2249) Hacin By Zebercet Coskun: Book Review

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Hacin, a novel by Zebercet Coskun, tells the story of Moslems and Armenians living together for hundreds of years peacefully in a town that dates to the times of the Hittites, than turning against each other during the war . .
years and the re-location of Armenians in 1915. Following World War I, the French forces occupy Hacin along with many towns in the area known as Cilicia, including Adana and Maras and allows the return of the Armenians to their homes. The French occupiers put Armenians in charge of the administration of the town, who commit many atrocities against the moslem population during the take over. During the Turkish War of Independence, the town is liberated by the guerrilla forces on October 18, 1920 and the Armenian population leaves the area with the French occupiers.

The author, Zeber Coskun, born in Gemlik, Izmir, is a graduate of Arnavutkoy American College. In the postcript to the novel, she sates that, in order to attain the freedom of thought, she constantly reads, and to share her experiences gained through traveling and living in different parts of Anatolia, she writes. Ms Coskun sates that she wrote Hacin basing it on many documents, and without taking any sides. However, she emphasizes that she was happy to find out that her own nation was not guilty of any crimes. Her message at the end of the postscript states:

''Nothing, but sorrow will prevail in societies where personal ambitions and animosities take the leading role. Once more, I believe that the key to happiness is not within the system, but in the hearts of the people, in brotherhood and in love.''

Hacin, known as Saimbeyli since 1923 when it was renamed in honor of Saim bey from Hacin, who is also one of the characters in the book, is a picturesque town high on the Tauras mountains, located on a highway between Maras, Kayseri and Adana. The French occupies Hacin and appoints an Armenian, Karabit Calliyan, as the local governor and another Armenian as the head of the Gendarme unit which is made up of all Armenians. Literally, the Armenians rule the town, arrest moslems and put them into jails, the make shift government offices, killing many during interrogations. The Armenians believe that the Molsems in Hacin, those that were left behind, are cooperating with the moslem guerrillas who have taken back many villages near Hacin from the French anda re now approachin Hacin.

The novel begins with the main character, Mursel, going up the stairs to the second floor of his house where he lives with his wife Fatma and three children, Naime, Faik and Suleyman. Mursel is a school teacher and one of most respected member of the Hacin moslems. Mursel is sad, thinking of what will happen when the French take over the city and bring back the Armenians who were forced to leave four years ago. The Armenian family of Mihran Katayan lives in the same house, occupying the lower floor and the two families are very close to each other, providing all kinds of assistance, Mihran even hiding the 12 year old son of Mursel when the Gendarme come to arrest the Moslems living in the house.

Mursel and the town's elit go to the outskirts of Hacin to greet the French forces coming to take over the administration of the town. However, later they are worried that the Armenians returning to Hacin will take revenge. In fact, that is exactly what happens and the gendarme starts arresting Moslems for no reason. As the harassment becomes unbearable, Moslems of Hacin start making plans to escape , even bribing some of the Armenian gendarme in order to leave the town.

When the Armenian gendarmes put Mursel under house arrest, his wife, Fatma, goes to the American High School high on the hill and meets with Miss Cold, the Principal, and re-enrolls her daughter Naime, who becomes one of only two moslem students at the school. Fatma also asks Miss Cold to allow her to stay at the school to escape the constant harassment by the Armenian gendarme who tells her that if she marries him, she will be saved. Miss Cold tells Fatma that she can not stay at the school and that she can not take sides in the conflict.

Than, the Moslem guerrillas enter Hacin after bombarding the castle for several weeks and start evacuating the Armenians from their homes, killing many along the way. Kurt Hasso even attempts to kill Armenian children, because his own children were killed by Armenians, but Suleyman stops him, telling him that the children had nothing to do with the conflict. The town is burned down, most of the houses are demolished and the book ends with Naime and Suleyman leaving Hacin on a horseback, because, there is no one left in the town. It is a very sad story.

The book is 391 pages and ends with a four page poem that tells the sad story of Hacin. Interestingly, a beautiful photograph of a bird adorns the cover of the book, a gift to the author from the world famous photographer Ara Guler, an Armenian Turk like no other.

The book is interesting where each main character tells his or her own story first hand. There are many instances where the Armenians and Turks help each other and together curse those who created the conflict, forcing them to kill each other. The American High School, one of over four hundred across the Ottoman Empire at the time, tries to stay outside the conflict, helping the victims on both sides. The Principal, Miss Cold tells everyone that she has a wireless that she can use to tell America if any harm comes to her school. When the school is taken over, Miss Cold leaves Hacin as the town once again comes under the Ottoman rule.

Kurtis Matbaasi, Istanbul 1975

Review by Yuksel Oktay, PE
October 12, 2006, Istanbul