Monday, September 26, 2005

In Istanbul, a Crack In the Wall of Denial

Yet it was not until I came to the United States in 2002 and started getting involved in an Armenian-Turkish intellectuals' network that I seriously felt the need to face the charges that, beginning in 1915, Turks killed as many as 1.5 million Armenians and drove hundreds of thousands more from their homes. I focused on the literature of genocide, particularly the testimony of survivors; I watched filmed interviews at the Zoryan Institute's Armenian archives in Toronto; I talked to Armenian grandmothers, participated in workshops for reconciliation and collected stories from Armenian friends who were generous enough to entrust me with their family memories and secrets. With each step, I realized not only that atrocities had been committed in that terrible time but that their effect had been made far worse by the systematic denial that followed. I came to recognize a people's grief and to believe in the need to mourn our past together.

I also got to know other Turks who were making a similar intellectual journey. Obviously there is still a powerful segment of Turkish society that completely rejects the charge that Armenians were purposely exterminated. Some even go so far as to claim that it was Armenians who killed Turks, and so there is nothing to apologize for. These nationalist hardliners include many of our government officials, bureaucrats, diplomats and newspaper columnists.

They dominate Turkey's public image -- but theirs is only one position held by Turkish citizens, and it is not even the most common one. The prevailing attitude of ordinary people toward the "Armenian question" is not one of conscious denial; rather it is collective ignorance. These Turks feel little need to question the past as long as it does not affect their daily lives.

A nice review of Shafak's latest novel ran in the Economist.

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