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May 03, 2012, Thursday

Memory, wars and past time

I have spent the whole week in Stockholm and Gothenburg, where I gave two speeches, one day apart, in conferences on 1915 and the Kurds.

Unlike the plan for the deportation of the Armenians, there was no central decision of deportation or plan for the Assyrians by the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP). The massacres that were initiated against the Assyrians in July 1915 took place due to the cooperation between Kurdish and Arab tribes with local authorities.

Midyat was destroyed, and thousands of Assyrians were murdered. Assyrians left Midyat and sought refuge in the village of Aynverdo, which was subsequently surrounded by Kurdish and Arab tribes, as well as army elements. The Assyrians who were hiding in the village survived owing to the efforts and initiative of Sheik Fethullah. Since that day, Assyrians have acknowledged with great respect Sheik Fethullah’s efforts to save their lives.

The Assyrians call Mesopotamia “Bethnahrin,” which literally means the land between two rivers. Bethnahrin is the homeland of this ancient civilization. However, these people now live in different parts of Europe instead of their original homeland. The Assyrians have started a new life in Europe. Young generation Assyrians have benefited from the opportunities that the social and cultural environment of the old continent offers.

This new generation, whose members are college graduates and speak at least two foreign languages, is, however, experiencing a different identity crisis and memory war. Gabriel is a 25-year-old Assyrian who was born in Sweden. He is a dentist in Gothenburg. His father, Simon Samun, was born and raised in the village of Mercimekli in Midyat, which the Assyrians refer to as Hapsunnes. Gabriel’s mother, Verde (meaning rose), who is also Assyrian, was born in the village of Bate in Midyat.

I am not sure whether it has attracted your attention, but I would like to tell you a story. But none of the geographic titles, the names and the main protagonists in the story are Turkish. Of course, the venue of the story is part of Turkey. However, instead of preserving the ancient civilizations in this region, Turkey has attempted to Turkify everything that belongs to these civilizations. These attempts included changing the original names of the mountains, villages and people from different backgrounds to Turkish.

Anyway, I meant to tell you the story of Gabriel and of his stone; let me go back to this matter. Gabriel was born and trained in Sweden. But when he grew up, he started asking questions about his roots. For instance, Gabriel asked his father Simon and mother Verde: “It is obvious that we are Swedish or European. But who are we? Where did we come from and why are we here?” Simon tried to explain the whole situation; he explained Midyat, Turabdin and Mardin. But for some reason, Gabriel did not want to believe in what Simon told him; he was saying: “Who knows; maybe we are gypsies from somewhere who migrated to Sweden. We are homeless like the gypsies.”

Simon and Verde said, “No.” Gabriel then said: “This is not true; we are not homeless; we have our own homeland; a village named Hapsınas. We have land and property in this village; someday we will have the opportunity to visit the village; you just have to be patient.” When the time was right, Simon and Verde decided to take Gabriel to the lands where their ancestors had once lived to see his roots.

One day, Gabriel and his mother paid a visit to the village where his parents spent some part of their lives. She told Gabriel: “This is our house; these fields are ours. Your ancestors and your parents are not homeless. We have lived in these lands, and everything that belongs to us is still in these lands.”

Gabriel took a stroll in a house constructed by Assyrian masters and masons; and he took a small stone from the backyard of the house and brought it to Gothenburg. He inscribed the name of the village and his name on the stone with red dye. I think this story tells us that in a globalizing world, the only thing that human beings need and the strongest feeling that they can have is the sense that they belong somewhere.

The social engineering or ethnicity engineering to take this feeling out of the hearts of the people has failed so far. But these attempts have made people suffer extensively. Today, we are witnessing the reinstitution of the memory shaped by these pains and sufferings, and we are confronting our past.

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