Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — Her name is Sabiha, the same name as the favorite adopted daughter of Kemal Mustafa (Atatürk), who as a female pilot was a symbol for her nation. But this Sabiha is German, and lives with her immigrant mother, whom she calls Anne — “mother” in Turkish. This Sabiha, we learn from her best friend (actually soul mate), also named Anne, is 150-percent German, and only learns Turkish when she attends university. She soon feels drawn to Turkish nationalist circles, and even participates in nationalist demonstrations, honoring Talaat Pasha, for example.
But who is Sabiha really? Is she German? Is she Turkish? Or is she, perhaps, something else? Could she be Armenian?
This is the question posed by a new play whose debut took place in Berlin at the Theater unterm Dach (Theatre under the Loft) in October. Composed by the well-known German-Turkish author and activist Dogan Akhanli, the play, titled “Anne’s Silence,” is a monologue, brilliantly performed by Bea Ehlers-Kerbekian, of Armenian descent, and directed with startlingly-modern creative insight by Ron Rosenberg. The play dramatizes the search for personal identity in the context of a polemical confrontation with the official Turkish policy of genocide denial, a policy which lies at the core of nationalist identity. As the program notes comment, the production presents the “speechlessness of the successor generations to the nationalist criminals” in this search, and Sabiha, “by living and expressing her own conflict, can find herself and overcome the cycle of violence and memory suppression, identity loss and isolation.”
Sabiha herself condones nationalist ideology, and agrees to translate a speech for a well-known intellectual from Turkey who has come to Berlin to address a “day of action” organized by nationalist Turks on March 15, to commemorate the anniversary of the assassination of Talaat Pasha on the Hardenbergstrasse. She cannot bring herself to translate certain menacing phrases uttered by the speaker against Hrant Dink, the editor of Agos, who had researched the Armenian heritage of Atatürk’s daughter Sabiha, because she thinks the formulations would be offensive in Germany. However, in her own short speech which follows, she too denounces the Genocide as a lie. She has decided to begin her speech with a joke, which is to suggest that she too is Armenian, since her name is Sabiha. To her surprise, instead of laughing, the people cry out, “God forbid!” Sabiha’s mother has also come with her to the rally, and when they return home she asks her mother why she is called Sabiha. It is then that she learns that, indeed, she was named after that adopted daughter of Atatürk.