Cengiz Aktar
Dec 30 2017

Confronting past violence with more violence

Just a few days before New Year 2015, I wrote a piece entitled "Entering 2015" –copied below since the records of the Taraf newspaper where it was published has been deleted by the authorities.

I was concluding with my hopes and wishes for the coming centenary of the Armenian Genocide; an end to denials, a break from routine, the ability to hear the Other and the willingness to understand each other —the first steps towards a collective healing process.

Of course, it did not happen.

Nor did it happen in 2016 or 2017. On the contrary, the curse of 1915 pervades the country more and more each passing day. We are going through such times that each year, we yearn for the one before. It is collective psychosis.

When I said 'curse' I did not mean a para-psychological phenomenon. Besides one should not demean the non-mourned, the unburied bodies, and the suffering souls. I meant that unless we, as a society confront a massive crime in our past like the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and unless we commit due reparations to the descendants of innocent victims, impunity will haunt us, and even more evil will follow. This is a century-old ethical predicament with remarkably deep roots.

Considering that Genocide is a substantially massive crime than any of the public, individual or collective infractions, or the incessant evils of today, if the public consciousness can stomach Genocide, it can easily stomach any lawlessness. And thus, evil begets evil.

We as a society have constantly refused to bring up the events of 1915 due to the intensity of the transgressions that followed suit —directly correlated to the impunity of Genocide— as well as voluntary or forced dementia.

And now, the masses, which do not even know the meaning of the word ‘Armenian’ —or use it at best as an insult— let alone the word ‘genocide’, lack any awareness of the issue. That won’t change. 

Let me give an example. When talking about the impunity for crimes against the Kurdish people since the founding of the Republic people usually start by saying "for the last 90 years". Very few acknowledge the impunity for the crimes against the Armenians and other non-Muslim groups, especially the Kurdish crimes against Armenians that went unpunished.

Today collective dementia has reached such levels that even this 90-year-old persecution tends to be forgotten. On the contrary, collective dementia, collective violence, and collective depravity that were imposed after the transgressions of 1915 became our lifestyle.

Now we have unlimited violence and depravity everywhere, inside our homes, barracks, workplaces, hospitals —in every arena, from politics to the media— against everything from humans, to animals, nature, cities, and culture. But lawlessness, impunity, injustice, and indifference are everywhere as well.

There is a fence of political and social dementia that stands against a handful of people who are still trying to resist, who do not want to forget and who claim justice.

The issue here is not even the embarrassment some might feel in case of justice. The problem is amnesia, a public and voluntary dementia that banishes empathy, remembrance, and mourning.

Some kind of schizophrenia that immediately forces one to forget and try to make others forget the violence it just inflicted. This is a collective sickness that transgresses the delusions of banal everyday politics.

However, the suppressed memories of the past violence keep themselves alive in the public sub-consciousness by creating more violence, testing the confines of our dementia. So much so that while trying to forget an evil, we beget a new one!

Maybe this is the curse of a society that refuses to face voluntarily its past violence through involuntary confrontation with daily violence with all its sinister consequences.

People hold a banner reading ("From 1915 to Hrant, genocide continues") during a march in memory of slain journalist Hrant Dink, on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on January 19, 2015. AFP PHOTO /OZAN KOSE
People hold a banner reading ("From 1915 to Hrant, genocide continues") during a march in memory of slain journalist Hrant Dink, on Istiklal avenue in Istanbul on January 19, 2015. AFP PHOTO /OZAN KOSE

Entering 1915

 

Who knows, all the evil haunting us, endless mass killings, and our inability to recover from afflictions may be due to a century-old curse and a century-old lie. What do you think?

This is perhaps the malediction uttered by Armenians, children, civilian women and men alike who died moaning, and buried without a coffin. It may be the storms created in our souls by the still agonising spectres of all our ill-fated citizens including Greeks and Syriacs and later Alevis and Kurds.

Perhaps, the massacres which have not been accounted for since 1915 and the charge which have remained unpaid are now being paid back in different venues by the grandchildren.

The curses uttered in return for the lives taken, the lives stolen, the homes plundered, the churches destroyed, the schools confiscated, and the property extorted...

‘May God make you pay for it for all your offspring to come’… Are we paying back the price of all the injustice done so far?

Does repayment manifest itself in the form of an audacity of not being able to confront with our past sins or in the form of indecency that has become our habit due to our chronic indulgence in unfairness? It seems as if our society has been decaying for a century, with festering all around.

Despite this century-old malediction, 2015 will pass with the debate, ‘Was there really genocide?’

We will watch how the current tenants of the state exert vast efforts to cover up this shame and postpone any move to confront it. If it were in their hands, they would just skip the year 2015.

The denialist prose that consists of three wizened arguments that consist of upheaval, collaboration with the enemy and victimisation —it is rather Armenians who killed us— will continue to be parroted in a series of conferences. And we will dance to our own tunes.

On April 24 and 25, 2015 the official ceremony will be held on the occasion of the Anzac Day in Gallipoli, not in connection with the genocide. And we will listen to Dardanelles heroism in abundance. But we will find none to listen to our narrative.

How much more maledictions should happen to us so that we will be inclined:

  • To reckon with our bloody nation-building process?
  • To know and remember how an innocuous, hardworking, productive, talented and peaceful people was destroyed by warrior peoples of Anatolia and to empathise with their grandchildren in remembrance?
  • To feel the gist of the tyranny that made unfortunate Armenians cried, "Ur eir Astvadz" (Where were you God) in revolt to God in the summer of 1915 which was dark and cold as death?
  • To realise that the population of Armenians dwindled from millions in the Ottoman Empire of 1915 to virtually none today and the remaining Armenians either concealed their true identities or were converted to Islam, after sweeping aside the puzzle "Was it genocide or not" or the question "Who killed who" and purely listening to our conscience?
  • To understand, as Hrant Dink put it, a fully fledged cultural genocide and the loss of a tremendous amount of civilisation?
  • To realise that the biggest loss to this country is that non-Muslim citizens of this land no longer live here?
  • To comprehend why the genocide - which Armenians of those dark days would refer to as the great catastrophe (Meds Yeghern) - is a disaster that befell not only Armenians, but the entire country?
  • To see that the loss of our non-Muslim citizens who were killed, banished away or forced to flee amounts to the loss of brainpower, bourgeoisie, culture and civilisation?
  • To calculate the curse of the goods, property, and children confiscated?
  • To duly understand the wisdom of author Yaşar Kemal, who wrote, "Another bird cannot prosper in an abandoned nest; the one who destroys a nest cannot have a nest; oppression breeds oppression"?
  • To even realise that those who would reject all the aforementioned points would do so because of a loss wisdom deriving from the Genocide.

The Armenian Genocide is the great catastrophe of Anatolia, and the mother of all taboos in this land. Its curse will continue to haunt us as long as we fail to talk about, recognise, understand and reckon with it. Its centennial anniversary actually offers us an historic opportunity to dispense with our habits, understand the other, and start with the collective therapy.