Would it be traitorous if we were all Hrant for a day?

13239I was in either my first or second year of middle school — I can’t recall which exactly — but it seems to me that it was the winter months.

That night, on one of the open forum television programs so common in that era was a man whose name we were not used to seeing on television screens. “I am not going to plant trees anymore; now I’m going to plant things that grow quickly, things like tomatoes, parsley. … I don’t really see a tree sapling as a tree.”

He was talking about the Tuzla Children’s Camp, which had been recently taken over by the government. It was a camp where he had spent his own childhood, a camp where he had fallen in love with the woman who was to be his wife, the camp where he acted as a father figure to other orphans, and a camp that had fruits on its trees which he was never able to eat. He was saying: “We are discomforted; we are afraid; we are victimized by discrimination; we are unable to stand up and fight for our rights.”

I was surprised to hear all this at the time, knowing that these were things we normally only discussed at home, things which were actually better never discussed at all. The ground had ears. But now here was this man, talking about these things out loud. He was talking about matters having to do with the wealth tax, Sept. 6-7 and the military.

He was not afraid, but his voice was shaking, his eyes were full, and it seemed as though he would cry. We, too, felt that way. There were things that really changed that night; Turkey did not become a more democratic country overnight; it was not suddenly accepted into the European Union; the Turkish-Armenian borders were not flung open; the hawks we feared were not magically turned into doves, but what did happen was that a man was suddenly talking out loud about Armenian problems. His name was Hrant Dink.

It was sometime during mid-December 2006 that Hrant and I were speaking together in his office at Agos newspaper. He was commenting on the points that the Armenian diaspora were angry about, and he was complaining that the dialogue between Turkey and Armenia was still insufficient. He said we, the Turkish-Armenians, were the healthiest. He noted, “Everyone carries around old and judgmental pictures in their minds, but our friends, neighbors, doctors, lovers are all Turkish, and these are Turks that are a part of our lives.” He had his doubts; he was not without hope, but there was worry in his eyes. He said, “I am being targeted,” and his voice sounded tired from these worries.

It was the second week of January 2007. I was in Yerevan, and the telephone rang. Someone said, “They’ve shot Hrant.” I asked, “Where, which hospital is he in?” “They shot him,” said the person calling me. “Where is he though? Is he badly hurt?” I asked. The person on the other end just said, “They shot him.” It was a voice that told me of the weeping crowds in front of the Agos newspaper, of the pigeons in the air, of Hrant’s wife saying, “You have created killers from babies.” People carrying posters and signs in their hands, crowds saying: “We are all Hrant. We are all Armenian” as one. It was a bad coincidence; it was winter once again, and just as that evening I remembered from 10 years before, I was in deep surprise. I recalled when I had first seen Hrant on the screen. I was a child at the time and had been excited, filled with hope. But now all these hopes were shattered and lying on the ground.

The fact that the funeral ceremonies for Hrant turned into a flood of humans shows how much he was loved and how much those who shot him in the back were not loved. Actually though, it was not only Turkey that sheltered those who didn’t like Hrant. There were those who didn’t like Hrant in the Armenian diaspora also, as well as in Armenia. With the slaughter of a man who had said: “This fight cannot last forever; we have lived together for hundreds of years on this soil; Turkey is changing, we now discuss everything; we will definitely come to a solution on these problems,” voices now rose in protest, asking, “Wasn’t Turkey supposed to be changing?”

Hrant was targeted by many different sources. But actually, as we all knew, the real target was Turkey’s democratization and its period of change. Hrant played a large role in the heating up of Turkey’s inner dynamics. In one of his speeches, he said, “What happened to the Armenians has already happened, and the shedding of light on this problem is so crucial from the perspective of Turkey’s own democratization and the questioning of its stance on official history.”

When he visited Armenia, Hrant would tell people there about his life in Turkey. He explained that Turks did not chase after Armenians with axes in their hands. He described the existence of Turkish sorrow about the events of 1915. He told people how much he loved Turkey and said there was nowhere else he would want to live.

He would bring with him a few newspapers from Turkey, and he would meet with people from every circle, talking of the need for a solution, of a need to open up the borders between Turkey and Armenia. Hrant told the Armenian diaspora about Turks and reminded Armenians in the diaspora who didn’t want relations with Turkey about Armenia itself: “That nation cannot breathe. … It is as comfortable as you.”

For two years now, Hrant has been sleeping under the soil of this nation whose land he never left, even in the most difficult moments. But differences are still not really accepted on this soil. We can’t even seem to stand slogans like “We are all Hrant. We are all Armenian.” This despite the fact that, all over Turkey, young Kirkos, Stavros, Anahits and Rojbins make the oath, without thinking about their ethnic origins and without shirking, “We are Turkish, we are right, we are hard-working” in schools across the country. Why does the “Armenian threat” still exist? Why do we still believe Turks are waiting for us with axes? We cannot solve our problems without breaking our preconceptions. If we intend to live together on this soil as one, then come, let’s give up our identities as Armenian, Turkish, Kurdish, Jewish, atheist, female and male, and let’s just be Hrant for a day.

January 27, 2009

Today’s Zaman

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