It was in the slightly Russian-esque city of Kars, located at the heart of a beautiful rainy pseudo-steppe in northeast Turkey, close to the Georgian border and even closer to the magnificence of Ani, that I was compelled to make the acquaintance of a certain friendly taxi driver for the express purpose of getting back and forth to that ancient Armenian city. In general the Turks despise the Armenians—every ethnic group seems to hate every other ethnic group in that area of the world—and don’t care for monuments to the glorious past of that foreign culture. The Romans, the Byzantines, the Sumerians, were all bred out of existence, but the Armenians are still right on the Turks’ doorstep and a constant reminder that despite what Ataturk says, Turkey is not the homeland of the Turks anymore than America is the homeland of the majority of the population that currently resides there.
So this results in Ani (and other beautiful non-Turkish historical sites) being in a state of neglect and disrepair. In this form the Armenian genocide continues. Likewise, the government cannot admit to the presence of an amazing, foreign, and enemy civilization inside their borders, so they deny it. The few poorly-translated information signs at Ani all claim that the place was built by Seljuqs when, in fact, it was destroyed by the Seljuqs (and almost destroyed again by the Turks in 1921); the population was so thoroughly massacred that you could not walk the streets without tripping over piles of corpses. Today this means there is no public transportation, so you have hire a taxi driver to get you there and back for a rather decent chunk of change. A regular dolmus might set you back a few dollars but I may have blown as much as fifty on this peculiarly Nazified excursion.
My taxi driver was an everyday Turk: friendly, gregarious, talkative, hospitable, and very eager to get to know me as best as he could with the limited High School English he possessed. Our enthusiasm for conversation was really unlimited during the long trip outside of the city of Kars. Barış, a mustachioed, pudgy, but handsome bright-eyed 34 year-old man revealed to me that he was not observing Ramadan because of a sore throat and proceeded to gobble down a number of individually-wrapped chocolates, tossing the wrappers out the window one-by-one with a nonchalance that set my leftwing hackles on edge; nonetheless the entire country is something of a giant garbage dump and I had been there for two weeks so I was used to such rampant idiocy. He showed me a picture of his baby son on his cell phone and was fond of discussing the benefits and drawbacks of various foreign cars. Later in the day he helped get me some tasty köfte and practically organized my entire trip to Ardahan, the leaping-off point for those crazy enough to get to Georgia overland from Turkey. He invited me to tea several times.
The revelation that an otherwise normal-seeming person is, in fact, a bloodthirsty Nazi is really no different to discovering that a good old friend was really a reptilian shapeshifter, a vampire, or an admirer of Glenn Beck all along—it often comes as a complete surprise. During a lull in the conversation he suddenly asked me: “You know who is Number One?” I said no. I didn’t know who Number One was. “Adolph Hitler!” he replied.
Now I had been warned about this by my Turkish friends in Busan—don’t tell anyone in Turkey that you’re Jewish. I’m helped by the fact people generally don’t know who I “really” am unless I say so—while Jews are often depicted by their detractors as befitting a certain monstrous style, most of us really look like anyone so it’s easy enough to blend in with the rest of you meshugganas as long as we keep the money and the sacrificed catholic babies stuffed in our pockets and out of sight. I also noticed, during my travels around the country (Istanbul-> Cannakale-> Selcuk-> Antalya-> Urfa-> Van-> Kars), that at about three different bus stops there were small bookshops with at least one Turkish volume about Adolph Hitler, complete with the usual charming portrait of the man at full scowl, prominently displayed. Nevermind that the archetypal fucking Nazi would have exterminated every last person in Turkey if he had been given the chance. The obvious is not always so obvious to everyone.
Barış explained to me very casually that he loved Adolph Hitler specifically because he had killed so many Jews. He mimed a machine gun during this lecture, perhaps because he was unaware of the real way most Jews met their end during the Holocaust, while I was forced to contain my profound hatred for him as we were driving alone in the middle of nowhere; I hid my self beneath my smile as he continued and declared that all Jews deserved to die thanks to their treatment of Palestinian children. I laughed and agreed with every further point he espoused. My interactions with him were polite and totally devoid of all true emotion but I am fairly certain he had no idea of the truth of how I felt. His ease and candor suggested to me that his opinions were shared by many of his fellows.
The visit to Ani belongs in another post, but I will say that after everything Barış and I parted amicably. His aleikum salaam was extraordinarily warm; mine was pretense. I debated whether I should reveal my sick, true nature to the man, as a means of perhaps letting him know that for all their money-grubbing world-dominating follies Jews are actually relatively normal—even dashingly handsome and charming—human beings, but I held off. How do you tell someone that you are a member of an ethnic group whose extermination he gleefully, even boyishly, advocates? What do you expect? Could such an ignoramus ever achieve the sort of paradigm-shift a revelation like that ought to cause? Would he simply treat me coldly? Or try to murder me? The risk was too great. I was tempted to say, by the way, I’m a Jew and I’m damn proud of it (you fucking Nazi), but I let it go. The man is doubtlessly still there and easy to find as the city is small and taxi drivers are few.
Afterward I was afraid that every friendly person I encountered would randomly reveal to me, in a moment of friendly candor, their adoration of Joseph Goebbels—I prayed to my inward household gods that they would think once or twice before doing so. Barış remains the only actual Nazi, to my knowledge, I have ever met.