Below is the full text of a speech delivered by Armenian Weekly columnist Ayse Gunaysu during a panel discussion at the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw, Poland on Nov. 10. For more about the event, click here.
I thank the Grotowski Institute for inviting me, and for their generous hospitality. And I thank you, dear audience, for taking the time and coming to listen to us. I feel privileged to be here with you.
I’m a Muslim Turk by birth. In other words a descendant of the perpetrators of the Genocide of Ottoman Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks. I’m not a historian, not a scholar, or a writer. Just a human rights activist. So I can only share with you my feelings and my views about post-Genocidal Turkey.
Now… I ask you to imagine that I am a German woman, coming from Germany.
But imagine that Germany was not defeated in the WWII, on the contrary it was the victorious side and therefore was not caught red-handed in the crimes it committed. The world didn’t have the chance to see the films of gas chambers and the heap of dead bodies. And imagine that Germany used all the technology and industrial power it had to cover up and deny the Holocaust. Imagine the Holocaust/Shoah is denied in Germany officially, publicly, socially, culturally, in every sense.
Of course denial is not only to say “no, that did not happen.” Imagine that the whole state apparatus and the social life is organized around this denial. The text books, the mainstream media, the academia, the civil society, internet all say the same thing, trying to justify the extermination of Jews and others. They say it was not without reason. It was inevitable. We had to do that for the survival of our nation. Moreover it was not us who butchered them. They butchered us.
Imagine museums, encyclopedias, exhibitions in Germany all tell these lies and what’s much more terrible, almost all German people believe the government wholeheartedly, with no doubt at all.
Imagine that the remaining Jews are targeted by German racists, and hate speech against Jews is a normal thing in Germany. Imagine Jews live under such conditions in Germany.
A question: With such a Germany and such a denial of the Holocaust, would Europe be the same? Would Poland be the same? Would there be a Grotowski Institute?
I asked you to imagine this to once again think on how a denial of Genocide would change life itself.
In such a life objective reality means NOTHING. Just nothing. Objective reality doesn’t count at all. What determines life is the subjective reality – i.e. what people sincerely believe.
This is exactly the case with Turkey in the context of Armenians and the Armenian Genocide. This is the Turkey where I come from.
Recognition, repentance humility, feeling shame make one a human. In the absence of this, a people, a country is liable to commit new crimes, to normalize violence, in fact makes violence a way of life – just is the case with Turkey. In the absence of these there is no room for a sort of catharsis, repentance and cleaning oneself off the guilt. This is the case with Turkey since the Genocide. The successive governments went on and still go on committing new crimes.
Now a few words about me. I hope my story will offer some kind of insight into the reality of Turkey. I was a Marxist-Leninist, a Communist, a secret member of the outlawed Communist Party of Turkey between 1970-1985.
We were devoted anti-imperialists, particularly anti-American. For us Turkey was under imperialist oppression and exploitation. So national independence of our country was one of our top priorities. In other words the “evil” was outside of us. We didn’t see the evil within our country. The enemy was far away, so cursing and shouting slogans against the far-away enemy was much more easy and convenient than fighting the evil right beside us.Despite our outspoken internationalism, we were surely nationalists without being aware of it.
We were anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist believing in class struggle but we became anti-fascist, only after the para-military, government-backed ultra-nationalist mobs started to kill us in the street, in our homes, in factories, at schools in the late 1970’s.
But fascism was for us an anti-communist movement. We never woke up to see that fascists were racist Turks as well reflecting the racist essence of the Turkish state, the extension of the Genocidal Ottoman Empire.
Oh yes, we, the Turkish left, were – undoubtedly, surely and vehemently anti-racist.
But which racism? The racism in the United States and in the South Africa – again far away from us. Racism had nothing to do with our country! We were totally blind to the very racist environment we were living in. Denial of Genocide, hate speech against Armenians and non-Muslims in general, discrimination, portraying non-Muslims as potential traitors were all around us and we didn’t see it! We were like fish living in a sea of racism without being aware of it.
Our blindness was so much so that we didn’t even think of campaigning against the Nazi-like “oath” children were made to chant every morning at school. Generations of children started and are starting today classes every morning with that “Oath,” chanted together as loud as they can: that we were proud of being Turks and we were ready to sacrifice our own existence for the sake of the existence of Turkishness! Every morning! Together with a handful of our non-Turkish and non-Muslim class-mates: Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Kurds!
This went on and on for decades. Non of our “international”, Marxist-Leninist selfless comrades – including myself – initiated a campaign against this Nazi-like practice at schools.
OK, we were “internationalists” But what kind of an internationalism was it?
We would give our lives for the national liberation wars in Africa and Asia. We sang Latin American revolutionaries’ songs, memorized their slogans, we shed tears for Angola. But we were unaware of what was happening under our nose. We knew nothing and said nothing about the Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians – tiny communities, the children of the genocide victims doomed to live in a racist environment. And Kurds in Kurdish provinces who were subject to practically different legislation – under a permanent state of emergency law.
We were masters of the history of the Soviet Communist Party in every detail, Trotsky’s fight against Stalin, the history of the Vietnamese fight against America, but we didn’t know the true history of our own country. But why?
Because of a very successful disinformation and manipulation of Turkish republic’s founding ideology and the founding myths. The history re-written by the Kemalist leadership, in a totally misleading way. Let’s not go into details – it will take a lot of time.
What happened to Turkey after 1915? Turkey found no peace ever after, no real democracy, no real development. Once the developed urban West Armenia with colleges, theaters, rich cultural life became a barren land, a land of blood and tears. Kurdish uprisings followed one another repressed with huge bloodshed and forced displacements.
Military interventions followed one another. The one in 1980 was a disaster. Tens of thousands of people were jailed, unimaginable methods of torture was used, many died in prison and 36 people were executed. Despite formal restoration of democratic institutions the Constitution in force today is essentially the Constitution adopted by the military rule.
Now a war is going on in the southeast Turkey, the historical Western Armenia and Kurdistan. It is estimated that 50 thousand people died, most of them Kurds. Now 10 thousand Kurdish human rights activists, municipal workers, politicians, people engaged in a total peaceful struggle are in jail. And a massive hunger strike is under way.
Genocide denial is the destruction of all collective values, all ethics, all sense of justice, in one word the hearts and minds of the entire nation.
You may hear that things are cha
nging in Turkey as regards the Armenian “issue” as they say. Yes, but very slowly, very irregularly and very disappointingly.
Thank you for listening to me.