Turkey and Armenia
Turkey and Armenia
( http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?itemid=9906 ).
Khatchig Mouradian: Tell me about how you became interested in the Armenian issue. I understand that your mother was a Turkish diplomat in
Elif Shafak: Thatâ€™s correct. I was raised by a single mother, and I think this had a role in my worldview. We were in
KM: So, in your mind, the word â€œArmenianâ€ was associated with people trying to kill diplomats for some reason.
ES: Yes, the equivalent of the word â€œArmenianâ€ was â€œa terrorist who wants to kill my mother.â€
KM: And how did this definition of the word â€œArmenianâ€ evolve as the years passed?
ES: I have to say, I am against all sorts of terrorist activity, whatever the motivation. So I have always remained against the activities of ASALA. However, I did not become nationalist and pro-state like most children of diplomats tend to become. Perhaps this is because I have always been â€œcurious,â€ interested in asking the simplest question: Why? Why was there so much rage?
So, after that emotional genesis, I started to read, and the more I read about 1915 the more curious I became. But it was especially after coming to the
I was always fortunate enough to have good friends who shared their family histories with me. I think oral stories and microhistories are as important as written documents when tracing back a nationâ€™s history.
KM: What was your motherâ€™s reaction when she saw you get involved in the Armenian issue?
ES: My mother is worried. She respects my mind and heart, and yet she is extremely worried that I will be prosecuted, harassed or taken to court because of my views. She is supportive and, at the same time, keeps telling me â€œto be careful.â€
KM: You give a great deal of importance to oral histories. Much has been recorded and written about the Armenian survivorsâ€”the grandmothers and grandfathers of the current generation. What would the grandparents of the people living in
ES: I think grandmothers can play an extremely important role, which has not been fully acknowledged by either side yet. As you know, there were hundreds and thousands of Armenian girls orphaned after 1915. Many of them stayed in
Nationalist Turks who are angry at â€œoutsiderâ€ scholars might listen when they hear the same story from their own grandmothers, from the â€œinside.â€
KM: Even a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable to speak so openly in
ES: There are very important changes underway in
KM: But the current changes are often interpreted as part and parcel of a greater trend to change
KM: What allows an accomplished academic/writer to venture into a realm that is taboo in her country? I mean, you receive hate mail and threats. Many intellectuals would rather conform to the status quo, or at least try to change it gradually. What made you become so committed to go against the flow?
ES: I am a storyteller. If I cannot â€œfeelâ€ other peopleâ€™s pain and grief, I better quit what I am doing. So there is an emotional aspect for me, in that I have always felt connected to those pushed to the margins and silenced rather than those at the center. This is the pattern in each and every one of my novels; I deal with Turkish societyâ€™s underbelly.
I also have to say that, for me, 1915 is not an isolated case in itself. In other words, the recognition of 1915 is connected to my love for democracy and human rights. I follow the Eastern thinker Ibn Khaldoun in his premise that societies have a life cycleâ€”they are born, they pass a childhood phase, they become older, etc. Turkish society will never be able to become mature if it cannot come to grips with its past. Collective amnesia generates new sorts of atrocities and violations. I think memory is a responsibility. It is the outcome of my conscience as much as an intellectual choice.
KM: Your latest novel, The Bastard of Istanbul, deals with the Armenian issue. What are the main messages you want to convey through that novel to the reader?
ES: the novel is highly critical of the sexist and nationalist fabric of Turkish society. It is the story of four generations of women in
KM: I am sure you encounter many Armenians who ask you questions; it is a cathartic experience for an Armenian to speak to a person of Turkish origin who can show understanding of the pain suffered by their grandparents. How do you usually respond?
ES: I am always surprised by the tone of â€œgratitudeâ€ that I encounter in the e-mails and letters I receive from Armenians in the Diaspora. I have received deeply inspiring, moving feedback. Sometimes they start by saying, â€œI have never wanted to thank a Turk before...â€ Or I receive e-mails where the subject is, â€œNever written to a Turk before...â€
More and more Armenians have started to attend my readings and lectures, and almost always there is slight tension with the Turks in the room, but also very interesting debates are taking place. For me what really matters is to open the channels of dialogue. I truly believe we have so much to learn from one another.
But there is one more thing Iâ€™d like to add. Sometimes, Armenians come to me and say: â€œYou criticize all sorts of nationalism, but Armenian nationalism is different than Turkish nationalism.â€ I respect the differences. However, for me, all sorts of nationalist ideologies end up in the same place. I do not believe that the solution to one form of nationalism is another nationalism. In other words, I do not believe that Turkish nationalism can be counterbalanced by Armenian nationalism or vice versa. I think what we truly need is a cosmopolitan, multicultural democratic approach that eventually challenges all sorts of nationalist and religious boundaries.
KM: I would like us to speak a bit about the issue of identity. How is Turkish identity perceived in
ES: â€œTurkishnessâ€ is said to be a supra-identity that covers all sorts of ethnicities and minorities. The Kemalists claimed that as long as you say aloud that you are a Turk, it is enough. Hence, Turkish nationalism is very different than, for instance, German nationalism, where race is more important. In
I am one of the few authors who openly refuses to accept the Turkificiation of the language. I do not use â€œpureâ€ Turkish; I bring back the words that the Kemalist reformists took out of our language, which is why they are very angry and bitter towards my novels. They accuse me of betraying the national projects. Of course, culture building was such an important task for the Turkish reformist elite.
KM: And as you often cite, a lot was lost during this process of Turkification. Would you agree that embracing the past, with it â€œbruisesâ€ and â€œbeauties,â€ would give
ES: Embracing the past both with its beauties and bruises will give us a sense of continuity, first of all. Today we are a nation built on rupture. How can you have a solid foundation when there is a rupture? Many Kemalists wanted to start history in 1923, the day they came to power. When there is continuity, knowledge can flow from one generation to another. You can become more mature and derive lessons from your mistakes.
KM: Nationalists, however, would argue that facing the past, especially the bruisesâ€”for instance, recognizing the Armenian Genocideâ€”would shake the foundations of
ES: If we had been able to face the atrocities committed against the Armenian minority, it would have been more difficult for the Turkish state to commit atrocities against the Kurds. If we had been able to openly discuss the violations against human rights after each coup dâ€™etat, it would have been more difficult to repeat those. A society based on amnesia cannot have a mature democracy.
KM: Some call Noam Chomsky â€œ
ES: The nationalist discourse in
KM: As someone who has lived both in
ES: This is a difficult question. I feel connected to so many things in
I think there are two undercurrents in
KM: What is the
Khatchig Mouradian is a Lebanese-Armenian writer, translator, and journalist. He is an editor of the daily newspaper Aztag, published in