Entering 1915

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By Cengiz Aktar

Who knows, all the evil haunting us, the endless mass killings and our inability to recover from afflictions may be due to a century-old curse and a century-old lie. What do you think? This is perhaps the malediction uttered by Armenians — children, civilian women and men alike — who died moaning and buried without a coffin. It may be the storms created in our souls by the still-agonizing specters of all our ill-fated citizens, including Greeks and Syriacs and later, Alevis and Kurds.

Perhaps the massacres that have not been accounted for since 1915 and the “prices” that have remained unpaid are now being paid back in different venues by the grandchildren. The curses uttered in return for the lives taken, the lives stolen, the homes plundered, the churches destroyed, the schools confiscated and the property extorted… “May God make you pay for it for all your offspring to come.” Are we paying back the price of all the injustices committed so far? Does repayment manifest itself in the form of the audacity of being unable to confront our past sins or in the form of indecency, which has become our habit due to our chronic indulgence in unfairness? It seems as if our society has been decaying for a century, festering all around.

Despite this century-old malediction, 2015 will pass with the debate, “Was there really genocide?” remaining unanswered. We will watch how the current tenants of the state exert vast efforts to cover up this shame and postpone any move to confront it. If it were in their hands, they would just skip the year 2015. The denialist prose that consists of three wizened arguments, which amount to upheaval, collaboration with the enemy and victimization — it is the Armenians who killed us — will continue to be parroted in a series of conferences. And we will dance to our own tunes. On April 24-25, 2015 an official ceremony will be held on the occasion of Anzac Day in Gallipoli, not in connection with the genocide. And we will hear abundant tales about heroism in the Dardanelles. But we will find none to listen to our narrative.

How many more maledictions need to happen to us before we will be inclined:

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– To reckon with our bloody nation-building process?

– To know and remember how an innocuous, hardworking, productive, talented and peaceful people were destroyed by the warrior people of Anatolia and to empathize with their grandchildren in remembrance?

– To feel the gist of the tyranny that made unfortunate Armenians cry, “Ur eir Astvadz” (Where were you God?) in the summer of 1915, which was as dark and cold as death?

– To realize that the population of Armenians has dwindled from millions in 1915’s Ottoman Empire to virtually none today. The remaining Armenians have either concealed their true identities or were converted to Islam, after sweeping aside the puzzle, “Was it genocide or not?” or the question “Who killed whom?” and purely listening to our conscience?

– To understand, as Hrant Dink put it, a full-fledged cultural genocide and the loss of a tremendous amount of civilization?

– To realize that the biggest loss to this country is that non-Muslim citizens of this land no longer live here?

– To comprehend why the genocide — which Armenians of those dark days would refer to as the Great Catastrophe (Meds Yeghern) — is a disaster that befell not only Armenians, but the entire country?

– To see that the loss of our non-Muslim citizens who were killed, banished or forced to flee amounts to the loss of brainpower, bourgeoisie, culture and civilization?

– To calculate the curse of the goods, property and children confiscated?

– To duly understand the wisdom of the author Yasar Kemal, who wrote: “Another bird cannot prosper in an abandoned nest; the one who destroys a nest cannot have a nest; oppression breeds oppression”?

– To even realize that those who would reject all the aforementioned points would do so because of a loss wisdom deriving from the genocide.

The Armenian genocide is the Great Catastrophe of Anatolia, and the mother of all taboos in this land. Its curse will continue to haunt us as long as we fail to talk about, recognize, understand and reckon with it. Its centennial anniversary actually offers us a historic opportunity to dispense with our habits, understand the Other and start with the collective therapy.

(Gunduz Aktan is a columnist for Today’s Zaman newspaper in Turkey. This column appeared in the December 31 edition of the newspaper.)