By Masis Perk [firstname.lastname@example.org]
It was my third day in Yerevan. I was enjoying a traditional, real breakfast in the hotel cafeteria. I hadn’t had one like that for years. Soon a group of young people showed up. They were speaking Turkish among themselves, somewhat quietly. I symphatized with them because they reminded me my childhood years in Turkiye. But then, it was our mothers who used to caution us not to speak loud in the mother tongue on the street, in our own country.
” Welcome!. Those seats are free if you care to join me” I said. Three of them did. We started a conversation very spontaneously, in their native language, Turkish. They were graduate students from Turkiye visiting Armenia as part of a conflict resolution or bridge-building program. They were well-educated in their fields of studies. Not surprisingly, some of them were from provinces largely inhabited by Armenians until 1915. One was an academic who said he was from the town of Ayash, originally. I was curious: did he know the name Ayash symbolized the beginning of an era of population engineering and extermination?. But I didn’t want to squeeze a lemon into our nice little chat, prematurely.
Their trip coincided with a big feast ( Byeram ) in Turkiye. Byerams, like Christmas, are emotional times especially for people who are away from their homes and their families. One of them congratulated my Byeram and kissed my hand, as an expression of traditional respect to the older members of the household. He did it so spontantaneously and naturally that I gave him a big hug in return, with a lump stuck in my throat.
” Hodjam, it’s not in our official program but we are going to the Soykirim ( Genocide ) Museum tomorrow morning “, he said. ” Would you care to join us “?. On my first visit to Armenia, I was being invited by Turkish youth , pronouncing the “S” word , to join them in visiting the memorial. I said that I would gladly accept the invitation.
The next morning, we were at the Dzidzernagapert. We walked quitely down the alley together, listening to the voice of a famous Armenian Soprano singing the ” Homeless ” from Gomidas Vartabed. They asked me about the names of the cities carved on the wall in Armenian scripts.
Then, we attended a guided tour of the museum. Their leader who was an academic, felt obliged to question the accuracy of some chronological data, especially about the post-1915 era. The museum’s tour guide provided explanations in a respectful and professional manner.
When we finished the tour and went out, I saw the emotions in the eyes of some in the group. Some of the young women were walking arm-in-arm with their friends. A light rain had started. My eyes searched for Ararat. There it was, finally showing his majestic silhouette after 3 days of hiding.
” How did you find the museum ? ” asked my fellow countryman from Ayash.
” Frankly, there wasn’t much of unknown to us “, I said. I didn’t ask the same question in return.. another lump was stuck in my throat again.
We walked down all the way to the city’s market. I said ” Say Hi to homeland, friends ” . ” Take care Hodjam “. More hugs…more lumps.
It was a brief but memorable encounter. I don’t know about them, but it certainly enforced the bridge connecting my heart and mind to the place that I still feel I belong.