Writer welcomes back ‘soul mate’ to Diyarbakır

Writer welcomes back ‘soul mate’ to Diyarbakır

DİYARBAKIR - Hürriyet Daily News
Writer welcomes back ‘soul mate’ to Diyarbakır

Hürriyet Daily News reporter İpek Yezdani (center) speaks to author Şeyhmus Diken (R) and Yervant Bostancı about the book. The photo (below) shows Bostancı playing saz.

In a story bearing resemblance to the tale of the prodigal son, a leading Diyarbakır writer has welcomed back his long-lost “soul mate” to the ancient city on the Tigris not with a fatted calf, but with a book celebrating the accomplishments of his spiritual brother.

Şeyhmus Diken, a Kurdish writer with a number of titles to his name, has honored Diyarbakır-born musician Yervant Bostancı with a new book, almost three decades after the Armenian musician left the southeastern province on a journey that sent him as far as Los Angeles.

Bostancı was born in the Hançepek neighborhood of Diyarbakır, which was also known as the “Gavur (Infidel) Neighborhood” of Diyarbakır, the home of most of the Diyarbakır Armenians who survived the events of 1915. Bostancı started to play drums when he was 4 years old, and took saz (a Turkish stringed instrument) classes from famous saz player Aşık Zülfi when he was 10.

Bostancı spent 19 years in the neighborhood before moving to Istanbul, where he became a member of the Üsküdar Musical Community, one of the most prominent classical Turkish music schools during that period.

“I started to play with the most prominent classic Turkish music singers after 1982, such as Alaattin Şensoy and Zeki Müren. By that time, my name started to spread, especially among the Armenian community in Istanbul,” Bostancı said.

Bostancı started to appear on the stage solo at a tavern called Mandıra in 1991, singing songs in both Armenian and Turkish.

His sojourn in Istanbul’s taverns did not last long, however. “In 1992, all the Armenian community in Istanbul was coming to the Mandıra tavern to listen me. One night, after I finished the program, a man came up and asked me why I was singing in Armenian. I replied, “Because I am Armenian,” and then he started to swear and curse at me. I was terrified and I decided to leave Turkey that night,” the musician said.

Bostancı went to Los Angeles and started singing songs from both classical Turkish and Armenian music at taverns that were frequented by Armenians and Turks alike.

“I practically worked as a peace ambassador there. Turks, Kurds, Armenians and Syriacs living in Los Angeles danced the halay altogether while I was playing,” said Bostancı, who released 12 music albums in total and gave dozens of concerts in big cities of both the United States and Europe.

Diken, who has written 14 oral history books on the local history and local identity of Diyarbakır, discovered the music of Bostancı while he was listening to an album prepared by Armenian musicians eight years ago. “I invited him to come and sing at the Diyarbakır Festival in 2004; he came back to Diyarbakır after 28 years. Then we realized that we were from the same neighborhood; I took him back to the Hançepek neighborhood and he gave a concert in his neighborhood for the first time after 28 years,” Diken said.

Bostancı started to visit Diyarbakır at least six times a year after 2004, becoming close friends with Diken, who recently wrote a book on Bostancı’s life story called “Ula Fılle, Welcome” (“Fılle” is a Kurdish word for Christian) that will be published next week.

Eight years after they became friends, Bostancı and Diken recently discovered another secret about their lives: Diken’s mother, Ayten, and Bostancı’s mother, Hatun, had been very close friends before they were born, and Hatun had been like a godmother to Diken.

“Five of my siblings were dead before I was born. And my mother told me that after I was born, our Armenian neighbor, Hatun, came to our house, prayed for me and passed me through her clothes three times. She said to my mother, ‘God protect him, your son is also my son now.’ After 50 years, we discovered that that Armenian lady was Yervant’s mother,” Diken said.

Bostancı now wants to move back to Diyarbakır from Los Angeles, and Diken, whom he terms “my soul mate,” has been working hard to make the return a reality.

 “The identity of belonging to Diyarbakır comes first and foremost for me. I am first a resident of Diyarbakır, and then I am an Armenian and a Christian,” Bostancı said, crying and hugging his “soul mate” Diken at the same time.