Part I: THE TERROR



[From Elia Kazan's "A LIFE" (Knopf, 1988), pp. 550-552.]



A little later I said to Stellio, "Tell Molly what happened at your store". From his place of business, Stellio supplied cotton woods, wholesale, to small merchants in the interior. He'd told me about the last great riot that had taken place in the cotton woods wholesale market and had been, so Stellio believed, subsidized by the government. "They brought several hundred criminals from the interior, gave them plenty raki, the cheap kind, a bottle to each man, put them on the boat to Istanbul, and told them, 'Go 'head, the city is yours. Take what you want, so long it's Greek or Armenian.'''

"Did they break into your store?" Molly asked. She'd been nervous ever since we'd reached Turkey. For some reason that was not scientific, she believed Turkey was darker than other countries. She distrusted the food and loathed the toilets.

"No," Stellio said. "My place they don't touch." Then he told how that had happened. He had a neighbor in the same center of wholesale cotton goods stores, a Turkish merchant but still a friend. This man knew what Stellio did not, that a riot was being stirred up, a ritual warning to the minorities in that society to be content to stay in their proper places. These holidays for criminals were celebrated regularly in that city, Stellio said.

"Where were the authorities?" Molly asked. A law-respecting Yankee, she was indignant.

"The authorities?" Stellio said. "They buy the raki. All the Greek stores in the middle part of Istanbul would be hit, my friend told me; there'd be enough raki for maybe three days, and food too, lambs to slaughter and roast at night, whole herds. So my friend, he came to me one day and he put a little mark over my door, where no one could notice it unless they were looking for it, something like a crescent. 'What's that?' I asked. 'Leave it,' he said. So I did. The trouble lasted three days, and I stayed at home, blocking our windows as we used to when we lived in the interior and there was trouble. Suddenly all was quiet again; maybe they were sleeping from the raki, I thought, and I went down to the city, and every Greek store in our area except mine had had its windows smashed and there were cotton woods all over the street, in the mud and the puddles of water, and the donkeys had left little presents on the top. All that wealth--such hard work to make money here--gone. Finished! No doubt there was also plenty cotton goods going to the interior to put on the golos of their wives--excuse the expression, Molly--here." He hit his behind. "That night," Stellio said, "I took my friend to dinner."

Molly tried to joke. "Is this trip absolutely necessary?" she said to me. "That's why I told Elia," Stellio said, "better less in the papers where we're going." He turned to me. "When we get there, don't be big American hero, criticizing everything to the journalists. The less you say the better." He turned to Molly. "Tell him to be careful," he said. "Why do you live here?" Molly asked. She was outraged by the situation. "It's not easy to move," Stellio said. "Especially if you have a little money. You can't take it out."

I studied my cousin's face; it was uncreased. Although he lived in continuous worry--the shortest walk had the possibility of danger, which is why he always hurried on the street--he still managed to be affable. He made his way by pleasing his enemies as well as his friends. He was the most circumspect man I've ever known, neat and clean and well-ordered. Which came from a lifetime of concern for the consequences of any out-of-the-way behavior. He had lived all his life under the eye of authority he knew to be hostile. Fear had ordered his life. I compared myself: I was not altogether different. I am, for instance, neurotically prompt--in fact, always ahead of time for appointments. Why? So as not to allow the least opening for criticism. I recognized myself in him.