A cup of coffee is remembered for forty years

In recent weeks, a turn-of-the-century story went viral on the Turkish net about the Istanbul coffee maker Yusuf the Wise, and the Greek fisherman Stelios, who each did a good turn for the other a decade apart. The story bears all the features of the apocryphals: it is too didactic and too beautiful to be true, no info on its characters can be found elsewhere, and its referenced source Üsküdar Belediyesi Kültür Hizmetleri Arşivi (Üsküdar Municipality Cultural Service’s archive) also occurs only in the shared versions of the story. The circumstances of the Samos revolt included in it are also inaccurate. It was not in 1905 but in 1908 that the island of Samos, which had had its autonomy within the Ottoman Empire since 1835, revolted for unification with Greece, which happened in 1912. And Pasha Damat Ferid, who in the story is sent to quell the revolt, only returned from his two-decade voluntary exile in London in 1908, so he could hardly receive such an assignment. And in any case, he favored the ethnic minorities of the empire: in 1919 he officially recognized the Ottoman genocide against the Armenians, for which he again became persona non grata in Turkey.

Nevertheless, I have mentioned the Turks negatively so many times in relation to other ethnic minorities, Armenians, Greeks, Christian Assyrians and Kurds, that now I also have to retell this story to improve their image. Se non è vero, at least the fact that they compose such a story, and so many people take it over, retell and positively comment on it, that they regard it as so important that there was at least one Turk and one Greek who helped each other in this way. As if this would counterpoint to some extent the atrocities committed by their compatriots. Even if at first glance, the real hero of the story is the Greek. But at second glance, the Turk is also a hero who dares to confront the real agent of the genocides, the military officer. I wish many more simple Turks had done so.

I quote the story from Arkeoloji Tarihi (Archaeology and History), one of its earliest (mid-June) and most commented occurrences, but of course this is probably not the original source.

“1895. A Turkish military officer enters the café in the port of Eminönü, and he says: «Master Yusuf, a coffee for everyone except that Greek there.»

Wise Yusuf serves the coffee to everyone. He also puts a cup in front of the Greek Stelios. The officer is shouting: «Didn’t I tell I don’t pay it for him?»

Wise Yusuf does not lose his composure. «Captain, his coffee is paid for by me. He also deserves one.»

Stelios looks up gratefully at Yusuf.

Years go by. In 1905, a Greek uprising breaks out on the island of Samos. The troops of Pasha Damat Ferid land on the island. Among the soldiers there is the same Yusuf, who falls in captivity at the first clash. He spends two years in the prison of Samos. After that, the Greeks trade the prisoners on the slave market. At Yusuf’s turn, a loud voice is heard:

«Five kuruş for the Turk! I pay it immediately!»

Nobody overbids him. The Greek puts Yusuf on a chariot, they drive out of the city. On the seashore he stops the horses, turns to Yusuf, and tells to him:

«Wise Yusuf, you are free.»

«Sir», Yusuf asks in astonishment, «who are you? Why do you release me?»

The Greek starts from afar, from the port of Eminönü twelve years earlier. He describes that day in detail. «I am Stelios, the fisherman who on that day deserved a coffee.»

Both of them have tears in their eyes. Yusuf illegally gets home to Istanbul. Their friendship lasts for thirty-five years. They visit each other every year. On each visit, another cup of coffee. Their children and grandchildren also continue the tradition.

Thence the well-known proverb: Bir kahvenin 40 yıllık hatrı vardır, ʻA cup of coffee is remembered for forty years.’”

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