"Someone takes shadows above from the water, pushes the death away, some other draws the reflections with words, embraces the life." -Jale Sancak

[Story]"Sulukule"1 | Jale Sancak

Magpie | Genco Demirer


I was born in Sulukule
My father was born in Sulukule
My grandfather was born in Sulukule
My children were born in Sulukule
I have my history here
There is İstanbul in everywhere that is in between for you.
We are all from Sulukule,
Sulukule is İstanbul.
(From a wall poster in Sulukule)

Boo to it, bae!2 My soul's still suffering bae! I couldn't understand what a soul this is yaahoo! I left the world tho, my soul's still wandering in Sulukule with the Roman stubbornness! Ah bae, even in the grave it's a pain in the neck bae!

Girnataci [clarinet player] Sami's spirit came in front of the house once he lived in. A fig tree alone in the garden, at the bottom of the fig is the armchair with bulged out forty-year old springs, the walnut stand with broken legs, which Sami left as a legacy to his son, on the stand is three wine bottles, left over soil that hasn't turn into green, cats must have been lightly tanked up, making love with the bottles… Everything's namely like Sami had left.

Ah, this weird, torminous soul, ah!

In the streets the scenes of laundry that is stringed out, the sad memory of the timber, the masonry, namely numbered houses and the century-old plane tree that is waiting for the kids, if you touch it, you actually will hear it sigh, an abandoned horse cart a little further on, gaci3 smoking on the doorsteps, aged early, their oxygen yellow hair, ones that cursing swearing yelling to their kids, on the other side mothers that take no notice of shoutings of their kids, worn out carpets beaten and laid on the mosque wall, almond eyed, charming girls jiggling, arabesque songs pouring out from the rooms to the streets, a tambourine tune once in a while, a bell that has lost its interest, a whimpering pandele [earthenware kettledrum, Romanic], don't mind this nine-eighth4 trip, those past merrymakings are now dreams, cheer and joy as well, rain is light, yellow mud annoying the shoes, Romans actually are in favor of taking the bull by the horns. Breathing fire to the municipality, to its president is frequent. Elections are close, look if they could this time have their votes? No such thing, bro, you both expel us from Sulukule and want our vote, fine!

Nurgül Pembegül stepped out of the house without catching attraction, tears on her eyes. What day is today? Second Sunday of May, Mother's Day, you know. She walked with her slippers scuffing, didn't look at any passerby, didn't give heed to any of them, she crouched on the wall of the neighboring house with her pack that slouched her shoulders. Is it three years since my mother died? It is. Did we dig a grave for her in Topraktepe? We did. Did we buy its square section parcel? We did. What about the land title? That is, too. Did they later sell the grave to somebody else? They did. Was someone else buried upon my mother? It was so. Is my mother's grave lost? It is.

Under a cheap rain Sulukule is vallahi de billahi de5 a sea of sorrow. Tirnak [nail] Memed was bothering the strangers passing from the street, saying “no bread, no money, no job, I'm living on the street”, if someone's to tear his face, the little girl who is tapping out the plastic bin would tear it, however she is unsure whether to get lost in the ryhtym or not. The geraniums, the begonias, the buzy lizzies are unsure. The geranium of the vinous inn… no maybes, it is so. This year the spring is thoroughly up to no good. Kemanci [violinist] Ali, from Sulukule for seven generations and his eyes are smoky gray, the father of the current president of the association as well, he strived to save his district, well he left no door unknocked, no honorable person unblandished, yet in vain. Sulukule will be brought down or be put away, both are the same thing, the old Sulukule will perish, Romans will overtly be exhiled to at the end of nowhere called Taşoluk.

Sulukule is a bird cage under the rain.

Smelling the air, kemanci Ali entered the garden of the association.

Sami the strange spirit, he rushed towards the upper street dragging his left foot, just like when he was alive. 3645… 3643… 3562… Isn't this the house of hairy Sami the pandeleci [kettledrum player]? 3557… 3558… This is the flat assed Zarife's. Boo, they have numbered all of the houses. They're going to send our folks away. What can these suffering people do thereabouts? The organization had already broken into hereabouts in nineteen ninetytwo, they broke the doors of the houses6, they broke the instruments, stopped the entertainments, our bread and butter. As if we were doing prostitution bae. What prostitution bae! My commander, we're musicians bae, not monsters. Actually for seven generations bae. My grandfather used to play lute, my aunt mandolin, my uncle a well-known klarinet player, my father pure kettledrummer… I'm like my uncle, a weeny child was me, I chatted up with the clarinet. İstanbul knows us bae. The clubs used to come under us. For Adnan Pekak, Adnan Şenses7, we performed many times, a great many times. Moreover, Sibel Can8 also came out of hereabouts. Karagümrük [a district near Sulukule] is a stone's throw away, when you say Karagümrük, one, Türkan Shoray9, two, Sibel Can.

Kuru Çınar, Çalı Çıkmazı [names of some places], Neslişah [a girl's name], Zuhuri [a boy's name], ends of city walls… Registered or unregistered houses ready to be demolished, dirty streets, snatching, tokar , alias weed, unbearable smell of deficiency, Sulukule's folk tired of being treated as outcasts, cheesed off, crushed, spiteful after all that happened. Among them, ones with mental healths spoiled and who end up in hospital because of the demolition, ones who fall out with each other, who attempt to murder because of division of property. As you see, they're going to make us destroy each other.

Sorrow suddenly scatters away. A slender, brunette beauty gets out of the house with a white wedding dress. The groom's ready, a chichi showy car in front of the door; bride's mother, siblings on the window, children flocked in the garden, the cars aligned on the street; the shrill pipe so rouse, it spreads a frisky, brisk air upon them; girl's father is a little bit off, he is possibly hiding his face, or maybe his concerns… His kizan [child, Romanic] grew up and became a bride, how fast! How quick she left the house! O woe is me!

The horn of the bridal car is impatient, driver bro', namely the groom's brother, ecstasic from happiness, he fired the gun three times into the air, it's no joke the revolver is real, envelopes with money inside are thrown to children, what a joy what a cheer; a cock with a big comb wanders boasting; someone is rolling double papers [namely weed], a little girl dances without being performed; you stop Sultan district, let your name be known everywhere, noone's apart from us, everyone's invited to the wedding.

A woman's hand reaches slowly…

Sulukule is the bird cage slipped away from the rain.

Kemanci Ali took a brief look at the coffee house with his smoky eyes. Pray God that a journalist or a broadcaster passes by… No, there's no stangers among them, the boys's ours the girl's ours10, here are both the association and the coffee house, the pishpirik [a card name] players, the backgammoners are the minority, boys who go for the okey11, a tea comes and the other goes and on, two half sugared coffee, one foamy, one plain12, most of them are now unemployed like Kemanci Ali, out of desperation they even seeked for treasure believing a hearsay, nothing came out though. Now the hope is to sell the jerrybuilt houses and flee from here. They sell fifty square feet for two hundred liras, it's dubious where and who the land titles go. Perhaps they're going to build billion worth apartments hereabouts. A though woman reaks in, she has come to bring the president to account. The football field near the coffee house is deserted, left backs, strikers, goal keepers are in the concern of coming to light. Ali had longed for a school to be built there, for the children to study, to study in order to change the destiny of Sulukule, to let the poverty, illiteracy cease. Kemanci Ali and girnataci Sami's voices are almost the same: Ok, we're not conscious, we're not bullies either cancagizim [my dear], musicians we are, musicians!

If a journalist had come, Ali would no doubt show his never healing wound.

Lighting another cigarette, Nurgül Pembegül inhaled with grief. My mother's grave Tokmaktepe / 4907. Volume 33, page 3. Serial number recorded as 264. The width of the grave 120 cm , the height 2 m . İsmail Bey13, namely the manager of the cemeteries, sent her back from his door every time. Ah pilgarlic İsmail Bey, is it because I'm Roman? It's because I'm Roman, have ten children, don't know how to read and write, have no dosh, I'm beaten by my husband, isn't it so? So, well, am I not a human being like you? Ha? May I not pray by my mother and pour my heart out? Her faraway eyes fixed on the little girls who danced without being performed, civanim [handsome and strong] young boys ready to challenge anyone, guys grown pale because of the unemployment… Is there something for us to call as tomorrow? They cut the tasty water of the green painted historical tap. Damn you, the manager of the cemeteries, won't you?

Look, the city walls also are wailing, ablam [dear elder sister], what have they been for thousand years, who came and went, who were kicked out of this city, who has gone mad from greed, grudge, who were treaded under the feet. We're neither the first nor the last bae, ablacim. Write this, write this exactly the same. What if a journalist dropped his way here today, Ali would have poured his heart.

Sulukule today in the lap of desolation.

Zuhuri Street, Kuru Çınar, Çalı Çıkmazı, Neslişah…

Nobody calls nobody asks. Human life is pilachka [for free, Romanic], on the top of it sipali nakka [no money, Romanic].

All the neighbors were preparing for the wedding, when at the bottom of the fig tree, the armchair with bulged out springs, Sami's spirit sat giving himself airs, 3558… 3681… 3713… as you know thirteen is unauspicious… 3721… 3722… for a while he listened to the screams of the houses, the sofas, the broken glasses, there were a few drops of wine at the bottom of the bottle, he sloshed the bottle down, nobody would believe the souls would drink and cry when the memories rose up, then he propped the sleeping clarinet on his lips, how many merrymakings, how many chats had in that garden come about, how the hearts bathed in the melodies. The cats sprang to attention raising their tails, the plain tree chilled, pigeons tumbled and tumbled, b flats scattered and scattered around the streets. Nurgül Pembegül paused for an instant, Kemanci Ali jumped out of his skin. This tune, this clarinet, isn't this lothario blow brother Sami's blow?

This arousing and heartsore tone!

Ali recited basmala, am I going mad or what?

Formerly on Sulukule streets, a rumor spread about Neziha Erdem, my mother, who fell in love with this blow. When the clarinet went touring around, my father would be pissed off, but the clarinet would be on guard in front of our door. Was it love? According to the rumor, it was so. Love was separation. Be that as it may, did Neziha Erdem, my mother kill anytime any love? She didn't. Didn't she pity her when she lay on the door, saying let my husband take me? She did. Didn't she persuade my father by the skin of her teeth, saying “I couldn't be happy, at least let my daughter be”? She did. So well, how did they do away with Neziha Erdem, my mother?

The stones shook off, the timber came and went on the edge of breaking down, the numbers rose up, 3721 spread its wings to the southwest, 3722 to the northeast, 3546 went down to the qible14, wide open doors, windows closed and opened and closed, flower pots tumbled down, around the clothes line washings as wrapped clean as a new pin … only the street listened holding its breath. Nurgül Pembegül moaned so bitterly, “Did uncle Sami rise from the dead or what?”

We're going to wedding, wedding! In some houses there's a flurry, ones who fail to tie up, ones who cannot choose lipsticks for their lips, ones who tinge their eyes with kohl, green, blue, purple, tinsel clothes, ones who have already had one over the eight… Does he care? Kemanci Ali wouldn't sit, wouldn't stand still. He looked around, everyone in the coffee house was down to earth. Everything's usual, namely the routine slurps, the clanks of the checkers, day dreaming how much we can rip off for our humble homes … Then, there's noone else than him who hears this tune. Then, he's losing his marbles so quietly. Let a dead clarinet play… Give me a break! Somebody else than him to play the clarinet like this… also no way. But it's impossible for him to be deceived, for he pricked up his ears for the first time with this tune.

Brunette beauty bride and the shy groom entered the hall, the wedding started with the Thrace Welcoming15. Sami looked sorrowfully behind Nurgül Pembegül, who was walking squirming, dancing belly dance. Ahh ah, she's the copy of her mother!

Without noticing, Nurgül had adjusted her steps and every part of her body to the melody that held the Sulukule skies, thus she headed to the coffee house walking crying dancing. Kemanci Ali, who saw her in such state, drew a long sigh in a daze, did she go doo-dally, too, or what? “Halt, girl!” said he, “Do you have bats in the belfry?” Nurgül Pembegül looked at him without understanding. “Well, there is this thing brother Ali, this…”

Tear shower, relentless, endlessly shaking hips, he transformed his sadness into rage, throwing his cigarette, Ali crushed it with the tip of his shoe, “Look don't talk about the grave or so, I cannot stand it today, I cannot stand a little! I'll be off my head in any case bae, bacim [my sister, Romanic] Everyone's come here!”

“Not bae,” said Nurgül, “I didn't come for it. The tune, do you hear the tune?”

Girnataci Sami had taken off with the best of blows.


1 A district of İstanbul, which is famous for its Roman settlers. Lately, Sulukule remains on the agenda with the deport of its settlers in the name of urban transformation, t.n
2 A famous exclamation in Roman people's accent, t.n
3 Gaci is the word that Roman people use for indelicate expression of the word “woman”, t.n
4 9/8 means nine notes in one measure [of eight]. It is a very lively rythym and typical of Roman people, t.n
5 It is a kind of oral oath, means “cross my heart”
6 In Sulukule, there used to be “entertainment houses”. In 1992, these houses were evacuated by the patrols, t.n
7 Nation-wide famous Roman singers, t.n
8 A famous Turkish-Roman singer, t.n
9 A very famous actress who has performed in numerous films in Turkish cinema.
10 A Turkish folk song's lyric
11 A board game of which boards are similar to Scrabble but the game is almost the same as the card game 51, t.n
12 Turkish coffee is served in three ways, regarding the choice of the drinker: sugared - namely fully sugared, sweet - , half sugared - not so sweet but not so bitter - , plain - bitter, black. The coffee is much more appriciated when it has foam on it, little foams that occur when it is boiled, t.n
13 Mister. It is not used before sirnames but after the first names, t.n
14 Qible is the sacred place of Muslims. It is situated on the south. So it is also used for direction finding, in place of the south. It is also the name of the south wind, t.n
15 A folk dance of Roman people, Thrace and Western Thrace settlers. It has a Balkanic melody with a quick rythym, t.n

Jale Sancak was born in Istanbul, she finished Bebek Elementary School, then Behcet Kemal Caglar Lisesi. In 1985 she began her writing career with the play named Yitik Sesler (Lost Voices), which was peformed by TRT [Turkish Radio Television] Istanbul Radio. Her stories were published in Argos , Adam Öykü and Varlık magazines. In 1998 she made the television programme Ateşi Çalmak (Stealing the Fire) for TRT. Her story named “Mırıl Mırıl Münevver” was filmed for TRT television, too. In TRT radios, about twenty plays of hers were performed. Her story “Bu Gece Pera'da” (This Night in Pera) was translated to Finnish. Her story named “Bıçkın Melek ve Küçük, Önemsiz Bir Kayboluş” (A Tough Angel and a Minor, Insignificant Disapperance) received the second award of Haldun Taner Story Contest in 2002. An anthology from her stories with the name of Seçilmiş Öyküler (Selected Stories) was published in Bulgaria and Tanrı Kent ve Yitik Şarkılar (Godcity and Lost Songs) was translated into German.

In her stories, Jale Sancak narrates the conflicts of people who is gradually becoming lonely in the city which is gradually becoming crowded and the dillemmas they feel within themselves. Besides these, the walls, the towers, the streets of the city find their voices, they tell us about loves they've lost. The characters of her stories are both so close and so far away as well as being the opposite of each other; they witness the past. In the stories we can generally observe goodness and badness in different forms.

Her works: Bu Gece Pera'da (1989); Aynadaki Yüzler (1991); Bahçedeki Tuhaf Adam (1993); Ansızın Gelen (1998); Hayatın Bu Yakası (1999); Aşka Dayanmak (2000); Surdibi'nde Çilingir Muhabbeti (2002); Üç Aşk, Toplu Öyküler (1989-1993); Kenti Dinlemek,Büyülü Kent İstanbul'dan Öyküler (2004); Sürgün Melekler (November 2004); Yaşamdan Sahneye (November 2005).

» You can read the story in Turkish from
Translation published on 11/09/2009
Translated by
Tugce Aytes

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