One wedding and a coup

GÖNÜL AYDEMIR
ISTANBUL
Published
One wedding and a coup

Regardless of how big or small and where in the world it may be taking place, weddings are usually prepared for well in advance. But what do you do when something unexpected, like a coup, happens? Numerous couples, who had surely imagined to spend their big day a lot differently on July 15-16 last year, either postponed the event or went ahead with it, making slight alterations. One such case was my own wedding

As a compulsive planner, whose plans always collapse for one reason or another, the old Yiddish proverb, "We plan, God laughs," never fails to give me the giggles.

We had planned to have a street wedding in front of our Istanbul home. The tables and chairs were hired. The orchestra was booked months in advance. Catering, lighting, the sound system, they were all ready. Mum had flown in from Australia. We had relatives and friends fly in from other parts of the world and Turkey just for the wedding. Since we knew that this would be the case and having decided to organize a street wedding, the weather had to be perfect, everybody had to be on summer break and able to make it. So the date was set: The henna party would be on July 15, 2016 and the wedding would be the next day, on July 16.

By Friday evening on July 15, we were all set for the henna party.

In Anatolian tradition henna nights would be organized as a farewell to the bride – generally a heartbreaking event as after the wedding the bride would naturally leave her family and no longer share the same roof with them. Keep in mind that back in those days, traveling from one point to another could take days. Yet, in recent times, the henna ceremony has become a night of entertainment and celebration.

My henna party started off a little slow as we did not have a huge crowd. The majority of the people we invited had decided to come to the wedding the following day as traveling between districts in Istanbul – especially crossing the bridge on a Friday night – is generally excruciatingly painful. The majority of our guests from abroad and other provinces had made it along with a small number of Istanbulite friends.

Soon after we decided to get started with the traditional henna ceremony. It was time to prepare the henna paste, which, according to custom, needs to be mixed by someone who has never been divorced and has a happy, established marriage.

While the henna was being prepared and guests continued to dance away outside, I changed into my century-old caftan, handed down to me from my grandmother – it was her mother's. Being in possession of something so precious and extraordinary, I did not want to wear the "classic" henna outfit, called "bindallı" in Turkish, usually an embellished velvet caftan, or the more recent "trend" outfits that are reminiscent of sultans' gowns. Then came over my head a large red veil, covering my entire face, but sheer enough for me to see through.

In the meantime, outside, two chairs – one for the bride, the other for the groom – were placed right in the middle of the street – or call it the stage if you like – to allow guests a proper view of the henna ritual. By then the henna paste was ready on a tray decorated with burning candles. According to custom, single female guests are each given a candle to hold. When everybody is ready, the henna tray is brought out and the bride and groom follow, who are then followed by all the single ladies holding the candles while singing and going around the chairs on which the bride and groom are seated.

It is time to make the bride cry. So all the girls start singing the renowned folkloric henna song, "Yüksek Yüksek Tepelere" (In the High Hills).

Originated from the Malkara town of northwestern Tekirdağ province, this song is the story of beautiful young Zeynep's heart-wrenching longing for her family. After her wedding Zeynep leaves her family to move to her husband's town. Legend has it that it took three days and three nights to get to her new home. Zeynep, unable to see her family again for seven years, sang "Yüksek Yüksek Tepeler" every day, crying her heart out.

In The High Hills

Don't let them build homes in the high hills
Don't let them wed girls to faraway countries
Don't let them to disdain her mother's one and only

Let the flying birds sense it
I miss my mother
Both my mother and my father
I miss my village

If only my father had a horse so he could ride it to come see me
If only my mother had a sail so she could set it to come see me
If only my siblings knew where I lived so they could come see me

Let the flying birds sense it
I miss my mother
Both my mother and my father
I miss my village

Hence, everyone, walking around us, started singing the song in unison until they heard me cry. Traditionally, if the bride does not cry she is criticized as it is thought, "The bride is too eager to get married."

You might think, what's wrong with that? But that's an entirely different discussion.

Knowing that my late father could not be with me and with the majority of my first degree family obviously unable to make it from Australia, it had already started off as a very emotional day. And then that verse came: "Babamın bir atı olsa, binse de gelse" (If only my father had a horse so he could ride it to come see me). I was numb all over. Everything had become a blur. Sounds were ringing in my ears and I just could not hold back the tears. I was weeping loudly and uncontrollably, or more so wailing – the same way I did when I saw my father's coffin 14 years ago. It was a very lonely moment.

Everybody was stunned. Well, that showed them!

After friends and family succeed in reducing the bride to tears – who needs enemies? – the next step is to dye the bride's palm with henna. This time it is the bride's turn to play tough cookie. She will refuse to open her palm immediately, preventing the conclusion of the henna ritual. Somebody will announce: "The bride is not opening her palm." Upon this, the groom's side will bring a gold coin – or more than one – and the bride will open her hand. The gold coin is placed at the center of her palm and the henna paste is smeared over the gold coin. I was lucky enough to get a gold coin in each hand.

Then the bride's hands are wrapped to allow the henna to dry and set and the red veil over the bride's face is finally removed with everybody getting up to join the bride and groom on the dancefloor. Meanwhile, henna powder, symbolic of the night, previously packaged in dainty little gift wrappings, is also distributed to guests along with small pouches filled with mixed nuts.

Tradition has it that the bride is not required to do any house chores until the henna stain fades away. The darker the henna sets, the better it is believed the marriage and mother-in-law will turn out to be. But these are just old wives tales and traditions that are a thing of the past now. I'm sure you know what I mean.

Once the henna ceremony is over, the groom is allowed to depart for the women to continue to dance the night away.

However, not long had passed – my henna was still very moist – that two of my colleagues, journalists at Daily Sabah, ran up to me, pale, eyes wide open and a puzzled look on their faces. "The military seized control of the state, a coup is happening right this moment," said one of them.

Unable to process what I had just heard, I blurted, "No it's not." I could not comprehend what was happening. I did not want to believe it.

They were afraid, anxious and wanted to get home as soon as possible and so they left.

Still unsure if it was simply gossip, making a few phone calls, we found out that a coup attempt had taken place and an official announcement would soon be made.Immediately I informed our guests. Stressing that they are welcome to stay over at our house, we cautioned guests to be very careful and gave alternative directions to make sure they would get home safe and sound.

We live in a family apartment. Sharing the majority of our guests among us and my in-laws, we had some 60 people stay over the night. The remainder either reached their homes safely as they lived on the Asian side, not having to cross the bridge which was closed off and stage to a bloody scene that night, some chose to make a short trip to relatives living nearby. One of them, dropped off mid-way, unable to find a single vehicle on the road, with the metrobuses cancelled as well, had to walk the rest of the way home – for more than an hour. When we called him, his voice was quavering. While still walking, not sure if he would see home that night, he said, "Istanbul seems abandoned. I'm dead scared. It is so quiet. I just want to get home." Fortunately, he too made it home like all our other guests, whom we called one by one to make sure they were indeed safe.

Never having experienced a coup or anything like it in my life, I did not understand why people raided the stores they found open that night to buy essentials like bread, water, milk and nappies.

That night, every household in Aydemir Apartment (our building), everybody, guests and all, we were glued to the television. It was still all a blur to me until I saw state-run TRT anchor Tijen Karaş reading out the statement claiming the military had taken control of the entire country and announced a curfew. "It really is happening," I thought, but still did not know what was going to happen. Not sure what we would wake up to the next morning, we had accepted that the wedding would not happen. Then, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was on television. He had contacted the nation through a FaceTime connection. He was calling on the people to take to the streets and stand up for democracy, which led to nationwide resistance against what was eventually declared a "coup attempt" perpetrated by Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) elements in the military to overthrow the country's current government and president.

As you might guess, it was a very long and unforgettable night for us in more aspects than one.

Since the coup attempt was thwarted, when we woke up that morning – with what little and poor sleep we had – on July 16, as shallow as it may seem, everybody in Aydemir Apartment had one question on their mind: Is the wedding happening?

It was such a challenging question as we had not "planned" or expected anything of this sort to happen.

To wedding or not
The coup attempt had been repelled by the next day. Yet the fate of our wedding was still unknown.

The first piece of news I received in the morning was that Daily Sabah would print a special edition that day, "The Democracy Paper." Although the Daily Sabah team does not usually work on Saturdays, that day, on July 16, the team was in office to work.

I actually wanted to go to the office. I asked our editor-in-chief, Serdar Karagöz, if I should go in and work. He told me to have a "democracy wedding" instead.

Since the plan was a street wedding, we needed approval from the local police on the day as per routine procedure. Although everything had settled down in the country, we were not given approval to celebrate for safety purposes. We were told we could still set up outside and serve our meals, but that would be all. I thought I would rather call off the wedding than to have one reminiscent of a funeral house.

We decided that if it was going to happen, it would be a "proper" wedding – a day of celebration – as the country was also celebrating democracy upon defeating the coup attempt.

After calling a few receptions to see if they had any halls available – it is almost impossible to find anything available months before the summer time as it is wedding season, let alone find something on the day – in hopes that someone may have cancelled, we managed to find something by the afternoon.

So, the wedding would be on. It was quite a hurdle informing guests, the music band and catering about the location change, but we managed. The only thing we didn't have, which breaks my heart, are professionally taken wedding photographs. Once everything was set, it was time for the bride and groom to get ready. Considering the situation, I did my own makeup and prepared my own headpiece and my poor better half had to struggle with tying up my bridal gown. Then suddenly a few of his shirt buttons started to fall off. It was a designer shirt, but go figure! I said, "Maybe these are all signs, maybe we are not meant to be." After a few giggles, stress and even some tears, we were finally ready.

A wedding that was planned and organized in a matter of hours turned out to be delightful, according to guests. We only had some 70 guests, a quarter of the expected number, and it was saddening to see none of my friends, except a couple of those who somehow managed to make it, but it was done and dusted.

It was probably a lot less than standard weddings, but what's important in the end, even though it sounds cliche, is the love and respect we have for each other. At a time when tensions were so high, we stood by each other rather than argue, which is quite natural in such cases. And our families were there for us, some from Australia, some Germany and most from all corners of Turkey.

Obviously, a honeymoon would be out of the question for some time. Little did we know that this was actually a good thing and that it would be the journey of a lifetime. I say "journey" rather than honeymoon, because like our wedding, that too was extraordinary, unlike standard honeymoons.

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter