Esmahan Aykol: Open-minded, atheist Turk ‘against facism of any stripe’
«It’s genetic memory,» says Esmahan Aykol, as if she wants to explain why her books keep coming back to the theme of identity, descent and migrations. Aykol is a young Turkish writer who describes herself as a liberal, atheist, middle-class woman with a left-wing outlook. She lives in Istanbul, in steeply sloping Galata, but she is not one of its uncritical admirers. She obviously loves the city, but every now and then she wants to escape from its noise and roughness. That is why she has kept the apartment in Berlin where she lived for four years. Her Turkish-German experience, which was not always rosy but was certainly productive and dynamic, permeates the only one of her novels that has been translated into Greek. «Xenodoheio Vosporos» («Bosporus Hotel»), translated by Thanos Zaragalis for Kritiki Publishers, is an unusual detective novel, steeped in wicked humor. The heroine of «Bosporus Hotel» is a German woman who lives in Istanbul and has a bookstore that specializes in crime fiction. Aykol has a talent for creating flesh and blood characters. «There are 40,000 Germans living in Istanbul,» she informs us. We are sitting in an air-conditioned lounge cafe in Athens. It is blazing hot outside. This is Aykol’s first visit to Athens and she finds everything worthy of comment. She talks about her new book, which may cause a stir in Turkey as it touches on the Armenian question. «It’s the story of a woman who escapes from the clutches of a failed relationship in Istanbul, leaves everything behind and goes to London, where she works as a waitress. Before I wrote the book, I went to London and worked as a waitress in a Caffe Nero, and I washed dishes in a Kurdish restaurant. «Like my heroine, who gradually feels the need to resort to her memories and her family history, the heroine of ‘Savrunlanlar,’ as the book is called, recalls the stories of her Armenian grandfather and tries on her own to link the present and the past.» For Aykol the cycles of life in the Balkans and Anatolia are a family business. Both her parents are from the Balkans, her mother from an Albanian family from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and her father from Bulgaria. They went to Turkey and lived in Denizli, south of Izmir. «I went to school in Izmir,» she said and later studied law in Istanbul. The legal profession didn’t suit her and she became a journalist and for a decade wrote for various publications. But when she went to Berlin to try out her wings, she also went for a master’s degree in law. It was in Berlin that she encountered racism for the first time. «When my professors heard I was Turkish they looked grim, their behavior changed and they asked me various insulting questions.» In Turkey, Aykol knows that she belongs to a minority of open-minded, atheist, European Turks who «are against fascism of any stripe:» state, military, Kurdish and Islamic fascism. «I’m not optimistic about Turkey,» says Aykol, who has never flattered her countrymen and will never do so.