This memorial event, which was organized last year as part of the Say Stop to Racism and Nationalism campaign, will be held at the same place this year, Taksim at 5p.m. I couldn’t go last year because my mother had just died. Interestingly, this year it coincides with Easter, which Christians, and of course Orthodox Armenians, celebrate. There is something meaningful about a holiday and a day of mourning occurring on the same day. During Easter, Christians celebrate the transition from death to life and from grief to hope and joy. All holidays have a common theme for people who believe in God. Indeed, there is death, injustice and poverty in the world. But that doesn’t mean they have achieved ultimate victory. Peace will be the winner. Actually not just believers, but all people live with this hope.
Did you know that commemorating April 24, 1915 is not something new in Turkey? Many years ago the Armenian community commemorated the people that died in 1915, not in some faraway fake heaven, but in these very lands, where the pain was experienced and where Armenians live. They held ceremonies, for several years, in İstanbul.
Surprised? Let me explain briefly.
“Huşartsan.” This is an Armenian word that is probably very foreign to you. It means monument or memorial. Huşartsan is an almanac prepared by Armenian writer Teodoros Lapcinciyan (Teotig) that is based on ceremonies organized by the mourning commission set up in İstanbul in 1919 to remember the victims of April 24, 1915. A Turkish translation of the almanac was released by Belge Yayınevi publishing house a few months ago.
Huşartsan was a very important book for Hrant Dink as well. The events surrounding the book were as mysterious as Dan Brown’s fictions. Copies of the book, which was published in İstanbul on April 12, 1919, mysteriously disappeared. The atrocious crime, which everyone condemned after the 1920s, committed by supporters of the Community of Union and Progress (CUP) against Armenians, who were then citizens of the Ottoman Empire, is one of the few exceptions in the legacy of the Ottoman Empire that was not rejected.
In memory of the April 24 Momument
The April 24 Monument that was dedicated to the victims of 1915, which is pictured on the cover of the book and which was located in an area that now includes Divan Hotel, İstanbul Radio and the Harbiye military facility, was also mysteriously destroyed. In the preface of the book Ragıp Zarakolu writes, “Historian Pamukciyan says he saw the bases of the monument in the garden of the Harbiye military facility.” A book lover gave this valuable copy of the book, which features a photo of the monument on its cover, to Dink. Zarakolu says “Hrant felt like he had just been given the biggest treasure in the world.”
How could he have not?
In 1919, Armenians erected a monument for those who had died. They organized spiritual ceremonies and mourned their losses together with their Muslim neighbors. They were able to utilize, albeit for a few years, a very basic opportunity which we need in order to leave pain in the past and one for which we have been yearning for close to a century.
Dink immediately had the book translated into Turkish and tried to have it published. But then his computer, where he also had his own works saved, mysteriously crashed.
In Teotig’s almanac, in which he provides information about the victims of April 24, there are exactly 761 intellectuals, men of letters, religious men and educators of Armenian origin. These innocent people who represented the mind, heart, culture and language of one nation, were given away to gangs in the dark corners of Anatolia to vanish from life.
I remembered something while I was reading the book. I remembered that Dink had mentioned this book in his amazing interview with Neşe Düzel on May 23, 2005.
“During that period, the Armenian community in Turkey had set up a morning commission. I have a book about that. This book was published in Armenian in 1919. It has biographies on all the leaders and intellectuals who were arrested on April 24. I am going to have this book published in Turkish. But the circumstances changed rather quickly in Turkey after 1920.”
Dink shared this important information with Düzel in his usual candid, sincere and straightforward manner. Afterward however his computer crashed again and it couldn’t be saved. Was there a connection? We don’t know. You can decide on that. That was the time when Ergenekon members, in other words neo-CUP supporters, were giving Dink a difficult time? There were lawsuits, death threats, a battle that began following a statement by the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) that targeted him and continued until his death on Jan. 19, 2007. Many of Dink’s projects were left incomplete. He really wanted the book to be translated into Turkish. Zarakolu considered Dink’s desire a will and he had the book translated and published. To see that Turkey has changed even just a little bit and to know that not everything was in vain is promising.
Now, turning to the disaster that Armenians faced and that will be remembered in Taksim for a second time, can we for just a moment approach the human disaster without political concerns, calculations and the prejudices the two peoples have developed against each other? I think we finally can. If we can realize that the loss is our loss as well, then we can leave behind the “buts” and share this pain with our Armenian friends.
Angels vs. devils?
In contrast to what the official argument prompts us to believe, it is not true that Turkish Armenians are angels and Diaspora Armenians are devils. Can any reality be that simple or that complicated? Foreign Affairs Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu recently did something I have been proposing and defending for many years in my articles. He said, “The Armenians in America and France are our diaspora. They emigrated from Anatolia. They are Armenians who are from here.”
What a curing sentence. Many in the Armenian diaspora, in fact I can say close to all, do not want compensation or land from Turkey. The only thing they want is their “former homeland” to reinstate their rights, to show empathy towards their pains and to end the denial that has been going on for a century. For many of them, returning to Turkey permanently is out of the question. But they want to be on good terms with their homeland. Their demands are not political. It is a psychological need that has a deeply rooted significance. As Dink said, both people suffered from the tragedy in 1915. No one in their right mind would be happy with what happened. Armenians need Turks and Turks need Armenians to cure this disease. In other words, they need to reconcile their difference, give each other their blessings and embrace one another.
It is for this reason that Turkey and Turks need to understand the diaspora. For 96 years an indescribable pain has been denied. It is true that this leads to disappointment which sometimes turns into anger. But it is like the anger members of a family have toward each other sometimes. This unique situation makes it both very easy and very difficult to solve the problem. If we can find the right and sincere words that appeal to hearts, then it is actually very easy to return to the beginning.
I don’t mean to paint a rose-colored picture. Even if Turkey and Turks did this a portion of the diaspora may still try to get the US and other countries to pass a bill on the genocide. But the legitimacy the Armenians provide for this will decline. Its importance will diminish. That is because the problem will already be in the process of being solved. Just think about how just the name of the Armenian initiative has given prestige to Turkey in the world.
I wouldn’t want to mislead you by making my personal opinion obscure. If the name of the catastrophe that occurred in 1915 is genocide then it should be rightly articulated. The same goes if it is not. But this should not turn into a fight. It should not turn into a blood feud that prevents people from uniting. On the other hand, the roots of the Ergenekon state which we are still trying to get rid of, were the accomplishments of CUP -- in other words, those who were responsible for the incidents of 1915. For this reason, the solution of the Armenian problem has vital importance for Turkey that goes beyond offering a moral contribution to reconciling with Armenians. It has to do with saving Turkey from the claws of the deep state.
Both the great disaster of 1915 and the foundation of the Republic are rapidly heading towards their centennials. I say let’s solve this problem so when we reach the 100th anniversary of these events, we don’t have to experience the humiliation of still not having resolved it.