(by Simone Perotti)
To reach Nedim Bora Hazar who is a director, actor and musician, it takes one and a half hours sailing from Kabataš between Tophane and Ortaköy, to the second largest of the Princes’ Islands, Bourgazada. When we disembark, he is there to welcome us wearing dark glasses, with dull green frames, he has bright white hair, a smile on his face, and is wearing denims and a blue shirt. A handsome man, proud of his fifty years of age, or perhaps a little more, with the curious and amused eyes of a child.
The first thing he does is apologise: “I have two Kurdish friends here, a father with his son. They had a part in one of my documentaries, and now they are here because the little one has cancer, and is on chemotherapy, and I am giving him a hand, bear with me.” And then he laughs. A child with cancer and he is laughing? But we understand immediately that this is not superficiality, or even flippancy. Nedim Hazar Bora is one of those men that tries to find something good in everything in the tangle of existence, he becomes emotional, excited, and as we will see later in the day that we spend together never loses his depth while he smiles at life. A sort of oxymoron, paradoxical, but if you get to know him, that is how you will see him.
We have lunch together. Stewed chicken and bulgur with lentil soup. He greets everyone, an American living on the island who is translating the work of a much-loved Turkish poet, passers by with whom he exchanges a word and a smile. Every now and then, he exchanges a few words and a smile with his Kurdish guests, to make sure that they do not feel left out. Before taking us home he takes us for a tour of the island, and shows us a Swiss church that he asks them to open for us: “Do you see? No iconoclasts, they have twelve imams, which remind us of the twelve apostles, women dance with them, they do not cover themselves with a veil. But they are Islamic.” Then he shows us a Christian church, but we cannot go inside because Maria isn’t there, perhaps she’s gone to Istanbul to do some shopping.”
There are no cars on the island, only carts with a team of two horses. We get onto one of these carts to go home: “relax, he’s a friend of mine.” Everything around Nedim, seems to travel lightly. There are men who spread harmony, and we have been admiring them for a lifetime.
We seat ourselves in the lounge overlooking the sea and the mosque and start to chat: “You are not allowed to build on these islands. Elsewhere, as we know, people build far too much. But on the other hand, there are a lot of people here! Just think that in Istanbul alone there are four million Kurds! ” and naturally he has a good laugh. Interviewing this man makes you feel good, even if you don’t precisely understand why. I ask him to tell me something about himself: “Well, my family is a mixture, as often happens in Turkey. My family comes from the Black Sea, but also from Thessaloniki and the Caucasus, and then there is Australia, where I lived for years as a child, then I came back and went to Germany, then back again to Istanbul, to look for work! ” and he laughs heartily. “I’ve been married three times, and my current wife is called Ulrike, and she is German. I studied to become an actor in Germany, and I was in a few movies and shows, then I for a while I was a musician with a group that was fairly successful, we travelled half way around the world from Alma Ata to London doing concerts. Then the group broke up and I started to follow seminars on film-making in Amsterdam to become a director. And here I am.”
An interesting life. Not without problems though: “Yes, I produced a number of documentaries around Turkey. The President did not like one of the episodes, which was filmed in the country where Erdogan was born. The director of the television and I were fired” and again he has a good laugh. I ask him why he doesn’t seem to be upset or sorry by this. “Well, I was at first, but then when all is said and done, I expected it, it was obvious that is was going to happen. Even though there was nothing wrong about the documentary, only the people in it spoke quite openly and obviously complained about this and that, as people always do in front of a microphone. And he didn’t like it. He called personally.” Well! A medal for someone who wants to be an activist. Even though this role, which fits Nedim, sounds rather strange to describe someone like him.
“In Germany I was always hanging around with the Italians, the Greeks. We bickered all the time, but when the Germans came, we were united, forever! The Mediterranean for me is everywhere, I’ve always taken it along with me. And look where I am living in the end! ” He tells us that for him music is perhaps the best metaphor of Mediterranean nature. Always a bit sad, wistful, nostalgic “but then you also have the Taranta to get everyone dancing!“.
I ask him where he feels he belongs: “I am from the West, absolutely Western. But, there is always a but … I am also always very Mediterranean. Then when I am dealing with my Kurdish countrymen, I am also Mesopotamian. With an Arab, however, I would say that I have little in common. In short, it’s complicated.”
I ask him what he thinks of the EU. “I hate the ‘EU! (editor’s note: laughing) It has two weights and two measures in everything! When Turkey was not allowed entry, the EU lost a historic opportunity! This error will go down in the annals of history. But why, there is Bulgaria, Romania, and not Turkey?!” Another loud laugh. This time I laugh too, hoping that my Romanian and Bulgarian brothers will forgive me. “We already have Erdogan thanks to the EU”.
I ask him what he thinks of the gradual Islamization of the country. “Islam has been the same for centuries. And it is experiencing a vicious internal feud. It must reform, evolve. The Christian church has gone through schisms, reforms and counter-reforms. Catholicism assembled in a number of reforming councils, and has changed since the days of the Inquisition through to today. I believe Islam must do the same. Although this has very little to do with the matter. A Muslim and I can live together quite happily together, there is no problem at all.“
I ask him whether he is concerned, in his position, and with a Country that is tending to go in a potentially complicated direction. “Of course I am. At some point I will have to go if things change. And it would be a shame, have you seen how wonderful it is here ?! “. But are there active intellectuals, do they have a role? I would not want them to have regrets once things are done. “Look, no one every spoke about the problem of the Kurds, for example. Intellectuals struggle to become involved on thorny issues, such as the minorities. Now a lot more people are speaking about this issue. The same movement of Gezi, failed to unite with the Kurdish movement. And it is a shame. You know, we will be voting here soon. On the 6th or 7th of June. If Demirtash’s movement reaches 10%, everything is going to change here, because Erdogan’s AKP will lose its majority and everything is negotiated in Parliament. I think we are close to a turning point.” Demirtash, I must remember this name. Many speak to me of this Kurdish leader as a rising star, who is charismatic and credible.
“Look, we’ve got to face the facts here. We Turks have to face the problems. It’s no use pretending they don’t exist. So let’s let lift the carpet, look underneath, and face these problems. For us it is essential to make peace with the question of our identity. Either you start from this point, or it will be no use.” I think so too.
We say goodbye and sail away in the cold north-east wind of the Bosphorus. What a wonderful day. Nedim, after the interview, asked us to go with him. He flew his drone with the Go-Pro camera, that he uses to take flying pictures. He does it to entertain the little Kurdish boy, whose name is Memet, and has a closed eye, his right temple is bald, his eyes are sad, but with that drone, for a moment, they are filled with the light that the face of child should have. Regardless of whether or not he is Kurdish.