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In literature ... Hanna Minh hunts "Turkish wolves" in the occupied Alexandretta “Food is not shared with Turkish wolves”

New York Times described the prominent Syrian writer Hanna Minh as a historian of the poor and the oppressed, through dozens of his novels, and is considered one of the first Arab novelists to use social realism. Minh has written for half a century and many of his works have been transferred to cinema and television. However, only two of his works have been translated into English.

 “Food is not shared with Turkish wolves,” perhaps the most prominent political will of the late writer regarding the Turks whose presence did not come as intense in the Arab novelistic achievement as much as they appear in his trilogy “Fragments of Memory”, “The Swamp” and “Al-Qitaf”, published between 1975 and 1986.

“Minh” narrated his autobiography and personal experience with his family, in which they examined three major events in Arab-Turkish relations at the beginning of the twentieth century: the First World War, then the “Burlak Travel” incident and finally the occupation of Ankara “alexandretta” and the displacement of its people.

They occupied his country, enslaved his family ... that is, in short, the story of the great Syrian novelist Hanna Minh with the Turks, from alienation, misery and forced recruitment to the bitterness of forced displacement, so his response to Anatolian barbarism and their racist customs came under the pretexts of ethnic superiority, with three immortal literary works.

Forced to death

"Minh" made The first pages of the novel "Fragments of Memory”,  and the opening of his trilogy, by building an elaborate narration of the story of his uncle "Rizk Allah", which summarizes the Arab citizen's view of the Turks during the Great War 1914-1918.

Rizkallah belongs to a simple syrian christian family living in Latakia, who witnessed the unique historical moment in which Ottoman Turkey chose to go to war and Arabs, like many, suffered from being involved in this military adventure through forced labor.

The compulsory enlistment decision known as "Burlak Travel" or "the General Al-Nafeer" meant for the Arab people a "denial" in particular, as they were uprooted from their roots to fight a war that was not their battle and defend an issue that was not theirs.

Rizkallah was caught with thousands at the beginning of the war, and they were placed on the railway carriages as animals, and in Mersin the Turkish city the Turks gave them tents with a large group of People of Levant not to carry weapons and fighting but to work as forced labor in the implementation of support services such as establishing defense and digging trenches.

In forced labor, food and health services were almost non-existent, and after hard work for hours, the Arabs were left with nothing but "kirwana", from boiling water with lentil. 

The Alexandretta Swamp

In "The Swamp" the second part of the trilogy, "Minh" goes on to present his experience with a watershed event in the history of Turkish-Syrian relations related to the occupation of the Alexandretta in 1939 and the displacement of Arabs from it.

The Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 established the new borders of the nascent Turkish Republic over the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. Alexandretta was not in northern Syria within it, and from 1925 onwards it became part of the French Mandate regions.

Hanna Minh was at the time of the Turkish occupation at the age of fifteen, and his novel "Alexandretta Swamp" is a testimony to the Arabs of the brigade, who stood in the face of the turkish invasion and rejected the turkish politics and exodus from Alexandretta.

Minh referred to the political fighter, Fayez Al-Shula, who was imprisoned by the French for his leadership of the demonstrations against the Turkish polices concerning Alexandretta .When he got out of his prison, he started holding meetings in the neighborhood, and confirming everywhere that Alexandretta is Arab in its majority, and we have to struggle with everything we could to preserve it, and the Arab powers from all groups united and formed in the city a unified leadership and was organized in the neighborhoods, because rumors were proliferating about the Turks' intention to attack.

He goes on to say: "It is rumored that a referendum will be held to find out who constitutes the majority of the brigade, and people were surprised to know that the Turks are a small minority, but they have begun to multiply in recent years. The Turkish army will enter the brigade, and it really did enter, and the Arabs stood on the side of the streets, looking at the ranks of the soldiers with oppression and disappointment, and then they realized that everything was over and that they had to choose between immigration and survival''.

The Arabs of Alexandretta were aware that the policies of the Turkish Republic are based on racist ideas that refuse to recognize any other race, and they were convinced that they had to leave and emigrate. "The people began selling their items to secure the fare of their departure, and only the brushes and clothes were left for them. As for the houses, there were no people who bought them, so they vacated them empty and migrated. "

Let's leave it as rubble

If Turkey agrees to displace the Arabs from their homeland, there is no way for them to leave their property under the rubble so that the rapists will not enjoy them, because the people of Iskenderun ruined their homes and abandoned them in a hurry without being able to even sell them.

Minh's family destroyed the house after his father put it up for sale, and no one bought it even for four pounds. The writer describes his mother as removing the "brick" from the roof of the house, first kissing it and then destroying it.

The Armenian's fear

Hanna Mina continues his narrative about the suffering of the Armenians and their fear of the Turkish occupation of the Alexandretta brigade. The most prominent scene of immigration in the " Alexandretta Swamp" was the image of the terrified Armenians of the Turkish aggression, who were certain of a new massacre against them similar to the genocide that their fathers faced during the First World War and left about a million and a half million dead.

"At sea, ships stood, the Armenians migrated in abundance, and groups, the port was crowded with them, they saw them scattered along the beach and their children and their purposes, waiting to leave, sleeping in the open and spending their days under the burning sun, flocking to descending to the sea, and fleeing to Different destinations, surviving with their lives. "


In "Al-Qitaf", the last part of the trilogy, the family returns to Latakia, in which Hanna Minh's tendencies and convictions were formed during the following years, where he joined the ranks of the Marxist tendency and became a solid Arab.

He chose to engage in literature after working in modest and harsh occupations, including a barber, a sailor, and others, and after a great and rich experience in life.

Hanna Mina was able to empty his suffering and the suffering of thousands of residents of the Iskenderun Brigade into a creative work to be presented to the world to witness the injustice of the Turkish aggression and the separation Alexandretta from motherland Syria.


Haifaa Mafalani