Ismail Akbulut

A Reflection on Berlin: A City of Remembrance


By Ismail Akbulut

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

Excitement filled the air as I embarked on a journey to Berlin, the cosmopolitan capital of Germany, with eager anticipation and curiosity. With its amazing historical sites, vibrant diaspora communities, including the Turkish diaspora, and rich cultural tapestry, Berlin promised an unforgettable adventure that resonated deeply with my personal heritage. As my family had migrated from Turkey to Germany in the 1970s, this journey held a special significance, igniting a sense of connection and excitement for the exploration that lay ahead.

Nestled in the heart of the city, close to Checkpoint Charlie – the iconic symbol of division between East and West Berlin – I was struck by the remnants of a tumultuous past that still echo through its streets. From the vantage point of their apartments, Berliners gazed across the wall, catching glimpses of the lives their loved ones led on the other side, a poignant reminder of the separation endured by the city’s inhabitants.

Berlin, once divided by the Cold War, bears witness to the scars of history etched into its landscape. The sight of Stolpersteine, small brass plaques embedded in the pavement to commemorate Jewish victims of the Holocaust, served as a touching reminder of the city’s dark past.

As I traversed the city, I encountered numerous memorials dedicated to the millions of innocent lives lost during World War II. The Holocaust Memorial, with its stark, somber concrete blocks, stood as a powerful testament to the atrocities of the past, evoking a sense of profound sadness and reflection.

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Amidst this backdrop of remembrance, I witnessed a city grappling with the weight of its history. From demonstrations advocating for ceasefire in Gaza to solemn candlelit vigils outside the synagogue for the hostages held by Hamas, Berlin exemplified a city deeply committed to acknowledging and honoring the past while striving for a better future globally.

It was truly a humbling experience surfing through the streets of Berlin. Every corner of the city echoed with the resolute refrain: “Never again.”

One particularly moving moment occurred during an evening stroll with friends. As we walked through the city streets, my friend Olin, who is of Latino and Jewish descent, recounted his experience in Paris on April 24, the day of remembrance for the Armenian Genocide. He vividly described how the city fell into solemn darkness, a profound gesture of remembrance for the victims of one of history’s darkest chapters. Inspired by his narrative, I recalled the significance of Berlin in the context of the Armenian Genocide and shared this insight with my companions.

In Berlin, the legacy of the Armenian Genocide is intertwined with its own history. The city served as the stage for the assassination of Talaat Pasha, a key orchestrator of the Armenian Genocide. The subsequent trial, where the perpetrator was acquitted, prompted the Jewish lawyer and academic, Raphael Lemkin, to coin the term “genocide” to describe the systematic extermination of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire.

While Berlin grapples with its past and strives for reconciliation, the same cannot be said for Turkey, where streets still bear the names of perpetrators of the Armenian Genocide such as Talaat Pasha. Armenians living in Turkey are confronted daily with reminders of their painful history, while other ethnic and religious minorities continue to face persecution and oppression.

The continued persecution and oppression of various groups in Turkey remains a pressing concern. Notably, prominent Armenian journalist Hayko Bagdat resides in exile in Berlin, a stark reminder of the challenges faced by individuals of diverse ethnic backgrounds. Additionally, Kurds and other indigenous ethnic groups are hindered in their ability to freely express their language and cultural heritage. Furthermore, individuals associated with the Hizmet movement, also known as the Gulen Movement, are subject to systemic persecution and torture, highlighting ongoing human rights violations within Turkey.

As I reflect on my time in Berlin, I am reminded of the importance of confronting the past and striving for justice and reconciliation. I hope and pray that one day, Turkey will follow Berlin’s example and transform its cities into places of remembrance, honoring all those who have suffered at the hands of oppression and injustice.

(Ismail Akbulut volunteers as the Director for Multifaith and Intercultural Dialogue at the Multicultural Mosaic Foundation in Aurora, Colorado. His X account is @ismail_i_ak.)

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