avatar
Listening To Grasshoppers-Genocide, Denial And Celebration


I never met Hrant Dink, a misfortune that will be mine for time to come. From what I know of him, of what he wrote, what he said and did, how he lived his life, I know that had I been here in Istanbul a year ago I would have been among the one hundred thousand people who walked with his coffin in dead silence through the wintry streets of this city, with banners saying, "We are all Armenians", "We are all Hrant Dink". Perhaps I’d have carried the one that said, "One and a half million plus one".* [*One-and-a-half million is the number of Armenians who were systematically murdered by the Ottoman Empire in the genocide in Anatolia in the spring of 1915. The Armenians, the largest Christian minority living under Islamic Turkic rule in the area, had lived in Anatolia for more than 2,500 years.]

***
In a way, my battle is like yours. But while in Turkey there’s silence, in India, there is celebration.
***

I wonder what thoughts would have gone through my head as I walked beside his coffin. Maybe I would have heard a reprise of the voice of Araxie Barsamian, mother of my friend David Barsamian, telling the story of what happened to her and her family. She was ten years old in 1915. She remembered the swarms of grasshoppers that arrived in her village, Dubne, which was north of the historic city Dikranagert, now Diyarbakir. The village elders were alarmed, she said, because they knew in their bones that the grasshoppers were a bad omen. They were right; the end came in a few months, when the wheat in the fields was ready for harvesting.

"When we left…(we were) 25 in the family," Araxie Barsamian says. "They took all the men folks. They asked my father, ‘Where is your ammunition?’ He says, ‘I sold it.’ So they says, ‘Go get it.’ So he went to the Kurd town to get it, they beat him and took all his clothes. When he came back there-this my mother tells me story-when he came back there, naked body, he went in the jail, they cut his arms…so he die in jail.

And they took all the mens in the field, they tied their hands, and they shooted, killed every one of them."

Araxie and the other women in her family were deported. All of them perished except Araxie. She was the lone survivor.

This is, of course, a single testimony that comes from a history that is denied by the Turkish government, and many Turks as well.

I am not here to play the global intellectual, to lecture you, or to fill the silence in this country that surrounds the memory (or the forgetting) of the events that took place in Anatolia in 1915. That is what Hrant Dink tried to do, and paid for with his life.


***
Most genocidal killing from the 15th century onwards has been part of Europe’s search for lebensraum.
***

The day I arrived in Istanbul, I walked the streets for many hours, and as I looked around, envying the people of Istanbul their beautiful, mysterious, thrilling city, a friend pointed out to me young boys in white caps who seemed to have suddenly appeared like a rash in the city. He explained that they were expressing their solidarity with the child-assassin who was wearing a white cap when he killed Hrant.

The battle with the cap-wearers of Istanbul, of Turkey, is not my battle, it’s yours. I have my own battles to fight against other kinds of cap-wearers and torchbearers in my country. In a way, the battles are not all that different. There is one crucial difference, though. While in Turkey there is silence, in India there’s celebration, and I really don’t know which is worse.