By Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
BERLIN — For many Germans, the centenary commemorations provided the impetus to learn more about the Armenian genocide. Fortunately, several new books have appeared in German which will supply not only basic background information but new historical discoveries. The book Death in the Desert: The Armenian Genocide by Rolf Hosfeld, director of the Lepsiushaus, has been received as a well-written rendition of the events. A more in-depth historical study, based on heretofore unpublished official documents, is Accessory to Genocide: Germany’s Role in the Elimination of the Armenians, by Jürgen Gottschlich. This work represents the most thorough treatment of Germany’s role thus far, with ample discussion of the activity of the military as well. Michael Hesemann’s book, The Armenian Genocide, draws on documents from the Vatican archives.
If publication of such historical documents continue to be instrumental in breaking through the denialism on the part of Turkey’s officialdom, what has opened the minds and hearts of ordinary citizens to confront the past has been literature. Elif Shafak, a prolific young author, is certainly the best known such writer from Turkey. Now, another of her bestseller, prize-winning novels, The Bastard of Istanbul, has appeared in a German translation. Though in this work she was accused of “Insulting Turkishness” according to Article 301 of the penal code, the case was eventually dropped. But the importance of her novel extends beyond this. As she writes in a foreword to the German translation, after learning about the genocide she decided to write a novel about “generations of Armenian and Turkish women, women who resembled each other so much that one might describe them as sisters in spirit.”
Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian and Asye Kazanci are two such young women, and through their encounter, the interconnected story of their families unfolds, all against the backdrop of the massacres and deportations. Armanoush is the daughter of Armenian Barsam Tchakmakhchian and his American wife Rose. The cultural clash between the all-American Rose from Arizona and Barsam’s extended family, whose compatriots had “a surname she couldn’t spell and secrets she couldn’t decipher,” and who made her feel an outsider — odar — lead to divorce at a time when her daughter (whom she calls Amy) is still a baby. Rose enters a new relationship with a Turkish man Mustafa Kazanci, and delights in the thought of how his ethnicity will annoy Barsam’s family.
Asye is the bastard daughter of Zeliha Kazanci, and lives in Istanbul with her mother and three sisters of Mustafa, as well as their mother and grandmother. The outlandish aunts include Cevriye, who teaches Turkish national history, Feride, a hypochondriac and Banu, a practicing clairvoyant. Her mother Zeliha, whom she calls Auntie, runs a tattoo parlor.