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.
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.