Hugging a Turk

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By Edmond Y. Azadian

Armenians living in Western countries on some occasions have become too civilized in making a distinction between the Turkish government and the Turkish people; the latter supposedly were innocent bystanders when the former planned and executed a historic mass murder. Therefore, the message is, don’t hate the Turkish people, and do not generalize.

Some Armenians even advocate finding and honoring righteous Turks even before a general reckoning of the crime has taken place.

But, unfortunately history has disproved such claims of distinction. The Genocide must be marked as the national sin of the Turks until denialism is abated, amends are made and compensation offered.

The Turkish government, in collusion with its wartime ally, Germany, planned and executed the ethnic cleansing of the Armenians, while the Mullahs issued fatwas asking for the murder and plunder of Armenians. That was a motivation — sanctioned by the religious leaders — for the general mobilization of the public, which was ready for bloodletting. “Gavur’un mali halal Turk’eh,” was the slogan, meaning “The Turk deserves what is the infidel’s.”

A minority of Turks refrained from participating in the orgy of blood and an even smaller minority resisted the temptation to plunder and protected some Armenians.

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The Kurdish minority had its own share of participation in this crime. Since the era of Sultan Hamid, the government would instigate the Kurds to persecute and plunder the Armenian population and the Ittihadist plan to exterminate the Armenians provided a license to the Kurds to commit spectacular atrocities against us. Once the poet Avetik Issahakian was asked about the issue of hate and Jesus’ counsel, “love your enemy.” Issahakian retorted, “When Jesus made that statement, Turks did not exist.”

A blind Turkish beggar who lived off the Armenian churchgoers’ alms in Adana and prayed all the time for their good health, was caught in the religious frenzy during the Adana massacre of 1909, asking his fellow Turks to drop a gavur in his lap so that he also can have a chance to slit his throat and thus go to heaven.

This may seem to be an individual case, but it was symbolic of Turkish-Armenian relations.

Even to this day, the majority of Turks either through false education, by tradition or through sheer ignorance, harbor a virulent hatred towards the Armenians.

A Turkish journalist, Orhan Kemal Gengiz, has taken up this issue of hatred against Armenians, in Today’s Zaman newspaper (July 8, 2015), which not only comes from the public, but even from government officials. It was not enough that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insulted Armenians during his recent presidential campaign; the Zaman columnist mentions Adana Mayor Huseyn Ozlu from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Kars’ Urku Ocaklar Youth Organization, whose leader has advocated the open persecution of the Armenians.

On the occasion of pianist Tigran Hamasyan’s recent concert in the ruins of Ani, the Kars youth leader asked the rhetorical question: “Armenians feel free in Turkey. What should we do now? Should we start a hunt for Armenians on the streets of Kars?”

Mr. Gengiz believes that this kind of behavior is tacitly encouraged by the authorities. He writes in the same column, “Don’t think that we don’t have laws punishing hate speech. We have article 216 of the Turkish Penal Code [TCK], which clearly and absolutely punishes any form of hate speech. However, when it comes to minorities, prosecutors are completely blind to hate speech. Those prosecutors who are so vigilant against any alleged insult towards the prime minister or the president become totally inactive in situations showing textbook examples of racist hate speech.”

It is this kind of hatred that has kept me from setting my foot on Turkish soil. Once on a cruise of the Greek isles, the ship docked at an island or peninsula called Kusadasi, which was part of Turkey. Despite the historic and Biblical significance of the site, I refused to disembark. I had a feeling that I would be greeted by the skeletons of our intellectuals arrested on April 24.

It is perfectly understandable for Armenians to hate the Turks. But the Turkish hatred is baffling. They murdered and deported the entire Armenian population from its historic homeland; they took over our properties and wealth and they continue hating the victim.

No matter how civilized we may become, we cannot overcome our hatred towards monstrous acts that were committed against our people.

For example, I hate the criminal who crushed Krikor Zohrab’s skull. I hate the gendarme who cut Taniel Varoujan’s fingers off and blinded him before extinguishing his genius. I hate the governor of Van, Jevdet Pasha, who nailed horseshoes on the soles of Armenian men and paraded them in the streets. I hate Deir Zor Police Chief Mustafa Sidki, who drowned 2,000 Armenian orphans in the Euphrates River. I hate the soldier who slit the womb of a pregnant Armenian woman to win a bet on the gender of the fetus.

As love is human, so is hatred. Any individual who fails to hate the above monstrous acts certainly lacks humanity.

The writer Vartkes Petrossyan has asked the rhetorical question: “Does it mean that my grandchild will continue hating the Turk’s grandchild, from generation to generation?”

It looks like a hundred years on, the hatred transcends generations.

Petrossyan made another statement which ties our destinies together: “Unfortunately, one’s homeland is not a hotel, from where you can pack up and move at will.”

We seem to be in a bind. And yet, a recent incident made me think more deeply about that destiny and about the continuation of that hatred and human nature.

I was in a small Canadian city where I hailed a cab for a short ride. The driver was a slim young woman. Her accent betrayed her Middle Eastern roots.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“From Turkey,” she replied.

I continued my conversation in Turkish. She was stunned.

“I haven’t heard anyone speaking Turkish in this town for a long time. This is kismet for me. I will have good business today.”

“I wish that you do,” I replied.

“Do you go back to Turkey often?” she asked.

“I have never been to Turkey and most probably never will. I am an Armenian,” I said.

She held my hand as if an electric shock had gone through her.

“I am sorry for the 1915 Genocide,” she said.

“I am sorry, too. I wish that your government would say the same.”

“Everyone has to clear his conscience in his turn. Today is my turn,” she said.

We had reached our destination. I did not ask her name, nor did she ask mine. She refused to take the cab fare. Although the fare did not compensate for my mother’s Inçirlik property, which is now leased by Turkey to the US as an airbase, I did not mind, because this exchange had transformed from arriving at a physical destination to an emotional coming together.

She came closer and asked coyly, “Do you permit me to hug you?”

I nodded.

Her entire body was shivering as she sobbed. I could not hold back my own tears.

She was no longer a Turk, nor was I an Armenian.

We were just two human beings, grieving together over one and a half million lost souls.