Friday, May 18, 2007

Where do we stand?

For us Akhtamar, sometimes Ağtamar, yet at other times Ahtamar.

These are how it was called until the 80s, when, for some peculiar reason, this over 1000-year-old temple became Akdamar*. In the same way as the name Ani was changed into Anı*, most other places and historical buildings were either ignored or their ties to the civilisation they belonged to were attempted to be cut, if they couldn’t be demolished physically. After all, names are the most prominentarena for waging such wars. Launched just after the forced emigration of the Armenians in 1915, this act of vandalism against names has been perpetuated, in waves, throughout the history of the Republic. As you probe into it, you find these waves correspond to the peak periods of nationalism. Quite easy to understand.

Such name wars apparently mean a lot to both US and THEM. This US and THEM is indeed a very challenging classification. It is a generalisation that could mislead even the most intelligent, knowledgeable, conscientious and sensitive people. Whichever generalisation has ever managed to be fair anyway! The act of generalisation, as its name bespeaks, entails confining everything that is unique, humane, peculiar and different to one definition, name and description. Whysoever do we ever need this sweeping act? We must be afraid. We must be afraid of coming to terms with our fears. What if something way different from our cliché-ridden generalisations in which we find relief surfaces from under these fears…

Should facing it be the pivot, then this US and THEM generalising each other represent the marginal points located at the either edge of that central point. In this way, these two positions generalising each other stand on the farthest edges relative to each other. Such a stance is both more secure and easier. And very often more profitable.

The restoration of Surp Khach (Saint Cross) Armenian Church on the Akhtamar Island (Van Lake) of Turkey is, in this sense, at a very sensitive point. What its opening entails and how it should be perceived depend on your standpoint. On the one hand, the opening hosts a myriad dramas and tragedies. It is more an evaluation of the present over the past. The tragedy of a people, its poignant treatment in the lands where a refined civilisation originated, and the symbol and name wars still, still continuing over relics. This is hurtful as such… In fact, Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, chose to look at the issue from this vantage point in the Zadik message he issued. A point of view getting bitter in its agony, thus missing the balance.

On the other hand, there is this familiar denialist position. An outlook eliding and fearing differences, and one that is bent on shaping the past and present according to its own perception. The appropriation of Hrant Dink’s comments, with insistence, in the documentary on the Armenian Genocide, entitled “The Big Lie,” despite the refusal of the Dinks Family, which hit our headlines this week is a case in point.

Oppressive yet familiar. Midst all this turmoil, the middle outlook, striving to look at things from the middle is, alas, still faint and under pressure. All attempts extending beyond generalisations and endeavours to understand the Other meet with a strong resistance. As a matter of fact, a more democratic, more tranquil and well-off Turkey will only be realised through the permeation of that faint outlook throughout the politics of the country. Note, all the meaningful distances covered in this country yesterday and today do stem from this outlook.

The restoration and opening of Surp Khach Armenian Church in Van, to me, thus marks a crucial juncture according to this middle outlook.

Amongst the heated debates over whether to put up a cross on the roof of the church or not, the disagreements over the opening date, the struggles to abuse the situation for political ends, this incident can also be regarded as a remarkable breaking point in Turkey’s policy on Armenians. In the 90-year-old traumatic history of Turkish-Armenian relations, endeavouring to overlook the significance of this opening may lead to the loss of a great opportunity and the waste of the struggles of a host of politicians and institutions to form that well-balanced stand all the way.

Well, we have nothing to say to those who choose to take a firm stand at the either edge. However, those who suppose they stand in the middle must check their positions, for it seems not possible to look somewhere else to explain the reasons for us being barely discernible and exhibiting a faint voice.

When Hrant was there standing in the middle alone, most of us were watching him from the edge…


* Akdamar is a near homophone of Akhtamar yet sounds Turkish

* Anı is a Turkish word meaning “memory”

Agos,13 April 2007

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