Demons of the Past The Armenian Genocide and the Turks
Part 2: 'Wrongs'
The wealth of image and film documents gathered from archives as distant as Moscow and Washington, says author and director Friedler, even surprised the historians who provided him with expert advice for his 90-minute film. Some incidents, such as the ostentatious 1943 reburial in Turkey of the remains of Talaat Pasha, who was murdered in Berlin in 1921, will be shown on film for the first time. Other documents depict individuals who the archivists had not recognized there before.
The film also offers an oppressive description of the current debate over the genocide, which is only now erupting in Turkey, almost a century after the crime. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan blusters that Turkey will never admit that genocide took place. During an exhibition on Armenia, ultra-nationalists angrily rip photographs from the walls, and then, as if they've lost their minds, they attack a car in which Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, is being taken home after a court appearance -- because he dared to express what historians had proven long ago.
For decades, Armenians born after the genocide felt tortured and troubled by it. "The tragedy," says Hayk Demoyan, the director of the genocide memorial in Yerevan, has become "a pillar of our national identity." And Armenian President Serge Sarkisian has told SPIEGEL: "The best way to prevent the repetition of such an atrocity is to condemn it clearly."
The post-genocide generation of Turks had no trouble sleeping. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic, made a radical break with the Ottoman Empire and the three men who were primarily responsible -- Talaat, Enver and Cemal Pasha. Atatürk admitted that "wrongs" had been committed, wrongs his successors deny to this day, but he also let government officials and military leaders participate in his government who had been directly involved in the genocide.
A Living, Hidden Memory
The demons of the past are now awakening in response to pressure, particularly from the Armenian Diaspora. Every spring, before the April 24 anniversary of the arrests of Armenian politicians and intellectual in what was then Constantinople, arrests that marked the beginning of the deportations in 1915, more national parliaments adopt resolutions to acknowledge the Armenian genocide: France in 2001, Switzerland in 2003 and, this year, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives and the Swedish parliament.
Every time one of these resolutions is passed, Ankara threatens with political consequences -- and ultimately never follows through. It has become a ritual, the purpose of which men like Hrant Dink have questioned. The publisher of the Turkish-Armenia newspaper Agos didn't dwell on the definition of the world "genocide." Instead, he wanted Turkey to confront its gruesome past directly.
He paid for his views with his life. On Jan. 19, 2007, Dink was murdered in broad daylight. The 200,000 Turks who marched through the streets of Istanbul at his funeral, holding up banners that read "We are all Armenians," humiliated their own government with their forthrightness. A reality which thousands of Turks are confronted with in their own families appears to have had a stronger impact than diplomatic pressure.
In the early 1980s, Istanbul attorney Fethiye Çetin discovered that she had Armenian roots. Her grandmother Seher had confided in her after several anguishing decades. In 1915 Seher, who was baptized with the Armenian name Heranush, witnessed the throats of men in her village being slit. She survived, was taken in by the family of a Turkish officer, was raised as a Muslim girl and eventually married a Turk. She became one of tens of thousands of "hidden Armenians" who escaped the murderers and blended in with Turkish society.
Her grandmother's revelation came as a shock to Çetin, and she began to see her surroundings with different eyes. In 2004, Çetin wrote a book in which she outlined the history of her family. "Anneannem" ("My Grandmother") became a bestseller, and countless readers contacted Çetin, many with words of appreciation.
Others cursed her as a "traitor." But the taboo had been broken.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: The Armenian Genocide and the Turks
- Part 2: 'Wrongs'