Gunaysu: A ‘Bolsetsi’ in Los Angeles

I was in Los Angeles from Nov. 23-27, a place I never imagined I would go! Long journeys to unknown lands have always frightened me. But this time I was invited by the ANC-Western Region to participate in their three-day conference at the Sheraton Universal.

Gunaysu: “There must be reparations. At least, the ones who work for the recognition in Turkey have to demand, put pressure on the policy makers, for official steps to compensate for the immense loss. I know that it is irreparable, it is unforgivable, it is incurable, but still Turkey will always bear the responsibility, the obligation, to assure the grandchildren of genocide victims that it is ready to heal the wounds in any way it can.”

I thought I would, in this issue of the Armenian Weekly, share with readers my very personal experience on that journey with excerpts from a speech I gave on Sat., Dec. 26–a very important day for me–at a session titled “Confronting Truth, Delivering Justice: Turkey and the Armenian Genocide.”

My LA days, the time I spent there, what I did, saw, and heard there, and my state of mind, still seem to be covered by a mist. This was because of the deep and complicated mixture of fear, excitement, emotional upheaval, and awkwardness that had engulfed me, both before and during the visit, until the moment I found myself standing before an audience of 400. But why fear? Despite the risk of sounding a bit too personal, I will confess: fear of speaking in public, especially in English, has been my phobia since my childhood due to the long history, even a sort of affection, between me and my old friend stuttering!

So, during those three days, until that moment on the platform, the shimmering panoramic view of LA from my hotel window at night, the faces of the people I met, the words spoken, the eyes looking at me, still appear as if they are all behind a thin curtain moving with a soft breeze, causing the images to be blurred at times, coming and going as if in a dream.

Yet, very paradoxically, there are many things that are crystal clear in my mind: moments with the individuals and families I met, their warmth, their commitment to the Armenian identity, the fluent Armenian in my ears spoken by everyone around me, the feeling of fulfillment from hearing it just like when I hear it in Turkey (though very seldom in the case of the latter), their immediately responsive heart, the very familiar Armenian spirit embracing the entire atmosphere in the home of that dear family I visited, and the dignity, respect, affection, and devotion with which the family members treated each other, just as I have seen in Armenian homes in Turkey. And as for the organizers and activists, I remember their sharply focused energy and the professional quality of their voluntary work.

Until just a few days before my journey, I didn’t know what to talk about at the conference. In everything I do in Turkey in my voluntary work for the recognition of the genocide, there is the boiling motivation to show individuals what they have been unable to see, to refute lies, to establish connections between well-known facts, and to draw conclusions that I hope will help make an impact in a country of total denial. So I always know what to do and what to say here in Turkey. But when it came to talking to the Armenian community in LA, the question was what kind of a talk would be meaningful for them, apart from saying things they already knew by heart?

Besides, I am not a scholar, nor an historian or a writer or a researcher, but just a human rights activist. So, I decided to tell stories–quoting what I said there, “human stories, small anecdotes, momentary observations, snapshots from life, which, when put together correctly, can present us the landscape of Turkey today.”

Gunaysu in LA

I told my father’s story to explain how the enormous mechanism of denial worked so smoothly to convince people. I said what I heard from the local people in historic Armenia to illustrate the suppressed collective guilt for the colossal plundering of Armenian wealth. I told of the incidents of collective hallucinations stemming from this guilt.

But before all this, I said I was not alone: “I must say that although you see me, a single one person, I am not alone. I brought to you with me the message of others back in Turkey who believe that no peace, no justice, no salvation, no cure for all the illnesses we are suffering from, will be possible for what is now Turkey without the recognition of the Armenian Genocide and the genocide of Assyrians and Greeks in Asia Minor, and who want to express their apology as the perpetrator group’s descendants.”

I also gave examples that show how denial in Turkey is not only over the genocide, but over the very existence of Armenians in the country even before the Turks came: “Only a few years ago, a publishing house published Arnold Toynbee’s memoirs and they censored the parts where he refers to the Armenian Genocide. I checked the whole section and noted the missing and distorted parts one by one. But nobody had ordered them to do this. They themselves did it.”

“Another example,” I continued. “The Turkish branch of a big multinational company published in Turkish and English a prestigious book about the history of Turkey in the late 1980’s. The book was written in English by one of the top-level global executives of the group. But while the translation was going on, the Turkish manager in charge managed to get the author’s permission to delete all references to the past existence of Armenians–the old kingdoms dating back to the first century B.C., and so on. He told the author that the company’s investments in Turkey would be endangered if he did not.”

“What if non-governmental organizations and corporations did not do what the government would like them to do? In the 1980’s, the chief editor of the Turkish edition of Ana Britannica encyclopedia was prosecuted for mentioning the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia under the topics Adana and Adiyaman. The prosecutor demanded a prison sentence of 15 years for her. At the end–the trial took more than one year–she was acquitted. But it was one of many messages the state sent to people about what would happen if they were not totally committed to the official ideology.”

“Please take note that there is no mention of genocide in any of the two incidents I just mentioned. It is only the mention of the existence of Armenians in the past, centuries before the genocide.”

Nearing the end of my talk, I said that, regarding recognition and an apology, I didn’t believe in good intentions only. “There must be reparations. At least, the ones who work for the recognition in Turkey have to demand, put pressure on the policy makers, for official steps to compensate for the immense loss. I know that it is irreparable, it is unforgivable, it is incurable, but still Turkey will always bear the responsibility, the obligation, to assure the grandchildren of genocide victims that it is ready to heal the wounds in any way it can.”

What was given to me after the session and during the banquet that night was both disproportionately rewarding and achingly embarrassing. The encounter was itself painful and heavily loaded, as were the words exchanged and hugs given.

On my way back to Istanbul, my feelings were inextricably entangled. I felt grateful to those who were so generous to me. I felt unhappy with myself for not being able to respond how I would have liked to. I felt a strong awareness that my real duty was in Turkey, where causing doubt–over the official Turkish ideology–in the mind of even one person or pointing out one tiny piece of the truth to a bunch of people in a small conference room is a big achievement for those who demand justice.

A week after I returned home, for the first time I moderated a meeting in my home country, speaking freely and confidently. The obsessive fear of talking to the public was gone with my participation in the ANC-WR conference in LA. It was a sort of therapy, a healing. This time, in Istanbul, I was moderating a presentation by Osman Koker on the lost churches of Anatolia, either purposefully demolished by the state or left in disrepair. We saw the sad photographs of the remains of once-beautiful works of art witnesses to a rich and developed civilization. Yes, it was held in a small conference room, a sharp contrast with the one in LA. The audience was few in number, around 70, compared to the 400 listeners in the Sheraton Universal Ballroom. As Osman invited the audience to interrupt while he was speaking and contribute to the presentation whenever they felt the need, Armenians from Arapkir, Diyarbekir, Sivas, and Kayseri contributed their own knowledge from their childhood or from their parents. A young Turkish lawyer introduced herself and, before asking her question to Osman, apologized for being a Muslim. After the meeting I invited her to work with us in our Committee Against Racism and Discrimination, and she accepted willingly. Yes, I said, I have to be here, to work here humbly, rather than travel abroad and receive heartfelt appreciation for something that should and would not be extraordinary and praiseworthy if Turkey were a country where justice is served and the obligation to compensate is duly fulfilled.

Now, after nearly a month after the LA conference, I thank the ANC-Western Region for the extraordinary experience, and each team member for their help during my stay. I thank Lena, Linda, Garo (Garry), and their families for the elegance and warmth in welcoming me in Glendale.

Now, I am dreaming of a conference on recognition in Istanbul to host a colleague from the ANC-Western Region as a participant. Who knows, may be one day, not before very long.

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Ayse Gunaysu

Ayse Gunaysu is a professional translator, human rights advocate, and feminist. She has been a member of the Committee Against Racism and Discrimination of the Human Rights Association of Turkey (Istanbul branch) since 1995, and is a columnist for Ozgur Gundem. Since 2008, she writes a column titled "Letters from Istanbul," for the Armenian Weekly.

23 Comments

  1. Thank you for your work and sharing this story with us Non-LA Armenians… The part that made me tear up was towards the end where the lawyer apologized for being a Muslim… Made me think of the saving of one of my mother’s grand-parents by a Turkish neighbor by hiding her behind a large “supurge”… Makes me think of an article I recently read where the author chose his grandparents were such people who helped save some Armenians. Thanks again.

  2. Ms. Gunaysu you write with such openness of heart that I feel a knot well-up inside me and my eyes fill with tears. I send you a warm cyber-hug. Though there is no way Turkey can fully compensate for what she has done, I truly hope for a reconciliation and a chance for the animosity between Armenians and Turks to be a thing of the past. I agree there must be reparations to heal the wounds of “the grandchildren of the victims of the genocide.” Thank you for knowing this.

    Human rights activists in Turkey are heroes.

  3. Thank you Ms Gunaysu for you actions and words. I find your writings capture the essence of the aftermath of the genocide.

    What you wrote made me think of the following two things amongst others.
    – The mention of the suppression of Armenian history as whole. Is there a compilation of such attempts? This is important in showing how the Turkish government and even individuals as in your example, have tried hard to erase Armenians in more ways than one. We all know about how the movie of “40 Days of Musa Dagh” was cancelled in the 30s, which was before the coining of the word genocide. Turkey has acted like they’re guilty ever since WWI.
    – “A young Turkish lawyer introduced herself and, before asking her question to Osman, apologized for being a Muslim.”
    I don’t understand what this means. What exactly is she apologizing for?

  4. How dare this lady sell her soul to the single race, and I am talking about 99% of this race, who is not only bent up on only vilifying everything of her culture, calling her people as “Barbarians” “Savages” and other things. How dare this lady collaborate with the enemy nation that is bent on wiping off her nation. I am sure those “Armenians” that she passionately stick up for, will probably kill Turkish people (meaning the patriots) and kill her too later brutally, just because of the fact she is of Turkish origin. A Turk supporting the “Hye Tahd” is no different then an American supporting Al-Qaida or Taliban or a Jew supporting the KKK or Neo Nazis.

    • We don’t blanket vilify her or anybody else’s culture: we vilify Anti-Armenian Denialist hatemongers like you, Turk-oglu Yilmaz.
      We don’t call her people, modern Turks, anything: we call your and her ancestors, Seljuk Turks, nomadic barbarian savage invading tribes, that destroyed a 4000 year old Armenian civilization, plus Greek and Assyrian civilizations.
      We call Ottoman Turks who massacred 300,000 Armenian civilians in 1895 savages and barbarians.
      We call Ottoman Turks who massacred 30,000 Armenian civilians in 1909 Adana savages and barbarians.
      We call CUP Turks who exterminated 1.5 million Armenian civilians in 1915-1923 barbarian savages.
      We call Turks who massacred up to 100,000 Alevi/Kurd/Armenian civilians in Dersim 1936-1937 savages and barbarians.
      We call CUP murderers who played guessing games on pregnant Armenian women, by cutting them open to see the gender of the baby – barbarian savages.

      What do you call them, Turk-oglu Yilmaz ? ‘patriots’ ?

    • look this lady is an honest person…so why don’t you take an example and learn from her. Plus “Hye Tahd” isn’t like Al-Qaida but simply it could only be compared to mother Teresa’s works only…..finding justice and justice! One more think Armenian’s don’t sink that low to kill innocent people like your ancestors did…..i personally respect this woman and if anybody would be trying to hurt her I would be helping her…..so you see your theory on Armenian’s would kill her and other Turks fails epically!

  5. Ayse
    You are a courageous and noble person . God bless you and give you strength and power.With people like you my relatives who died in the Genocide will rest in peace

  6. You have found meaning and purpose for the benefit of both nations.

    Anyone can express pride but it is humility which leads to Greatness !

    True Great nations are built on love,compassion, & respect for human rights.

    May you find comfort,strength, amd guidance on this difficult journey.

  7. Dear Ayse,

    Thank you for such a wonderful, heartfelt article. I too had tears in my eyes as I was reading it. I shudder when I think about those fascist Turks, such as Mr Yilmaz above, who in their ignorance are full of hatred and venom. Supported by the State they are so many, and vocal too! Thank you for reminding us that there are many righteous Turks out there. It reinforces our faith in humanity.

    May God be with you and protect you always. Our prayers are with you.

  8. Ayse,

    May the allmighty, if one exists, give you strength and courage to deal with ” people” such as Yilmaz. Thank you for your wormth and humanity.

  9. Spencer, your defensive postures are obviously driven by your indiscriminate hatred of all things Armenian. This is the same mentality that committed the murder of several cultures and then built an entire infrastructure to deceive the world and its own people.
    You have the audacity to call the murder of women and children by the most brutal methods imagined ….. a rebellion of the ungrateful. Your desperate attempts have failed. Read the debates ignited within Turkish society. The walls of deceit are crumbling. We will forgive your crude commentary. Its the last hoorah of the great denial of the last 96 years.
    Time to regroup…listen to your own journalists…. the battle of genocide recognition has been decided. The voices of 1.5 million victims( and hundreds of thousands of Assyrians, Pontics and western Greeks) have not been silenced. The truth has prevailed.
    It’s time to focus on justice….reparations and restitution. We have a strong diaspora( that your murderous ancestors created) and now a republic..
    Lesson learned… no matter how many years…no matter how much is spent….no matter how big the denying…… the Truth will always prevail.
    I know it is difficult to hear the truth on Dersim, to hear criticism of Ataturk and to lose to the people you thought were vanquished, but it will help advance your society.

  10. Ayse Gunaysu doesn’t know how the Armenians will stab her in the back. All your effort will produce nothing but more anger within the Turkish society.

  11. Nationalism in all forms is destructive and unhelpful. People are people, all human, all one. The name of your country (nation) isn’t your identity. Whether you are a good person or a bad one is your identity. Americans kill Americans. Turks kill Turks: Is there a country without crime? Is that nationalist? There are good Kurds and bad ones, there are good French and bad, good Chinese and bad, good people in every nation and bad ones in every nation…WAKE UP.

    All people are one. If they only realised they were one, the world would be a much better place. A much better place. Much better.

  12. john te turk
    It is poeple like you actually who will lead the “Turkish nation” to doomsday, not people like Gunaysu who are the pride of all humanity.

  13. Ayse hanim is either oblivious or more likely willfully ignorant of the deep racial, ethnic and religious hate so many Armenians feel towards her countrymen. Given her warm embrace by the Armenian nationalists and her close affiliation with their causes, it is hard to imagine her being unaware of the bigoted feelings of so many Armenians which they so openly share on these platforms.

    • ‘ the deep racial, ethnic and religious hate so many Armenians feel towards her countrymen.’ ‘ so many Armenians which they so openly share on these platforms.’ writes Murat.

      Give us some examples, Murat – specific posts – that support your contention.
      Once you do, I will give several dozen examples of hate many Turks openly express on Turkish and Armenian sites. Plus examples of Anti-Armenian hate that permeates the Turkish society today.

      To get us going, here, see if you can top this from one poster that calls himself a proud Turk. (one Necati Genis)

      {necati August 20, 2011 editor: i know you think i am a fascist, racist .
      you know that i was full of humanity until i met you Gaymenians in this f_______ AW?
      sorry to tell you..i am not human , but a monster, a butcher, a pyschopat against you gaymenians…this is another reason for me to hate you gaymenians. you made me an animal.} (redacted, posted @AW)

      Another one:
      {Ayse , 23 December 2011 , 21:56
      French and Armenian terrorists attacked Turkey and murdered 550,000 Turks in 1915. The same criminal mentality and terrorism of these French and Armenian criminal nations is continuing today.} (posted @TodaysZaman)

    • One more for Murat:

      {Y. Oz , 22 December 2011 , 18:01
      While focusing on France’s genocides, we must focus more on Armenia. This illegal terrorist state once had a majority Azeri population. In 1987 alone, 350,000 Azeri Turks were forcefully and illegally expelled from Yerevan region of West Azerbaijan, which is now illegally occupied by Armenian terrorist groups under the control of Russia. As if that weren’t enough, Karabakh has been illegally occupied by Russia for 21 years. Armenian terrorists were allowed to murder 54,000 Azeri Turks and leave another 1,000,000 regugees in their own country between 1991-1994. Turkey must abandon policies of appeasement toward Russian and Armenian terrorism. } (posted @TodaysZaman)

  14. Murat, because most Turks can’t or won’t believe the truth about the genocide committed by their ancestors they think Armenians who say such things must hate them. You are wrong. We do not hate Turks for being Turks. We hate when they deny what happened to us and show no human compassion or desire to make amends. The difference is not so subtle. We hate the despicable behavior that tries to erase our history, not the person or his race.

    You should know this by now. You have been told this many times. Stop trying to perpetuate this ridiculous lie. Peace between Turks and Armenians is simple. Turkey makes it difficult by refusing to admit that their ancestors were capable of such acts.

  15. In the course of a few decades, the word “hero” has been flattened to mean someone doing something merely unpleasant, possibly for others, but not necessarily so. Thus, anyone in America who blurts out something unpleasant or mildly embarassing is ready to ascend the platform and receive the undeserved accolade .

    Ayse and the thousands like her are real heroes, the kind any culture of any era recognizes. The kind who risked their lives for no reward but to serve others. The Gentiles who sheltered Jews, the Moslems who sheltered Anatolian Christians, the North Vietnamese guard who secretly brought Christian solidarity to captured American flyers, the person who risks her worldly possessions and life to rescue someone from evil.

    Ayse is a hero who serves not only truth and memory, but also humanity. Most notably, she serves Turks.

    She has I am sure received thousands of death threats, and probably the scorn of family, neighbors and friends.

    To the few posters who call her names, or who villify Armenians, do you recognize that you use the same images and words that your spiritual grandfathers used while murdering Armenian, Assyrian and Greek women and children?

    Or that your spiritual cousins, the Nazis, used such language to encourage German soldiers and Police to feel no shame while calmly walking eight year old Jewish children to a ditch into which they kicked the dying child’s body after shooting them in the back of the head? Or why wiping flecks of the child’s blood and brains from their immaculate tunics was just something a good German was required to do?

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