The Turk in the Greek ranks

The film’s title, «Captain Kemal, A Comrade,» appears odd. It seems hard to believe that Mihri Belli, the elegant 92-year-old man with the gray shirt, dark trousers, white hat and walking stick, joined the ranks of the Democratic Army in 1947 as a volunteer and fought in the Greek Civil War. Belli smiles. He is very fluent in Greek, except for his heavy accent, and he sings the anthem song of the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS) in Turkish, the way that he has translated it. Belli, the so-called Captain Kemal of the Greek mountains, is more than just a title in Fotos Lamprinos’s documentary, he transmits the emotions and the vigor of somebody who has come face to face with death many times and who has lived defining and enriching experiences. Lamprinos uses his material with respect but without any arrogance. He uses the structure of silent films in chapters to present the events that left their mark on Greece from the early 1900s up to 1947. At the same time, he brings his protagonist, Belli, back to Greece to visit the Pomak villages in Rodopi, where he reunites with his former comrades. Sitting under a tree, Belli sings – claiming that there is no war without singing – and goes back in time, returning to his homeland to introduce to the audience the woman he has been with for more than 50 years. The documentary is a mixture of archive material and contemporary reality, of memories and narration by Belli, as well as featuring the voice of filmmaker Manos Zacharias. It does not betray the facts its presents, nor does it take out the emotions, the humor, the truths and the wounds of the people who experienced them. A different start In 1949, Belli says, he abandoned the cause in the Greek mountains and went back to Turkey, where he once more joined the ranks of the Communist Party and continued his work as a Turkish Marxist and revolutionary. Yet this man started out his political career as a heated nationalist and a dedicated enemy of Greece. «On some New Year’s holidays, I went to Athens with a group of students. It was after 1930 [when the friendship pact between Eleftherios Venizelos and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had been signed in Ankara], a time that efforts were being made to create an atmosphere of Greek-Turkish friendship… We walked around Athens for an entire week, looking the people we met right in the eye and seeing feelings of friendship and love. Immigrants from Asia Minor had tears in their eyes every time they said ‘Turkey.’ The pure feelings between people who have lived together for centuries prevail, no matter what happens. I had realized that Greece must not vanish, for Turkey to survive.» Belli had studied economics in the United States, in Iowa and in Chicago, which is where he met a Turk who was a member of the Communist Party. That is how he found himself in the Greek mountains, for two-and-a-half years. He had military duties, was an adviser to the Provisional Democratic Government’s Local Delegation of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace as well as joint editor of the Turkish-language newspaper Savas, which means «Action» and which was published for the members of the Turkish minority and the Pomaks. Upon his return to Turkey, he was arrested, imprisoned, rescued from an assassination attempt and fled to live in Stockholm. Lamprinos’s documentary will have its final screenings at the Trianon Filmcenter (21 Kodringtonos, tel 210.821.5469) tonight, at 6.30, 8.30 and 10.30 p.m. On Sunday, it will be part of the official program of the Istanbul Film Festival, in a screening that has already sold out.

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