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April 3, 2001
The Coup, Part III


Nobody was selling gas.

Well, nobody was selling us any gas. Most of the stations along the highway hadn't bothered to open and they stood shuttered. The all-nighters had probably locked up and left in a hurry upon hearing the news. And as for the rest, with homes next to them -- so you could bang on their doors and windows to beg -- the people wouldn't budge. They knew, without having to hear it from anyone, that there was something wrong about us being out there when the radio told everyone to stay in; maybe we were a band of terrorists, fugitives, and everyone knew it wasn't the smartest thing to be aiding and abetting probable outlaws when the army had just taken over the country in a climate of political violence claiming a dozen lives every day.

I can't remember how we eventually persuaded a station owner but perhaps I came into play again. "The child," the child needs to get home, see. And my mother's presence helped, I'm sure. The old Titanic ethic.

The road didn't force us to venture into any of the other towns and as we made our way north the highway got better and we started seeing moving cars near major areas. With isolation out of the picture people may have felt a little more brave, perhaps. The first ape standing up on his or her hind legs, the moral of Behrengi's little black fish in the children's tale; one spark and the others follow... eh? Well, in all likelihood, in more populated areas you ended up with enough people who could come up with persuasive reasons to get travel permits. After all, they couldn't stay home and bake their own bread, produce antibiotics for sick children, or bury the dead. Not to mention buying beer and raki, especially on a day like this.

I lost count of how many times we were stopped once we started hitting cities. But it was always the same:

"Istanbul plates, is that where you live?"

"Yes."

"Go on. You need to get there before nightfall."

Actually, it turned out one had to cross the province line before 11 pm and be indoors before midnight, which was when a strict curfew had been ordered to take effect. The drive to the city center would take about 40 minutes, without traffic, and so anyone who didn't have at least an hour to spare was simpy detained at the "state line" checkpoint that had been established at a truck weighing station. [This place served as a park & sleep lot between 11:01 pm and 5 am for a lot of people after that night. For the record, the first curfew ordered by the coup masters lasted from 5 am Sept. 12 to 8 am Sept. 13, and from then on it was midnight to 5 am... I believe this went on for a couple of years.]

By the time we reached our neighborhood we were being stopped just about every couple blocks. Soldiers were getting exasparated by having to deal with cars all the time and on top of that, all the kids playing around them. Yes, kids, they seemed to have asserted some sort of de facto immunity; they'd simply taken over the main arteries in the absence of regular traffic. My eyes widened as I saw literally hundreds of kids zipping around on skateboards and bikes. It was a zoo, it was so loud it made it difficult to hear soldiers when we were stopped. It got more than a little ridiculous after a while because we were so close to our apartment building we could see it in the distance. And it would still be, "OK, where exactly do you think you're going? Didn't you know..." -- in response to which my father was often reduced to sputtering, "There, right there, see that building? Our home, right there!" And they would finally wave us on (after poring over IDs for a few minutes), warning us not to go anywhere else, and then within sight of the last checkpoint we'd get stopped yet again.

Home. Then: out, running around, savoring the license to be a child while the grownups made calls, wondering, discussing what was going to happen in the coming days.

They were fearful because at times like this there were shots fired first and questions asked later. Or shots fired while questions were asked, you know, shots, jolts from that funny little machine with the handle that you turn to produce electricity, which would then travel through wires and reach your ear or genitals or wherever they'd attached it on your body after dousing you with water to achieve maximum conductivity.

Back in those days doctors would receive (and many would keep) a professional journal titled "TIP BULTENI" -- "MEDICAL BULLETIN," a digest of some sort. But see, if you put a dot over TIP's "I" it became the acronym for the "Turkish Workers Party," a group whose legal status was often at the mercy of overzealous prosecutors. Long story short, an acquaintance was hauled off to be interrogated one night after failing to convince the imbeciles searching his apartment that the stack of "incriminating documents" were medical journals. It didn't help reassure us that my father had actually been a member of the TIP in the past.

We had a pearl gun in the house, an ancient revolver that hung in a frame, which we weren't even sure would work and had no clue as to whether we could get the right bullets for even if we wanted. To be safe we took it down and smashed it to bits, and buried the pieces in separate places.

We had my grandfather's bullets (but no gun) from the Turkish-Greek war of 1921. My cousin (four years older) and I went out late one night to a pitch-black street and dumped the bullets down a sewer drain. Heard them rattle, came back, mission accomplished. It was safer to send the kids to do something like that.

A couple years prior my father had brought from his first-ever trip to the States (a six-month fellowship with a 500-dollar stipend for the duration) a pair of walkie-talkies, a primitive version of the Motorola talkabouts that surfer dudes use today, after agonizing over the $20 purchase for days -- a big sum for two Turkish civil servants. They were strictly illegal back in the day, of course. Why, you could use them to send information to the Soviet Union, never mind they had a range of about 400 yards. Surely you could walk to a border, avoid detection by sentries and getting blown up by mines, and hook up with your buddy Zoschenko over on the other side.

We gave them to a friend with zero political involvement, and didn't ask for them back when things calmed down. And worst of all, we burned books. We burned them in the bathtub and washed the ashes away.

And after all that, they still came and took my father away.

Part IV



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