Guener Yasemin Balci is author of ARABBOY: Eine Jugend in Deutschland oder Das kurze Leben des Rashid A. ( Frankfurt am Main: S. Fisher Verlag, 2008, pp. 287.) ARABBOY is a controversial book describing the alienation of recent Middle Eastern immigrants to Berlin and Germany. The book offers new insights into the culture of victims and perpetrators, a theme which has marked modern German history.
Early-on, Guener Yasemin Balci was raised in the socially and economically troubled neighborhood in Berlin known as Neukoelln. In her late teens and early 20s, Balci returned again to the neighborhood of Neukoelln, in order to try her hand as a social worker and exponent for neighborhood education and development. In ARABBOY, Balci tells the troubling, shocking, and moving story of a boy named Rashid, of Lebanese-Palestinian descent--and of the Berlin inner city neighborhood that forged and eventually destroyed Rashid's young life.
Although most of the tale is based on Balci's own friends, acquaintances and contacts in the poverty-stricken multicultural Neukoelln neighborhood, it is written in novel-form, and Balci candidly admits that the main character, Rashid A., is based on a composite number of actual characters. Several of the supporting characters in ARABBOY are also composites. The title, ARABBOY plays on the SMS-, YouTube-, and internet "handle" that Rashid chose for himself early on. Rashid sees himself as "Arabboy 44", which means that in his neighborhood, there are certainly many Arab boys about. Likewise, most of Balci's tale takes place in the midst of Arab gangs and Arab families in Berlin.
Balci, herself, is not Arab. As a child in Neukoelln, she saw herself as "Turkish". Berlin, itself, is claimed to be the largest Turkish city outside of Asia--with approximately 200,000 Turkish or Turkish-German residents living in and around the German capital city. At home, however, Balci's parents spoke in German to her and to her older siblings. She has written that until she was much older she didn't really understand much Turkish and definitely did not know the language of her parents, known as Zaza.
Balci detailed the following in her self-introduction for ARABBOY, "My first years in primary school, I had also thought that we [my family] were Turkish. My parents spoke in a mysterious tongue that we children could not comprehend. Only later was I bold enough to enquire about the language. As I began to ask questions I learned that the language was known as Zaza [spoken by Dimili peoples of Persian ancestry]." That is, in Turkey, during her parents and most of Balci's own childhood, "Zaza" like Kurdish had been a banned language in militarily-controlled Turkey.
Balci added, "Zaza was one of numerous minority languages that Turkey were banned from speaking through the 1980s. To the Zaza language belongs an entire culture--all of its very own [i.e. separate from the Turkish culture that many Germans have come a bit to know during the recent post-WWII decades]. The Ataturks had sought to destroy these cultures [and the memories of these cultures]. In order to protect us children [from abuse], my parents had decided not to teach us Zaza." Incidentally, it is claimed by some linguists that the Dimilis migrated first to the Caspian Sea from the TigrisRiver, i.e. the cradle of civilization, and then later on to Western Turkey over the millennia.
Likely, due to the childhood abuses in Turkey inflicted upon her parents, Balci's father determined that his own children must try to become as multicultural as possible--even though early on, he and his wife had been interested in returning to and living in Turkey. Balci noted, " As a child I was often angered by my father's decision to send me to a Catholic Kindergarten in Berlin. My father was always too friendly and too quick with a good or complimentary word for the Germans. That kindergarten became a place for dread and fear for me. As would happen to me in German public schools and universities, I would be seen immediately as Turkish--although then I hardly spoke a word of Turkish. My mother tongue was German."
Balci's parents had been among the first waive of Turkish immigrant labor in the early 1960s. So, unlike many of the Middle Eastern arrivals of later years, not many of her parents generation had seen themselves as political victims or exiles from their homeland. These first generation of settlers had seen themselves (as had the German government) as temporary or "guest workers" who would return to their homeland one day. This is in contrast with many later German refugees--and characters created by Balci in ARABBOY. For example, Rashid A.'s household had come from a Palestinian refugee family from Lebanon via Turkey to Germany in the 1980s.
Balci definitely benefitted from her father's push to have all his children make as many friends from different cultures as possible. By the time she entered primary school, Balci was doing quite well academically, and, of course, her German skills were much better than in many other Turkish households in Neukoelln. Otherwise, Balci noted, she would have ended up in the so-called "Turkish classes" of her local public schools in Berlin. Balci explained, "[Turkish classes] were seen by her and her peers as a sort of Losers Club. For such a class, a Turkish born teacher was hired--this person, often, could hardly speak any better German than his own students. This teacher also treated his classroom dictatorially and further broke down the self-confidence of many would-be students [and new-Germans]."