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An Armenian from Turkey in Los Angeles (2).

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- I mentioned earlier that I had visited Los Angeles to attend the fourth Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival, held between May 15 and 19, at the invitation of the Pacifica Institute.

Due to time constraints, I didn't have the opportunity to visit the associations founded by the Armenian community in Los Angeles. If I am not mistaken, Hrant Dink traveled to that city twice. The US, particularly the state of California, welcomed hundreds of thousands of Armenians who survived the 1915 incidents and had escaped or were driven out of their homeland. Armenia represents one of the few nations in the world whose diaspora is larger than its own population. In this sense, the US and Los Angeles have a special place in the collective memory of Armenians. Even a cursory look at the lives of famous Armenians, such as William Saroyan and Arshile Gorky, who fled to this country after 1915 is enough to make one understand the price paid and the dignified struggle fought. The ever-present images of a mother and the province of Van in Gorky's work and the tragic death of the painter are proof that a burden which was impossible to shoulder had been placed on the shoulders of this nation.

I feel spiritually upset when I visit and return from two specific locations: Anatolia and foreign countries where the Armenian diaspora lives. I think I need to clarify this a little: Most members of my family have been dispersed around the world. I have four sisters and brothers in Europe and Australia. I have cousins in France, the US, Germany, Switzerland, Greece and Argentina. And this is not just specific to me. Nearly all Armenians are in the same situation. I couldn't see my sister for six years because she lives in Melbourne, at the other end of the world. It is really painful to be in this situation. They aren't just those Armenians who were forced to leave their country in 1915. That inauspicious door was not just opened and closed once in 1915. The rationale of 1915, i.e., the bloody game staged by the Community of Union and Progress (CUP), was inherited and maintained by the Kemalists of the newly established Turkish Republic. This game can be briefly defined as denial, impunity and Turkification. In the republican era, those who were responsible for the 1915 incidents continued to assume top positions in military and civilian bureaucracies. Mustafa Kemal AtatE-rk purged the dissident CUP members but integrated the rest into the state apparatus. The huge wealth and property of Armenians was shared among the ruling elites of the new republic. In particular, when it became clear that the West wouldn't punish Turkey for the 1915 incidents and the whole world would close their eyes to these crimes, Turkey started to pursue the policy of denying these incidents. It is not only Armenians, but also Kurds, Alevis and Muslims who have suffered greatly from this state mentality.

This denial formed the leitmotif of the policy of banishing non-Muslim minorities in the republican era. Non-Muslims' non-Turkish identity was sufficient reason for being sent away but Armenians were also subjected to the multiplier effect of the policy of denying the 1915 incidents. Their property was confiscated. Committees established in every institution came up with plans on how to persecute the Armenian community. These plans included the wealth tax and the vandalism of Sept. 6-7. As a result, Armenians continually left the country until the 1970s. But the biggest problem for the Armenians of Turkey was the beginning of the sinister assassinations by the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia (ASALA) in the early 1970s. The military coup of 1980 was the peak in this regard. During this coup, leading figures of the Armenian community were arrested and pressures on the community increased. For instance, most members of my family left the country in the wake of the 1980 coup. Even the most optimistic members of the Armenian community felt that they had to leave the country, thinking, "There is no possibility of us living in this country as nothing will go right here." Those who didn't leave the country were mostly those who didn't have the financial means to do so or those who didn't want to take this risk. My father had intended to migrate but couldn't make it because of his health problems.

Nostalgia for their homeland

Naturally, I have been to numerous countries where Armenians live. I have visited my sisters, brothers, relatives and friends there. Some were luckier than others in terms of material means. For instance, Los Angeles, the city I recently visited, is paradise on earth. I have seen many countries where Armenians suffer no disadvantages in terms of connecting to their identity. Still, I would feel sad and gloomy when I returned from those places as well. At the very least, those Armenians I saw would be troubled by feelings of nostalgia for their homeland or by the fragmentation of their families. It was no longer possible for them to return but parts of them had been left behind in their homelands. Their happiness would never be complete. They would appreciate their adopted countries but would still say, "It is not like living in one's own homeland." This feeling of being stuck in limbo would sadden me very much. We were in our own lands where our ancestors had lived and where our churches and cemeteries were located, but we were not with our relatives. I couldn't see how my own nephews or nieces had grown and matured. When I first saw my three nephews and nieces, they were in their 20s. I have many close relatives whom I have never seen.

My visits to Anatolian cities leave me equally saddened as well. I would like to tell you about one of my memories. I was invited to Ecorum to attend a panel session to discuss the Kurdish issue. The session was very effective with the participation of my dear friends Hilal Kaplan and Bekir Berat Euzipek. Since I am Armenian, I encountered questions about the 1915 incidents as well. The change that Turkey has recently been going through about the 1915 incidents is tremendous. Dink would say: "Our Turkish brothers and sisters don't know the truth about 1915. If they knew, they wouldn't be insensitive to this tragedy." With the liberalization over the last 10 years in Turkey, people are rediscovering their own past. They are asking the simple question: "In the last 10 years, the crimes committed by the state which are currently on trial have shown us that the official version of history that was taught to us is wrong. Neither the coup of Feb. 28, 1997 nor the Sept. 12, 1980 coup occurred as they taught us. Many suspicious incidents and assassinations were later found to be masterminded by the state. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoy-an has apologized for the Dersim massacre. So why should the official narrative on the 1915 incidents be true? How could the non-Muslim population, which accounted for 40 percent of the total population in 1914, decrease to 0.01 percent of the total population today?"

In Ecorum, I received questions similar to this one, all indicating the awakening and curiosity of the public. I answered them. Leaving the panel session, we got into the car of the representative of the civil society organization that hosted us. As we were traveling in the car, I heard a sound that sent shivers down my spine. It was the chime from the bell of an Armenian church, which was very familiar to my ears. For a moment, I was lost in time and space. I was deluded in thinking that there might still be an active Armenian church in Ecorum. "Is there an Armenian church here?" I asked my friends excitedly. The simple-mindedness of my question and the naivety on my face made my friends from Ecorum feel sorry. After a brief hesitation, they told me that the bell chimes was from the city's clock tower. The bell had been salvaged from a ruined Armenian church and fixed onto the tower.

Looking at destroyed landmarks

It brings me pain to see the remains of destroyed landmarks of Armenian history in my visits to various Anatolian cities. A systematic operation to cleanse Armenian traces in this vast geography was conducted by the state. In particular, in the run up to the 1980 coup, church towers were torn down by cannon balls. Akhtamar Church was saved at the last minute thanks to great efforts by author YaE-ar Kemal. It is hard to understand this hate. What is the name of this ideology that didn't stop after sending thousands of people away and insisted on destroying all traces of an ancient culture that dates back thousands of years? You tell me.

In the last 10 years, Turkey has seen a tremendous change in the state mentality. But society is still ahead of the state. That is a good thing. But it is hard to say that the denial has ended. Turkey is just slowly starting to recognize the existence and rights of its 15 million Kurdish citizens. It is heartwarming to see that change has started. But there is still much progress to be made. The good news is that this change will not take 90 years, but will be much quicker. It is a remarkable development that in the festival held in Los Angeles, Akhtamar Church was selected as the historic landmark that represents the city of Van, Deputy Patriarch Archbishop Aram AteE-yan, as the guest of honor, was able to deliver a touching speech there and that such an environment was created in the first place. Indeed, civil society is doing this with a great deal of desire and sincerity. Turkey is searching for its past and wants to rediscover its ancient wealth. It won't be long before this starts to guide state policies and a more ethical and conscientious position is adopted with regards to the 1915 incidents.

A major component of Turkey's official Armenian policy is the demonization of the Armenian diaspora. This component is still alive. The Hizmet movement, which has emerged as Turkey's representative in the international arena, has been making serious efforts to compensate for the damage done in this regard. Indeed, the volunteers of the Hizmet movement have established close ties with their Armenian neighbors in Los Angeles and conduct joint activities with them. The best cure for prejudices and ideological myths is what I call "muhabbet," i.e., coming together and having a friendly conversation. No one has to nurture the same views as us but this shouldn't prevent us from establishing relations, working together or loving each other. For about a century, the Armenian diaspora has been carrying the burden of this sorrow alone. Just as Turkey is not monolithic, the diaspora is not one single piece. It is our duty to dispense with our old habits reciprocally. The risk of being stuck in the middle is worth the reunion of two sister nations and starting to shoulder the burden of mourning together.

I don't claim to tell everything correctly. As an Armenian from Turkey who knows both sides to a certain extent, this is my position. I cannot tell anyone to act in this or that manner. Based on my beliefs, we are human beings first. People may not be able to choose their identity, race or color but they can choose to be human beings. No nation can be accused of being genocidal. Crimes are committed by individuals or organizations. There were serious crimes involved in the 1915 incidents. The perpetrators of these crimes are known. The entire nation cannot be held responsible for these crimes. To say the reverse is to end up in the worst position about one's justified cause.

MARKAR ESAYAN (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:May 25, 2013
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