A Century of Silence

A family survives the Armenian genocide and its long aftermath.

by Raffi Khatchadourian, ‘The New Yorker,’ January 5, 2015

When a newspaper asked Abdullah Demirbaş, the old town’s mayor, for his message to Turkey’s uprooted Armenians, he said, “Return!”

When a newspaper asked Abdullah Demirbaş, the old town’s mayor, for his message to Turkey’s uprooted Armenians, he said, “Return!”by Raffi Khatchadourian, ‘The New Yorker,’  January 5, 2015

…The news of the city’s changed atmosphere came quietly, five or six years ago, with the unlikely talk that Sourp Giragos was going to be rehabilitated as a functioning church—even though there was no congregation for it anymore. Then, in 2011, an item in the Armenian Weekly (which has arrived at my parents’ house for as long as I can remember) made clear that the talk was real. “SOURP GIRAGOS OPENS TO THE FAITHFUL,” it noted, adding that the structure “stood as defiant as ever to the forces suppressing freedom in Turkey.” Several hundred people turned up for the reconsecration, nearly all of them having flown in, mostly from Istanbul, or from abroad. Diyarbakir’s mayor, Osman Baydemir, told the Armenian visitors, “You are not our guests. We are your guests.” Abdullah Demirbaş, the mayor of the city’s old district, where my family had lived, even made reference to the great taboo—the genocide—saying, “Our grandparents, incited by others, committed wrongs, but we, their grandchildren, will not repeat them.”…

These days, if a stranger, a shopkeeper, a person offering directions learns that you are Armenian and of Diyarbakir ancestry, you will be ushered into a home, welcomed with tea, treated like a long-lost relative deserving honor. You will be hemşerim: a person of this place.

When I met with Abdullah Demirbaş, the old city’s mayor, he had just completed his second term, and he was between political appointments. Demirbaş is Kurdish, and it quickly became apparent that the story of Sourp Giragos’s revival was inseparable from the interweaving narratives of political violence that bound together Armenians, Kurds, and Turks for more than a century. The municipality’s welcoming atmosphere, and its willingness to challenge orthodoxies about the genocide, is in many ways a Kurdish story.

In 1915, in Diyarbakir, Kurds were among the main executors of the genocide; members of prominent Kurdish clans helped plan the massacres for the Ottoman bureaucracy and grew rich by the seizure of property. In the countryside, Kurdish tribal chieftains carried out the killings with pitiless savagery. But then, not long after Mustafa Kemal Atatürk formed the modern Turkish republic, the Kurds themselves became the objects of Turkification, as the state initiated a process to eradicate their culture…

More at http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/05/century-silence


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