By Edmond Y. Azadian
The title of this column is borrowed from Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov’s novel, which takes place in the Caucasus. However, the hero of our time, Garo Paylan, has nothing in common with Lermontov’s protagonist, Pechorin, who is a self-doubting Byronic figure.
Incidentally, many Russian writers have been fascinated by the Caucasus, if not necessarily by the people living there. In addition to Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy’s novel, Haji Murad, is about Chechnya. But more notorious is Alexander Pushkin’s characterization of the Armenians in his Erzurum memoirs, predating Admiral Mark Bristol, stationed in Istanbul as US High Commissioner, undoing in his reports what US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire Henry Morgenthau had been documenting about the Armenian Genocide.
Now, out of the blue, an Armenian hero has emerged in Turkey, in many ways contradicting the typical Istanbul Armenian, who through brutal experience has learned to be extremely cautious and conservative in word and deed. For Istanbul Armenians, for example, traditional Armenian political parties are toxic entities and they refuse to go near them.
Following the experience of the Genocide, their characters have been shaped by Kemalist rule, during which history textbooks spewed venom against Armenians. That character has also survived the punitive Wealth Tax period, the September 6 pogroms and constant police surveillance. Therefore, to survive or to live more comfortably, they have to sidestep their ethnic identity.
Garo Paylan shatters that mold as journalist Hrant Dink did before him, at his own peril. Ever since entering the Turkish parliament as part of the HDP party, Paylan has waged an unrelenting battle for human rights and Armenian rights. To be fair, all three ethnic Armenian members of Parliament, in the ranks of different political parties, have been uncompromising on Armenian issues.