In all honesty, we are suffocating. Slowly. Day by day, hour by hour, we are suffocating in your hatred. Any oxygen that was left to penetrate through our masks, you have taken that too.
Some years ago, I met the Minister of the Armenian Diaspora. She asked if I was proud of being Armenian. “No,” I replied, “I don’t understand why people are proud of the race or the nation they’re born into. All my life I have been surrounded by people who are proud of being Turkish, and I know what a great disease it is.” I don’t think she was very impressed by my answer.
During a flare up in the Nagorno-Karabakh War in the 1990s, when I was still at primary school in Istanbul, graffiti was scrawled on the school wall and bomb threats were received. My lasting memory of that time is the telephone calls with the families of my friends, the whispers around the house and the sense of unease. We weren’t safe at school. So we didn’t go…
A few years later, when tensions rose once again in Nagorno-Karabakh, I was at high school. One day after school, one of the wagons of the train that I took home had been sprayed with graffiti declaring it a good deed to “destroy” Armenians. After spotting the graffiti I lowered my head, but caught the eye of a man reading the same words. I don’t know how much of that journey I spent praying that no one on the train would recognize me as an Armenian from my school uniform and hurt me. I somehow made it home, but only I know the state I was in.
Today, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh has once again raised its head. I went into a shop to buy a toy for my daughter. From the television they shout “Armenians!” They proclaim, “We stand with our kinsfolk.” They talk about Armenia collaborating with the PKK. And I hear all of this surrounded by children’s toys…In a shop whose customers are children…Overwhelmed, I managed to find my way out of the toy store.
What is all this talk of kinship, for God’s sake? Wasn’t it the claim that everyone within the borders of the Republic of Turkey was Turkish? Wasn’t it the claim that we Armenians of Turkey were included in that definition? So are the people of Azerbaijan my kin too? Once again, everyone has become pure-blooded Turks all of a sudden. My father used to say, “If I am Turkish, then by the same definition you are a little Armenian.” So when Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of National Defense, Presidency, municipalities, political parties old and new make statements in unison about “kinship,” do they do so as people who are a little Armenian, a little Greek, a little Kurdish, a little Jewish? So is it not you inciting separatism?
“Remnants of the sword”
For the last couple of weeks, the Armenians around me have listened in despair and dismay to a whole host of statements about how “Armenians are like this, Armenians are like that.” In all honesty, we are suffocating. Slowly. Day by day, hour by hour, we are suffocating in your hatred. Any oxygen that was left to penetrate through our masks, you have taken that too. Police swarm around our institutions. You know all too well that protection is necessary…You realized things could quickly get out of hand, and so, to try to save the day, to avoid humiliation in the face of the world, what exactly is it you are doing by declaring “Our Armenians aren’t like them, we’re not talking about them.” Really? Aren’t they? What kind of people are they — the Armenians in Armenia—anyway? Aren’t most of them descendants of the subjects you are so fond of staking claim to? My mistake, they are the remnants of the sword. But while the children of those remnants of the sword — grandmothers from Muş, Sivas or Maraş — worry about whether or not their grandchildren will return safely from the war, rather than resurrecting their nightmares, could you not have given a message of peace to both your kinsfolk and your former subjects?
I often have vivid nightmares. Life feeds into them, I guess…But this week was worse than ever. Let me warn you, the following lines contain scenes of violence: A crowd gathers in front of a building. It seems to be a funeral. My father’s friends are at the door. I try to walk between them. I look at their faces. It can’t be. It can’t be for him. My father died long ago; he was assassinated in front of everyone’s eyes. Suddenly I see a group carrying my father’s coffin. Then they take out his body and raise it into the air…They cut off his head. His blood starts to flow. Streams of blood. But they killed my father long ago. How can his blood still flow? Never in my life have I seen so much blood. Not even around the body of my father as he lay on the ground…They stick his head on a pole and begin parading around. But he was already dead. How can they kill him again?
I woke to the sound of the azan. Gasping for breath. Face wet with tears. I thought to myself, “What if I pray along with the azan? Perhaps this time, both their God and mine will hear me.” What if we joined our voices? Can you please put an end to this hatred?
I am afraid for those in Armenia. Should I be afraid to say that I am afraid for them? Among them are relatives, loved ones. What would it take to explain to you that they are not bad people? I would never consider the people in Azerbaijan as bad people. Why do you harbor so much hatred for my kind?
After my father was killed, visitors came and went from the house for days and weeks on end. But one close friend from university didn’t visit for a long time. When she did come, she said, “Delal, I wasn’t sure if I should visit or not. I was afraid that since Turks killed your father you wouldn’t want Turkish friends anymore. I was afraid you wouldn’t want me.” I hugged her tightly as if to say, “I couldn’t live without my Turkish friends.” But what about you? How can you live without Armenian friends, without being a friend to the Armenians?
It’s true, I’m not proud of being Armenian. I don’t think anyone should be proud of their race. But what I am proud of is what my people have produced — their art, science, films, cuisine, architecture, stonemasonry, craftsmanship. I want them to be able to sustain this culture, keep it alive. I want them to continue to produce and to contribute to the world’s civilizations. Unfortunately, humankind has not yet found a reliable way to sustain culture outside the nation state. The course of the war and the deadlock in the region means there is a risk of the conflict becoming an issue well beyond Nagorno-Karabakh. I want a free and independent Armenia. I also want a free and independent
Azerbaijan. Wanting both of these at the same time is not at all difficult for me. But it is obviously very difficult for today’s Turkish State. Such a great disappointment! Instead of trying to be pro-Turk and pro-Ottoman, what if the Turkish state had been pro-Anatolian and opened its arms to both neighbors and had said to them, “Come, let’s solve this problem”? Who would have lost?
(Published in Agos, 09 October 2020, Translated by Kate Ferguson