A complex and fearless writer

Dmetri Kakmi is a Melbourne based writer whose autobigraphical book Motherland has been nominated for the NSW Premier’s Literary prize. He speaks to FOTIS KAPETOPOULOS about his experience of being a Turk of Greek descent and of the reactions to his book in Greece and Turkey.

Writer, Dmetri Kakmi, is a Greek from Turkey. He is a Turk of Greek background. He is Australian.

In 1971, as a 10 year old, along with his family, he left his island of Tenedos, (Bozcaada in Turkish), on the Aegean coast of Turkey, to live in Australia.

Last week Kakmi was nominated for the NSW Premier’s Literary Award in the non-fiction category for his book Motherland.

The last time Kakmi spoke to Neos Kosmos English Edition (NKEE) he was wary about talking to Greeks for fear of being attacked.

“Nationalists from both sides, Greeks and Turks, attack me because in Motherland I am critical of nationalist Turks but also give the Greeks a serving,” said Kakmi.

Greeks lived on the island of Tenedos up until the 1970s.

Motherland details what it was like to live as a member of a Greek minority on the island. Greeks could not own a business, they could not speak Greek outside their homes, and all their lands were expropriated.

The Greeks of Turkey in Kakmi’s book are people that neither the Greek nor the Turkish states want.

In Greece, during the Colonels’ regime, they were viewed as spies.

The only time Kakmi and his family stepped foot on mainland Greece, en route to Australia, they were locked up on the suspicion that they were spies.

In Turkey, the nationalist government painted them as traitors.

Motherland recently secured publishing and distribution deals in Turkey, Greece and in Britain.

Indeed, Kakmi himself was in Turkey two weeks ago launching the Turkish edition of Motherland.

“The publisher organised interviews only with the left wing and liberal media. I was warned that many right wing groups and ultra nationalists will be attacking the book in the papers as soon as they read reviews of it,” highlights Kakmi.

In Turkey, those that question Turkish nationalism are attacked and, in certain cases, are killed by extremists. Accordingly, Kakmi may now be a target.

“Before the book came out, my father warned me to be careful, not to publish it in Turkish and Greek, but I cannot, and will not, hold back just because someone has threatened me,” he says.

The book was presented to Greek publishers but was turned down repeatedly because, as Kakmi suggests, “Greeks in Greece look down on Greek-Australians. So anything that comes from Greeks here does not even get a look in, but when the book was presented to the Greek publishers by a British publisher, it was picked up immediately.”

The irony of this form of inverted snobbery is not missed on the author, “Turks and Greeks are now so overtly bourgeoisie and yet have a kind of third world view of desperately trying to be western, when, in fact, they would be so much better off taking advantage of their connection between east and west,”

Turko-Greek wars and ethnic cleansing campaigns were endemic  between 1913 and 1923. The ill-fated military campaign in Asia-Minor by the royalist Greek government of the time led to the Great Catastrophe and the ‘population exchange’ of Greeks and Turks in 1923, entailing the expulsion of 1.5 million Greeks from  Turkey and 500,000 Turks from Greece.

The remaining Greeks in Constantinople were ousted by the pogroms of 1955 and 1964. These events defined the 20th century and determined Kakmi’s fate, as well as that of his amorphous motherland.

“I see myself as a Turkish Greek, now as an Australian-Turkish-Greek, I am who I am.  Some Greeks see me as a traitor and some Turks see me as traitor,” he emphasises.
“The funniest critique was from a former Greek academic at La Trobe University, I forget his name, who said I was a ‘traitor to writing’” laughs Kakmi.

Dmetri Kakmi and his poignant Motherland are essential reminders of the involvedness of defining culture amidst the imposed, false and terrifying spectres of ethno-nationalism.

Winners of the NSW Premier’s Literary Award will be announced in May during the Sydney Writers Festival. Motherland is published by Giramondo is available at all good bookstores.