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Elif Safak: Armenian time, Turkish time – TDN

Armenians and Turks live in different eras. If we want to build a
true dialogue between the two sides it is this time-related fact that
we first need to recognize. What happens when an Armenian girl speaks
about her past with average Turkish women? Below is an excerpt from an
upcoming novel.

  “Ask her what their family name is?” Grandmother
Gülsüm asked Asya.

  “Tchakhmakhchian,” Armanoush replied when the question was
translated, adding, “My full name is Armanoush Tchakhmakhchian.”

  Auntie Zeliha’s face brightened as she exclaimed in recognition:
“I’ve always found that interesting. The Turks add the suffix ‘ci’ to
every possible word to describe professions. Look at our family name;
it is Kazan-cý [1]. We are the cauldron makers. Now I see Armenians do
the same thing. Çakmak [2]… Çakmakçý,
Çakmakçý-yan.”

  “That’s interesting. Look, I have an address,” said Armanoush,
who fished out a piece of paper from her pocket, adding: “My
grandmother Shushan was born in this house. If you could help me with
the directions, I’d like to go and visit it sometime.”

  “So you came here to see your grandmother’s house. Why did she
leave?” enquired Aunt Zeliha.  

  Armanoush was both eager to be asked this question and reluctant
to answer. Was it too early to let them know? How much of her story
should she reveal? If not now, then when? Why should she have to wait
anyway? In a listless, almost sapped voice she said, “They were forced
to leave.”

  As soon as she said this her weariness disappeared and she
lifted her chin up as she continued: “It’s a long story. I won’t take
your time with all the details. When her father died my grandmother
Shushan was three years old. There were four siblings, she being the
youngest and the only girl. The family had been left without its
patriarch. My great grandmother was a widow now. Finding it difficult
to stay in Istanbul with the children she sought refuge in her father’s
house in Sivas. But as soon as they arrived the deportations began. The
entire family was ordered to leave their house and belongings behind
and march with thousands of others to an unknown destination. They
marched and they marched. My great grandmother died on the way and
before long the elderly died as well. Having no parents to look after
them the younger children lost each other amidst the confusion and
chaos. But after months apart, the brothers were miraculously united in
Lebanon with the help of a Catholic missionary. The only missing
sibling among those still alive was my grandmother Shushan. Nobody had
heard of the fate of the infant. Nobody knew that she had been taken
back to Istanbul to be placed in an orphanage.”

  Asya looked at Armanoush somewhat puzzled. Never before had she
met someone so young with a memory so old.

  Auntie Feride was the first to raise doubts and said: “But I
don’t understand. What happened to them? They died because they
walked?”

  “They were denied water and food and rest. They were made to
march a long distance on foot. Women, some of them pregnant, and
children, the elderly, the sick and the debilitated…” Armanoush’s
voice now trailed off.

  “Who did this atrocity?” Auntie Cevriye asked as if addressing a
classroom of ill-disciplined students.

  “The Turks did it,” Armanoush replied without paying any
attention to the implications.

  “What a shame, what a sin. Are they not human?” Auntie Feride
volleyed.

  “Of course not, some people are monsters!” Auntie Cevriye
declared without comprehending that the repercussions could be far more
complex than she would like to handle. In twenty years in her career as
a Turkish history teacher she was so accustomed to drawing an
impermeable boundary between the past and the present, distinguishing
the Ottoman Empire from the modern Turkish Republic, that she had
actually heard the whole story as grim news from a “distant country.”
The new state in Turkey had been established in 1923 and that was as
far as the genesis of this regime could extend. Whatever might or might
not have happened preceding this date was the issue of another era, and
another people.  

  Armanoush looked at them one by one, puzzled. She was relieved
to see that the family had not taken the story as badly as she had
feared, but then she couldn’t be sure that they had really taken it in
at all. True, they neither refused to believe her nor did they retort
with any counter argument. If anything, they listened attentively and
they all seemed sorry. But was that the limit of their commiseration?
And what exactly had she expected? Armanoush felt slightly disconcerted
as she wondered whether it would be different if she were talking to a
group of intellectuals.

  Slowly it dawned on Armanoush that perhaps she was waiting for
an admission of guilt, if not an apology. And yet that apology had not
come, not because they had not felt for her, for it looked like they
had, but because they had seen no connection between themselves and the
perpetrators of the crimes. She, as an Armenian, embodied the spirit of
her people from generations before whereas the average Turk had no such
notion of continuity with his or her ancestors. The Armenians and the
Turks lived in different eras. For the Armenians, time was a cycle in
which the past incarnated itself in the present and the present begat
the future, whereas for Turks time was a multi-hyphenated line where
the past ended at some precise point and the present started anew with
a fresh page with nothing but a huge rupture in between.

  [1] Kazan: cauldron

  Kazanci: cauldronmaker

  [2] Çakmak: lighter

  Çakmakçý: lightermaker

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