Why I Need Turkey To Accept Its PastBy: Harout Kassabian | Posted on: 08.05.2012
I have been a member of the Armenian Youth Federation for nearly nine years. I have spent a considerable amount of time as a member to help raise awareness about the Armenian Genocide to the general public and help push towards, inch by inch, the end of its denial.
Rather than ask in general terms, let’s consider a common question on a personal level: why is it important for me that the Turkish government accepts its past? They massacred my ancestors, blood relatives, but where does the physical and emotional connection exist? I have never known them personally as I did the grandparents and other acquaintances I have lost, whose noted absence in my life creates an emotional response from within me.
At times, I have reflected on my level of commitment to the Cause and questioned whether I am simply conforming to the environment and culture I was raised in. In short, overcompensating for a lack of a conventional cultural identity by creating one. Was my identity handed to me from a young age? Did I have a chance at being someone else?
I have heard the phrase “I am a survivor of the Genocide” repeatedly used for its descendants and previously considered it as inappropriate to put myself in the same grouping as the victims of the Genocide, since I or anyone else from my generation will hopefully never have to experience the level of traumatizing horrors they were subjected to nearly a century ago. However, I have slowly realized that “proof” of the Armenian Genocide is not very difficult to find because the Genocide is still in progress due to its denial. I am not saying this statement figuratively or with dramatic license. The last, final and most far reaching stage of genocide is indeed denial.
I am a victim. Where is my home? A recent post on famous Diasporan artist, writer and comedian Vahe Berberian’s blog helped me put my long, abstract feelings into words. I am homeless. I am a nomad with multiple places to go but nowhere have I felt I can stay forever. My identity at times feels like an indeterminate mess. I am a proud Canadian citizen, but even after living here practically my entire life, at times I think I do not have the same connections to the country others may have, and feel like an “outsider”. I was born in Lebanon and hold dual citizenship. I have visited the country twice since leaving with my family at a young age; I enjoyed both visits, but I do not relate to the country on an emotional or patriotic level.
Finally, the most obvious option: Armenia. I am an Armenian, it is my cultural identity. Isn’t that where I naturally belong? Yes and no. I am fluent in Armenian, proud and knowledgeable of my culture and history. I am in awe when I visit the ancient churches and monuments of the country and their timeless beauty reverberates emotionally within me. I truly feel sincere pride in the fact that there is an independent Armenia. Isn’t this the emotional connection my life currently lacks? I have said openly multiple times how I would like to live in Armenia, but there are contemporary cultural differences which have developed over the past century which mean that I can’t always relate to the local population. I haven’t experienced the problems faced by people in the country first-hand, we speak Armenian differently, and there are different social practices. Unfortunately, it would be foolish to pretend we are the same. Writing this, I realize it has been an internal taboo for me to realize this, but the unfortunate pages of our nation’s history has made this the case. Subsequently, for this reason I feel a hesitance to get up, move to Yerevan on my own and start fresh.
Although I contemplate the difficulties of moving to my homeland, I also feel the ramifications of living so far away. There are many of us scattered across the globe. Approximately 11 million Armenians exist today with 8 million of them living outside of Armenia. We are one of the largest Diasporas in the world by percentage. We didn’t have a choice. It was as if fire was set to an ant colony and we fled in panic in every direction, the emotional pain searing throughout our entire being. How long will the knowledge of our language, history and culture survive? It feels as if it slowly erodes with each generation. A certain percentage of Armenian parents will unsuccessfully try to teach and instil the Armenian identity in their children, leading to further assimilation. Furthermore, the definition of the “Armenian identity” can change from region to region as time goes by, which only serves to compound the problem. Many have been lost and many more are yet to be lost. This is what Talaat wanted, after all.
I have informally advocated the resurgence of “Tebi Yergir” (Towards Homeland) before – a campaign of mass repatriation. It won’t happen without sacrifice but the reward to us and the future generation is far greater than we can imagine. It will help preserve our nation, but above all, it will be our true victory against the oppressors that tried to rid the world any evidence of our existence almost a century ago. The deportees, expelled from the lands they inhabited for over a millennium, make a triumphant return to ensure that they won’t be lost like the countless souls in Der Zor.
So back to the question posed at the beginning of this editorial. I have been hurt. The denial is salt in the wounds that are apparently still fresh in the generation even today. I need Turkey to admit its past and its guilt. It’s the very least of what I am owed.