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Manjikian: Facing Your History

I am far from being a historian, but it is safe to claim that we all have a history. And there are various types of stories that characterize our existence—personal, medical, family, cultural, religious, and racial, to name but a few.

A part of my own story, of where my life journey has taken me, overlaps with Turkey’s story.

I am always amused when someone’s history is at times referred to as “baggage,” and don’t think it should be read as pejoratively as we tend to. After all, don’t we need some luggage to get us through life’s barriers and trajectories? It boils down to how we choose to use that baggage, how we, ultimately, unpack it.

As humans, on occasion, we seek to hide some of it. We don’t feel the need to drag it out and expose it to judgment, scorn, and regret. And sometimes, we look down only to see everything out in the open, spilling out.

Nations also carry histories, including the incommensurable burden of heavy ones.

Although it would be misleading to conflate a person’s history with a nation’s history, I do think that they can influence each other, and are intertwined in intricate ways. The most obvious example is the personal trauma brought on when a state carries out the persecution of its citizens, and no recourse is available for protection of the victims. As such, a state’s history and an individual’s history can overlap.

Any history has a voice. And these voices do not always emanate from the most obvious of sources. History also has the muffled voices of those robbed of dignity, those whose fundamental human rights were violated. Fortunately, now and again, the hushed voices resurface through oral histories, in archival material, in journals, and memoirs. Some perhaps remain silenced and never see light.

Needless to say, states often omit history, or re-write it. Not all countries are at ease with their pasts—colonial or genocidal—with the wrongs and crimes they have committed against other human beings.

I believe that Turkey will confront its history rather than continue to fuel its rhetoric of bullying and bribery. The positions and statements of many Turks towards facing history, including a number of Turkish intellectuals, is highly encouraging.

On Jan. 23, when the French Senate adopted a law that would criminalize the denial of genocide, it spoke for humanity and reminded the international community that genocide is not negotiable and that the cycle of mass killings should come to a halt.

France spoke for all nations who have experienced genocide, spoke for my orphaned grandparents who met, married, and gave life again after facing deportation, starvation, and extermination. Most of all,Francerose up against all those who attempt to twist and fabricate history. History is a contentious space and few countries have a clean slate. However, to state the facts and acknowledge a history that continues to be repeatedly denied by its perpetrators is a step forward.

Some say the new law adopted by France is racist.

So is the orchestration of exterminating a race.

Some say that the law infringes on freedom of speech.

When blatant lies are labelled as history, justice is not negotiable.

To the “scattered beads” throughout France who worked tirelessly and lobbied for this critical step towards justice, I say: You are an inspiration.

A part of my own story, of where my life journey has taken me, overlaps with Turkey’s story. The final stage of genocide is denial. As a grandchild of survivors, I refuse to be victimized all over again by falsified history.

10 Comments on Manjikian: Facing Your History

  1. What a lovely, inspiring article! Thank you. I hope it can be translated and printed in France, especially in view of the fact that I understand there may be a constitutional challenge to the law now. Let’s hope that the French president signs it right way and the denialists don’t get to delay it.
    P.S. I also liked the choice of luggage. This is exactly the type of suitcases my parents and their friends when they immigrated.

  2. I am Turkish. But I do not hate Armenians as some might think, I believe what have happened to Armenians during WW I was horrible and Turkish government needs to apologize. I am a bit hesitant to call it a genocide; though, I probably would have already if it wasn’t about my country (I guess you can understand why this is not easy)

    I’ve been following Armenian weekly as I feel I need to be closer to Armenians. I somehow feel responsible. And I really like it. (My favorite was the article “No one is Hrant Dink”)

    But how does France banning freedom of speech on this issue helping your cause? Is this a match, are we keeping scores? I thought you had pain, you wanted Turks and others to have sympathy towards you. You wanted Turks to say sorry because that’s what heals wounds.

    I cannot claim to understand you, or how you feel exactly. So I might be missing something here, if so, I do apologize.

  3. To Tarik,

    As an Armenian I thank you for having the courage to take on the issue of the Armenian Genocide. I say this because if I’m honest with myself I would have to admit that if the roles were reversed, i.e. Armenians committing genocide against the Turks in 1915, well… we are all human and it would not be easy to deal with this. With that said, there is the history and it seems that indeed Armenians and Turks are, for better or worse, intertwined in history. So, we really do not have much choice but to deal with that history in a way that mutually works best for both of us.

    Concerning France’s recent law against denial of the Armenian Genocide, it is so to speak, the natural consequence of Turks and Armenians and intertwined in history. Personally I think the law is way over the top and does make me feel uncomfortably close to censorship. It is the natural consequence of genocide denial, a tit for tat if you will of nearly 100 years of official denial of the Armenian Genocide.

    I believe there is an alternative model which we Turks and Armenians can implement, where instead of beating each other over the head with our stances on history, we consider just how our two peoples have been intertwined for the last 1000 years or so. This is not so much to look at that official history of wars and conquest, but rather to look at individual relationships. So for example, my family was protected by Turks during the 1895 massacres. Here are examples of Turkish heroes that you as a Turk can be proud of. What works for me in this example as an Armenian is that it supports courage and empathy of Turkish individuals and yet does not deny the history of the atrocities.

    Hang in there Tarik with your courage to face the Armenian Genocide and please believe me when I say that there are lots of Armenians that want to encourage your courage. As I’m sure you know, it’s not easy, but we can find a way for our peoples to move forward past this problem, to get on with life in a way that is mutually beneficial.

  4. avatar Seta Malkhassian // January 31, 2012 at 11:33 am // Reply

    Lalai jan, beautiful article. We have one of these luggages together with a trunk at home left from our granpa Mateos and granpa Garabed. These ‘luggages’ have travelled the world and are a reminder of the history, and we refuse to get rid of them. We are keeping them and will pass them on to our children and grand children until the time that they can go back to their original start points, 2 different places in historical armenia. I commend you on your original ideas of relating ‘things’ to history.

  5. Tarik: I agree with you 100%. Genocide is the worst crime humans can commit against other humans and it’s hard to see your ancestors as capable of doing such a thing. All of here have national pride, all of us are at least a little bit nationalist, and this is completely natural, who doesn’t love their country? When you hear people calling your ancestors “barbarians” and “savages” it’s hard to accept. If both sides approached the situation with level heads, progress has been made. Look at the past 97 years. What has been accomplished? Not a whole lot- international recognition is important but until Turkey recognizes and apologizes no real progress will be made. Maybe it’s time a different approach. as David said, for better or for worse Armenians and Turks have a long, intertwined history. We will continue to be neighbors for a long, long time, so a somewhat normalized relationship is necessary. No good can from generation after generation hating one other, one side because the other denies a horrible crime against humanity and the other because they cannot see their ancestors as genocide perpetrators. Whether Turkey thinks it was genocide or not, an apology to the Armenian people is LONG overdue. On a personal level, preconceived notions and prejudices need to be set aside. This is an important step towards normalized relations- Yes, I am from Turkey, but it is not my fault the Turkish government continues to distort history. All I can do is personally apologize on the behalf of my ancestors. There is so much distrust and suspicion and open hatred on these forums- e.g. France should deport Turks because Turkey has moved to deport illegal Armenians in Turkey. What kind of mentality is this? As you say Tarik, are we keeping scores? I know that people reading this may think I am preaching about morality and forgiveness, but let’s be honest, the current mindset of both sides is never, EVER, going to conclusively solve the issue. Even if international pressure on Turkey gets to a point where Turkey essentially HAS to recognize genocide and pay reparations that will NOT solve the whole issue. Yes, Armenians DO deserve reparations, they do deserve to be compensated- and I know one day they will, however a hypothetical insincere apology will not solve the resentment and open hatred that both sides feel towards the other for the last 100 years or so. And please, don’t start on the “Armenians don’t hate all Turks,” from the civilized conversations Armenians have been willing having with me, I already know this fact. And it’s also definitely true that all Turks don’t hate Armenians, but these people are still in the minority. This post has dragged on for too long I know, just wanted to get all this off of my chest :)

  6. RVDV
    Nice piece RVDV !
    “Whatever comes out of heart, is received well by heart” (a Persian saying).

    • Thank you Aarshag. I have only been posting on this site for a few months, but I am just so sick and tired of all the endless bickering about whose version is correct. I just wish the Turkish government could see that yes- committing genocide is the worst crime against humanity on earth- but it can be forgiven. Denying it is much, MUCH worse. When all is said and done, and I fear this will not be in the foreseeable future, when all is said and done the fact that we denied genocide for so, so long will be a bigger stain on our history than genocide itself. The Turkish government knows the facts, yet they choose to cover it up. How can any decent people live with a burden like that for 97 years?

  7. avatar arek avedian // February 1, 2012 at 3:45 pm // Reply

    Thank you Tarik and RVDV for writing and visiting this site. I was born in Istanbul and i have very fond memories of spending my first 8 years there. I also have memories of intense fear of turkey and turks. I was told stories by my great aunt who was a 4 year old during the event and she blessed and thanked the turkish family that saved her and took her in and later transferred to french mission. what can i say i grew up with both, stories of hate and atrocity and stories of love and savior. These are turkish and armenian stories which must be disscussed with eachother and this is where i am hopefull that you and your compatriates are here and joining the conversation has already starded the healing process.
    Remember Hrant Dink and what he said reconcillation can only happen with turks and armenians or greek or assyrian or others not by a third party.
    no one can impose reconcillation and understanding to turkey. the turkish people must demand it from its government.
    tarik and rvdv, i am so sick of thinking about the genocide it drains my energy. i beleieve most armenians probably feel the same way. but as long as people hate and deny mans inhumanity to man, i have no choice because i must remember and i must do something, even if its reading this weekly post.
    lastly, i dont hate turks, but there was a time in my life i used to hate and hate is no good for humanity or the individual. i dont hate because i want to see a better future for my family and for humanity.

  8. RVDV and Tarik, thank you for sharing your thoughts and hopes for our peoples.

    An apology has amazing power when it is offered with sincerity and with the desire to atone for one’s wrong doing. I hope Turks and Armenians will some day be able to trust each other as neighboring nations and as individuals.
    An apology can go a long way in starting this transformation.

    It would also be helpful if Turkey would stop using Azerbaijan to put the screws to Armenia. We all deserve to live in peace and Karabagh Armenians should be allowed self-determination.

  9. Very good article. I thank you

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