in the end, he voted for Obama, a Black President. Who knew? People chance and grow. Obviously his childhood memory stuck with him, children can be cruel... There is also the incident about his first house in the subberbs of New Jersey, one of many memories that we have, once for example he was stopped by State Troopers, on his way to his house there because the policice didn't think Aydin belonged to the neighborhood. He was not a White American, like everyone else there. In fact, Aydin helped a group of filmmakers to use this story, in exchange, I believe the film crew cleaned up his basement as gift. I wish I saw the movie, it touched the racism in America as well. Aydin always said, over the years, the best thing I did for him was, introduce him to Shivan Perwer, and my Iranian husband Abbas. After all, my husband Abbas and I were the ones, who organized a Kurdish singing tour - 8 cities, along with Shivan's (then) wife Gulistan, his (then) little boy Serxwabun, and Mahmut Baksi (deceiced) from Sweden -- a National tour, FIRST TIME IN THE USA- by the way, which is something I take a lot of pride in. Well, I am a TURK, a good friend of not only Aydin, but his entire family. I only wish he was not examining Turkish politics with emotions, but with his brain. I believe he will get there someday. It isn't about Turks or Kurds, it is about what is right and what is NOT. I just want people to know that.
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