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June 06, 2012, Wednesday

Anatolia’s recovery from amnesia

“What remained behind from the Armenians in the aftermath of the disaster of 1915 were the burned-out, destroyed houses and the ‘sword remnants’ -- i.e., those who were not killed during the slaughter -- who were kept as concubines, handmaidens or foster children.

One of them was my grandmother: Heranuş, the daughter of İsguhi and Hovannes from Gadaryans in Havav… She grew up as Seher, the foster child of Hüseyin Onbaşı in Çermik, Diyarbakır; she got married and had children and grandchildren. One day, she told her grandchildren her heart-rending story which she had been murmuring only to herself for years.” This is the prologue from Fethiye Çetin’s book “Anneannem” (My Grandmother).

Following the publication of the book in 2004, one of the demands the inhabitants of Habab (now Ekinözü, also known as Havav in Armenian) was for the surviving Armenian buildings in the village, in particular the rare multi-spring fountains, to be repaired. “Starting from that moment, I started to dream. Those fountains should be renovated and their clear and delicious waters must run rumbling away once again. This should be done to relieve the souls of those who were brutally killed, those who were expelled from their homes, those who couldn’t come back to drink from the water of their beloved fountains, Heranuşes, Maryams, Horens; it should be done so that their grandchildren should drink what their grandparents couldn’t…”

Late May saw the opening ceremony of the renovated Habab Fountains in Ekinözü. An assortment of people coming from abroad, the surrounding villages and the village itself drank from the same water. Among the sizable crowd were some of the many grandchildren to whom Fethiye Çetin had referred, coming from here or from where they were exiled.

In rural Anatolia, “Armenian” is generally associated with “buried gold” that Armenians were alleged to have left behind. Therefore, this initiative, which meant “renewal” or “refreshing” in every sense, was no easy task. Problems were overcome thanks to the determination of the team, the contribution from the local administrations and the fact that the majority of the work was performed by villagers.

We visited Harput, once the region’s most important city, and dropped by Palu, to which Habab was administratively connected. Both districts served as major centers before 1915. Before in Anatolia, religions, languages or races coexisting in the same lands benefitted from each other despite their differences. Successors did not destroy, but improved the works of their predecessors. This continued until the narratives were redesigned on the basis of “nationhood.”

Harput/Palu on the one hand and Elazığ/New Palu on the other are good examples of this. In Harput, everything except the mosques were destroyed and the stones were re-used in the construction of houses of soulless Elazığ. The destruction in Palu was carried out at the time of İsmet İnönü in the 1940s, and an impersonal Palu was built on the banks of the River Murat.

Unlike Harput, old Palu has many remains. One of the most eye-catching is an ancient bridge spanning over the River Murat. Whenever I come across an historic work of art in eastern Anatolia, it is almost categorically the work of a Turkish dynasty such as the Akkoyunlu, the Artuklu, the Karakoyunlu, etc. One can’t find any information about the ancient Christian cultures of Anatolia except in Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) municipalities. The bridge, too, has been through its share of the early republican era’s memory engineering. Its name is Artuklu Bridge. Despite its name, it was not built during the Artuklu dynasty, but during the time of Armenian King Tigranes the Great, who ruled between 95-55 B.C., and it was part of the Silk Road. Indeed, the bridge is not mentioned in any serious record as part of Artuklu art. Naturally, every power that dominated the area has repaired, improved and used this strategic pass.

The bridge also has a dreadful story, untold of course on the flimsy plaque on a fortification. It was known as the “Bloody Pass” because the men from the region of Palu were beheaded there during the Great Catastrophe.

“Anneannem” was the first sample of living evidence of the Great Catastrophe despite the state’s century-old denial and efforts at revision. Now the renovation of the Habab Fountains meant the first public reappearance of Armenian remains in remote places of Anatolia. In Habab, which was an Armenian village until 1915 and Kurdish since, Armenian was spoken in addition to Kurdish and Turkish, probably for the first time in a century.

Turkey has only recently started to recover its deleted memory. The Habab ceremony was one of the most intense moments of getting to know and confronting it. Just like the waters of the Habab Fountains, memory is flooding back to Anatolia. No evil act is forgotten. The beauty of the past is now being celebrated. There is a dynamism that even the most powerful cannot prevent. As Rakel Dink quoted from the Bible in Habab: “Everything that is hidden will be uncovered, what you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops.”

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