Muhsin Batur, the meditating General

On December 18th, we filmed our first interview. The boom microphone immediately died, which meant that we had to rely solely on the lavalier clip mike, which meant that today’s two interview subjects recorded fine but Elif’s questions didn’t. (We weren’t going to use her questions anyway, but in case they answered a particularly telling question with a simple yes/no answer I wanted to have them on tape.) On a positive note, our tripod arrived from Bangkok, and a handy guy gerrymandered us a new power supply for our monitor.

Our first subject was Sulhi Donmezer, who wrote the 1960 constitution at the behest of the coup leaders. We were excited, because we had cake and tea in his house two weeks before, and because he’s well-spoken – which is why we were surprised when he turned out to be a bitch. He screamed at us about the quantity of equipment we brought and complained that our camera case was too large and that we’d likely destroy his house, and said when Turkish Radio and Television interviews him every week they just bring a camcorder. Elif, as always when faced with an obstacle, especially one involving the vicissitudes of human interaction, wanted to quit making the film then and there. We calmed Donmezer down by setting up quietly and cleanly; Metehan and Baris talked smoothly to his wife; Elif explained that we needed all the lights to make it look good for American TV and festivals, for which a camcorder would not do; and I praised his wonderful taste in furniture, which he claimed to be over 300 years old and to have been a Sultan’s. Elif told me in English that she wanted to smash their heads in with the light stand. It turned out the real reason for his ire was that our secretary Nese most likely forgot to confirm the filming with him yesterday, and he probably forgot about it, so he was taken by surprise when we showed up. He was very self-conscious about his appearance, by what tie he was wearing, and how he appeared on the monitor against the background. He proved to be a wonderful interview, however, answering our questions with long monologues that seemed to address everything we wanted to ask, and candidly, too. We learned our lesson, though: from now on, the big camera case marked SONY gets left in the car.

Our second interview of the day was with Muhsin Batur, the four-star general who led the 1971 coup by memorandum. He lived in a ordu evi, an army residential base for the higher ranks. It was top-security – multiple gates you had to pass through, armed guards keeping your ID – but, curiously, none inspecting my tripod case, which could hold a machine gun. Inside General Batur’s apartment, he had, in addition to a wife, 2 young lackeys with him 24/7: one, a chauffeur, and the other, an armed guard. They were both giggly boys, about my height and not looking a day over 18. Elif told me that high-ranking members of the police and army, as well as those who did antiterrorism work, have 24-hour bodyguards who live with them and follow them everywhere. I asked the General how he liked living with them on a permanent basis, and he said not at all, thank you.

The Baturs are much nicer to us than the Donmezers and said they were so glad to meet a girl like Elif, who is a real Daughter of Ataturk. It turned out that they have a family friend who’s a lawyer who knows Elif’s mother. The wife nicely asked us not to destroy her furniture. All seemed well. Suddenly there was a phone call, and it was bad news: one of the two lackeys’ fathers had been in a traffic accident, and the boy should go back to his village to be with his family. Batur’s wife was left to break the news, as it’s a woman’s job, not a General’s job, to talk about painful family matters. The boy was in tears, and both the boy and the General were afraid to tear up in front of us.

The man who brought down a government turns out to be camera-shy. Elif was amazing and got him to open up after he first gave only one-word answers. The cameramen were less impressive, and the amount of camera-fidgeting and adjusting they did during the interview makes me certain it’ll look like MTV’s The Real World or an AT&T commercial. We’ll watch the tape tonight, and if I’m correct, Elif will be the one to inform them to set up the camera and then leave the equipment alone. After Elif’s interview, I had Batur give an on-camera description of his awards, medals, photos, and knick-knacks, which were very impressive.

While the cameramen were breaking down the equipment, though, I had a long off-camera talk with the General that was even more interesting. We talked about meditation and Zazen (the General, at 78, has trouble with the discipline of clearing your thoughts and focusing on his breathing, and he can’t adopt the lotus position); we talked about the difference between the army and air-force (he thinks all air forces are less formal in the way subordinates address superiors); we discussed the spread of Islam (he criticized some parts of the Koran but was also careful to say that although Jesus was a prophet, it was ridiculous to say that was the son of God); and we talked about ancient Egypt (the more he reads, the more convinced he is that people from outer space built the pyramids – but he still can’t reconcile this view with the fact that you can’t travel faster than 186,000 miles per second). I wish I had that on camera.

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