At one of the talks I gave on the events leading to 1915 where I carefully listed all the historically polarizing factors, an Armenian engineer later complimented me for so clearly numbering everything like he does and added “we Armenians are too emotional about this issue, so it is up to you Turks to get us to reconciliation.”
I disagreed with him because I thought that we Turks got emotional as well and were quite inexperienced at civic discourse to boot. After meeting Hrant Dink, I as a sociologist became convinced that only the Armenians of Turkey could become the social interlocutors of peace and reconciliation between the two communities because only they were able to intuit the middle ground that had for so long escaped us.
I think that was what had made Hrant so special and his loss so traumatic : he could feel the deep sense of hurt and pain of the Armenians because of 1915 in such a way that Turks will never be able to, just as he could feel the deep frustration of the Turks due to their inability to freely discuss their past in such a way that Armenians will never be able to. This ‘double consciousness’ is what made Hrant special ; it was again this ‘double consciousness’ about the Turkish and Armenian communities that enabled him to so nuance his use of the term ‘genocide.’
In my opinion, Hrant’s variable use of the term ‘genocide’ demonstrated how he prioritized the reconciliation between the two people he knew so well over the employment of the term ‘genocide’ for what happened in 1915. I am basing this generalization on the following observations : In his earlier interviews in Turkey , Hrant used to note that ‘he personally knew what happened in 1915 so well that what it was termed was not going to change that historical reality.’ He later changed his line of argument to articulate that ‘according to his personal opinion, what had happened was genocide.’
In sum then, I think Hrant’s special juxtaposition of the two communities enabled him to develop a context-sensitive meaning of the term. When addressing the Armenian Diaspora, as he did in Ann Arbor in 2002, he would criticize them for obsessing about the term ‘genocide’ by boldly stating that he as an Armenian of Turkey did not need to rely on such a term once a year on April 24 th to recall his identity since in Turkey he was forced to remember who he was 364 days a year.
When talking to the Turks in Turkey, he would often not make the employment of the term ‘genocide’ in relation to 1915 his top priority ; he would instead focus on the social issues of Turkey in general and as they related to the Armenian community in particular. It is interesting to note here that Hrant especially resisted to exercise his freedom of expression through the specific employment of the term ‘genocide :’ he ultimately was not tried and sentenced for the use of that term, but ironically for his discussion of the prejudice as it pertained not to Turks but the Armenian Diaspora...
Likewise, when France considered the passage of a law that would punish those denying the Armenian genocide, in order to defend his belief in the primacy of the freedom of expression, Hrant expressed his willingness to go there and - after asking forgiveness from his ancestors - to publicly declare that the Armenian genocide did not occur.
And I think it was his nuanced stand in relation to the term ‘genocide’ and his prioritization of reconciliation that specifically led Hrant to be targeted for assassination in Turkey : he had personally started to formulate the middle ground in a field that had for so long been so polarized. When forces within states do not want to find resolutions to conflicts, they destroy all those who they think are capable of reconciling the conflict.
In this conflict too, it has been — and still is — so easy for the extremes on either side to incite emotions by merely whispering ‘genocide.’ As soon as the G-word is pronounced, one side starts to chant it as a mantra to help forget the pain of the still-bleeding wound with the desperate but impossible hope to get some closure while the other side runs in a panic as far away as possible to hide in a corner crouched down with hands covering the ears determined never ever to hear anything ever again.
Hrant had managed to get both sides — one constantly chanting and the other persistently deaf — to listen to him. We on this listserv have been trying hard to develop such a ‘double consciousness’ that came so naturally to Hrant ; we do so as we learn to relate to each other first as scholars, as we develop respect for one another, as we try to keep our emotions in check, get to trust one another, and listen to each other in good faith. I think that was what had so excited Hrant about our endeavors : we could go beyond where all others had failed. So I think that we should never forget that we as a community represent the middle ground, and that for us, like Hrant Dink, reconciliation comes first.
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