The article was quite interesting for a number of reasons. The first was obvious: A country known as a bastion of democracy is being invited to face its past. And from this article we understood that “facing history is still a hot debate,” even in a place like the UK.Owen started his article with a few quotes from British Foreign Secretary William Hague: “We have to get out of this post-colonial guilt. … Be confident in ourselves.” Jones’s article is a challenge to the “lets forget everything and reach eternal peace” mentality. Hague’s way of relating to the past is quite popular in Turkey, as you probably know. Interestingly, Owen was criticizing Hague’s approach to history by making a comparison with British expectations of Turkey. Owen said, “A foreign country such as Turkey can rightly be berated for failing to come to terms with an atrocity like the Armenian Genocide, but the darkest moments of our own history are intentionally forgotten.”
After reading Owen’s piece in The Independent, I came across a few interviews with Hasan Cemal in different newspapers, all of which were about his new book titled “1915: Armenian Genocide.” The book has not yet been published, but it is already quite famous in Turkey. Some criticize Cemal while some praise him for his soon-to-be-published book.
Cemal is quite a well-known figure in Turkey. He is a journalist and writer, writing a regular column for the Milliyet daily. He is the grandson of Cemal Paşa, one of the three leaders of İttihat ve Terakki Cemiyeti (Committee of Union and Progress [CUP]), which organized the massacres of the Armenians in 1915.
I think his book is quite timely and meaningful. So far I have only seen the cover of the book and read a few sentences from its preface. On the cover, Cemal’s photo appears; in it, he lays flowers at the site of the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. Obviously, the book will spark quite an intense debate in the coming days, and the discussion has already begun.
Like Owen, Cemal emphasized the importance of facing the past in the interviews he gave. He said: “We cannot move forward without confronting and taking into consideration the events of the past. We cannot keep an eye on the anguish of the past. Moreover, the pain of 1915 is not a story, it is a current day issue.”
I want to conclude this piece with some words I underlined in the preface to Cemal’s new book:
“I cannot forget that Yerevan morning in September 2008. In the first sunlight of the morning, the peak of Mount Ağrı [Ararat] would emerge and then vanish in the fog. ‘The hand of history,’ I had written that morning, ‘will show the way for those who wish to see.’ In 1919, the colonial army of England had opened fire on people in India, committing a crime against humanity by bloodying its hands with the Amritsar Massacre. In 1997, Queen of England Elizabeth II, while apologizing to the people of India, had said that what happened in Amritsar was a tragedy, but ‘history cannot be rewritten, however much we might sometimes wish otherwise.’ Surely we cannot change history; however, facing history is in our hands. Without facing the grim realities of the past, how can we ever move forward? We cannot remain silent in the face of pain! We cannot allow yesterday to take today hostage. … Real peace and democracy can unfortunately only be arrived at by passing through intolerable pain, as in the case of Hrant Dink, through paying a big price. It is evident that some stones in the lives of certain societies don’t happen without the paying of a price, or they don’t sit where they are supposed to.”